Shine Bright Like a Dimon: How Adoption Made a Difference
According to Dimon Sanders, the abuse started when she was 6 years old. She recalls being locked in a freezer and tied to a tree. She said she watched her sister get thrown across the room. It was a daily occurrence for Dimon until she was removed from the home of her biological parents at the age of 8, after the abuse was discovered.
Dimon entered the foster care system. Between the ages of 8 and 13, she experienced 13 different placements — 13 placements with different rules, different curfews, different family dynamics, different values. She stopped caring about her grades. Adoption opportunities fell through. She acted out.
Dimon was barely a teenager but was having to make decisions that could impact her future success. Would she run away from her group home? Would she shut down? And there, at the crossroads, she met Apache and Joshua Sanders, two incredible people who stepped up.
Apache had known from a young age that she wanted to adopt. “I always knew that I wanted to adopt, just at the time I didn’t know it would be a teenager,” she said laughing. At the time Apache and her husband Joshua met Dimon, then 13, Apache said, “I was like 28 or 29, so having a 13-year-old wasn’t a part of the plan.” Nevertheless, Dimon and the Sanders family began to get to know each other. Then they began to trust in one another. The process took about a year.
“At first, I felt skeptical because it’s not common for someone to want to adopt a teenager,” Dimon said. Plus, Dimon was worried that her at-the-time undiagnosed ADHD and need for supervision would affect the Sanders’ desire to build a bond.
Dimon said Apache learned more about her, including the need for medications and supervision, and still wanted to proceed with the adoption process. “That gave me hope that maybe this one wouldn’t fail like my other ones did,” Dimon said. And the hope continued. Dimon and Apache’s bond grew stronger. Apache was able to be there, providing understanding and support for Dimon.
When Dimon joined the Sanders family, she was also given the opportunity to pursue a passion she has long-loved – dance. “I started dance classes three years ago when I got adopted,” Dimon said. “I’ve always had a love of dancing, but never had the money to take classes.” Prior to taking a dance class, Dimon taught herself the basics, thanks to the internet. “YouTube was my best friend,” she said.
For all the credit Apache and Joshua deserve for helping Dimon find a permanent home, Apache also credits Dimon for her impact on the immediate and extended Sanders family. “Just as much as we changed her life, she changed ours. We can’t imagine a time when she wasn’t a part of our family.”
In the summer of 2017, Dimon was crowned Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen, the first African American to win the competition. She is succeeding in school and has plans to attend college. She is open and honest, using her story to speak out as an advocate for foster care youth and the importance of community involvement.
“For the past three years I’ve been working diligently to make sure there is awareness about the foster care system, that we increase the number of CASAs, and get more foster parents,” Dimon said. “[I want] people to know how many kids are in the system so they can make a difference in some way.”
Increasing the number of volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) available to foster care youth is especially important to Dimon. Her CASA, Cynthia Dean, was there to support Dimon, beginning when she was just 9 years old. And they continue to stay in touch. “If I didn’t have a CASA, I probably would not have ended up where I am today,” Dimon said. “She was my ‘constant’ on my journey through foster care, and my biggest advocate.”
Dimon is now a loving older sister to Akeelah, 8, and Joshua, 7, and has come a long way from the standoffish teen that Apache and Joshua met five years ago. “I would like to encourage people to take a chance on a teenager,” advises Apache. “Don’t write them off and feel like they can’t be helped or are so damaged. Everybody wants and needs a family. Make your decision on a case-by-case basis and get to know the child. Keep your heart open, don’t write off an age group.”
Three Precious Miracles
Answering a call
Imagine adopting three children in two years. Now imagine that all three of those children are less than one year old.
For Elisia Manuel and her husband Tecumseh, they don’t have to imagine that scenario; they lived it.
The couple, together for 20 years, was unable to conceive naturally. Elisia says that her sister-in-law, who aged out of foster care, opened her eyes to the world of foster care as she shared her stories of being in and out of homes.
“Really, it’s just been around me,” Elisia said. “Every time I turned around, I felt there was a secret little sign from God saying, ‘This is what you need to do.’”
In 2012, Elisia began volunteering at a group home and, as a new foster parent, took in two boys.
In February 2013, she received another sign: a call from her case worker saying they had a baby boy that needed a forever home in the form of adoption.
The boy was seven days old when they met and brought him home.
Four months later, they received another call, this time for a baby girl who was born just eight days apart from their son.
“In a matter of six months, I had four children [at home],” she said.
Despite having a large family, grown basically overnight, Elisia and her husband weren’t done helping children quite yet.
A year after she received that first call about a seven-day-old boy, she received a call from her case worker about another baby boy needing a forever home.
“Elisia, this is your son’s biological brother,” the case worker said.
“I couldn’t say no,” said Elisia. “How could I say no?”
It takes a village
Following this incredible experience through the foster care and adoption process, Elisia and her husband started Three Precious Miracles, an organization that helps provides basic needs to Native American foster children and grandparents raising grandchildren.
Elisia’s husband Tecumseh is enrolled in the Gila River Indian Community and they have seen a need for Native adoptive families and more support for kinship placements.
Three Precious Miracles (named after the children’s three initials) runs off donations and fundraisers. Since its start date, Elisia says they’ve helped 800 kids.
“If we can prevent child neglect or abuse by providing a simple item, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to see kids forced into the system because their parents were having a tough time,” she said.
Elisia continues to be a strong advocate for the foster care and adoption system.
“We’ve had to jump through hoops, but now we are blessed with three children that are ours forever,” she said.
No case is hopeless. The right adoptive family is out there.
By Ned Letto, Cochise County CASA volunteer
My story begins on October 20, 2014. I received a phone call from Elizabeth Wolfe, a DCS Case Manager. I was shopping at Home Depot and couldn't discuss it at that time but was able to hear the details the next day.
Elizabeth was asking me to take a case with two teen boys, ages 14 and 16 at the time.
These boys had been in DCS care since they were 6 and 8 years old. Parental rights had been severed two years ago, in 2012, so this was the second time these boys were in DCS Care.
My first court report showed that the 16-year-old had been in 10 placements and the 14-year-old had been in 17 placements.
The older boy was in a licensed foster home in Sierra Vista while the younger boy, Joseph, was in a therapeutic group home in Casa Grande. Joseph was about ready to be discharged from the group home for a standard placement. The placement that had been arranged for him was All The Kings Horses Children's Ranch in Benson. I was the one to transport him from Casa Grande to Benson. This placement only lasted one week. It took them that long to read his file and decide this was not the place for him.
The next placement was a kinship placement with a sister and her family in Sierra Vista. This placement lasted three months to the day; his behaviors just could not be dealt with.
His next placement was with his brother in the licensed foster home in Sierra Vista. Joseph disrupted from this placement in a little over three months. The situation between him and his brother became dangerous; someone was going to get seriously hurt.
All along, Joseph professed a desire to become part of a family but since he had been in foster care since he was 6, he didn't even know what being part of a family meant.
His behaviors were not conducive to reaching his goal of permanency. In early 2015, Joseph was selected to be included in the DCS Children’s Heart Gallery, a website for children who are eligible for adoption.
When he left the placement with his brother, he was placed in a licensed foster home in Duncan, Arizona. Joseph loved to be in the center of town and this placement was on a farm in a very rural area of Arizona. He hated it. Whenever he talked about his placement, his comments were filled with 'F' bombs and other foul language. I was sure he would disrupt. He had been told he would only be there three weeks and we were now at that magical three-month mark.
By this time I had developed the belief that this young man was unadoptable. There was no place that he would be able to maintain a relationship with any family.
However, as time went on and school started after the summer break, this young man started to settle in. He became interested in sports and played on the school baseball, football, and basketball teams. He actually attended classes and received passing grades. He accepted being baptized into the Mormon Church.
As the 2015-2016 school year went on, his attitude toward his foster family changed, as did his attitude about school and living in Duncan. In early 2016, he asked his foster family to adopt him.
On November 18, 2016, Joseph was adopted. It took a very special and loving family to work through his issues, and in the end, become his mother and father (or grandma and grandpa as he calls them).
If you find yourself with a very difficult case and start to feel it is hopeless to find permanency, remember, the right adoptive family is out there; we just need to find it.
Our Little Boy Was Worth the Wait
Every adoption story is special. Sometimes it’s the result of a new relationship and bond forming; sometimes it’s family members taking in a relative in need.
In Tara Montgomery’s adoption story, an adorable 18-month-old boy came into her family’s life through a foster care placement and changed everything.
You may remember seeing a photo of the boy, raising his fist victoriously by a decorated sign that read, “Some things are worth the wait, after 832 days in foster care, today I’m adopted”. The photo was posted to Twitter on that special adoption day and proceeded to go viral.
Below is Tara’s story, originally published in The Washington Post.
Eight hundred thirty-two days. Worth the wait.
My name is Tara Montgomery. I’m a single mother and an administrative secretary at a high school in Arizona — and, on Dec. 20, 2016, I officially adopted my 3-year-old son, Michael. My first adopted child.
My daughter, who wanted to savor the moment, snapped a photograph of Michael, one victorious fist raised in the air, another hand holding a chalkboard with a few words written in marker: “Some things are worth the wait,” the sign read. “After 832 days in foster care, today I’m adopted.”
She posted the photograph on Twitter. More than 143,000 likes and 57,000 retweets later, my new son’s adoption — and the joy on his face at finally joining his forever family — went viral.
Our Valentine’s Day baby
Michael first entered our lives as a foster child on Feb. 14, 2015. My decision to become a foster mother wasn’t easy (or quick). I never expected to become one. My daughters’ dad passed away in 2001, and I was a single mother raising three young daughters in a tumultuous economy.
But a few colleagues approached me: Are you willing to use your experience and speak with teenagers who have lost a parent? I said yes. I talked to them. I counseled them. As time went on, though, I began noticing more and more students who didn’t have anyone. My heart felt for these children and their circumstances. It’s not their fault — and it’s sad to see anyone in a situation where they’re moving through life without guidance from someone who loves them.
One day, after being approached by another colleague at the school where I work, my daughters and I made the choice. We were going to do what we could with what we had to make a difference to children who had nothing. I became a foster mother — and my daughters became foster sisters.
We welcomed three children into our family, one at a time, acknowledging that each welcome would be temporary: a short-term relief for these kiddos whose immediate futures were unclear.
In early 2015, I received a phone call from the Arizona Department of Child Safety, which handles foster care in our state. “We need to move a little boy to a new home,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Are you interested?”
Yes. We personally picked him up from the parking lot of a mall. Our fourth foster child, and his third foster home.
That Valentine’s Day in 2015, Michael joined our family in what we all assumed would be a temporary living situation in this 18-month-old boy’s transition to a more permanent home.
And that’s when everything changed.
Part of our family, right from the start
I wasn’t looking to adopt a new child. I have three daughters to care for — and a baby granddaughter.
All we set out to do was to make sure that kids without parents didn’t have to worry, if only for a short period of time, about what would happen to them. There were plans in motion to reunite Michael with his biological mother, and I was proud of being able to give him relief until that happened.
The next 22 months went fast.
Michael’s presence brightened our lives as much as we hoped to brighten his life through fostering. His laugh. His smile. His energy. It became a part of our home’s ecosystem. It was an instant connection.
Now, let’s be clear: Our foster experience wasn’t a cakewalk. Michael suffered from asthma attacks for which we had to take him to the doctor — more than a few times. We had to carry around his inhalers and learn how to use EpiPens. We visited doctors, emergency rooms and specialists 26 times in the first year. He was a sick little guy.
I wasn’t the first foster mother (and won’t be the last) to look into the mirror after an all-nighter with my new child and say to myself, “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.” But, as often happens, overcoming these bumps in the road has made our family stronger.
Michael developed an incredibly special bond with my youngest daughter while dealing with these issues. Whenever he has a particularly bad asthma attack, the only person he wants to sleep next to is her. He’s comforted by her presence, and she’s comforted by being “that person” in his life. They adore each other in a way that may not have happened otherwise — at least not as quickly.
From changing his diaper, putting on his shoes, or simply pouring him a drink at dinner and snuggling with him at night, as Michael grew, my daughters grew, too.
It was clear: He belongs here
Michael loves trucks and trains. He loves running on the sand at the beach, seeing the waves come in and waving at the seals as they lie on the wet rocks. Only 3 years old, he calls the beach his “happy place.”
He revels in leaving surprise selfies on our cellphones. He often wakes in the morning to tell me, “Mom, I so happy.” He will run into the girls’ rooms and ask them, “Dae, T — Are you so happy?” (We are all so very happy.)
These are only a few of the things I’ve learned about Michael since picking him up that day in early February. These small, unique details you learn about children — they make everything worth it. He went from “a foster child” to “my foster child” in the blink of an eye.
And that’s why, when the next phone call came — informing us that the ongoing efforts to reunite Michael with his biological mother had fallen through — it didn’t take long for my daughters and me to decide.
Everything had seamlessly clicked into place from the beginning: This little boy came to us on Valentine’s Day. He came to us on Arizona’s birthday. He has the same last name as my biological daughters. He looks like them. He has our sense of humor. He made our family stronger.
And, more than that, we never wanted him to wonder again where he might end up next. So, on Dec. 20, 2016, we adopted Michael — and he became a permanent part of our family.
He woke up a few days later on Christmas morning to a tree with presents under it. He flung open the wrapping paper to find Thomas the Tank Engine trains and a new bicycle, all while being surrounded by new, permanent family members for the first time — people who loved him and cared for him and would continue to do so forever.
You can make a difference
The process may have been easier for us than for others, because Arizona has been working to make foster care and adoption an easier choice and to empower parents to welcome children in need into their families. According to the numbers, more children are leaving state care here than entering it for the first time in seven years — and more than 3,600 children in Arizona were adopted in fiscal 2016.
I can’t promise that every step of the way will be easy or that you won’t wonder whether it’s worth the upcoming speed bump in the road. What I can promise is this: Whatever you face on your route to adoption, the smile on your child’s face will be worth it.
It took me 42 years to realize what it feels like to adopt a child, this beautiful little boy, into my life.
More than 15,000 days.
Worth the wait.
Rick Buhn is An Everyday Hero
On National Adoption Day in 2016, 14-year-old Troy Stallings joined the Buhn family forever. Troy was in the foster system for 12 years and believed that he would simply stay there until he turned 18.
On November 19, there was a happy ending to his lonely journey and a new beginning with a bright future and forever family.
Six months prior, Rick Buhn made the decision to expand his family by opening up his heart and home.
He had already adopted one child and knew that he could provide a forever family for another disadvantaged child.
Rick found Troy on the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s Heart Gallery website, a site that features children in need of an adoptive family. According to both Rick and Troy, when they met, they just “knew” they were meant to be together. According to Troy, “The first time I came in to meet him, I felt like I already knew my dad.”
Rick’s kind mannerisms, his fatherly reminder to Troy about “college first,” and his arm around his new son’s shoulders all displayed the characteristics of what we call an Everyday Hero – a person who sees a need, and without looking around to see what anyone else is doing, steps forward to meet it.
In addition to adopting Troy and his nephew, Rick is also fostering another child. Rick Buhn is an everyday hero. And he is a father to a 14-year old boy who quit believing that he would have one.
Rick’s advice to people considering foster care or adoption? “There’s good days and bad days, but in the end, it’s really worth it.”