This story was selected as a winner during our 2017 summer story contest and was submitted by Jodie Austin, President of KVC Nebraska.
In August 2017, I had the opportunity to attend NFC’s Champions Luncheon. The keynote speaker for the event was Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. Now don’t get me wrong, it was very cool to see her and listen to her journey and her future plans. The highlight of the event for me, however, was listening to a very special family share their journey about the connections they made with a couple of young ladies that has resulted in the incredible expansion of their family.
That special family is the Horton family which includes Liz, an In-Home Specialist with KVC Nebraska, and her husband Erin, a long-time and valued Resource Family Conference volunteer. Liz has worked in the community helping families for many years and has had the honor of working with and knowing hundreds of youth and families. In her role, she provides parenting skills training and crisis management to strengthen families and prevent the removal of a child from their home.
At one point in her professional journey, Liz had the opportunity to work with a 12-year old young lady named Jenni.
“When I first met and started working with Jenni, she was struggling in her foster home and at school,” said Liz. “She had suffered so many losses in her life and was a shy, quiet girl who was just trying to get by day after day. Jenni and I formed an instant bond. She would ask me to attend her school functions like her dance and choir programs. The smile on her face every time she saw me in the audience made me continue to attend whatever she wanted me to go to.”
After some time had passed, Liz and Erin wanted to grow their family and entertained the idea of adopting a child from foster care. They started browsing child profiles on the Heart Gallery website, which shows children and teens across the state who were eligible for adoption. Low and behold, Jenni was featured on the site as a child needing a forever family.
It seemed that all the cards fell in the right place. Liz and Erin completed the free foster parent training, became licensed foster parents and welcomed Jenni into their home right before her fourteenth birthday.
At this luncheon, Erin, Liz, and Jenni stood on stage and shared their story about how they wanted to care for older children in the foster care system and eventually adopt. On June 17, 2017, Jenni’s adoption was finalized and she legally became a part of the Horton family. Erin shared some of the most heartfelt feelings and emotions about how they knew Jenni was meant to be their daughter. He spoke about how people asked, “how could you adopt an older child? You missed out on all of the firsts.” And Erin had the best response:
“We saw her graduate from 8th grade and start her first day of high school. We took her to Dairy Queen for the first time and watch out everyone…she is going to be driving soon! She also has her first high school dance tomorrow – with dad as a chaperone of course. There will always be firsts for us and I can’t wait to support her through all of them.”
“Today, Jenni is your typical 15-year-old teenage girl – sassy, opinionated and thinks she has all of the answers to solve any world problems,” said Liz. “She is also very much into shopping, getting her hair and nails done and trying to be the best she can be. Jenni is a freshman in high school and even though she experiences the same struggles as any other teen, she strives very hard to make every day count. Jenni has a HUGE heart and would give the shirt off of her own back for anyone. She always wants to volunteer her time at local shelters or at various community events. Even this past Christmas, instead of presents, Jenni asked that our family make a donation in her name to the Flint Water Crisis. We made a donation in her name, and of course, she still received presents. Jenni has even told her story about growing up in the foster care system in front of hundreds of people, inspiring families and proving that fostering teenagers is just as rewarding as fostering younger children. Jenni continues to amaze her dad and I every single day!”
Jenni’s best friend Alizyhana also needed a forever family, and the Hortons officially adopted her on January 17, 2018.
The work that we do each day to help youth and families involved in the child welfare system is so important. The Hortons have truly taken this work to heart. There are many others at KVC Nebraska who do this in their personal lives as well. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the joy and pride I feel in knowing and working with Liz and Erin!
Everyone needs and deserves the stability and support that a family can provide. If you or a family you know are interested in helping a child in foster care, visit our website to learn more and consider these benefits of adopting an older child from foster care. If you are ready to take the first step toward becoming a foster or adoptive parent, contact us today!