The Children's Institute Blog

Meeting A True 'Extended' Family

Posted: Jan 02, 2018 by The Children's Institute

They have different parents and different last names, but they’ll always be brothers and sisters.

The children, seven in all, were born to the same Allegheny County woman but their real journey started after they left their biological home of abuse and neglect, and were fostered, then adopted, in four different Southwestern Pennsylvania families. Those parents – who we profile today in the spirit of a new year and new beginnings – now are raising the children separately but keeping them in close contact with each other, redefining what it means to be a sibling and a family.

“It’s four families raising one whole family together. It’s not always easy but it’s family and at the heart of it are seven children that deserve to have that contact,” said Bridgette Jodon, who – through Project STAR at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, and with her husband, Jason – adopted Aubrey, now 6, and Adalynn, now 12, into their Armstrong County home. “When they first started meeting, you knew you wanted to maintain this bond, but it was difficult. It wasn’t conventional but it was a bond. As the bond progressed, they started to realize, ‘We’re supposed to be playing together – this is family.’”

The children get together at holidays and birthdays, and for more-than-occasional visits where the only thing on the agenda is sharing their new lives together and pushing away the past.

Carrie Velasquez met the extended family at a Christmas party in 2014, where she and her husband Frank went to meet the boy who would become their son – Jason, now 8.

“That was our first introduction to the family. It’s weird. You knew by accepting this placement, these people were going to be in your life forever. You don’t know them and they don’t know you,” Carrie said. “But it’s been good. From there, we’ve stayed together and communicated. We’ve really started to rely on each other – for information, for memories.”

Mary and John Tadler of Pittsburgh’s North Hills got married a little later than their friends, had a biological daughter, now 8, and, when considering the future of their family as they entered their 40s, were drawn toward foster care.

“We decided there were many more children out there who needed help. There were plenty of kids right here in Allegheny County who needed homes,” John said.

Project STAR brought them two children from the extended family for foster care –first, a six-week-old, now 3, and then a three-week-old, now 15 months old. They went on to adopt both girls.

“I treat them as my own, I treat them as any mother would treat them,” said Mary, who added, with a laugh, “I think I’ve had the motherly instinct since I was 12.”

For Laura and Ralph Kacy, joining the extended family was like answering a call from God. Two years ago, their 29-year-old biological son got siblings from the extended family: Mark, now 14 and the eldest of the seven, and John, now 10.

“We most commonly think of a mission as people going ‘over there’ – ‘Go to Cambodia, Go to Africa.’ This is a mission of a family. Even though we have different denominations, we all talk about how God brought this together,” said Laura, a healthcare worker who lives in Butler County. “It was a call to ministry to me to even enter into this. God has just spoken this into my life. When I was praying, I’d see that no one is invisible.”

Raising the extended family has not been without its struggles. Some of the children have developmental delays or disabilities. One was 7 and not potty-trained. Another, at 5, had never brushed his teeth. A third, upon entering what would become his forever home, had never eaten a fruit or vegetable.

When Adalynn came to the Jodons, she was in second grade and didn’t know her letters or how to add 2 plus 2.

“I looked at the special education teacher and said, ‘She’s got a normal IQ. Go to work,’” Bridgette said. “She’s now in fifth grade and she’s completely on grade level. Her last report card, she had 2 As and two high Bs. There’s a lot to be said for faith and love.”

On Jan. 16, 2015, when Jason, then almost 6, came to the Velasquezes’ Greater Pittsburgh home, he was not potty-trained and, at school, would throw tantrums where he would take off his clothes and hide under his desk.

It took Carrie and Frank just 10 days to potty-train him.

“When he came to us, it was ‘failure to thrive,’ and he was malnourished,” Carrie said.

In his first 18 months as a Velasquez, Jason grew nine inches. He has autism, but, in those months, he shed his diagnoses of other intellectual disabilities. Carrie is modest about her role in his turnaround.

“He was a good fit for us,” said Carrie, who also has a biological son, Kaden. “It was just meant to be.”

“Since they’ve been placed in their forever homes,” John said – “It’s turned around 90 percent,” Mary interjected.

When the two boys from the extended family were adjusting to their new forever homes with the Kacys, Laura would wake up John by saying, “You are a wonderful creation of God.”

“Mark would say, ‘Who am I?’ I’d say, ‘You are a warrior for Christ,’” she said.

Some of the children changed their first names, led by Adalynn’s example. The 14-year-old boy chose Mark, which he didn’t realize means “warrior.” John’s interest was piqued.

“He said, ‘I change my name!’ My husband said, ‘To what?’ He said, ‘Apple juice!’” laughed Laura. “Then, a few weeks later, he got it. He said, ‘I be John!’” John didn’t realize his name means “beloved of God.”

“When that realization came to me, I said, ‘Lord, you really have been walking with us through this,’” Laura said.

The parents aren’t the only ones led by their faith.

When asked what advice she has for other children seeking their forever families, Adalynn didn’t hesitate for a second.

“Never stop praying that God will lead you to the right path,” she said.

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