BY JERÉ ANTHONY
As the sirens fly by me I press my fingertips to my lips and touch my heart, it’s really the only thing to do when encountering the unknown of a medical emergency. I say a silent prayer for the family involved but I can’t say that I’ve ever taken the time to revisit the thought. When tragedy strikes it is hard to put a face to the victims involved. We all feel it in our gut because we know what pain feels like in some form or fashion and everyone has experienced loss in their own ways.
I was recently given the privilege of meeting a courageous young woman who has already lived through a lifetime of grief and loss. When Lianca Wilson was 12 years old her entire life changed. She was involved in a car wreck, which took her mother’s life. She quickly became that unknown person who was suffering that we find ourselves praying for, in that very instant Lianca became an orphan.
Unlike many of the children in the foster care system that are victims of abuse and neglect, Lianca went from being a child who was loved and cared for to being alone and having no one to call her family. Her first placement was with an aunt who would ultimately become financially unable to care for her. As a result of this, her custody was given over the Department of Children and Family Services rendering her available for adoption.
I wish I could say that the loss of her mother was going to be Lianca’s rock bottom. In 2012, Lianca became ill and was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, a rare form of Leukemia that required her to undergo intense chemotherapy treatment at St. Jude’s Medical Research Hospital. Lianca went through rigorous chemo treatment for 10 months that tested her inner and outer source of strength.
Lianca experienced a reprieve from her bout of adversity when she went into remission in 2014. Although she had already overcome 2 major tragedies in life, she remained sweet and loving, and was always a joy to be around.
The idea of being part of a family again was Lianca’s sole desire. Her first foster care placement was a wonderful fit for Lianca, but it wouldn’t be a permanent one. Her foster parents loved her and agreed that she could live with them until she aged out of the system on her eighteenth birthday. While this was wonderful news that she wouldn’t have to change homes again, Lianca still held on to her dream to have a real family that she was apart of.
In 2016 tragedy struck once more for Lianca, her foster father with whom she was extremely close, fell ill and passed away. Little did she know that this misfortune would be the catalyst for the biggest change in all of her 17 years. As her foster mother was grieving, she took a trip out of state and Lianca was temporarily placed into another foster home with Miss Vernice Carter.
From the moment that Lianca entered Miss Carter’s home, things were different. She seemed to click with Miss Carter and they formed a bond that could only be described as family. It was like they were bound by blood and Miss Carter knew that she had to make Lianca part of her family, but she had to hurry.
Lianca’s dream to be adopted was running out of time as her eighteenth birthday approached. As a true testament to her loving nature and kind spirit, Lianca had everyone on board to pull the right strings to have her adoption completed in time. Attorneys, Child Welfare workers and Judges aligned to a common goal and were able to pull it off in record time. On December 15, 2016 Lianca was adopted, just 10 days shy of her eighteenth birthday.
I was honored to be present during the ceremony and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I can think of no one who deserved her happily ever after more than Lianca. Surrounded by her biggest fans, CASA workers, and DCFS staff; Lianca was transformed from orphan to daughter with the signature of the judge. Just like that her fairy tale was complete and I am happy to report that the ending looks very promising for this very special girl.
So it seems the prayers we speak in our hearts as the ambulance rushes by are not in vain and time is the healer of all wounds. She may have been broken down time and time again, but Lianca has lived a life worth telling about. In her 17 years she has experienced grief, loss, healing, and unconditional love like no other. Lucky for us, she’s not finished yet.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
The idea of adoption is something that many people feel is out of their reach. Just the thought can sometimes be overwhelming because of the obstacles interwoven into the process. I recently had the privilege to sit down with a young woman who shared her journey and the challenges she and her husband are still facing since adopting 2 boys from the foster care system.
Growing up Whitney felt the effects of having an absent father. She felt a void in her life that started when her dad walked out when she was 10. Over time she realized that there was a man that was there for her, though he wasn’t her biological dad. Whitney talked about her relationship with her siblings’ father as if he were her biological father. “He was the one who walked me down the aisle for my wedding, and I realized that I wanted to be that for a child”. Because of Whitney’s firsthand experience with an absentee parent, she knew early on that she wanted to provide that for a child.
For Whitney and Michael Carr, the decision to adopt was one that was made in the early stages of their relationship. Whitney knew that she had to fulfill a purpose, and communicated to Michael early on about her heart’s desire to be an adoptive mother. In December of 2015, after a few solid years of marriage, Whitney and Michael made the decision to begin their adoption journey.
A friend showed her a website called The Heart Gallery of Louisiana and pointed out two brothers. Whitney quickly realized that she knew the boys because they went to her church. After an excited phone call to her husband, the couple made a decision. Whitney said “That’s it, I know that is who God wants us to adopt”.
No story is complete without challenges to overcome. Despite the fairy-tale nature of her story, Whitney and Michael have faced many challenges. I was surprised when she revealed that the most difficult struggle the couple faced was the reaction of some people to the ages of the children. Since Whitney and Michael are a young couple, many family members and friends voiced their concern over them not having a big enough age gap with the oldest child. Despite being a young couple, Whitney and Michael knew that this was something that they were called to do and trusted that God would empower them to lead this role… and so He has.
When asked how they dealt with the daily challenges of dealing with the system, Whitney responded, “DCFS has been amazing towards us during this time and we can’t get over how much they have encouraged us, especially Julia Clark and Wanda Washington”. She finds strength in their loved ones and a solid support network of friends that are always there for them. Today Whitney and Michael still have many obstacles to face before they can officially say that they are parents. They are taking things one day at a time and look forward to the day that they can drive away from the court house with their children alongside them.
Some words of wisdom for anyone who may be considering adoption: “Just breathe because there will be trying times and there may even be times when you want to give up. There are times that it is just hard, but we have these boys that I have fallen in love with, I love them like they are my own children. Reach out to your support system, and make sure you have someone who you can confide in other than just your spouse. You need to have those people that can just bring you back to reality and remind you why you are doing this, and to keep you grounded. When I get nervous, or scared, they are always they to pull me out of it, even if it is just by occupying me with something else.”
I find strength in powerful stories such as Whitney’s that show us even though something seems unlikely, having the faith in God and the courage to let Him lead you can make anything possible. Social norms exist, but they do not have to define everyone. Love is not something that we should keep to ourselves, I am so thankful to Whitney for sharing her story of what a family truly is made of. I hope you feel inspired by this beautiful story just as I am.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
All it takes is for one person to do something incredible to make an impact. One small person can be the catalyst for change and inspire others to create a chain reaction. Last week I was privileged to meet a 10 year old girl who created a spark of hope in our community. Unbeknownst to her, Zuleyah Minor may have just started something, and I can’t wait to see what happens from here.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by a sweet mother of a child who wanted to solve a problem that she was informed of in a school assembly: if a child has not learned to read by the third grade it is most likely they will not graduate from high school. The mother told me that her daughter, Zuleyah, wanted to organize a drive to collect books and socks for children in foster care. She asked if CASA of Northeast Louisiana would be able to use these items. I told her that we would definitely put those items to good use. What I didn’t tell her was how desperately the children in the foster care system need to be remembered and how great an impact this simple gesture would be on them.
What people may not know is that the children that we serve in the CASA program have been removed from everything that they have ever known, often times taken out of school and placed into a different one. Not only are they having to adjust to a new lifestyle with complete strangers, but they are also adjusting to a new school with new teachers, classes and peers. This unfortunate situation is often compounded when they are split up from their siblings. I don’t know about you, but this makes my heart wrench. With all of that being said, I can honestly say “Yes they would love to be thought of by a complete stranger and they would love to receive a sweet gift…just because”.
The book and sock drive was a phenomenal success and we were overwhelmed by the response. However, the effect of inspiration and hope was not found in the tangible items, but in the thoughtfulness and compassion shown by our community. All it takes is for one person to stand up to make a difference. I am so proud to be a part of a community where this kind of act is encouraged and I am hopeful for a future where people join together to take a stand for the less fortunate. I encourage everyone to consider taking initiative like sweet little Zuleyah.
All it takes is a small spark to ignite a blaze of hope.
Tears ran down my eyes as I watched them leaving the courtroom – mother and child walking hand in hand, now legally a family. By just a glimpse, no one would ever know the struggle and heartache they’ve endured over the last two years. This brave little girl was forced to acknowledge and accept her own parents’ poor choices and battles with addiction. Her aunt stepped in as a result and took over the role she never knew she was intended to play. This is my testament of their adoption and the people who helped forge a new family.
Monday morning I was presented with the opportunity to witness an adoption, my first one. I was eager to learn about CASA’s role in the process and to see lives being changed. We drove to the courthouse and went to the 4th floor where the adoptions take place. There we waited in a small waiting room and I was able to see a young family walking out triumphantly holding what looked to be a blonde haired two-year-old boy. I will never forget the look on their faces as the attorney explained to them that his legal paper work would be just as if they had given birth to him. Catching the tail end of that adoption made me more eager than ever to see one in it’s entirety.
When the family arrived we followed Judge Marchman into her office. Reanna is very familiar with the Judge, as she has been inside a courtroom quite a few times in the last couple of years. Judge Marchman began to explain the legality of adoption and what that meant for both mother and child. I was amazed at her ability to convey such a heavy topic to a young child in a way she could understand. The whole ceremony was very sentimental and personal; there is something about a spoken promise that is very powerful. As the mother and child exchanged their vows of commitment to one another, I was left breathless. With a simple signature, a void was filled in this sweet little girl’s life. Her adoption was complete and she and her mother were made whole.
There was another person in the room with them that had a hand in their happy ending. She wasn’t the front and center Judge Marchman, whose signature changed their lives forever; she wasn’t their DCFS worker who developed case plans for her birth parents; her name is Darbi and she was Reanna’s CASA. Darbi has been a steady, dependent, key-player in Reanna’s life over the last couple of years. Thanks to her active participation in Reanna’s life, a family has been created and now this child, who could have been just another number in the overflowing system of foster care, now has a safe, permanent home.
I am beyond thankful for being given the opportunity to witness such a beautiful moment in these people’s lives. From this experience I am able to take away the powerful sentiment of one mother’s love, and will always remember the joy that filled the room after it was all said and done. I look forward to more moments like these that will leave me breathless, fill me with hope and give me courage to face tough days ahead.