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!

Former Foster Youth Interns Featured on FamilyLife Today

In a special live edition of FamilyLife Today, hosts Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine interviewed two former CCAI Foster Youth Interns, Chey Gethers and Mary Lee. Chey and Mary spoke about their lives in the foster care system, the struggles they encountered and the people that helped them get to where they are today.

Chey entered the foster care system when she was a senior in high school. Her parents were alcoholics who abused and neglected her. Chey spent weeks at a time at friends’ houses, until one of her friend’s parents called the Department of Child Services (DCS). When her parents were informed that DCS would be making a home visit, they cleaned up the house and stopped drinking. But as soon as DCS left, things went back to the way they were.

After being kicked out of the house in the middle of the night, Chey called her case manager, who was able to see the reality of the situation and removed Chey from her parents’ care. The system would have put her in a group home because of her age, but Chey’s church decided that the state wasn’t doing enough to help her and they decided to “adopt” her. Her seventh grade Sunday school teacher, Sherry, stepped up to share her home with Chey. At her recent wedding, when the celebrant asked who gave Chey  to be married, the whole congregation stood and said, “We do!” Chey now lives in Nashville and works as an analyst for the FBI.

Chey (right) and Sherry

Similar to Chey, Mary also entered foster care because she had been abused and neglected.  When she was 16, after spending four years in foster care, Mary decided that what she really wanted was a forever family, so she went to court and had the judge terminate her parental rights. She was eligible for adoption at an age that many people considered “unadoptable.”

Mary made a scrapbook of her life to show potential adoptive families. One day, her adoption worker brought Mary a book made for her by a family that wanted to adopt her. When she opened it, she saw that it was the family of her DCS case manager. Now Mary is recently engaged, living in Memphis and working as an attorney and Business Development Specialist for Youth Villages, a non-profit that works with high-risk children and their families.

Mary (left) and her family.

The program’s hosts had a surprise in store for Chey and Mary!  Sherry, Chey’s seventh grade Sunday school teacher, and Scott, Mary’s former DCS case manager and adoptive father surprised them on stage! You can listen to the entire interview (including the surprise!) here:

2012 Foster Youth Interns Make their Voices Heard!

CCAI’s 2012 Foster Youth Interns (FYI) had a message to deliver to Capitol Hill: Here us now! The group of 13 former foster youth felt that for too long their voices had gone unheard, so on July 31, they released their Congressional Report and delivered an accompanying presentation to a captive audience which included Members of Congress, Hill staffers and representatives from several child welfare organizations.

For those who were unable to attend, you can watch the full briefing here.

CCAI Angels in Adoption: Meet Gary and Janice Meyer

CCAI’s Angels in Adoption™ Program provides Members of Congress the opportunity to honor an individual, couple, or organization from their district that have made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of children in need of homes. The Angels in Adoption™ travel to Washington D.C. to participate in three days of events all designed to train them to use their personal experiences to affect change and to celebrate their hard work and dedication to adoption and foster care issues. The events include the Adoption and Foster Care Advocacy Fair, tours of DC and networking events, an award ceremony, legislative seminar and an opportunity to visit Congressional offices to share how adoption has affected their lives. 

This year, on September 12, CCAI will recognize actress Katherine Heigl, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, and PEOPLE Magazine as the 2012 National Angels in Adoption™ for their dedication and commitment to adoption and foster care issues. They will be honored, along with local Angels in Adoption™ selected by 143 Members of Congress, at CCAI’s 14th annual awards gala in Washington, DC.

Over the next couple of days, we will be highlighting some of our Angels in Adoption Angels in Adoption™. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Angels Gary and Janice Meyer.

In 1988, Janice and Gary Meyer decided to provide a warm, nurturing, loving home to children in need and became foster and adoptive parents. To date, they have adopted seven children and are in the process of finalizing the adoption their eighth child.

All of the children the Meyers have adopted have extreme behavioral, mental health, and medical needs. When their son Austin was first placed with Janice and Gary, they were not sure if he had any vision. They immediately secured the needed services, which necessitated numerous 350-mile round trips from Salina to Kansas City so that Austin could receive the best care. The results of his testing were conclusive: Austin lacked all vision.

Today, Austin walks with a cane to assist with mobility and Janice has taught him braille. Despite the continued need for care, Janice and Gary never wavered in the process to adopt Austin. The same is true of their son Leon, who is blind, deaf, and confined to a wheelchair, with a severe brain injury resulting from shaken baby syndrome. Every three months, the Meyers take Leon to Wichita to see his neurologist and he is monitored for seizure activity and receives treatment to stimulate muscle dexterity. His adoption was finalized on July 30.

The Meyers’ ability to love and care for all of their children unconditionally and constantly reaffirm their commitment to them makes them true Angels in Adoption.

The Meyer Family