After aging out of foster care, Joe Toles has committed his life to ensuring other at-risk youth always have a place to call home. Four of his seven sons were adopted through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in New York City. This is his story.
By Joe Toles
I grew up in an environment of instability. My brothers and I were placed in foster care in New York City at a young age. While we didn’t move from house to house like many other kids do, my foster family did not provide a safe or loving home. We experienced abuse and neglect, and I was often left to care for my younger siblings.
At 21, I aged out of the foster care system. Statistically, I should be in jail, or I could be dead. But that’s not my destiny.
I sought out mentorship from other adults in my life, including my high school track coach. He believed in me and motivated me to reach my full potential. With his support, I earned a full scholarship to run track at Auburn University. The opportunity to receive an education changed everything.
After college, I came back to New York City and eventually got a job as a school counselor. The position allowed me to impact the lives of many young people who, like me at that age, needed the guidance of a caring adult. It also led me to the decision to adopt from foster care, to create a home base for children who didn’t have one.
I’ll never forget the first time I met my son, Xavier. He arrived in a suit jacket, like it was the interview of his life. He was charming, articulate, and he had many gifts and talents. He told me that every man in his life had beaten him down. He didn’t know what to do with a man telling him that he could “be something.” I adopted Xavier in 2010 with the support of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. He was just weeks away from aging out of foster care.
I now have seven sons — Cinsere, Creemel, Jhon, Johnathan, Kamren, Ronny and Xavier — who were all adopted from foster care.
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids has been instrumental in growing my family, providing critical support and guidance in the adoption of four of my boys.
Foster care shaped my experiences and who I am, but it has never been what defines me. I tell my sons that the world belongs to them. They have beaten the odds. Every year, thousands of teenagers, like them, age out of foster care without a permanent family. Through adoption, they now have an opportunity to write a happy ending to their story.
I want my boys to know that no matter what, they have a place to belong. They have people to call their family, their brothers, their father. They always have a place to call home.