How Adoption Changed My Life

To recognize the last day of National Adoption Month, CCAI asked former Foster Youth Intern, Marchelle Roberts, to write about how adoption has impacted her life. 

The Roberts Family.
The Roberts Family.

I was adopted when I was 12 years old and it truly changed my life. After having suffered the loss of my younger brother through sibling separation, I looked to adoption as a way for me to keep my younger sister with me. I knew my adoptive mother loved us before she even adopted us, but I also knew that the foster care system had its ways of taking things from me and I didn’t want my sister to be another one of those things.

Being placed with my adoptive mother saved me from sexual and emotional abuse that I had suffered in foster homes before and I knew that I wanted to continue living a stable life with my sister. After three years of being her foster child, when my adoptive mother asked if I would be okay with being adopted the first thought I had was “Of course!” I had already felt so much a part of the family but she explained that certain things would change and the love she had for us would only grow. With my and my sister’s adoption, on the same day, at the same time, came new names and a fresh start.


Being a permanent part of the Roberts family, I was given so many opportunities that I most likely would not have been afforded as a foster child. I traveled out of the country on numerous occasions, worked as a youth mentor and volunteered my time in the city of Camden. Now, at 23 years old, I am the oldest of nine children, eight of whom are adopted. I graduated high school at the top of my class and I am currently a soon-to-be Temple University graduate. I feel that I am truly blessed to have had a second chance at life and I thank my mother almost every day for saving my siblings and me.

I also have never referred to her so much as my “adoptive mother” because she never made me or my siblings feel like anything less than her children. She opened her heart at the age of 21 to her first foster/adoptive child and never ceases to prove her love for all of us.

When I think back to the day I was adopted, I remember hugging my sister, who was a tiny one-year-old, and feeling a sense of comfort and relief; relief because I no longer had to fear being taken away or losing my sister. I know that adoption is not always the answer for every child or every situation, but I also know that adoption saved my life, and gave me a better future.


It’s official!

In celebration of National Adoption Month, CCAI asked former Foster Youth Intern, Ashley Lepse, to share about the day the judge and her family finalized her adoption.

Then: Ashley (left) and her sister and brother.

“Can I hit it again?!” I asked the judge as I held the gavel with excitement. I had been anticipating this day for four years, and wanted to make sure it was official—I would forever more be a Lepse.  “Sure,” she said smiling with compassion in her eyes. I hit the gavel one more time and the courtroom exploded with clapping and cheering.

It was official, my siblings and I were apart of the Lepse family.

We walked off the stage and into our family’s arms.  My siblings and I smiled at each other with a sense of belonging that at the ages of nine, eight, and five we had never felt. Our past was filled with neglect, and dominated by parents scarred by domestic violence and drug abuse.  When we were removed we were placed in two foster homes that just perpetuated those memories and added a new layer of abuse. But finally— we were brought to loving people who took care of us and became our parents.

Now: Ashley (middle) and her sister and brother.

Now on August 20th 1998 it was official, we are a family.  My sister Gabby and I in our pretty matching green dresses and my brother in his spiffy new suit had much to look forward to the next few days. After much paper work earlier that morning, then the court appearance, and the lunch at the Walnut Room in Marshall Fields, we would be the guests of honor at our adoption party the following day.

My parents had rented out the YMCA for a party with family and friends. We had spent many months preparing and planning the biggest party our family would ever throw. We each got to pick our favorite food to be catered and we created a special family program. My sister and I had decided that we wanted to do a duet to “Sisters, Sisters” by Irving Berlin, and practiced this for a month before the big day.

After a beach day at Foster Beach, we were excited to be on our way to the party. A bit late, we showed up and were showered with an immeasurable amount of love. In retrospect, it seems like an even bigger deal at 23 than it did when I was nine. We got there just in time for our hour of swimming— my parents had worked hard to rent out the entire pool. Following the swimming was food and the program. My sister and I went up there and performed our duet, which was the closest I ever got to a singing career. Family and friends filled the room, all in tears as my dad and mom told the story of us three little child coming into their homes and filling their lives with more joy and love than they ever could have imagined.

Their words and sincerity will forever be imprinted in my memories. The party had finished quicker than we all wanted it too, and it was time to go home–our forever home. Later that day we were told that my grandparents on my dad’s side had planned a special family reunion to Disney World for the following November. Our adoption day was and forever will be the happiest day of my life.

The Lepse Family.

Kathleen Strottman: Giving Thanks

Like most Americans, I spent today reflecting on the many blessings in my life.  Not the least of which, is my family with whom I enjoyed today’s Thanksgiving feast.  Yet, this is also a day where I stop to reflect on the importance of the work that we do at CCAI.  Today, perhaps more than any other, I cannot help but think of the millions of children around the world who have yet to know the joy that comes with having someone on the other end of that wishbone. It is with them in my heart, that I want to share five things that I am most grateful for today.

5) For Those Who Show Us Why Family Matters: Last month, Nicholas Kristof called on President Obama and Governor Romney to take notice of research that shows a child’s early beginnings, and in particular the quality of the relationship with their parents, was at least as good a predictor as I.Q. of whether he or she would graduate from high school.  He is not the first to bring this simple truth to light.  Nobel prize-winning James Heckman and Harvard’s own, Dr. Jack Shonkoff have been leaders in the development of a strong scholarly basis for investments in early childhood.  What’s more, Dr. Charles Zeanah, Dr. Charles Nelson and Dr. Nathan Fox have demonstrated for the world that the nurturing, consistent relationships a child needs to thrive are not found in institutions, but rather in families.

4) For Those Who Remind Us You Are Never Too Old to Need a Family:
The entire U.S. Foster Care system continues to operate under the assumption that an 18 year old is a fully functioning adult who is able to live life independently of others. Until we change that, we will continue to produce young people who are unable to reach their full potential. We can no longer accept the fact that 25,000 children a year meet this fate.  We also cannot be complacent as tens of thousands of children are told that long term foster care is a better option than a family.  Today and every day, I am grateful for programs like Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, Extreme Recruitment, You Gotta Believe and the Wait No More campaign that are proving that there is no such thing too old. Our fellow advocates, most notably Nicole Dobbins with Voice for Adoption, are giving policymakers the information and inspiration they need to make “unadoptable” unacceptable.

3) For Those Who Remind Us That One Person Can Make A Big Difference:
In September, we celebrated our 14th annual Angels in Adoption.  At this year’s gala, we proudly honored Katherine Heigl, Josh Kelley, Ne- Yo and People Magazine for their extraordinary contributions on behalf of children in need of families.  But the stars of the night were actually, Karen Parker and RJ Sloke, whose tearful embrace reminded us that a single act can change the trajectory of a young person’s life forever.  Ms. Parker, a 9th grade computer teacher, took notice of RJ, a young man who was so let down by the system that he had to repeat 9th grade three times. She made the conscious decision to become his life-long advocate and mentor.  RJ, a member of the FYI class of 2012, is due to complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at GMU this year.  Karen, thank you for being a shining example for us all.

2) For Those Who Have Changed Lives:  This summer we were graced to have 15 young leaders join the ranks of our Foster Youth Internship (FYI) program. I have learned a lifetime of knowledge about what it means to be a leader from these incredible young people.  Their wisdom, tenacity, courage and hope are indescribable.  While I could give a shout out to each and every one, my thoughts today are of Talitha James, who at the end of the summer told her Congressional audience that the key to reforming foster care lies in our remembering one thing:  successful children grow into successful adults.  She is so right.  As Marc Parent, author of Turning Stones, put it: Children are like cups and the mistake we sometimes make is to think our job as parents is to give children the patience, love, courage, hope and insight that they need to become adults.  The truth is they are already filled with every one of these things.  And our role as their parents, teachers and mentors is to make sure not one drop of this potential gets spilled.

1) For Those Who Make the Work of CCAI Possible
:  As you may or may not know, CCAI does not have a large budget or an army of staff. We excel because of the generosity and commitment of so many incredible people it would be impossible for me to mention them each by name.  I can only pray that every measure of goodness that you have brought to us or the children we serve will come back to you tenfold. I would however like to take the opportunity to single out my staff without who not only make the mission of CCAI come alive every single day, but as people make the world a much, much better place.

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Happy National Adoption Day!

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 17, people all throughout the United States will recognize National Adoption Day. As part of this celebration, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute wants to share “You Just May Be” a music video we produced in partnership with national singer-songwriter Karyn Williams. “You Just May Be” celebrates adoption and reminds individuals, families, and organizations all over the world that anybody can make the difference in the life of a child without a family. As Karyn tells us in the introduction, all you have to do is say, “Yes!”

Happy National Adoption Day!

Small Hands Change the World

Kenya, August 2012

In August, CCAI’s Director of Policy, Becky Weichhand, traveled to Kenya to continue to build on the work of The Way Forward Project. She spoke at the East African Orphan Summit in Nairobi, visited local orphanages, schools and development non-profits, and met with staff at both the Kenya and Regional offices of UNICEF and the PEPFAR programming staff at USAID to learn about their work in Kenya and the region as it relates to orphans and vulnerable children and to discuss efforts to continue to make family-based care for children not only a best-practice but a reality for children in the region.

The following is a short photo essay of this trip.

Neighborhood children in front of a home in Soweto, the largest slum in the capitol city of Nairobi.
Children in their school uniforms at a school run by a church in Soweto await the opportunity to greet their guests at the end of the school day.
A toddler looks out the window into the yard at the orphanage in which he lives.
Children in this orphanage enjoy play time with orphanage staff and volunteers.
Becky holds a little girl who lives in the orphanage while the child sitting alongside her holds a toddler who also lives there.
Becky visits the top of the Kenyatta International Conference Center overlooking Kenya’s Parliament building with her friend Winnie. Winnie serves on the board of the Kenya Network of Care Leavers. The Kenya Society of Care Leavers is a grassroots youth empowerment movement that promotes the well-being of those who have spent time in institutions in Kenya by creating support groups for young people who have left orphanages in Kenya as well as educates children and youth still in orphanages about their rights.
Jeromy Smith (far left), a U.S. citizen and adoptive parent of Kenyan children was a tremendous support to the East African Orphan Summit leadership and its emphasis on empowering local government and church leadership to promote in-country, family-based care for children in the region. Here he is pictured with the director of Rwanda’s PEACE Plan Initiative as well as two Kenyan attorneys who spoke to the East African Orphan Summit audience about the process and timeline for domestic Kenyan adoptions.
A sign on display at the Nairobi Giraffe Center reminds us that our work impacts generations and that as we work to promote family care so that children in the U.S., Kenya and around the world can thrive, they in turn can change the world.