By: Bonnie Meibers
One of those 10,000 helped by the program is Sarah Dykes, who was adopted by Dayton resident Robin Saldivar in April of 2019.
The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program is affiliated with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which is making a push to increase adoptions of children who are older, have special needs or are part of a sibling group. The program started in 2004 and has seen nearly 7,300 kids adopted since 2012. A five-year evaluation by Child Trends revealed that children served by the program are up to three times more likely to be adopted.
“I’m happy where I ended up,” Dykes, who is now 17, said. “Robin was the right person. I don’t think I would have wanted to be adopted by anybody else.”
Saldivar and Dykes met when she came to stay at Saldivar’s group home, Robin’s House. The facility is a duplex with room for five girls on one side and four girls on the other. Saldivar, who is a therapist, said she first tries to give the girls a safe place, then starts working on the trauma they may have faced or other mental health issues. Most girls who come to Robin’s House are in the custody of Children’s Services, Saldivar said.
“Sarah was very opposed to getting adopted, and had been the whole time she was in the system,” Saldivar said.
Lisa Carlin, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiter who works in Montgomery County, worked on Dyke’s case.
“She was a hard kid to crack,” Carlin said.
Carlin said that working for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids means her caseload is lighter, so that she can focus on building relationships with the kids she is assigned and let them get comfortable. This lighter caseload also ensures each child gets the resources and other support they need and give the recruiter time to investigate possible connections to adopt the child.
“(Carlin) was there as an outside person for Sarah to talk to. She gave her hope that there was possibility to have a forever home,” Saldivar said.
Saldivar said she has five sons and hadn’t considered adopting more children, but when Dykes and Carlin approached her about adopting Dykes, she agreed. Dykes moved out of Robin’s House and into Saldivar’s home.
“Kids just need somebody who’s ‘theirs,’” Saldivar said.
Saldivar said things haven’t been “all roses,” but Dykes is doing well. She’s now a senior in high school and may graduate on time. She also recently had a seasonal job at Kohl’s.
“No kid should ever be put in the ‘unadoptable’ category,” Saldivar said. “Sarah didn’t need to shut out a world of possibilities, she didn’t need to shut off to being adopted. There are so many kids out there that need homes.”
Of the kids served by the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, 56% are part of a minority group, 81% have at least one special need, 61% are part of a sibling group and prior to being referred to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, 86% had minimal or no adoption recruitment efforts on their behalf. The average age of kids served by the program is 13.
“Wendy’s Wonderful Kids began as a belief that we could ― and must ― do better for children lingering in foster care waiting for an adoptive family,” said Rita Soronen, President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Ten thousand adoptions since 2012 is no small feat, Carlin said. Carlin said in Montgomery County, there are typically 80 to 100 adoptions per year. And the kids that she and her coworkers place are typically harder to find homes for.
“A lot of our youth come with a lot of challenges…We get a lot of those older teenagers that are just, historically, in every child welfare setting, a little bit harder to find forever placements for. And so, to have that high of a number, knowing the population that we are assigned to work with, is no small feat,” Carlin said. “Needing someone to care about you and support you doesn’t stop just when you turn 18. Even as adults we need our moms and dads.”
Carlin said when people think of Wendy’s, they typically think of cheeseburgers. But the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption does so much work to help children in the foster system, she said.
This story was originally published on February 24, 2021 in the Dayton Daily News.
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