Category: Adoption

Special needs redefined

We social workers use a lot of lingo and many acronyms to describe the work we do in the child welfare world.

In fact, that language—most fields, though, have their own jargon—can become confusing to new families as they begin to gather information about the children we place, the foster care or adoption process and whether they want to become foster or adoptive parents or both.

One of the terms we use that people question is “special needs.” Often, when someone hears those words from us for the first time they think about children who are disabled or handicapped, probably needing special educational accommodations. This perception is not, however, what this phrase means to us.

Humble and kind

Whenever the Tim McGraw song “Humble and Kind” plays on the radio, I can feel our 8-year-old roll his eyes as I remind him that these lyrics are something I hope he takes to heart:

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you / When you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around / And help the next one in line. / Always stay humble and kind.”

It’s important to us that Cayden understands that we have been incredibly blessed to have had so many people help us in our journey to become a family.

adopting children with special needs

Serving children with special medical needs

Working in the field of adoption and foster care for 42 years, Marcia Moll is a social worker with a master’s degree in early childhood development. As the mother of two grown adoptive children, she understands firsthand how unconditional love for a child can transform a family. Below, she discusses a new Diakon’s foster care program, designed to touch the lives of children with special medical needs throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania.


Medically fragile foster care can change lives!

A little girl was hospitalized for six months in a children’s hospital waiting for an organ transplant. She spent most of her time being cared for by the hospital staff because her birth family was not involved. The county came to us at Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and asked if we had a family who would be a foster family until her transplant. A family stepped forward. 

They had adopted a child in the past and, unfortunately, that child had passed away. This family understood that a child should live in a family environment instead of a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, the little girl’s foster parents were able to visit once or twice a week. They met with the nurses and doctors and learned to care for the child. After eight months of hospitalization, she was finally able to be released to her new foster family. The family ended up adopting her, knowing full well that her survival rate—because of her age and the type of organ needed—is less than 50 percent. 

Yet, the difference they made through their love and commitment is outstanding. The little girl is now living the life of a typical child—she is not lying in a hospital bed being cared for by hospital staff; rather, she has a family and has blossomed to a point no one ever expected.  

Medically fragile foster care: A special child and a special 

Medically fragile foster care involves a child in the foster care system who has a continuing medical condition. A child’s condition may be something easily maintained with medication and routine doctor’s appointments—such as asthma. Or it can be a more severe or life-threatening diagnosis, such as cystic fibrosis. A child may or may not be ambulatory and sometimes medical equipment may be needed for the children to live the best life they can. Although the medical conditions are diverse, the children have one thing in common: They need to be cared for by a loving family.  

The program serves the needs of county children and youth workers who need foster families to care for a child with medical needs—in hopes the child will eventually be reunited with his or her birth family.  Foster families ensure that the child receives the appropriate medical care while also offering stability. 

The families also serve as mentors for the birth family by helping them fully understand the medical issues involved. In cases in which children cannot be reunited with their birth family, we hope the foster family can become a permanent resource and eventually adopt the child. 

Medically fragile conditions arise in varying situations

In most cases, children with medically fragile conditions come to us directly from a hospital setting, often because their medical condition elevated to a point they needed hospital care. If a child is born with a medical condition, the birth parent may feel totally overwhelmed and the child may need more support than the birth family can provide. 

In other cases, some children are born healthy and medical disorders develop or conditions arise as a result of abuse or neglect.  If a child is suffering as a result of parental negligence, it may not be the goal to unify the child with the birth parent until the birth family receives proper services and the situation is rectified.  

Weencourage any family already thinking about fostering or adopting to look within their hearts to consider a child who has a medical condition. Don’t sell yourself short. Our life experiences often prepare us for caring for a child with medical needs.  

Maybe, for example, we have a family member with diabetes or asthma or another condition and we could use this knowledge in offering care for the child. But even if families do not have an understanding of a particular medical diagnosis, they just have to be open to learning. The situation may not always be easy, but what seems to help them through it is their unwavering desire to help a child. 

We are here to help 

At Diakon, we believe strongly in providing support services for all of its foster families. We offer general training that prepares a family to bring a child into their home. And for medically-fragile program foster families, we ensure they receive the proper training to care for a child with medical needs. 

In some instances, we may arrange training provided by hospital staff, medical supply representatives or our own staff. Regardless, we work as a team. We will not place a child in a home until the family members have a level of confidence in their ability to care for the child. 

In addition to training, Diakon staff is always there to help throughout the process. On a weekly basis, case managers help families organize and manage all of a child’s medical needs.

Another avenue of encouragement comes through our support groups. On a monthly basis, Diakon offers families the opportunity to meet and share concerns and advice with one another. Families often discuss referrals, doctors, nurses and how to be a strong medical advocate. We often hear that support groups are a tremendous asset to our families.

The need for families is greater than ever …

There are not enough families to meet current needs.

Counties are scrambling to find foster families who can be a mentor to birth families—which is the primary goal. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of foster children have some sort of a medical need beyond everyday parenting. But fewer than 10 percent of families are willing to take a medically fragile child. We don’t see families coming forward in large numbers, but we do see the need growing more every day. 

I want to remind anyone thinking about foster care or adoption to look inside their heart. Every family who steps forward to care for a medically fragile child makes a lasting imprint on a child’s life. We are working hard to spread the word about this amazing program that serves special children with special needs.

A fun way to give back… Dining with Diakon

Jill Kearney, founder and CEO of Senior Moves by Design (a division of the JDK Group, LLC), shares her views on the upcoming Dining with Diakon* event. Senior Moves by Design is a company that primarily moves older adults into senior living communities, helping them to find “treasures” and design their new home around things they love. The company also helps them to sort through their current home so items can be given to family or donated. Further, they stage houses to sell and do a full pack and unpack on moving day.

*On Sept. 28, 12 “celebrity chefs” from business, industry, and non-profit organizations will gather at Bethlehem’s SteelStacks. Offering an enticing menu of dishes and desserts, the chefs raise funds for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care Services, which serve children and families throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania.

How did you feel when you were asked to be a celebrity chef?

When I was first asked to represent my company at Dining with Diakon, I was flattered, but by no means call myself a celebrity. I have a small company with 23 employees. To think that I will be joining a high caliber of corporate heads and local television personalities is kind of funny—but I feel very flattered to be included. This event is a wonderful way to support and donate to the cause. This is my first time going to Dining with Diakon. I am excited not only to attend, but also to be a chef.

Why do you support Diakon Adoption & Foster Care?

Senior Moves by Design believes it is possible to have joyful moves and that what we do is just as much a ministry as it is a business. To me, this is an opportunity to represent my business while ministering to others. In addition, my niece and nephew are both adopted and a few of my best friends adopted children. I have always been pro-life, so from my perspective, we need the help and support from agencies like Diakon Adoption & Foster Care to make sure all children have “forever” homes.
As a business owner, why do you believe it is important to give back?

When you are building a small company, it is easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day tasks that keep your business running. To be able to take a little time and focus on something that you don’t do every day, but that makes an impact on others, is important. In fact, it is a gift. I feel blessed to be able to do it. This opportunity makes us want to do more.

What will you be sharing the night of the event? What are your favorite recipes?

For the event, we were awarded the chocolate table. My favorite food really is a toss-up between chocolate or shrimp scampi. Although I normally cook without recipes, here is an outline of my favorite shrimp scampi dinner followed by my favorite chocolate recipe.

Shrimp Scampi
4 tablespoons Irish butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic fresh garlic minced
1 teaspoon of salt
½ medium sized yellow onion diced
2 medium sized zucchinis
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ pound of angel hair pasta
1 pound of peel shrimp and deveined

DIRECTIONS: Boil pasta by placing a tablespoon of olive oil in the water along with a clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt. This allows the pasta to pick up the garlic flavor.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add olive oil and ½ finely diced yellow onion. When the onion is clear, add the garlic. Take 2 medium zucchinis and cut them into half inch cubes. Place them in the skillet with the olive oil, garlic, onion and butter. Once the zucchinis soften and begin to turn slightly brown, add pinch of red pepper flakes and the shrimp. Toss for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Warm plates. Place pasta on the plates. Top pasta with shrimp mixture. Feeds 2-4 people.

Cappuccino Mouse Cup
http://www.diakon.org/dining-with-diakon-adoption/recipes/details.aspx?recipeId=2288

In closing, I am thankful for this opportunity. Giving back is certainly sweet!

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Going the extra mile

This blog shares the story of how Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members went the extra mile to help adoptees participate in Girls on the Run®, a non-profit program that inspires girls to recognize their inner strengths and celebrate what makes them unique.

As an affiliate council of Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries, Girls on the Run – Lehigh Valley delivers sessions involving 10 weeks of dynamic discussions, activities and running games for girls in third through fifth grades, with each season concluding with a celebratory 5K event, completed by participants and “running buddies.”

 

JoAnn Carter, mother of two adoptive girls (Daysia 11, Jada 9)

My interest in Girls on the Run began when my girls brought home a flyer from Parkway Manor elementary school announcing the program. I thought it would get them off the couch and give them a well-rounded opportunity that teaches them confidence. I also thought it would be great to have the girls be part of a running team.

Earlier in the year, my oldest did very well running a Turkey Trot event. Even though my little one hates to exercise and was a little apprehensive at first, she ended up loving the program.

As parents, my husband and I supported the girls throughout the program. We provided nutritional snacks and even made cheese-stick and pretzel treats that looked like little scooters. But when it came to finding the girls a running buddy, we didn’t have anyone lined up for them.

Because the local council is sponsored by Diakon, and I adopted my girls from Diakon, I thought maybe the organization could help. I talked with the Girls on the Run program coordinator, who in turn reached out to Kathy Roach, executive director of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. She asked for running buddy volunteers for the girls.

Crystal Wanamaker, who served as our caseworker during the foster and adoption process, felt she could not do the run, so she asked two of her co-workers, who are runners, to help out. They happily agreed.

Kristina Taylor ran with Daysia and Melissa Mulero ran with Jada. Crystal attended the event to support the girls and her co-workers, which I thought was really neat. The adoption was finalized in 2012, so the girls hadn’t seen her in a while. They were excited to see her, which added to the experience.

The race was wonderful. I was very proud of the girls. I lost my father in October, so the girls were running for their Pop and grandmother. They gave it their best shot and when they wanted to give up, they kept on going.

The support of their Diakon running buddies made this event even more memorable. They say it takes a village to raise children. It was so nice to see that Diakon continues to be a part “of the village” long after the adoption process is finished.

 

 

 

Crystal Wanamaker, Diakon’s Foster and Adoption Case Manager

As a case manager, I was involved with this family’s life for more than two years. I saw them on a routine basis, so when Kathy Roach emailed me about this opportunity, I was so happy. This is an emotional job, and I love it when parents keep us updated and involved in their lives.

The night of the event, I was at the finish line. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. The girls actually had multiple running buddies, so it was wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support for them.

Watching the girls and my co-workers cross the finish line was very exciting. I am so thankful that Diakon was able to be part of the event. For so long, I was the girls’ “constant.” They knew they could turn to me during a difficult time in their lives. They recognize that I am still here for them today. It means so much to me and I think it means a lot to them too.

Melissa Mulero, Running Buddy and Diakon’s Case Manager

Since I do run, I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the program. The day of the race, which was held at the Lehigh Parkway in Allentown, Kristina and I met the girls to spend time with them before the race. The event hosted special activities that the girls could do. Both Daysia and Jada were very excited to temporarily color their hair all different colors and to apply temporary tattoos. We also met with the coaches of the team and the girls’ teachers—Mrs. Breinich and Mrs. Richenaker, who also were the girls’ running buddies. Together, we enjoyed watching a “mascot run” before the race.

During the actual 5K event, I ran with Jada in the third wave. Throughout the race, she sprinted then walked. I kept encouraging her, telling her that she was doing great and we are almost there. Her other running buddy, her school teacher, also encouraged her.

Before the race, Jada told us that her running time was 53 minutes for 3.1 miles. The most memorable part of the event was seeing her facial expression when she checked her time and realized that she had clocked in at under 52 minutes! She was ecstatic!

When I think of all the struggles these girls went through, and to see how they have bounced back, it makes me happy. I loved seeing them put forth so much effort into a wonderful program. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Kristina Taylor, Running Buddy & Diakon’s Family Support Specialist

What a cool experience to see everyone come together and run in the heat! I didn’t know what to expect, so when I arrived, I was taken aback by the magnitude of the event. There were tons of volunteers and parents. It was neat to see the community as a whole coming together. I am so glad for the opportunity to be part of it.

My runner, Daysia, was like a little gazelle. She would sprint, then slow down. We really balanced each other out—we were like a “see-saw.” When she was slow, I encouraged her. When I was slow, she did the same for me. Together, we pushed ourselves to the finish line. Daysia sprinted the entire length of the finish line and she had a huge smile on her face. I was so proud of her. It was awesome.

Girls on the Run is more important now more than ever. With schools cutting physical education budgets and social media adding to self-image pressures, it is wonderful to have an event like this. The girls learn it’s not about finishing first. It is about feeling good about yourself.  It’s about learning healthy habits that improve your well-being.

I played field hockey in college. I have always had the mentality to stay motivated and never give up. The Girls on the Run program teaches girls to believe in themselves and to learn from even the toughest situation. Even if you are not the first or best, it’s about coming together and staying positive for one another. Our world needs more programs like this!

I’ve been at Diakon for nearly 4 years. I knew about the program, but had never helped because I am so busy. I never took the time to step out of my comfort zone. Now that I have seen the event and witnessed how Girls on the Run touches the lives of girls—including the lives of our adoptees—I want to help even more.

I understand the obstacles Daysia and Jada have faced. To see where they are today is so sweet. I feel as if I was part of their family from the beginning. I enjoyed it as much as the family. It was so rewarding. I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

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I raised needed funds … even before getting to the office

This morning, as I checked my email and chewed on my breakfast burrito, I contemplated how I had already supported Diakon Adoption and Foster Care twice today.

And it was easy and fit right in with my morning routine.

That routine is simple and probably very much like yours. The best mornings are the ones I’m the first to wake up. This gives me a chance to make a cup of coffee and collect my thoughts before the day begins as I peruse my favorite websites for the morning news.

It doesn’t take long, however, for my six-year-old ball of energy to wake and come into the home-office clutching his favorite blanket and asking for breakfast. Then it’s time to pack lunches, shower, get dressed and find my son’s missing shoe while convincing him that yes, indeed, he has to go to school today.

After the traditional morning tug-of-war with my son to get him out the door, we are off to daycare. Then I head to my office on the Frey Village campus in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

I stop on the way at Rutter’s, a local convenience store and gas station, to gas up my Jeep and pick up a breakfast burrito. I arrive at the office, greet my officemates and boot up my computer, ready to start another day of seeking grants for Diakon and its many programs.

Yet my day of fundraising had already begun!

That’s because Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a current finalist in Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars Campaign.

By taking two minutes to log onto www.ruttersrewards.com to register my VIP card and select Diakon from a list of 10 charities as my charity of choice, every time I gas up my jeep or make a purchase at Rutter’s, Diakon receives a vote.

Voting will continue through Oct. 31 and, in November, Rutter’s will tally the votes and the charities with the most votes will receive a grant for capital purchases and improvements.

In Diakon’s case, the funds requested will refurbish the family visitation room at the York office of Diakon Adoption and Foster Care with new furniture and toys. The grant also will be used to purchase safety supplies for emergency foster-care placements, including car seats and portable cribs.

Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a program that tugs at my heart. The children in care, through no fault of their own, have experienced heartbreaking situations and trauma. What they need most is a stable, loving and permanent home and Diakon works hard to help these children find their “forever families.” Although I am not in a position right now to serve as a resource family and open my home to these special children, I do look for other ways to support the program.

The Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars campaign doesn’t even require money out of my pocket. I just spend on things I would buy anyway—gasoline, coffee, sandwiches, a pack of gum or a newspaper. All the program took was registering my card on the Rutter’s website and using it with each purchase. I don’t even have to have my card with me. I registered my phone number with the card and I key that number into the keypad to assign my purchase to my account.

Rutter’s is based in York and has locations throughout south-central Pennsylvania. If you live near one of Rutter’s 47 locations, I encourage you to obtain a VIP card, register online to support Diakon Adoption and Foster Care and vote between now and Oct. 31.

I also encourage you to share this information with your friends, co-workers, families and anyone else with a heart open to supporting to community’s most at-risk children.

 

Tammy McCrae
Grants Officer

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What about Amelia?

At times, that question—continually and casually posed by family and friends—threatened to overwhelm me. If I had been pregnant with another child, it would have been celebrated. Instead, the prospect of adding to our family through adoption from foster care was met with raised eyebrows and concern.

Our biological daughter, Amelia, was 4 years old when we began the foster-to-adopt process. There were so many fears surrounding the uncertain world of foster care. In the hopes of offering love and safety to another child, would we destroy our own child’s sense of security?

For some families, the fear that their own biological children might be hurt physically or emotionally is enough to make them steer clear of foster care altogether.

As a parent, you want to protect your own children from the harm and hurts of this world. But what if we are called to something greater?

In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 15,000 children in foster care. For many of those kids, a forever family will never come because, among other reasons, fear keeps parents away.

Instead of giving in to the worries of everything that could go wrong, my husband and I remained faithful and quietly continued to take the next steps until we were certified by Diakon as resource parents.

In October 2014, we received the call for an emergency placement for six-year-old twins. The workers had little information to go on. After several calls and emails back and forth to gather what information we could, we stepped out in faith and said “yes.”

That evening, Kaitlyn and Davien arrived at our doorstep. They were physically thin and emotionally fragile and came to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We had little time to prepare our daughter, and we worried that her whole world was about to be turned upside down.

Instead of complaining about sharing her clothes, she happily helped pick out a pretty nightgown for Kaitlyn. As the weeks went on, our daughter’s bedroom was fitted with bunkbeds and a dresser for Kaitlyn. Her playroom was turned into a boy’s bedroom for Davien. The twins were calling us “mom” and “dad” and still there were no signs of jealously, no fights, no harsh words. Amelia was even calling them her brother and sister long before we dared.

My husband and I were amazed by our daughter. Instead of being emotionally scarred by the changes, she has been enriched. This January, we finalized the twins’ adoption in court. For Amelia, it was just another day. After all, they had been her brother and sister from the beginning.

~ Amanda Merrell
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

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When a generation gap is no gap at all

For many people, the idea of having a 7-year-old child and a grandchild at the same time, even if the grandchild is quite young, may seem out of the ordinary.

But that is where God’s will has taken us.

My wife, Shirley, and I have two adult children, Leigh Anne and Ken—and two younger children, Savannah, 9 and Autumn, 7, both of whom joined our family through adoption. Our family grew in size when Leigh Anne and TJ were married last year and blessed us with our first grandchild, Maeve, this year.

Shirley and I were empty-nesters. We never thought our path in life would change in the direction it did. But, in the fall of 2007, God presented us with the blessing of becoming parents again.

Savannah, at the time less than 3 months old, needed someone to provide love and protection. God placed this challenge and blessing upon our hearts, and we began a journey that encompassed every emotion you can imagine.

In the spring of 2009, Savannah’s two-month old infant sister, Autumn, was in the same situation. We knew again we were being led, and so doubled our blessings by deciding to rear the two sisters together.

Amazingly, we have no “generation gap” our family! Both our 30-plus-year-old children love and adore their younger siblings—and those strong bonds flow the other direction as well. Our son, who lives in Japan, just had his annual two-week visit with us and we had the opportunity to spend time with his Japanese girlfriend. On their last day in the U.S., instead of sightseeing, both said they wanted to spend their day with his sisters.

Leigh Anne is program director with a county CASA office. CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children. She has been especially supportive as we followed this path. She, along with the wonderfully dedicated staff members of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, have continually raised our awareness of children in distress and in need of fostering, of CASA volunteer support, and how best to navigate the sometimes-convoluted path to adoption. In fact, the three sisters adore one another and can’t wait for their next sleepover weekend.

Though fostering and adopting can take a long time, a great deal of effort and certainly patience—plus a mountain of paperwork—we encourage others to take the plunge because providing a safe haven for a child at risk is an incredible experience with indescribable rewards.

Diakon has been especially important in our forever family as program staff stepped forward to provide support and acted at times as intermediaries. They were instrumental in refocusing county services on the best interests of the child. In fact, Diakon was our “ace in the hole” when things looked bleakest, and we can never express just what that meant to us.

And when Diakon learns of similar situations, their dedicated family advocates are always there to help create forever families.

Our lives have been enriched with the gift of two daughters, and we pray that our story encourages each of you to support Diakon as it continues efforts to expand to serve more children and youths at risk.

Moreover, please pray for the forever families who have made a life-changing commitment to a child in need. Pray for the children not yet out of the chaos of neglect, waiting for a foster family to give them love and safety. And pray for those who are considering stepping up, that their “pros/cons” list makes their path clear for them.

Diakon stands on the wall for children at risk.

It is for this that we pray for expansion of Diakon’s resources to provide the foundation and support for forever families. Can you help equip this vital program for its mission? Foster, adopt, volunteer, or give in support—it all makes a tangible difference in the lives of waiting children and youths.

Kenneth G. Mertz, II
Chief Investment Officer at Emerald Advisers, Inc.
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Editor’s Note: Ken is participating in the Chef Challenge at the 2016 Dining with Diakon event to raise money for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. You can click here for more information.

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Worth the wait

I always wanted to be a mom; in fact, when I was younger, I knew I would adopt someday. I just always knew.

When I was 25, I decided I would go to an information night for foster-to-adopt; this was with another organization than Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. I was a teacher at this point and ready to be a mother.

The training was quick and painless and I was approved. But, if you foster or adopt, you will quickly learn that waiting is part of the experience.

Following approval, I said yes to foster-parenting a girl, but was not selected. Before long, however, I was asked to provide a home for a 15-month-old girl on a foster-to-adopt basis. A few weeks later, the exciting part began and I still recall that day 18 years later: A little girl walking in with her social worker. That was followed, however, 20 minutes later by the toddler’s mother coming by with a different social worker.

I was asked if this was okay. My daughter’s birth mother was young and had not seen her in a while. I agreed; I was new at this and was afraid to say no. But the visit went quickly and painlessly and provided me with the opportunity to meet my child’s birth mother in my home. I knew as well that it would benefit my child to see her two mothers interact in my home. Looking back, I am glad I did this.

In fact, my daughter and I got into the swing of our relationship. She had weekly visits with her birth mom. She always went to her birth mom willingly and always left the visits just as happy. At a young age she understood that she had two moms.

But … I was always waiting for an update, always wondering how long my daughter would stay. Would I adopt her … or would she go back to birth mom?

I think that is probably the hardest part of being a foster parent. You are always waiting.

You wait for the call. You wait for any updates. You wait for court. You wait for termination of parental rights (TPR) or reunification. Luckily, you have things to fill in the wait. You are able to watch a child blossom in your house. You get to bond and create a family. It’s a stressful, yet exciting time.

I was lucky. I had to wait only 10 months for TPR. It was granted by yet again I had to wait—this time for 30 days to see if the birth mother appealed. She did and I went through a year of different appeals, making the time seem like the fastest and longest year I’ve ever experienced. The adoption was finalized just before my daughter’s fourth birthday.

I gave myself a break and enjoyed a quiet life without court dates, social worker visits and everything else that accompanies foster care. I decided that I would try private adoption next, thinking it would be easier. Boy, was I wrong!

Although I was told that as a single mother, I would wait longer because a birth mother, not a social worker, would have to pick me, I waited just three months until news came that my son was born, though seven weeks early. I visited him in the NICU for two weeks, during which time his birth mother left the hospital and could not be found. She had not, however, terminated her parental rights!

But the birth father then said he wanted the child; later, he, too, could not be located. TPR was finally granted on grounds of abandonment—one year later!

My life as a mom of two was great. We went about our day-to-day life and I was enjoying not waiting for court dates and phone calls. Six years later, I gave birth to a daughter. I was now a mom to three! And when my youngest daughter was three years old, I decided to try foster-to-adopt one more time—because I wanted to adopt a boy so that my son could experience having a brother.

I also wanted to take part in an older-child adoption. I wanted to help a child who might not be chosen because of age.

I had heard about Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and contacted the program. From the first call to today, I couldn’t be happier.

All of the people at Diakon have been wonderful and helpful. I went through the training and was ready for the call. But waiting is part of the process; this, I’ve come to know.

While I waited for a boy, I was approached about providing for care for a 12-year-old girl facing several challenges. Diakon needed someone to care for her temporarily while a permanent family was found for her … but, three years later, she is another loved part of my family—adopted.

I now had four children but still felt as if something was missing. I still wanted to adopt a boy.

I went back on the list and was called for a five-year old boy. He stayed with us for four months but had behaviors I could not handle. I felt like such a failure. I knew that I could not give him the help he needed. Diakon was very supportive and helped me during this process and he moved to a home with fewer children. I knew that move was best for him, yet I still found the situation among the more difficult ones I have experienced.

Seven months later, I was called about an 8-year-old boy but he soon returned to his home. I knew that was a possibility in foster-to-adopt, but I was still shocked. Three weeks later, I was called about an 11-year-old boy from a large family. I said yes and headed to his county to pick him up.

The experience changed my life forever.

In fact, I experienced many things for the first time with this placement.

First, I learned how much he missed his siblings. The first night home I said to myself, “I should have taken one of his siblings, too.” I learned how important it can be to try to keep as many siblings together as possible.

Second, I had the wonderful experience of connecting with his birth mother. She has had a hard time in life and needed help and support as much as her children. She truly appreciates all the things foster parents have done for her children. So I learned that if you have the opportunity, you should try to connect with your children’s family. In fact, that connection made the placement so much easier.

Because of the support the mother received, the boy was able to return home in a few months. I was sad to see him go yet so happy for him and his family. They had worked very hard to get back together.

Unfortunately, the situation didn’t last and when I was called about the boy again, I asked to care for one of his siblings so that he wasn’t alone.

So here I am today—a mother of six! I don’t know yet what will happen with the boy and his sister. Will they go home? Will they go to a relative? Or will they stay with me?

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I am always asked by others: How do you do it? How can you sit and wonder each day if these kids will stay or go?

I tell them that it is just part of the foster-to-adopt process. I get through it with lots of support from adoption staff, social workers and others who are going through the same process. I connect with people who are walking the same walk. I use my Diakon staff worker for support. When I am stressed from all the waiting, I reach out to her. She tries to get me information and supports me.

The key to surviving the wait is to surrounding yourself with people who have done the same thing.

But—all this waiting and risk-taking have given me a family! I have grown as a person through these experiences. And I can truly say all of it has been worth the waiting I have done the last 18 years.

If I had to give advice to those just starting the foster-to-adopt process, I would tell them the journey may well be full of highs and lows. I also suggest thinking outside of the box and being flexible. Everyone goes into this with a specific picture of what you want in a family.

However, be open to expand on that picture.

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I also would say to be prepared to be patient. The process can be full of waiting. But it also is full of amazing people who will support you. It is full of children who want to be part of a family. It is full of children who need you for support, love, and safety.

Trust me when I say it is worth the ride.

Stacey
Diakon Adoptive/Foster Care parent

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Remembering the guardian of Topton’s history

I had heard the name Virginia “Ginny” Ebersole numerous times after the 2000 creation of Diakon that brought The Lutheran Home at Topton into my work-life, typically as the guardian of The Lutheran Home’s history as an orphanage.

Because I had a similar role in safeguarding the records of the children’s home operated by Tressler Lutheran Services—my former organization before the Diakon merger—I felt a sort of kinship with Ginny, even though the similarities ended there.

Ginny, after all, had actually grown up in the children’s home and then returned in retirement to the place of her childhood, living in one of independent-living cottages at The Lutheran Home, now a senior living community.

Although I had the privilege to work with Ginny the past two years, I wish I had learned to know her personally sooner because her commitment to protecting and preserving the history of the home was both outstanding and amazing. When someone wanted to know the history of a child who had been served by the home, everyone immediately turned to Ginny for that information.

But no longer. Virginia B. (Baer) Ebersole passed away last Sunday, July 24, at the age of 88.

Ginny lovingly told stories of her time at the home, to which she moved in 1933 when her mother passed away; her father’s work schedule made it difficult for him to take care of his family.

“We spent most days learning and studying, taking part in various activities including plays, and doing chores,” Ginny said during an interview for a 2014 Dialog article about her. “But the most important things we learned were respect, responsibility and how to work.”

When she turned 18, she left the home, typical for children coming of age. She married, raised a family and worked well into her 60s. When she and her late husband retired, the decision to return to Topton was an easy one.

Before long, Ginny became the unofficial archivist for Topton’s records.

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“Ginny worked diligently to preserve the artifacts and rich history of the services provided by the orphanage at The Lutheran Home at Topton,” says Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO. “She did this excellent volunteer work out of her love for and her personal roots at the orphanage and for the many friendships she maintained with those who lived at Topton, as well as the family and friends who have been part of that history. She will be deeply missed.”

My direct work with Ginny came the last two years as both of us served as members of the committee developing the planned restoration of Old Main, to house a permanency center related to Diakon Adoption & Foster Care—in many ways the direct descendant of the children’s home—and offices for Diakon Ministry Support.

She was very excited about this planned rebirth of the iconic building that in many ways defines The Lutheran Home at Topton campus.

Another communications staff member and I met with Ginny early on in this process to determine the extent of the archives she managed. One issue at the time was that, a year or two before, the original book that contains the names of the children served at Topton had gone missing. While there were copies of those records, Ginny was upset over the loss of this artifact.

During our tour of one section of the archives that day, I asked Ginny to describe the book. As she finished her description, I happened to look over to one shelf and something quite similar to her description caught my eye. I asked, “What is that?”

Her eyes widened and began to gleam. It was the book.

Obviously, whoever had taken the book had returned it to that spot unannounced. While we really had no significant role in finding the book, I have to say it was very gratifying to know that our trip had resulted in returning it to Ginny’s safekeeping.

Our hearts were gladdened just by the look on Ginny’s face.

I wish Ginny had lived to see the Old Main project completed, to see the building refurbished and renovated and serving its original purpose anew. But perhaps it is enough that she knew the project was under way.

And as we work to preserve the history of The Lutheran Home at Topton in this project, I know many of us will think frequently of Ginny.

I know as well that her spirit will be right there with us.

By William Swanger
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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