RICHMOND, Va. -- As you join your family this holiday in giving thanks for all we have, keep in mind some 800 children in Virginia are waiting to find their “forever” home.
They're in the system, ready to be adopted. And half of those children are 13 or older, an age sometimes hard to find families for.
Specifically, if I may, as you look around the Thanksgiving table, consider Adonis and Rashard.
Let me take you back a few weeks.
"Are these for us?" asked Adonis as he looked at a Flying Squirrels jersey with his name on it, hanging in a locker inside Richmond’s Diamond. It was early November, but it seemed like the pre-game preparation was underway, as two boys checked their equipment, got ready to take the field.
"Thank you for the jersey," said Rashard to Todd Parnell, the VP and Chief Operating Officer of the Flying Squirrels. "Parney's" beaming, jovial presence in that locker room provided a polished but natural flow to the occasion. It’s not every day, after all, two boys awaiting adoption get the entire Diamond to themselves."Number 12, in centerfield, Adonis! And Number 13, at shortstop, Rashard!" boomed the announcer, as the two charged up the dugout steps to the baseball diamond.
The baseball season was, of course, over, but it was game day, thanks to about a dozen members of the Flying Squirrels staff.
"Which side do you hit?" said Rashard to Adonis, taking a big brotherly approach to his younger friend. The 13-year-old Rashard and the 12-year-old Adonis are not brothers, just both in Virginia's foster care system, each ready to be adopted by a loving family.
Watching them, you would say they were swinging for the fences and rounding the bases. But in a larger sense, it really was no game, because while they're each trying to get home, it’s to a place they can call their home.
"I do want a family, somebody I can look up to, even though I don't really have a family,” said Rashard.
"It would mean I have some good support, I have somebody that I can look up to, and that's a good role model in the family,” said Adonis.Rashard has been in the foster system five years, Adonis for four. That's about a third of their young lives, but their social worker Nikissia Craig says they're used to overcoming hurdles.
"The experience of growing up without your family, not knowing who you look like, whether anybody misses you presents a challenge,” Craig said on the perfect sunny fall day. “Then add the anxiety of not knowing if you'll ever have a family to call your own again. It's a very challenging experience."
"I like to do math, that's my favorite subject,” Rashard said as we sat in the bleachers, and Adonis took his swings out on the field.
"Rashard is a really outgoing, charming and a charismatic young man, but he's also insightful,” said Craig. “I think if a family got the chance to really know him, they would love him and want him to stay around forever."
Adonis likes school, too. “It's the only way that I can go to college, and I can do something,” Adonis explained.
"Adonis is a very sweet, very caring, quiet, more introverted young man, but he has a really great personality,” said Craig. “He really wants to do his best."Craig points out as foster children age; the adoption process becomes more difficult because some families simply aren't thinking about an older child.
“Typically when people think or hear of adoption, they think of babies automatically and really aren't aware that there are a lot of children who are out there, over the age of 10, who are also looking for their forever families,” said Craig.
Steven Effinger will tell you, an older child, or children, as it turned out, have given him all he could hope for in a family.
He began the process at 57, divorced and childless. He had been a mentor to at-risk teen boys for five years. He's a state employee, and says18 months ago all employees got an email from Governor McAuliffe describing the administration's commitment to finding families for children awaiting adoption.
And a light bulb went off.
Soon, he had met the two boys and knew he was ready. He described the process as long, but appropriately so. He also said he was surprised at how much financial support came along with the process.
Last August, when the adoptions were finalized, he described the simple act of seeing his teenagers playing video games as one of the most moving moments of his life.
"They're playing this video game, and I'm watching them, and they're so into it, they're not even noticing that I'm watching them,” said Effinger. "I was just struck at the camaraderie they were having, as brothers, playing this game, in this safe place that they can call home. That was just, that was a moment for me."
Effinger said the two are biological brothers, now 16 and 18, and had been in foster care for only a few years, but he immediately saw they were the perfect fit for him as an older, single parent."The older children, they want love, they want attention, and they need the same things a baby needs. They still need nurturing,” said Effinger. “I'm going to be here for them until I stop breathing, right? I've done this for life. I'm not doing this for a minute."
That’s the kind of love the two boys taking their swings on that beautiful Fall day are counting on.
“It's cool, 'cause I’d like to get adopted. I would love that,” said Rashard.
"No child is unadoptable,” said Craig, the boys' social worker. “We don't believe in that. That's something that really keeps me grounded in the work that I do. Every child deserves a family. Everybody deserves a family."
If you'd like more information on adopting, just go to https://www.umfs.org/. You can also find brief biographies of all the children looking for a “Forever” home on the Virginia Department of Social Services website at http://adoptuskids.org/states/va/browse.aspx.