ODESSA — All her life, Lori Diez has looked for a big way to help others. "I wanted to do something to better the world," she said. In childhood, she hoped to someday feed all the world's hungry children. That didn't quite happen, but the wife and mom of three still wanted to help kids in need. This year, she found a way. When Diez, 48, wrote a children's book, she decided to donate the proceeds to the Heart Gallery Tampa Bay, a traveling exhibit that encourages adoption so kids in foster care can get permanent families — something Diez doesn't take for granted.
She was just 3 days old in the spring of 1962 when "the most wonderful, kind, generous two humans" picked her up in Kankakee, Ill.
A family doctor had told the couple of a pregnant 20-year-old patient who didn't want her baby. They decided to adopt. Back then, the process was simple: no lawyer, no agency, Diez said. From Kankakee, they brought Diez to her new home 20 minutes away in St. Anne.
As far back as she can remember, they told her the truth of her history. "I have to credit my parents for their honesty at a time when many thought adoption should be kept a secret," she said.
When she was 2, Diez's family moved from Illinois to Pinellas Park, then to Inverness, where she grew up on a farm. She and her brother and sister — all adopted from different biological parents — learned a lot from their parents.
"Compassion," Diez said. "Never lie. And be giving. My parents were clearly giving; they took three children that weren't theirs and cared for them like their own."
Diez took care of the cows, chickens and horses on the family farm. She helped out with the housework and in the garden.
"Everything we did, we did it together," she said.
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Today Diez lives in Odessa with her husband, Randy. Their son Randy Jr. is 23 and graduates from the University of Florida this month. Their son Mickey is 19 and a student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Their 11-year-old daughter, Alexis, is a sixth-grader at St. Lawrence Catholic School.
One thing they grew up doing together is reading, especially at night. "It was part of our tucking-in ritual."
When Alexis was in second grade, Diez thought it might be nice for her daughter to have a book to which she could relate. She found "none about a child in a Catholic school," Diez said. So she wrote her own.
Angel or Not? Angel for Sure! is about a fourth-grader at a Catholic school who, when faced with a bully, has to choose between good decisions and bad ones. Diez self-published the book this year and finally saw her chance to help kids like she had always wanted: She would donate the proceeds to the Heart Gallery Tampa Bay.
The Heart Gallery, funded by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough Kids Inc., seeks to raise awareness about foster kids and find families for them.
"We recruit families for the children who are hardest to place," said Jesse Miller, director of the Heart Gallery. "A lot of teens, sibling groups and children with special needs."
The gallery's mission means a lot to Diez.
"I was fortunate to have parents to call Mom and Dad," Diez said. "Every child deserves to have a family."
Miller said kids who don't have permanent families miss out on what most people probably take for granted.
"Being read to at night, a parent to attend your soccer games, transportation to practice, parents (who) celebrate your birthday," she said. "Normalcy."
About 75 percent of the money from book sales will go to the Heart Gallery. The rest will pay to print the books.
The money will address specific needs, such as a choir robe for a child who wants to sing in a chorus, a yearbook for a high school senior and cleats for a kid who makes the soccer team.
"Small things," Miller said. "but they're very significant to a child."
Mickey Diez, who illustrated his mom's book, admires her willingness to help kids.
"Giving back is wonderful," he said. "I'm so proud that my mom did this not for profit."
The profits, Diez said, will keep kids comfortable while they wait for what Diez knows they need.
"Permanency," Miller said. For a child, "knowing this is my family forever is huge."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 909-4617 or [email protected]