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One Church, One Child, one loving home

Many children are already contemplating what they want most for the holidays, and 7-year-old Joshua is no exception. More than Power Rangers or video games, Joshua dreams of having his own mother and father.

"I want a good mom," he said. "One who really wants to have me . . . and who likes to bake lots of pies and stuff."

And he says the perfect dad for him would be one who likes to play sports and take him shopping.

"He'd buy me the things I need, like a toothbrush," he said.

Joshua is a typical boy in many ways. He says he likes doing math, planting flowers, eating apple sauce and dining out at McDonald's. But an unstable family life has left its mark. He attends Hamilton Disston School, a school for children with emotional problems, in Gulfport.

Besides a mom that bakes and a dad that buys toothbrushes, Joshua will need a special kind of family to remove him from the foster care system. And because he is an older African-American child with special needs, the odds of adoption are not in his favor.

In 1988, the secretary of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services found that 41.7 percent of children in Florida's foster care system were black. Not only were black children disproportionately represented in the system, but they remained in care an average of three years longer than white children.

To deal with the problem, the Florida Legislature appropriated money for the One Church, One Child of Florida program. By targeting the congregations of black churches, the program aims to raise awareness of the plight of these black children and to find temporary and permanent homes for them.

November is National Adoption Month, and the program will be making a big push to increase community awareness and find adoptive homes, said Joyce Robinson, Pinellas and Pasco counties' coordinator for One Church, One Child.

Part of the campaign will include presentations to area churches.

"Black churches are the strength of our community," she said. "The challenge is to get one family in each congregation to adopt a black child."

Robinson, who is an adoptive mother, said: "We need to get back to the thinking that it takes a whole village to raise a child."

From July 1993 to last June, One Church, One Child made presentations to 24 Pinellas and Pasco churches. With the assistance of the churches, 19 black children found permanent homes.

Michael and Deborah Kimbrough of Clearwater recently adopted two sisters, Monique, 13, and Briana, 8. They also have four foster children in their care and hope to adopt more.

The Kimbroughs met the girls at the Church of God By Faith in Clearwater four years ago and were good friends with the girls' foster family. The Kimbroughs and the sisters developed a relationship over time.

"We had them over for dinner every Sunday," Mrs. Kimbrough said.

When the girls became eligible for adoption, they asked to live with the Kimbroughs.

"We said, "We'll take them if they want us,' " Mrs. Kimbrough said.

One of the most touching moments, Mrs. Kimbrough said, was when all the papers were signed and Monique asked, "Are we normal children now?"

Because most of the children in the foster care system have experienced some form of abuse, one of the biggest obstacles the program faces is the perception that the children are not normal and have little chance for a good future, Robinson said.

"A lot of people think these children come from bad blood," she said. "But they're really just like any other children . . . with the right nurturing, love and caring, they'll turn out just fine."

In addition to providing a loving environment for the child, the adoptive parent or parents must be able to help the child deal with his or her past.

"The ideal family is one that will be unconditionally committed and have the patience to help a child move through the losses and separations that the child has experienced throughout their lives," Mrs. Robinson said.

Wealth and marital status are not as important as the ability to provide a loving home.

"We've found single parents can make wonderful adoptive families," Robinson said.

In September, Lucile Evers, a 41-year-old single parent of three biological children, ages 22, 16 and 11, adopted three children: Jarvis, 5, and Jessica and Justin, 4-year-old twins. Justin is developmentally delayed.

Her relationship with her adoptive children began in 1991, when she became their foster parent.

"I was the only parent they knew, so when they came up for adoption, I didn't want them to think their mommy gave them away," Ms. Evers said.

Being a single parent of six is a challenge, she says.

"Sometimes I ask myself, "Lord, what did I get myself into?' " she said. "But I love them like they are my own, and we're going to make it. We're one big team."

About 44 black children are available for adoption in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

One of those, Joanna, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said she's waiting for a single mother to adopt her.

"I don't want any brothers or sisters, 'cause I want to get a lot of attention," she said. "I want a mom who's a good shopper and will take me to lots of different places like Adventure Island and Disney World."

YOU'RE INVITED

In recognition of National Adoption Month, One Church, One Child is inviting adoptive and prospective adoptive families to attend a special program at 11 a.m. Nov. 6 at First Baptist Institutional Church, 3144 Third Ave. S. For information on One Church, One Child, call Joyce Robinson at 893-2834.

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