With the holiday season fast approaching, families all over Dawson County look forward to creating special memories with their children.
But for Tammy and Daniel Wood and Theresa and Chris Mitchell, ensuring happy holidays for their children is a particularly special priority.
The Woods and Mitchells are adoptive parents. The Woods have adopted five children and are working on adopting a sixth. The Mitchells have adopted two children and are considering a third.
“We try to make this time special for them. We want to give our kids the kind of family they can look back on and know they were loved and safe,” said Theresa Mitchell.
“We love our adopted children just as much as our biological children. We want to be the family they never had before, especially around the holidays,” said Tammy Wood.
The Mitchells had one daughter, Alora, 16, before they decided to adopt twin boys, Nicholas and Nathaniel, 5, through a private adoption.
The experience inspired them to become foster parents to other children through Department of Family and Children Services. The couple has fostered eight other children besides their adopted twins.
“These children (foster children) need a fair shot at life. We make them a part of our family and sometimes they do end up going back to their biological parents. But we still want to give these kids everything we give our own kids, a normal routine, stability and a real family,” said Mitchell.
In addition to their daughter and the twins, the Mitchells currently foster three other children.
“I truly believe this is something God wants us to do. We don’t have lots of money, but we do have lots of love,” she added.
The Woods, who have three grown biological daughters, Laura, 19, Nicole, 21, and Jessica, 22, started their adoption journey by chance.
“Our son sort of just fell into our lap and completely changed the course of our lives,” said Tammy Wood.
Tammy Wood befriended a local grandmother in need, who eventually asked the Woods to take her grandson, knowing they could give him a better life.
After adopting Christopher, now 11, the Woods signed up to become foster parents, adopting children as they became eligible for permanent adoption.
The Woods have since added, Kate, 5, Ella, 3 and Eli, 2, a sibling group with special needs, and Logan, 3, to their family.
“A lot of people are scared to become foster parents because they don’t want to fall in love with a child and have to give the child back up. But these kids need homes and families who can love them and give them what they have never had before,” said Tammy Wood.
“Dawson County needs more foster parents,” she added.
Wood cherishes each of her children, biological and adopted alike, and has learned to tailor her parenting to the needs of each individual child.
“Every one of our kids have come to us with different issues and baggage, but we learn how to deal with each child’s needs. I’m always learning new ways to help them more,” said Wood.
Wood hopes her family’s story will inspire others to open their homes to children in need.
“If you’re thinking about it, just try it. Don’t let the fear of it keep you from doing it. You just can’t imagine how it will change your life for the better,” she said. “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love,” she added.
The Woods and Mitchells are just two families who have opened up their homes and lives to children in need. Each family shared their story to raise awareness in the community about foster care and adoption. In honor of National Adoption Day, which was Nov. 15, these families are eager to get the word out.
“I challenge people to open up their homes. There are just so many children, right in our own community, that need families,” said Mitchell.
“There are children in our own backyards who need homes,” said Wood.
In addition to raising awareness, during National Adoption Day, an unprecedented number of courts and communities coast-to-coast came together to finalize thousands of adoptions from foster care and to celebrate all families who adopt.
“It’s a day to honor these families who sacrifice so much to give children a loving home,” said Jennifer Moye, resource developer for DFCS.
Other ways to contribute include becoming a volunteer leader or by making donations.
According to Moye, Dawson County currently has 37 children placed in foster care and 12 to 15 of those children come from surrounding counties that do not have enough foster families to accommodate all the children in need of homes.
There are 15 foster families currently serving in Dawson County.
“We are such a small county, but our families are just so generous. Many of our foster families have up to six children in their homes,” said Moye.
DFCS only allows foster families to have six children under the age of 16 living in the home.
One of the biggest misconceptions, said Moye, is the notion that the only way to help these children is to become foster parents or adoptive parents. But DFCS is in great need of responsible adults to volunteer for respite care, in which approved volunteers can give foster families a break by baby-sitting their foster children.
“Since foster children can only be baby-sat by DFCS approved individuals, we really need more community members to sign up. It’s a wonderful way for the community to support our foster families,” said Moye.
Other ways to help include donating time, money, or skills to DFCS.
Individuals can sign up to become volunteer leaders, interns or administrative volunteers. Entire churches can sign up to receive an Adoption Discovery Program kit, which provides educational information about adoption and foster care.
For more information, log on to www.adoptiondiscovery.org or call (404) 914-3383. To find out more information about becoming a foster parent or adoptive parent, call (887) 210-KIDS.
“If I could tell the community one thing, it would be that no child deserves to be so alone that they are left with no one to call family. Please find it in your hearts to help,” said Theresa Mitchell.