One of the first things I heard as I entered in adoption of an older child was, “You’ll need to advocate for your child in school.” Little did I know, this would become my part time job. I first met my son, 14 ½ year- old RD, when he was wrapping up 6th grade. When I met the nice lady sitting at the front desk and told her I was there for a conference with his teacher, she said, “Oh my. If RD is planning on coming back to this school next year he’s going to need to toughen up.” That was my first school experience with my son. I learned in that 30 minute meeting that RD’s teachers thought he was a nice boy who had emotional problems. He had only attended the school for 30 days; they “knew” him from his IEP and previous school records. It was clear to me that they were basing their opinions off of what the previous school wrote about him, and had no intentions of truly getting to know him. After all, here is a kid who has never gone to one school a whole school year. Chances are he wouldn’t be going back to that school, so why invest the time and effort to get to know him?
Imagine not knowing how to learn? This was what my son’s life was like. He was passed from school to school, with notes in his file about his inability to perform his work. Never a solution and never any follow up. I’ll never forget reading a teacher’s note that said ‘Ronderik continues to spell his name incorrectly’ when in actuality, the school system had it incorrect (they were adding a C!). Those same negative and sometimes false notes followed him from school to school, with no real education advocate. Yes, he had a great case manager and guardian ad litem, but those folks weren’t with him every day and had no way of knowing the severity of how far behind he was. They did the very best they could to be his advocates, but without truly knowing the extent of his issues, it appeared that he just simply was not a good student.
RD had visited with me all summer, and he was moving in to our home just two weeks before school started. By now I knew that in the 12 homes before me, he’d never had a real foundation of learning. I initially considered a charter or private school for RD, but decided on the middle school in our subdivision. I was a brand new Mom in a brand new world, and what I soon came to learn was that RD has a learning disability that was never addressed. Not one of the schools he attended took the time to get to know my son. He was held back a couple of times in elementary school, but then was promoted year to year, even though he was not learning. How could someone spend time with this child and not know he needed special attention? After about three days of him living with me, I knew he struggled with things that should normally come natural to a kiddo entering the 7th grade. He’s smart as a whip, and has adapted in such a way that, unless you ask him a question that has to do with time, money, or other forms of measurement, you’d never know he struggled with those things. But, if you paid attention to him and really listened, it was clear that he needed some help.
That first year, I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a teen in middle school. Man, are those kids mean. Through RD’s eyes, it seemed grueling at times. Here he was – the new kid going to a “subdivision school” where most of the kids had grown up together and spent their school lives together. He was a black boy with a white mom and all he wanted to do was fit in. He was the odd kid out in a lot of ways. Thankfully the very first day, we met Ms. M. She took RD under her wing and learned all there was to know about him. She made the choice to review his IEP, but reserved all judgment until she truly got to know him. She treated him with kindness and respect, something he wasn’t necessarily accustomed to coming from a teacher. She recognized immediately where he fell short compared to his grade level expectations, and she made great accommodations for him to learn based on his abilities. Had it not been for Ms. M., I don’t know how we would have made it through middle school. Still, with all of her compassion, advice, and expertise, I found myself in the school or on the phone about once a week.
For several years leading up to becoming a forever family, RD was prescribed several psychotropic drugs. The day he moved in, with the guidance of his psychiatrist, we decided together that we’d have a fresh clean start and see how he did off of them. That being said, those first few months of school were difficult. My son had never had the chance to feel his emotions, because they were chemically suppressed. Then, he was in a brand new school, in a brand new home, feeling a deluge of emotions he’d never been allowed to feel! We spent a lot of time talking about feelings and how it’s okay to have them, it’s all about how you respond to them. And needless to say I was on a first name basis with the administrators of the school, advocating for RD, explaining his background, and convincing them all that this was his real first opportunity to learn how to learn. After the newness of experiencing feelings started to fade, RD was finding his way and learning how to deal with his emotions. He went from needing a cool down period every day to a couple times per week, per month, then very rarely. I’m proud to say that to this day, he is doing fabulous living without psychotropic meds.
8th grade started with much fanfare because RD was no longer the new kid, and was an upper classman. Ms. M. was still his internal advocate and also had him in her class. He was also fortunate enough to have my high school best friend and first college roommate as his science teacher. It’s rather amazing how when there is a connection, a feeling of safety and security with a teacher, a child will thrive. I’ll never forget the day RD’s Pre-Algebra teacher Ms. V. called to tell me he’d scored a 100% on a test. This was his first EVER perfect score on a test in his entire school career. It was an evening of joy and celebration in our home. He ended that first quarter with a B on his report card IN MATH, the highest grade he’d ever had in that subject. This was the product of him starting to have stability in his life, experiencing unconditional love, having amazing teachers who cared about him, and in my opinion, having a mom who was relentless about advocating for him, making sure he was truly getting the education he deserved.
Enter the search for the right high school. RD was born in November, so he was always going to be one of the older kids in his class. Add to that he was held back two years, and that means he’d turn 18 (and would have aged out – such a bone chilling thought to me) in the second quarter of his sophomore year. Going to a public high school with 1,800 kids did not sound appealing to either him or me, so we decided on a private school. This school caters to each student’s individual needs and builds upon their strengths, and three weeks in, RD loves it. There are strict rules and this is something I’ve found my son truly thrives in.
One of the other reasons RD and I were both so excited about this school, is that he was finally going to be able to try out for a team sport. This was something he wasn’t able to do in his past because once he finally got to middle school, he was ineligible because of his age. Last week RD tried out for the flag football team. I was so excited for him and made sure he knew if he gave it his all and never gave up, no matter what I’d be proud of him. I wanted to be that mom shouting from the stands as he crossed the goal line with the game winning touchdown, “THAT’S MY BABY!” After his second day of practice, I started gearing myself up that he was not going to make the team. He was doing his best and working hard, but I knew the signs based on what the coach was telling him. How do you continue to want to build your child up, help him gain confidence he’s lacked all his life because he was abused, abandoned, and neglected, and still help him through a valuable life lesson? Yesterday RD came home and told me he didn’t make the first cut. Talk about a hard conversation to have! He was disappointed, more so than he was letting on. He could have pouted and gotten angry, but he didn’t at all. We talked about the fact that most of the boys who are on or will make the team have been playing and practicing their whole lives. I believe the concept of “practice” for a sport or hobby is one that’s tough for kids of the foster system to grasp. There is so little stability in their lives while in the system, that the thought of doing anything repeatedly or on a schedule is foreign because they never know when they may be going to a different home or school.
For now, we will cheer on RD’s school football team, and I’ll let him explore just how badly he wants to be on the team. If he wants it, he needs to practice. Maybe he’ll try for the soccer team, or join the drama club. Maybe he will pick up his trombone, or practice singing the 50 different songs he says he wants to learn. Maybe this will be the year that he takes a step forward in math and learns how to combat his LD with the help of tools and a very focused and tailored education, just for him. Any way it turns out, I’m here for him; always advocating, always helping him through life’s tough lessons. One day, RD is going to change the world and I’ll be somewhere on the sideline yelling “THAT’S MY BABY!”
Every year, during our call for submissions for our 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list, we are inspired by the stories shared from representatives of companies throughout the nation.
In honor of the inspiring message below, we are opening the survey again for this week so we can recognize as many Adoption-Friendly Workplaces as possible.
We received this thoughtful message from John Leech, Senior Director of Recruitment Marketing at Comcast:
These days we hear a lot about achieving the work-life balance that’s so important to the American worker. Companies tout profit-sharing, 401Ks, and even pet health insurance, as unique perks to entice the best-of-the-best to join their ranks. Marketing and HR teams deploy big budgets to tell employees how they care about their values and support all aspects of their lives. But amidst all the bells and whistles, many employees are left feeling that their companies don’t fully support them when it comes to welcoming an adopted child into their family.
As an adopted child, I understand the vital impact of how being placed into a loving home can transform a life – I’m living proof. As a parent who has chosen to adopt, I know that having an employer and HR team that supported my family’s decision to grow through adoption is crucial to feeling respected and supported in my career. And as a Talent Acquisition and HR professional, I know that my choice to join Comcast, as well as that of many of my colleagues, was heavily influenced by the fact that the company shares our values when it comes to adoption.
We all know that the children of today are our hope for the future. The child that we all help find a forever family today will become the talent we want to attract and hire tomorrow. We can each do our part to make sure that no child is forgotten in “the system.” If you’re in leadership at a company, support the resources needed to provide adoption benefits to your employees. As caring adults with room in your heart and home, consider adoption or foster care. As a community, we can all join the fight to make unadoptable unacceptable!
We are getting ready for our 4th annual Kickball for a Home event here in Columbus, and you should be getting ready and warmed up, too! Here are some stretching tips from Christina Heineike, General Manager of Wendy’s Fitness Center:
WARM UP- It’s VERY important to warm up your muscles so they don’t tear!
Light cardio: Five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity, such as walking, marching in place, jogging, etc. A good rule of thumb is to keep moving until you break a sweat.
DYNAMIC STRETCHES- Stretches warm up the muscles as well as get them limber. Dynamic stretches mimic the movement of sports and are better for warming up than just holding static stretches. Be sure to only go to the point of a mild stretch, not pain.
Leg swings: Hold onto a wall or ledge for balance. Complete 10-15 swings forward/backward on each leg. Also complete 10-15 swings side to side on each leg.
Long lunge: Take a long step forward, dropping back your knee toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the back leg/hip. Stand up and repeat on the other side. Complete 8-12 per leg.
Rear kicks: Bend one leg, bringing heel toward your backside, then switch and repeat with the other leg. You can do this exercise standing, or in a jogging motion. Continue for 15-30 seconds.
High knees: Bring one leg forward, bending knee to 90 degrees, and bringing thigh parallel to the ground. Switch and repeat with other leg. You can do this exercise standing, or in a jogging motion. Continue for 15-30 seconds.
Arm swings: Take arms out to the side and swing them in front of your body. Repeat 10-15 times. Then swing them in circles forward/backward; 10 each direction.
Calf walks: Place hands on ground or on a wall/ledge. Put feet side by side and press one heel toward the ground as the other heel comes off the ground; switch. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.
The first year of my life was spent in foster care, yet I have no memory of it. My adoptive parents often told me the story (at my requests) of when they first picked me up from my foster family in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For most of my life, it was the only piece of my early history that someone I knew could recount for me from memory.
My parents told me what wonderful people my foster parents were. My mother and I would send letters to them annually, with various photos, and pictures of me playing sports, musical recitals, and school photos. We rarely received a response from my foster mother, and when we did, it would be a short acknowledgement that she received our package, and not much more. I always sensed that she was guarding herself from me for some reason.
I was adopted into a large family in Washington State, with seven other siblings – five of whom were also adopted through foster care. I’ve always had this insatiable drive to find, meet and connect with my birth mother in Chattanooga, even with having a great childhood and upbringing.
There were so many questions – who is she? Where is my birth father? Did other family members know I was born? Do I have any full siblings? The questions kept coming and morphed into different forms of the same question as my cognitive ability, skillful reasoning, and imagination expanded. My tenacious drive (along with help from my family), combined with extraordinary circumstances, led me to have a series of reunions with my birth family members over the course of several years during my mid-twenties. These interactions comprise much of the feature length documentary Closure, filmed and edited by my husband, Bryan.
The decision to make my story public was one that came with a lot of thought and countless conversations with Bryan about the hope for education, as well as the consequence of my loss of privacy. We chose to have the film explore the thoughts and reactions of many members of my family (birth and adoptive) as I made this journey. Bryan felt it was important to include the first-hand accounts of all of those around me who were affected by both my birth parents’ choice for adoption, as well as my choice to search and ultimately reunite. We debated whether or not to include one particular scene, as it didn’t fit in with the story of finding my birth family, which was the main premise of the film. This scene on the chopping block was the reunion with my foster family in Chattanooga – the first time seeing them since I was one year old. Ultimately, the experience of this reunion was too powerful to exclude from the film, and I realized that learning the truth about my foster family was a large piece of my life puzzle. To see where I was born, where I was transferred, and to meet the folks who knew me and cared for me at a critical stage in my life.
During our reunion my foster mother told me of how she and her husband had wanted to adopt me, but they were unable to at that time. She told me stories of doctor’s early predictions that I would likely never walk. She told me of the hours and hours on end that she would work to loosen my legs in order to put on a diaper, and the daily trips to the physical therapist where folks would watch in wonder as this Caucasian woman worked with me as if I were her own flesh and blood (mid 1980s). She spoke of how she’d wondered what I had thought about them over the years, admitting that even thinking about me was hard for her, and that she had a tough time going back to those memories. The loss she describes seemed to equate to the overwhelming feelings I was having as she spoke about me as a parentless baby. It was in this anticipated moment of reconnection and reunion that we both realized the deep bonds that were formed between us in my first year.
If my foster mother’s scent was bottled up in a jar, unlabeled amongst five other unlabeled scents, I’d pick hers out in an instant. I knew her smell, and when we hugged, those preverbal memories imprinted somewhere within my body came flooding back. I had spent so much energy over the years fantasizing about how I would feel when meeting my birth parents, that I largely overlooked the significance of this reunion. One hug with my foster mother felt like a missing puzzle piece being snapped into place.
In my previous time working as an adoption social worker, and speaking about adoption at Closure screenings and other events, I always emphasize adoption through foster care. The idea of building a family through foster care is so commonplace and normal to me, as my parents chose to have one child biologically and adopt the rest of my siblings through foster care. It’s a wonder to me how foster care or fostering with the intention to adopt is still largely considered a second choice, or something someone else will do. As the Super Bowl Champion quarterback Russell Wilson (go Seattle!) preaches: “Why not us?” I certainly understand the challenges that come with foster adoption, and know that not every person is equipped to handle those challenges. However, when I meet prospective adoptive parents who fear the unknowns of foster adoption, I often find myself responding with a variation of – “Why not you?”
As an adult adoptee I am now able to more clearly articulate feelings, and can attest to the fact that I am here not solely because of my birthparents, but also because of the supporting cast of family members – foster and adoptive – who played huge support roles in my early life. I am reminded that we are all interconnected beings with basic needs, and we are surrounded by folks who are willing, able, and ready to step in to fill these voids. Sometimes we just need some encouragement and perspective.
Our nation needs more permanent homes for our precious, bright children in foster care. My only question is – “Why not you?”
Written by Angela Tucker.
For a limited time, Bryan and Angela Tucker are offering 25% off the digital download of “Closure” with code DTFA. Purchase here.
As the director of our grantmaking programs, I get to meet many funders from across the nation. We trade ideas on topics that help us all become better grantmakers. One of the most common things I hear is how many of them struggle with mission and measurement. In other words: “Are we specific enough about the change we are trying to make, and how do we measure it? How do we know if we are moving the needle?”
At the Foundation, I am glad we can answer those questions with a definitive yes. And here’s how. (more…)
Senior Director, Marketing & Communications
It’s what we do every day in pursuit of our mission: To dramatically increase the number of adoptions of waiting children in foster care.
It’s also how we lead our organization, knowing that when we do good, others do better – including the people we lead and the children we work for.
Take a look at the six internal brand promises we refer to every day at the Foundation. Let me know what you think. (more…)
We’re right in the middle of National Infertility Awareness Week and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has joined the movement with RESOLVE. As a part of this partnership, we are sharing information about building a family through adoption from foster care.
Since 1989, RESOLVE has organized a dedicated week to raise awareness about infertility. And every April, professionals, bloggers, support groups and those living with infertility share their stories and advice. They encourage more people to educate themselves and to consider all the roads to build a family.
Unfortunately, infertility is all too common. One in eight couples of childbearing age is impacted by infertility, according to the Center for Disease Control.
But infertility doesn’t have to be the end of the story. (more…)
Today’s guest blog is by Greg Reiff
My wife and I had been trying to get pregnant for almost four years. There were no real reasons for us being unable to get pregnant. We were even trying any means to get pregnant outside of in-vitro fertilization. It just costs so much and only has a 10-20 percent success rate. We were getting very frustrated and spent many days crying over our dilemma.
About Christmastime, 2006, after months of tests and retests at a local hospital for my wife, Krista, and me – and seeing numerous friends and family announce their pregnancies – we became very distraught over the infertility process as a whole.
My wife lovingly shared with me that she was starting to feel like adoption was our only hope for a family, and that she really wanted to be a mom. I still thought that if we just kept trying, we would eventually be able to conceive a child. (more…)
I had the incredible honor to be at the very beginning of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Together with Dave and many others, we shaped the very first mission, goals and objectives. I know without any doubt that Dave would be incredibly proud of what DTFA stands for, and what it has accomplished over two decades.
My favorite milestone constantly repeats itself … witnessing the power of the human spirit in the lives of the children we serve. (more…)
Today’s guest post is by April Martinez
Our story began when my husband and I got married in July of 2005. Two weeks later he left for Iraq and six months later I left for Afghanistan. Almost two years after he left, we were finally together – thanks to a nice four-month extension I received at the last minute. One if the things that got me though all that time apart was the dream of starting a family once I returned home. One would think it would be a very simple process. However, for us, it was not.
While we were able to get pregnant (eight times in all), each time the baby became an angel before we could welcome them into our arms. It all finally became too much for us. We were not sure where to start so we got some adoption books and explored our options. International adoption was not within our means (not enough leave time from the military to fulfill requirements), and we were turned away from domestic adoption agencies for being dual military, so we inquired to our local foster care agency. (more…)