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.