OPINION: A stirring in the heart, a party and two teens get forever homes

Leslie Eason of Atlanta recently adopted her son Nicholas and is on track to adopt another son. (Courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

Credit: Courtesy of Bethany Christian Services

Credit: Courtesy of Bethany Christian Services

Leslie Eason of Atlanta recently adopted her son Nicholas and is on track to adopt another son. (Courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

The first time I heard about an adoption party — dozens of foster care children, case managers and adults getting to know each other — friends of ours were hoping to give a child a forever home.

I always found that process, well, curious. It was tantamount to making children audition for what they most wanted in the world — a new family of their own.

Our friends did in fact find a son that day, but I couldn’t help wondering about those who didn’t and at what cost.

I’d all but forgotten that adoption parties were even a part of American culture until early last week when I met Leslie Eason on the phone.

The idea of adopting a child was dropped in her spirit more than a decade ago by a social worker friend who during a conversation expressed his concern for increasing numbers of Black children, teens in particular, in the foster care system.

There’s a huge number of y’all who could really do some good, he told her, referring to the vast number of Black professional women in metro Atlanta.

“That really stayed on my heart,” Eason told me between long bursts of laughter.

Eason, now 41, was a 30-something corporate attorney with no plans of ever becoming anyone’s mother. Besides, she had 10 nieces and nephews, and the idea of changing diapers even for the short term never appealed to her.

But this, too — from her Pastor Andy Stanley — had been stirring in her spirit: Everything that God gives you wasn’t meant for you.

A lot of us need to chew on that but I digress.

As 2017 turned to 2018, Eason was ready to deal with the thing that had been birthed in her spirit — adoption.

Weeks after burying her mother, who had succumbed to lupus, she called Bethany Christian Services to begin the process.

According to the nonprofit adoption agency, there are over 120,000 children in foster care across the country who are eligible for adoption. Of those, more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system nationwide each year.

This being National Adoption Month, Bethany and nonprofits like Families First hope to make the rest of us aware about these startling facts.

Rebekah Staats is the adoption coordinator for special needs children at Families First. (Courtesy of Families First)

Credit: Photo courtesy Families First

icon to expand image

Credit: Photo courtesy Families First

Rebekah Staats is Families First’s adoption coordinator for special needs children — those who have been in foster care for at least 24 consecutive months, are part of a sibling group, or who have a documented medical or mental health diagnosis.

“Sadly for these children, they are the last to be adopted,” she said.

According to Staats, there are about 14,000 children in foster care in Georgia. Of those, roughly 300 need a forever home.

“They are the ones for whom we know for sure parental rights have been terminated,” she said. “Three hundred may sound like a small number, but these kids have been waiting and wondering where they will end up, most of them for at least three years. That’s a lot.”

Most of those kids, Staats said, are teens, who will eventually age out of foster care at a time when they are ill-equipped to fend for themselves. They are more likely to become homeless, more likely to become pregnant, and more likely to be incarcerated or worse.

“That’s why we really stress teen adoption,” she said. “These young people need love, care and a forever family just as much, if not more than, the younger children.”

Eason believed she could do the most good if she were to adopt a teenage girl.

After completing the requisite parenting classes, she was invited to an adoption party in Warner Robins. She was en route there when she started to question her decision. Instead of adopting “a whole kid,” maybe she should buy a Porsche and call it a day.

She called her father, Rodney Eason, sure he’d listen and not try to answer for her.

“You’ll know if it’s the right thing for you to do,” was all he offered.

The party was coming to an end, Eason remembered recently, when a case manager said, “Let me introduce you to Nicholas.”

Nicholas was a 14-year-old from Dublin, Georgia, who’d spent most of his life in foster care. His current place of residence was a group home. He immediately noticed Eason’s blond tresses and cracked a joke.

“Oh yeah, I did that hair color once,” he said.

“This could totally be my kid,” Eason said to herself.

They’d meet several times more after that weekend while Eason dug a little deeper into her comic’s background. Early last year, they were in the state-mandated visitation phase, but by then, Eason was sure Nicholas would be her son. It was just a matter of time.

On July 24, the adoption was finalized.

“He was already my kid,” she said. “The court just provided the papers.”

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

icon to expand image

Well, it looks like Eason will soon sign on the dotted line once more.

Nicholas had become close friends with another teen at his old group home.

In a FaceTime meeting with his friend one day, Nicholas invited him for a visit. It was an opportunity for them to consider if they could grow into a larger family together. When a social worker at the Division of Family and Children Services asked Eason if he could stay, her answer was yes, of course.

It just seemed right, she said.

“He just looked like he needed a mama,” she said.

Looks like he nabbed a good one and all because Leslie Eason followed a hunch and attended a party one day.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

National Adoption Month

For more information

Families First: www.MakeAPlan.net or email agency at adoptions@familiesfirst.org. 678-359-4718

Bethany Christian Services: Bethany.org or 1-800-BETHANY