EIGHT siblings adopted into ONE loving family

A National Adoption Day Story

By: Melissa Groves

This National Adoption Month is a celebration of sibling adoptions. We are excited to share with you the sweet story of one of our Angels in Adoption – the Groves Family – and how National Adoption Day and sibling adoptions have become a part of their amazing foster care and adoption story.

If someone would have told me 14 years ago that I would meet my soul mate on a silly little telephone dating service and we’d go on to have NINE children I probably would have laughed out loud right before fainting from shock. You see, all my experiences as a single mom with my then four-year-old daughter lead me to hope for another child, eventually, but EIGHT more, not very likely.

Scott and I met on a Thursday, he proposed after six months and just a year later we were saying “I do!” Right away we discussed expanding our family. Unfortunately as it should happen, doctors soon informed us that the possibility of our conceiving naturally was also very unlikely.  To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement. I struggled to understand, I cried and prayed every night asking…no, BEGGING God to PLEASE allow me to give my husband a child and daughter a sibling. But it seemed no matter how hard I prayed, my prayers went unanswered.

After returning home from a trip to visit family, I couldn’t stop thinking about a conversation I had had with my aunt who happened to be a foster parent.  They had just been placed with a beautiful baby girl they would soon be adopting. Adoption…hmmm…could we? We had so many questions that it was all so very overwhelming. We spent any free time researching adoption options and praying for guidance though I think we already knew where our hearts were being called.

In December 2003, we decided that foster care would be the best match for our small family. It not only would allow us to give back to our community by creating a safe place for children but it also meant the opportunity to have another child in our home and if it lead to adoption…we couldn’t wait!

In January of 2004 we started our foster parent training for ten weeks! At times I wondered if all the red tape and hoops were worth it or if we’d ever get through the classes as the weeks seemed to drag. However, I could feel the light at the end of the tunnel.  We finished our classes, received our license, and on Good Friday we received our first call from DHS. My heart skipped a beat…it was really happening! “There is a sibling group of 5 but we need emergency placement of the younger 2 boys,” the voice on the other end of the phone said. WAIT, WHAT?! TWO boys?! But we said only ONE! Instantly my excitement faded to disappointment (remember I was NEW to all this).

Due to the holiday we cautiously agreed to give it a try and into our lives stepped two of the cutest little boys we’d ever met. Noah (age 3) and his little brother Chase (age 22 months). Almost instantaneously these two seem to capture our hearts, and it wasn’t very long before I knew that if the chance arose I wanted to have them in our lives forever. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps it was divine intervention, I don’t know, but what I do know was that the boys’ ‘short’ stay with us turned into adoption.

Now in a perfect world, I could probably have ended my story right there; a story book ending with a “and they lived happily ever after” as a closing comment, but as I’m sure you’re aware, ours is not a perfect world. We decided that although we were done adopting, the need was so great; we would continue offering foster care and emergency placements. More and more we found our lives being enriched and hearts being captured by each of the young charges that we were blessed to have come to our home.

This was a very hectic time in our lives, yet I inwardly loved the excitement that these changes brought. Within weeks of the legal adoption of our sons, we received a phone call from their previous case worker informing us of a new development in their birth family: the imminent arrival of a new brother and an immediate need for a foster placement upon his birth. There was no question, how could I deny my sons and this new child the possibility of being together? So after less than a year, our family grew yet again with the addition of Baby Garrett.  Then, just eleven months later we were surprised with another call concerning the arrival of another newborn brother, Hayden. Born with a cleft lip, drug exposed, and premature, this little guy had a rough road ahead, but he was as much ours as our other boys; of course we’d accept. And on National Adoption Day they officially became a part of our family!

I have to admit that it is at this stage of the game, people started to question my sanity, and there were many times I too was amazed and overwhelmed at the twist and turns that our life had begun to take. But there was something within me that truly felt these children needed to be kept together. I have to use this “heartfelt” assurance as my excuse for adopting four-month-old Ashton the following year and AGAIN another newborn brother Curran in May 2009. We planned to finalize their adoptions on National Adoption Day that same year and had even been asked by local news station to be a featured family. We were so excited! Much to our surprise after posting our news story online we were contacted by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who had just heard our story and wanted to nominate us as Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) Angels in Adoption awardees. What an incredible honor!

Three years passed, we were settled, and life was going well. Then one day I received an unexpected Facebook message from the boys’ birth mom asking if we’d consider adopting her unborn baby. We had every reason to say no—not enough money, not enough time, etc. but somehow things seemed to fall into place and the following June we found ourselves in a hospital waiting room awaiting the arrival of our son, Bryer. In October 2013 our soon-to-be seventh son, Zayn, was born premature, drug exposed, and diagnosed with Down syndrome. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m truly amazed and in awe at the pure joy this little boy brings to our family. He teaches us patience and unconditional love daily and I can’t imagine life without him.

For us, adoption was initially just a means to complete our family when having a biological child seemed impossible. But, it has become so much more to us. It has opened our eyes, widened the horizons of our family, enriched all of our lives, and brought us so much love and happiness. Our family is complete through adoption. Adoption has been such a gift and when wrapped in a special day such as National Adoption Day, an adoption just seems that much more meaningful, like you’re part of something far bigger than yourself or your own little family.  National Adoption Day for us, allows us the chance to celebrate becoming a family, it also gives us the opportunity to share our story and hopefully spread awareness of the many other children currently available for adoption, waiting for their forever families.

This year we are excited to share that we will once again be taking an active part in National Adoption Day as we finalize and celebrate little Zayn officially becoming our son. I can’t think of a better way to finish growing the Groves family. If there is anyone reading this and considering adoption, please know that all your efforts and all the heartache will be worth it the first time your little one calls you “Mommy/Daddy.” Don’t give up!

Groves kids

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Inside Look at Angels In Adoption (Photo Essay)

CCAI’s Angels in Adoption™ Program consists of three days of event in Washington, D.C. where those who have made a difference in the lives of children through adoption or foster care are celebrated by Members of Congress. Here are some of the highlights of the 2014 Angels in Adoption™ Program!

Our Angels were honored at a Congressional Pin Ceremony. Below, the Dille family is receiving their pin from Senator Vitter.

Each of our Angels were honored at a Congressional Pin Ceremony. Above, the Dille family receives their specially designed Angels in Adoption pin and certificate from Senator David Vitter (R-LA).

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Here, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) honors his Angels in Adoption nominees, the Creekside Center for Women at the Senate Pin Ceremony.

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CCAI Advisory Member, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), poses for a photo with the MacConnell family.

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National Angel in Adoption Honorees, Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein of TLC’s The Little Couple, and Debra Steigerwaldt Waller, CEO of Jockey International and Paul Singer Award winner, met with Senators Landrieu (D-LA) and Grassley (R-IA) and CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand on Wednesday to discuss adoption policy.

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Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein are presented their Angels in Adoption pins from Senator Landrieu and CCAI Board Chair man, Jack Gerard.

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On the red carpet at the Angels in Adoption Gala!

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Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) joins the honorees on the red carpet with his family and adopted granddaughter.

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The gala began with a performance by Dove Award nominated singer and songwriter, Sara Groves.

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The atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building was transformed the evening of the gala.

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Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

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CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Intern, Amnoni Myers, received a standing ovation from the audience.

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Adoptive father Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) presents Debra Steigerwaldt Waller of Jockey International with the Paul Singer Award.

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Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein’s acceptance speech.

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The Little Couple’s fans taking photos.

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CCAI’s staff are big fans of Jen and Bill and their wonderful family.

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From Foster Care to Capitol Hill

2014 Foster Youth Intern, Amnoni Myers, so graciously shared her story of survival at the recent Angels in Adoption gala. Watch her video and read her speech below!

Good evening everyone. It’s an honor to be here with all of you tonight. This is an opportunity that I would have never imagined a few years ago. But it’s because of Angels like you in my life that made it possible.

Life was not easy growing up. My mother abandoned me at birth and trauma became the theme that impacted my life early. I was taken in by a caregiver who neglected to feed and properly care for me. By the time I was six years old I experienced sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical violence. Already vulnerable, I entered into state care where I was separated from my siblings. My sense of family and identity was robbed. During my time in care, I moved around 5 times, and foster mothers seemed more interested in the economic benefits of caring for me than unconditionally loving and treating me like I was their own.

Sadly my story isn’t so unique. Thousands of children experience these types of obstacles each day but the uniqueness of my story is—I survived. Though survival wasn’t always easy, I thank God for placing people in my life then I needed it most because strangers became my family. Strange, right? But if it wasn’t for those who decided to invest in me, I wouldn’t be here today.

I would also like to credit my story of survival to my faith in God and to my inner determination and strength to NEVER GIVE UP despite the many odds that were against me. It was during a very critical time when I heard these important words: Never allow your past to dictate your future.

This summer I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program. This program impacted my life tremendously. As part of this experience, I was able to develop lifelong friendships with people who had been through experiences that were similar to mine.  What I found to be unique about CCAI is that they see potential in every intern that comes through their doors no matter what they have experienced. In my time as an intern I found that my voice finally mattered and was valued. CCAI provided a wealth of opportunities that I was able to experience right at my fingertips!

We went on retreats where we could share our stories with each other, learned how to effectively tell our stories to people we would be working with on Capitol Hill, and spent a weekend at Deep Creek Lake where some of us experienced jet skis, boating, and tubing for the first time. Growing up in the inner city never afforded me these types of opportunities so it felt good to be able to check off so many excursions on my bucket list at once (despite crashing into a tree and falling off the tubes multiple times).

As a Foster Youth Intern, I was assigned to the office of Senator Chuck Grassley. Because the Senator is a leader on foster care issues, I was able to work on projects specifically related to federal child welfare policy and my firsthand perspective was valued in the office because of my journey in the foster care system. My supervisor, Kathy, encouraged me to not only share my perspective with her, but also with the other interns in the office.

The Foster Youth Interns develop a policy report, which we present to policymakers and staff. The CCAI staff spends many long nights helping us refine our recommendations. For my policy recommendations I chose to focus on the need to standardize trauma-informed care training for caregivers and to provide ongoing training in this area. I envision that one day my recommendations will be enacted into law!

Although I was anxious about whether I was equipped to handle the workload of a Congressional Internship, being here gave me the chance to develop a healthier sense of myself. It was people like the staff at CCAI, Senator Chuck Grassley and his staff, my mentor Aisha, and my Sara Start Fund mentor who not only believed in me, but also invested their time in me, loved me, and adopted me into their families.

To tonight’s Angels in Adoption honorees, this is exactly what all of you have done for children like me. You saw something special in them that others didn’t see, and you are making an impact not only in their life but in the lives of future generations to come!

My time here on Capitol Hill has prepared me for my future goals to change and impact policy. I am now participating in a fellowship program in California where I am working with underprivileged youth and their families. Speaking of future goals, I also applied for The White House Internship this summer and I am keeping my fingers crossed that someone in the audience has a connection they can send my way!

I am eager to return to Washington D.C. because I know my work here is not quite finished. CCAI gave me wings so that I could fly, and with the experiences I have gained, I will continue to invest in the lives of children in the same ways that CCAI and all of you have invested in me!

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A Reflection on CCAI’s Recent Trip to Haiti

CCAI’s Director of Programs, Allison Cappa Coble, reflects on her August 2014 visit to Haiti as part of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program:

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) most recent 20/20 Vision Program Delegation trip to Haiti was an unforgettable experience. It was heartbreaking and inspiring. It was a glimpse into the worst parts of human injustice and reminders that there are passionate people who are bringing hope to the orphaned. Joining CCAI was Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Dr. Karyn Brand Purvis, Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, CCAI Advisory Board Member and Founding Executive Director Kerry Hasenbalg, Brooke Eastburn of Safe Families for Children Minnesota, and several friends supporting the work of Restavek Freedom Foundation in Haiti.  By partnering with both public and private entities, CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program goal is to increase positive dialogue and the exchange of information among private sector individuals, foreign and domestic government officials and Members of Congress. And it is our experience that once these powerful individuals have met with the most vulnerable, they will speak and act on their behalf.

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Prior to working on child welfare issues, I, like many others, believed an orphanage provided safety from the streets, food for children who would otherwise go hungry and the possibility of an education. Our delegation to Haiti visited orphanages that spanned the entire spectrum; from well-resourced to under-resourced orphanages, to deplorable conditions – and each showed us that absolutely nothing can replace the love and security a family can offer. Yes, many of these children might have a bed and a roof over their head, but Dr. Karyn Purvis  taught us that if you listen and watch closely you’ll see these children are deeply traumatized. You’ll notice that laughter is missing, you’ll see babies that remain listless as you enter the room and when you go to hold a young child he will stiffen rather than know how to melt in your embrace. These are children who have not been loved well, but, rather, have experienced the severest types of abuse and/or neglect.

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Dr. Karyn Purvis visiting a child in an orphanage

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” Mother Teresa

Thankfully, we did visit some organizations that are doing incredible work on the ground. Restavek Freedom is standing up for the 300,000 child slaves, known as restavek, in Haiti. It is through their tireless efforts that enslave children who have not only been pushed beyond their physical limits, but struggle to know their worth, have found freedom and a better life. Healing Haiti’s Grace Village is a faith-based organization whose orphanage prioritizes reunifying children with their families if and when at all possible by providing employment opportunities and school fees to families in poverty so that children can remain with their biological families whenever safe and possible to do so. They also are open to children being adopted when adoption is in the best interest of the child.

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Additionally, the delegation met with IBESR (Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare), USAID and UNICEF. The dialogue between the delegation and these government officials was very positive. It was encouraging to see a sincere emphasis being placed on deinstitutionalizing children whether through reunification or adoption efforts, as well as making strides to eliminate the corruption, bureaucracy and abuse of power that too often keep children in harm’s way.

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Representative Michele Bachmann at a meeting with IBESR officials

As I reflect on all that has been accomplished through this delegation, I am most proud of the fact that CCAI exists to be the storyteller of the vulnerable. That the children who are living in constant fear and whose voices have been silenced are now being heard. And not heard by just anyone, but by influential lawmakers and private sector leaders who have the power to protect the powerless. Their stories will break your heart. But they will also change you. And we believe that if Members of Congress and influential leaders take the time to hear and experience them, they will take steps to protect children and to make it easier for loving families to come together. While CCAI has worked tirelessly for thirteen years fighting to make a loving family a reality for each and every child, we realize this is a daunting task and there are many forces working against this vision. But within us we have faith, love and a family comprised of advocates who feel as strongly as we do that we must respond to the desperate pleas heard by orphaned children around the world. So just as we have done in Haiti, we’ll continue to share their stories. Because they’re worth it.

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A loving caregiver at Redeemer Orphanage

Photo Credit: Erica Baker

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2014 Foster Youth Interns Release their Report to Congress

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We are pleased to share with you the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) 2014 Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Report Shaping Tomorrow with Today’s Minds.  In it, former foster youth share their personal experiences and creative federal policy recommendations that address a range of child welfare issues, including:

  • Giving Youth a Voice: Contact After Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
  • Increasing Stability for Infants and Toddlers in Care
  • Essential Documentation for Youth in Care
  • Addressing the Trauma: Treating Children’s Mental Health with Screening and Assessments
  • Creating Best Practice Standards for the Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System
  • Renewing the System’s Commitment to Child Well Being: Fostering Resilience through Trauma Informed Training
  • Providing Comfort and Information to Children Transitioning into the System
  • Stolen Pasts, Corrupted Futures: Preventing Identity Theft for Youth in Foster Care
  • Empowering Foster Youth through Case Plan Trainings to Increase Youth’s Acceptance Rate of Extended Foster Care
  • Helping Foster Youth Overcome Barriers to Employment
  • Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth: Special Education and Mental Health

In past years, the Foster Youth Interns’ reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing the nearly 400,000 children currently in or transitioning out of the United States foster care system.

“A core value of our work at CCAI is to bring those with experiential knowledge of child welfare policy and practice to Washington, D.C., to share their firsthand accounts with policymakers such as the 150 Members of Congress in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. The Foster Youth Internship program is designed to do just that. Once again this summer, our interns have combined their individual life experiences in foster care across the nation with what they have learned about federal child welfare policy during their internships in the U.S. Congress. The result is this report filled with their innovative ideas to solve challenges they and other children in foster care face growing up in the system,” CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand wrote in the report.

The electronic copy of the Foster Youth Interns’ 2014 report is available here!

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Senator Grassley’s Speech on the Senate Floor Highlights CCAI Foster Youth Intern

Last night, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gave a floor speech highlighting Amnoni Myers, a member of CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Intern Class, and her experience in the United States foster care system. In the blog below, Amnoni tells her story—the adversity she faced in the system and her experiences this summer on Capitol Hill. We are so proud of you, Amnoni!

Senator Chuck Grassley with Amnoni Myers

My Story

Growing up in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was not an easy experience. I became a ward of the state the day I was born, addicted to drugs and abandoned in the hospital as a result of my parents’ involvement with drugs, criminal activity and poverty. My Great Aunt took my two siblings and me in and cared for us for ten years. Not having the opportunity to be raised by my biological parents was extremely difficult because I did not have a natural support system to aid me in my success. I encountered trauma at a very young age resulting from various types of abuse and neglect. At the age of ten, I was reunified with my mother but after a short two years, my mother voluntarily returned my siblings and me back to the state without notice. Because incidents of abuse and neglect persisted, DCF took permanent custody of us. At the age of 12, I was placed in non-relative foster homes, where I then continuously moved around until the age of 18. Growing up with so many challenges made me unable to see how my life would eventually be used for good.

My Experience as a Foster Youth Intern

I feel very fortunate that despite the challenges I had to overcome, I was able to attend college and recently graduate with a degree in Social Work and Sociology. Having a college education gives me more opportunities to advocate and give a voice to those without one. In addition to my degree, my life experiences also prepared me for my time as a CCAI Foster Youth Intern this summer. When I applied for the Foster Youth Internship, I was initially afraid of the possibility of opening up and facing my past, but I quickly recognized that this opportunity would be a life-giving experience as I would finally have the chance to give voice and perspective to the challenges that foster youth face. My time on Capitol Hill has been amazing thus far—I have been able grow both personally and professionally. Although I was anxious about whether I was equipped to handle the workload of a Congressional Internship, being here gives me the chance to develop a healthier sense of myself. CCAI’s staff challenge me to reach my maximum potential by putting in my best effort as I write my policy recommendations for Congress and work hard to achieve maximum results while I’m here in the program.

Interning with Senator Grassley

Interning for Senator Chuck Grassley also provides me with an opportunity to develop professionally. The Senator provided a platform for me to share my unique experiences in a way that brings firsthand perspective to the job. I have been able to work on special projects specifically related to federal child welfare policy because the Senator is a leader of the Foster Care Caucus and my perspective is valued in the office because of my journey in the foster care system. My supervisor encourages me to not only share my perspective with her, but also with the other interns in the office. The skills I am learning through CCAI and in the Senator’s office are very transferable, and are preparing me for the next season of my life.

My Future

After my summer here with CCAI, I will participate in a fellowship with Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto, California, working in community development and serving underprivileged youth and their families. My time here on Capitol Hill has prepared me for this, because I am now able to see how policy directly affects lives. I faced many challenges growing up, and until working in the Senate I was unable to see how Members of Congress advocated for people. But since working with Senator Grassley, I can now see and appreciate all the hard work Members of Congress do. My experience here with CCAI and Senator Grassley give me confidence to continue my advocacy efforts in California. I hope to return to Capitol Hill in the near future because I would like to continue to invest in others in the same way CCAI invests in me!

To read the full transcript of Senator Grassley’s speech, click here. To watch the floor speech, click here.

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CCAI Releases 2013 Annual Report

Annual Report

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is proud to announce the release of our 2013 Annual Report. As we reflect on 2013, we are proud to highlight CCAI’s involvement in raising awareness of the millions of children in our nation and around the world without a loving family. From hosting a delegation of Guatemalan judges and child welfare professionals on a three city tour of the United States to organizing Congressional briefings and honoring the inspiring stories of adoption and family through our 15th annual Angels in Adoption Program, we believe we accomplished our mission to break down the barriers which prevent these children from realizing their basic right to a family. We hope you enjoy this brief review of all that last year entailed for CCAI!

To read CCAI’s 2013 Annual Report click HERE!

To make a donation in support of CCAI’s work or learn more about our partnership opportunities, click here or contact info@ccainstitute.org.

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