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Bursting with Love

Actress and author Nia Vardalos once wrote, “Anyone who ever wondered how much they could love a child who did not spring from their own loins, know this, it is the same. The feeling of love is so profound, it’s incredible and surprising.” Families who have chosen to open their homes and hearts to children in need know this firsthand and their stories are a way for us all to understand profound, incredible, surprising love.

Various agencies and organizations, including The Heart Gallery, Camelot Community Care, Finally Home, foster care, and more are connecting and uniting forever families. While each family is unique, there is one common thread that runs through all the following adoption stories — love.

A Family Tradition- Loryn Smith’s Story

Tampa Bay Parenting 2015 Smith Family

When I was 19, I was doing an internship in New York for college, my degree was in social work, and one of the social workers asked if I had ever thought about adopting. I said, “I always have. I have two adoptive siblings!” She said, “Why don’t you go fill out the paperwork because there is a seven year waiting list in New York.”

Well, little did I know that it would take much less than seven years? At age 20, and just two weeks after my husband Thad and I filled out the paperwork, we got a little boy. He was 2.

We now are in the process of adopting our 10th child, and we have five biological children. Our children range in age from 36 all the way to 2. We also now have 12 grandchildren and three adoptive grandchildren. We are carrying it on to the next generation.

All of my children were adopted through the foster care system, but our sixth child, our second adoption, was a child who had the highest level of cocaine and alcohol that they had ever registered in a newborn. They said that if he survived he would be profoundly mentally handicapped. He is in the Air Force now and is just truly an amazing person.

When they saw that we would take kids who need extra attention and love, we started getting calls. All of our adoptive kids were born addicted. We also were foster parents for 30 years, but the kids who came to us for adoption came to us for that purpose. We were up for the challenge, I guess you could say.

The last four children who joined our family were each teenagers, and they had each had four failed adoptions a piece. So by the time they got to us, they clearly didn’t trust us and had spent 10 or more years in the foster care system. They were very wounded children, and it has been challenging and rewarding to see these children who are afraid to trust learn to do it.

When parenting kids who are hurt, it’s important to be realistic, not take things personally and love them unconditionally, allowing them to achieve whatever potential God has for them.

My personal passion has since become a professional passion because I own my own agency. We place through both domestic (newborns) and the foster care system. Probably the most rewarding program that we have is our family coaching program. We go into homes and help parents implement and develop strategies for children impacted by trauma. I just love helping parents, seeing them respond and then watching their children respond.

Of course, I have a vested interest because if I place kids with good people then I can stop bringing them home!

It is an exciting journey, and we wouldn’t trade the good times (or challenges) for anything. Thad and I have learned so much about ourselves and how to meet individual kid’s needs. We learned to redefine success, and it has been an awesome journey that has forever impacted our lives and made us better people.

Fulfilling Destiny- The Story of DeeDee Mays

Tampa Bay Parenting 2015 DeeDee Mays

My desire to adopt was sparked 15 years ago. At the time, I was not in the position to do so, but the desire never waned. Upon moving to Florida three years ago, the timing finally felt right.

My biological children were grown and out of the home. My great-niece, now 12, who I have had custody of since she was 15 months, was the only child living with me. For as long as my children could remember they knew, “Mommy wants to adopt.” What they were not prepared for – for that matter neither was I — was to adopt a teenager.

I attended and completed the 10 week Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) class in preparation for being a foster or adoptive parent. What it did not prepare me for was the reality of parenting a teenager again.

The minute I met my adoptive daughter it was love at first sight. I knew in my soul that this was my daughter. Teenagers can be rough around the edges, but underneath the hard exterior there is a person that longs to be loved and give love in return. This was the case with my adoptive daughter.

Before the adoption, I had become a foster mother to teenage girls. They are truly a blessing and a breath of fresh air. I learned how much they appreciate what you are doing. Even something as simple as tucking them I, ironing for them or bringing home a new candy, can elicit appreciation, excitement and giddiness.

The most rewarding part of my new family is the unconditional love, and the memories we are creating together. They help keep me young and are very entertaining. They keep me up to date on all the slang (so I can effectively communicate with the teenage population). They also keep me up to date on the latest fashion trends. My daughters enjoy dressing me up and doing my hair and makeup. Fostering and adopting have been a rewarding journey for me.

It Only Gets Better– The Sakales Family Grows

Tampa Bay Parenting 2015 Sakales Family

When we last heard from the Sakales family in 2013, they had recently adopted their beautiful daughter Lamaya, whom they were connected with through the Heart Gallery. Lamaya was from medical foster care and had heart issues that required multiple surgeries.

Since then, the Sakales has welcomed a new member, their adorable 3-year-old son Javoni.

Although he has been living with the family for a year, they are finally getting to celebrate his adoption this month. Like his sister, Javoni is from medical foster care. He has spina bifida and scoliosis.

Christen and her husband are over the moon. “We sometimes wonder if other parents feel this way. We love them so much and everything is a big deal to us,” she says.

“I feel like it is such an amazing experience. I feel like because we know how we got our children, and we believe that God picked our children for us because they are the perfect fit for our family.”

Since bringing Javoni into the family, the love has only grown and spread. “One of the most amazing things is watching two children who are not related fall in love with each other,” Christen says. “To watch my little girl and my little boy fall in love with each other is just amazing. When my daughter comes home from school her brother says, ‘I missed you today! I love you.’ That is just amazing!”

“I feel like we all appreciate each other in a different way,” Christen says.

The Sakales family, like many others, connected through the Heart Gallery. The Heart Gallery helps future parents connect with kids who are looking for forever families, including teens, siblings and children from medical foster care.

On Feb. 12, the Heart Gallery, in association with Camelot Community Care and The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, will host Be Mine 2015: No Place Like Home to raise money and awareness for children in need of loving homes. Tickets are available online: HeartGalleryTampaBay.org. There, you will find resources to connect you with children and answers to common adoption questions.

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