The Miami Heart Gallery Helps Children in Foster Care Find Their Forever FamilyPublished Friday, June 17, 2011
The first time Arlene Peterson set eyes on Christian and Christopher, she felt a uncanny connection to the two foster care children.
She and her husband Kendall had been looking to adopt and she sensed that the boys were the ones they’d been waiting for. There was something so right about it.
Yet the couple already shared custody of Kendall’s three teenage daughters and, while they’d agreed to adopt, the conversation had always been about one child. The Petersons talked together as a family, included the teen daughters in the conversation, and everyone agreed to proceed. When they learned that the boys’ younger sister, Clara, was also available for adoption – the Petersons simply decided to open their arms that much wider. They officially adopted the three siblings on National Adoption Day in 2010.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster of a year. But I just said to myself: You can do this, why wait for someone else to do it if you can?” said Peterson, scanning with the well-trained eye of a mother as the three kids darted around the reception tables at the Coral Gables Museum. Arlene and her husband are one of a number of parents who have recently adopted and attended The Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery launch June 10 at the museum to share their experiences.
“It’s just amazing,” she said, “I see so much of myself when I was young in these children.”
With the re-launch, The Heart Gallery entered its fourth year. As part of the initiative, professional photographers donate their time and expertise to photograph the children in foster care – siblings, teens and children with special needs – who are generally the most difficult to place. The stunning photographs, shot this year at Coral Gables landmark locations like the Biltmore Hotel, become part of a traveling, museum-quality exhibition.
The Miami Heart Gallery, a partnership of The Children’s Trust and Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, has enjoyed extraordinary success in finding permanent homes for the children; 56 children have been adopted or another 24 are in the process of being adopted – half those featured.
“As a community we have to find a way to adopt these children,” said Jacqui Colyer, regional director with the Department of Children and Families, Children’s Trust board member and master of ceremonies for the evening. When she was 26, Colyer and her husband adopted a 14-year-old who had been raised in foster care.
“Even at 26, what he added to our lives is more than any of you could ever imagine,” Colyer told the crowd. “You’re never too young, never too old, never too beautiful – and even if you have a convertible you can adopt.”
Travis Davis, a social services worker, first became a foster parent in 2001 and has been a foster parent for 50 children since that time. He adopted Patrix, 17, one of the Miami Heart Gallery children.
“When Patrix came into my house there was something different about this kid – he yearned for attention and for permanency. He was persistent. There’s a bond that has formed now that he’s become part of my life,” Davis said.
“And just so you know that permanent homes make a difference – I’m so proud of Patrix. His grades before were Cs, Ds and Fs – now they’re all As and Bs.”
Christina and Stefan Erickson visited the reception with Zachary, their adopted 19-month-old son. Born at 26 weeks, Zachary weighed just 1 pound, 3 ounces at birth.
The Ericksons attended a MAPP training class, the 10-week Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting, facilitated by Our Kids. “We had a great instructor – we were hooked,” Christina laughed.
They visited with Zachary and fell in love. The judge ordered that he be placed in their home for seven days, and Zachary has been with them ever since.
Modesto Abety-Gutierrez, president and CEO of The Children’s Trust, said the Heart Gallery children and all foster care children want what any child wants – to be loved for who they are and for the chance to pursue their dreams. Lakendra, 15 and one of the Heart Gallery children, recently appeared on The Children’s Trust “Our Children” television talk show.
“Lakendra wants a family who will accept her for who she is, and for the chance to grow up to go to college and be a lawyer so she can advocate for other foster children because she knows what they’re going through,” Abety-Gutierrez said, before welcoming all the Heart Gallery children in attendance on stage to be recognized.
“We’ve been through a lot of challenges, but there have been a lot of angels,” Arlene Peterson said, acknowledging the efforts of His House, CHARLEE, the Children’s Home Society, the Center for Family and Child Enrichment and the Family Resource Center and other agencies who support the foster care children.
“These children have been full of blessings. We’re so proud of them – for having so much courage to love us. They’ve been waiting for their forever family, and we’re so glad we found each other.”
The Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery exhibit is open to the public Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Aug. 13 at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave.
Visit www.miamiheartgallery.org to see videos and photographs of the children available for adoption through this intiative.Written by Michael R. Malone