BY ANNA BJORLIN
November is recognized annually as National Adoption Awareness Month, and with a theme of “We Never Outgrow the Need for Family,” this year’s initiative is focused on the adoption of older youth currently in foster care. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system, approximately 108,000 of whom are waiting for families. Local nonprofit EVOLVE Adoption & Family Services, with offices in Oak Park Heights, is celebrating this special month and supporting this particular initiative by offering a variety of grants for applicants that go toward program fees.
“We’ve been pulling together a few four-week program grants to try and help people get in our door so they can do what they need to do for their families,” said Jackie Craig, Marketing and Communications Director at EVOLVE. “What we’re doing is really in support of older children adoptions — that is, children ages 7 and older. All children are equally important, but with foster kids, you want to get them before they age out of the system so that they have families by their side as they go into adulthood.”
A recently-formed organization, EVOLVE was created in 2014 through the merging of Crossroads Adoption Services and HOPE Adoption & Family Services, two agencies that each have more than 38 years of adoption experience.
“Since we merged the agencies, we’ve updated our mission and added new core values, and we’re really placing an emphasis on family services because that’s the direction it’s heading in,” Craig said. “ We really try to help people work through the bumps along the road of being a family.”
EVOLVE offers a wide variety of programs and services ranging from domestic and international adoption and integration to foster care and non-judgmental pregnancy services.
“We offer two foster care programs — the first is traditional foster care, and the second is concurrent foster care, which involves both traditional care and the simultaneous preparation to adopt the children if a reunion with the birth parents isn’t possible,” Craig said. “It’s complicated and intensive, but it’s all about the children and what they need. It’s a wonderful direction we’re moving towards when it comes to foster care.”
Adoption process coordinator Lyla Omernik worked for Crossroads Adoption Services 15 years prior to the organization’s merge with HOPE. She and her husband adopted their son, Aaron, and their daughter, Allison, from Guatemala through a home study agency in Madison, Wis.
“The day before we left for Guatemala to go pick up our daughter, back in 2000, I saw that Crossroads was hiring an administrative assistant for their new Hudson office, and I thought it’d be great to work in adoption since I’m so passionate about it,” Omernik said. “So I called them from a pay phone at the airport the next day and explained how I was leaving for Guatemala to go pick up my daughter and that I’d be back in five days.”
Omernik, who works primarily with international adoptions, says her own experience with the lengthy adoption process has enabled her to more effectively help new families through their own processes.
“I think families really connect with me when I tell them I’m an adoptive parent myself,” she said. “At the beginning of the process, they tend to think they’ll never be able to get through it and get a child, but then they see me and realize I got through it just fine.”
Omernik has noticed many changes in the world of adoption since she and her husband adopted their children.
“The programming and training available today is so different, and there’s a lot more resources to utilize, like support groups that focus on attachment, bonding and multicultural training,” she said. “So when families come in, I tell them to really try and absorb all the information we give them, because it’s all very helpful.”
For more information about EVOLVE and the services it provides, go to evolveservices.org.
“We’re always looking to recruit families,” Craig said. “There are wonderful people out there who are looking for more information, so we’re trying to get ourselves out there and make sure everyone has that support they need.”