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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Journey Into the World of Adoption

By: Joycelyn Haywood, Marketing & Communications Manager

When I first took this job at Heart Gallery Alabama, I had no idea what to expect. I knew a little bit about the organization but nothing prepared me for how my life would be touched.

We’ve all heard the foster care horror stories but rarely do we hear the success stories. The perception of most Americans is that children in foster care are juvenile delinquents with behavioral issues. Of course, I was no exception. I didn’t know anything about adoption or foster care. Those were not subjects that were discussed around the dinner table.

Two weeks after starting at Heart Gallery, I attended my first photo shoot and my entire perception of these children changed. These were not juvenile delinquents.  Most of these children are in foster care for reasons beyond their control – including neglect, abuse and abandonment. They are simply older children who no one has given a chance. They have the same basic needs as other children. They need safe and supportive environments. They need love. They need families.

Heart Gallery Alabama’s mission is to promote adoption of children currently in Alabama’s foster care system by recruiting professional photographers and videographers to take meaningful portraits and interviews that capture the individuality and personality of each child. After that photo shoot, I finally understood the importance of the mission.

I personally hope that after people watch our videos, their perception of children in foster care changes. I look back at my life and see all the support and love that I received and imagine how differently my life could have turned out if I did not have that system cheer me on in good times or pick me up during the bad times. I see so much potential in these children and I know all they need is the same thing.

My journey into the world of adoption was a real eye opener. Now I feel like it is my duty to use all my skills and resources to find these children families so they can have the same opportunities that I had and that my children have.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Heart Gallery Success Story: The Hagoods

Kevin Hagood and his wife Amie have a teenage daughter, Whitney, who loves Justin Bieber and One Direction.  She runs track and sings in her school’s Glee Club.  Her favorite color is purple, and her favorite subject in school is history. She sometimes gets in trouble for things like trying to create a Facebook page and other “normal teenage shenanigans,” says Kevin Hagood. 

Although Whitney seems like a typical teenager, her past of being a foster child was less than typical.  The Hagoods found Whitney when she was 13 years old through Heart Gallery Alabama (HGA), and they adopted her and gave her a forever family.

The Hagoods had several dogs but never any kids, according to Kevin Hagood.  “We had spare time and thought it would be a good thing to do.” They began with a web search about adoption, and stumbled onto HGA’s website.  “The way our work schedules worked, we knew we couldn’t really take care of a baby,” Hagood said. 

HGA takes photographs and videos that capture the unique spirit of each child beyond just words on a page.  “The biography helped but when we saw the video and her talking about all the things she liked to do, that sealed the deal for us,” Hagood said.

“It helps to see a video because it gives you the opportunity to hear the children talk,” Amie Hagood said. “You can see the way they use their hands and their quirky personalities. You can learn a lot about them.”

Although Whitney is their child now, the process was not an easy one.  “Adoption is a painful and slow process. You have to be ready for that,” said Kevin Hagood.  Whitney was 13 when the Hagoods found her, but they were not able to adopt her until she was 15 years old.
“It’s a frustrating process,” Amie Hagood said. “I think people should know exactly what they’re getting into, and make sure the history of the child is something you can handle.”
The first few months in her new home were definitely a big adjustment that both Whitney and her family had to get used to.  She used to have outbursts when she first moved in with her new family, and did not take criticism well.

“She acted out about a week after it was final,” Kevin Hagood said. “It was her realizing that she was here for good. In the past she could just get moved when she acted out and she was testing us.”

“In the beginning it was difficult,” said Amie Hagood. “It’s an experience with a child who already has stuff pre-wired.”

However, because of the kinds of things Whitney has dealt with in the past, it is no surprise that the first few weeks were not easy.  “She’s had a terror of a life. I’m surprised she does as well as she does,” said Kevin Hagood.

Life became easier for the Hagoods with the passage of time, and Whitney has become more well-adjusted with therapy and other resources.  “Most of the difficulties we deal with now have nothing to do with her background and everything to do with her being a teenager,” Hagood said. 

“Life is fuller with Whitney in it,” Hagood said.  There are many rewards that came with adopting Whitney. “When you meet a kid and you realize they don’t have anybody looking out for them, it’s rewarding to know that you can help.”

According to Hagood, it is nice to be able to be a parent to Whitney and provide her stability.  “It’s nice to see when she does well in school and we like to see her succeed in things.”
“She was so happy the day that her adoption was finalized, she wrote a poem about it and typed it up on her computer,” Hagood said.

HGA was helpful to the Hagoods during the difficult process of adoption.  Many other children have found their forever homes through this organization as well.  “I really love the Heart Gallery, those people are really good.”

Even through all the difficulties, the Hagoods have found a sense of family since adopting Whitney. “I don’t think I can imagine the house without her now,” said Amie Hagood.
“It’s very important to a family to love forever and know that they will love you back and trust you,” said Whitney.

“She always comes around and tries to hug on us and sometimes she hangs on a little too tight, but she’s a good kid,” Kevin Hagood said.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Interview with Heart Gallery Alabama's 2011 Photographer of the Year, Donna Hovey

By Autumn, Donna’s daughter

Donna Hovey tells of her first experience as a photographer for Heart Gallery Alabama with compassion. The first time Donna took pictures of a foster child, she had no idea how much she would be blessed and humbled. She recounts the first girl she photographed, "The six-year-old girl saw pictures in my living room of my daughters and asked who they were." Donna told her that the girls in the pictures were her daughters. The little girl replied, "You have lots of girls. I want to stay with you." 

After Donna photographed the sweet child, the girl left with her social worker, and Donna sat down disheartened, prayed, and wept. Later that year, it was brought to Donna's attention that the six-year-old was the first to be adopted through Heart Gallery Alabama. Because Donna believes that when one is given much, much is expected, she wants to serve and bless others. She just never realized how much these children would bless her.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

[HELP] - to accomplish a task; satisfy a need; contribute strength or means to

I am Autumn, a high school senior, and new to this blog and even Heart Gallery. Why

do I want to help? Not only is it what is right, but it is a heart striking thing to me. I am

blessed- overly blessed- and I need to share my blessings with others. There is no better way

to do so than volunteer for Heart Gallery of Alabama. Because there are over 6,000 children in

the state of Alabama without a permanent home and, most importantly, a family, I am more

than happy to lend a compassionate heart and lending hand to the organization that changes

children's lives. Changing lives should be the ultimate goal in life. That is my goal; with Heart

Gallery, it will surely be possible.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dendrology: The study of trees

People have an odd fascination with trees. We use them to describe others: “Oh, you know…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” or, “He’s as tall as an oak!” People also freak out over the idea of cutting old trees down. (There is an amazingly old oak tree at the end of my Daddy’s drive way that still stands because my Daddy “freaked out” on the power company when they wanted to cut it down to run power lines.) Family trees are particularly funny things. I’ve never traced my own genealogy, but I do feel connected to at least the past couple of generations. If asked, I could make a reasonable attempt at completing my own family tree; but children who are adopted often don’t have it quite so easy.

Sometimes children are asked to complete family trees in school and this exercise can be particularly frustrating for children who have been adopted. Who do they list? How do the branches split? How do they recognize biological histories and adoptive parents on the same tree? The task would be difficult….if not for the Joshua Tree.

The Joshua Tree is a species of Yucca that grows in the Mojave Desert. There are several things about this tree that you should know. First, the tree grows in an extremely harsh climate where water is scarce and temperatures range from 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 130 degrees in the summer. To survive here, these trees must be hardy. Second, the tree is rumored to have been named by early Mormon settlers who said the branches looked like outstretched arms that guided travelers. Third, in order for the trees to develop their characteristic branches they must produce flower blossoms. Fourth, the roots of the Joshua tree go deep into the ground and spread outward to 30 feet. Finally, although they can reproduce by seeds just like most other plants, Joshua Trees also reproduce by rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontal extensions of the roots that produce additional trees.

Why am I giving you a lesson on Joshua Trees? Because, as an adoptive parent of a sibling pair, I think the Joshua tree is a wonderful metaphor for an adoptive family. Children waiting for adoption have been removed from their biological homes for some significant reason. While we may question the parenting skills of the biological family, we should not pretend that these children do not have a history apart from us. These children are resilient; hardy…they have been able to survive in extreme (and sometimes harsh) conditions, yet we will reach out with open arms to welcome them into our families. Every adoptive family hopes that they can help these children blossom into healthy and happy individuals. We help our children develop a deep and extensive root system that they can rely on when things don’t go exactly according to plan…and finally…the adoptive family tree will have sprung from the horizontal connection of a child’s biological family. These family trees will grow together…connected at the roots…a product of each other.

Family trees are, indeed, amazing things…especially when they have such diversity.

By Treva Dean, Adoptive Parent

Friday, August 5, 2011

Following your Heart

By Angie Brown, Heart Gallery Alabama Board Member

I am lucky to be a volunteer for Heart Gallery Alabama. Every time I am able to help out the organization in some small way, I am in turn reminded of how wonderful it is to be part of something where everyone involved has the same purpose: helping Alabama’s foster children find forever families.

I felt the pull to be a volunteer with HGA because I have the great fortune to be adopted myself. I know what it means to be blessed with the unconditional love of family. And that is what is so important about HGA—they help children find families that can be truly forever families for them. Moms and Dads who will tell these kids every day how special they are, how wanted they are, how they will be there for them, always. Because that is what family is—being there for each other. Reminding your child you will cheer him on at his baseball games, his school plays, and his successful moments in life. But also you will be there for him when he gets cut from the team, doesn’t get the lead, and gets his heart broken. That’s what parenting is about, however the child came to be yours. That is what my parents taught me and what I truly believe every single child deserves—a family who is on his side, no matter what.

I urge anyone who has the desire to volunteer with HGA to do so. You won’t regret it. Because every hour you spend attending a meeting or planning an event or writing a newsletter is just one more hour that may eventually help a child and a family find each other. I am forever grateful for the way adoption has shaped my life, and I hope that every foster child in Alabama is able to say that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Resilience = The foster child

By Michelle Bearman-Wolnek, LCSW, PIP
Heart Gallery AL, Executive Director

Wikipedia defines "Resilience" as the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. Time and again I have seen this resiliency in a foster child that I have met at one of our photo shoots.  These children continue to come back year after year "recruiting" for themselves.  They put their whole selves out on a limb and they usually do it with a big smile on their face.  I learn so much from each one of them.  I often ask myself if I was in their shoes would I be able to be that vulnerable.  The answer is probably "no."  My guess is that if I was in their shoes I would probably just say "No, thanks!  I don't want to be adopted."

Today I had the opportunity to hear Lamar speak or more specifically rap, at the Department of Human Resources (DHR) Supervisor's conference.  Lamar is a 21-year-old "graduate" of the foster care system.  He had been in custody of DHR for over 18 years, was placed in over 40 different homes, and yet is in college now studying to be a Social Worker.  He performed an impromptu rap about his childhood and he asked all of the social workers in the audience to not just do their job, but to be a friend to the children in their caseload.  To look at them as a person, not a case number.  Lamar is a walking example of resilience.  He credits his success to God.  I credit his success to the inner child who never gave up.

Take a moment to really get to know one child on our website.  Take a moment to imagine that child's resiliency and bravery to be able to say ... "help me, find me a family!"  Then take action.  This can be through spreading the word to others, making a donation so that the Heart Gallery can keep telling their stories, become a foster parent, respite worker or mentor.  Let's answer the call to take care of Alabama's children.