Jacqui Jackson returned recently to volunteer at the orphanage where she stayed as a baby in Bogota, Colombia; she was later placed in foster care. She was 7 weeks old when she was adopted in 1976. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

Cobb couple’s nonprofit works to help orphans, those trying to adopt

As anyone who has ever wanted to adopt or foster a child knows, the process can be fraught with setbacks, anxiety and a whole lotta red tape.

Whether domestic or international, private or via agency, there are reams of paperwork to fill out, home inspections to get the ball rolling, background checks and more inspections. Along the way, all sorts of things can go wrong, leaving would-be parents in limbo, potentially for months and even years.

Jeff and Jacqui Jackson have been there.

Soon after the Marietta couple were married in 2010, they started the adoption process. Jacqui, a former foster child and international adoptee, already had a 3-year-old daughter she’d adopted during a previous marriage and was ready to adopt again.

They were 13 weeks into the process when social workers realized they had only been married months and put the brakes on.

“We were devastated,” Jacqui said.

The day after their first anniversary, the couple called the placing agency, and they started the process anew. In November 2011, they learned a little boy was available for adoption in Oklahoma.

There were more stops and starts, but on Dec. 13, 2011, they brought little Isaac home.

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Then a funny thing happened.

Jacqui started to feel off her game. Her cycle was late but three different doctors in three different states had assured her that her chances of getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term were less than 2 percent.

She took a pregnancy test anyway and lo and behold the stick turned pink.

“I started screaming and jumping up and down,” she said.

On May 9, 2013, Jacqui gave birth to Lanie Grace.

“It felt like our family was being completed,” Jacqui said.

They were on a mission trip in east Asia working in a special needs orphanage the next year when Jeff, so disturbed by what he saw, felt God calling them to do something, to start an orphan care ministry.

Jeff, a Lexus service manager, took a leave of absence. The timing was awful. Jacqui, they learned, was four months pregnant.

Jeff Jackson speaks at a Center for Public Justice Roundtable in Washington, D.C. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I went to a place of fear,” she said. “We were going to lose the house, the health insurance.”

Jeff encouraged Jacqui, who holds both a journalism degree and a master’s in education, to write again and she did.

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She penned her first book: “God’s Got This: A Strategic Prayer Guide for Your Adoption Journey.”

It was the prayer guide she needed and didn’t have. It was also the motivation she and Jeff needed to create the nonprofit they believed God had called them to: Ignite Hope, a bridge ministry that connects churches to the needs of orphans and supports would-be parents through the fostering and adoption process.

That was in March 2016. Since then, 35,000 people have read Jacqui’s devotional on YouVersion, and 18 organizations have partnered with them to, well, ignite hope.

Jacqui Jackson shares a moment with Harvard law professor and adoptive mother Elizabeth Bartholet at the National Adoption Conference held last year in Washington, D.C. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Thirty-three percent of Americans consider adoption, but only 2 percent complete an adoption,” Jeff said. “We found that in our own personal experience, people get fatigued by the process and just gave up when they didn’t have a community to keep them going.”

The Jacksons essentially enlist churches to use their members and resources to help families.

“There are 155,000 children available for adoption in America today,” Jacqui said. “There are 300,000 churches in America. If just one family in every other church adopted one child on the same day, it would eliminate orphans in America.”

It’s kind of like crowdfunding, Jeff added.

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“We want to shift the recidivism,” Jacqui said. “So often, people go into foster care and adoption with unicorns and rainbows in their eyes, but the reality is you’re bringing children from hard places into your home and you’re going to hit some snags. If you don’t have community around you, it’s going to be 100 percent harder. It’s huge when people can say I understand.”

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.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ignite Hope, she said, recently partnered with Project 1.27, a Colorado-based nonprofit that recruits churches and families to foster and adopt the kids in their own backyard, to hopefully engage metro Atlanta churches to help in the effort.

To date, they have provided support to 22 families, half of whom have finalized their adoptions. In 2017, they adopted two different orphanages in Andhra Pradesh, India, for Christmas, and last year donated to Bright Future in Uganda.

It never occurred to her when Jeff told her God wanted them to provide strategic support in orphan care that this would be their life’s work, but it feels good, Jacqui said.

“I’m the momma bear voice for all the babies who don’t have one,” she said. “I get it … because I was them.”

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

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