A Dream Come True
Anyone who has met Kelley and John McGinn would say they are a truly special couple. They have been foster parents in Arizona for the past 17 years. They have had over 40 foster children pass through their home, including several sibling groups. They have helped shape them and help them learn. The McGinns have been steady support to kids of all ages as they find their way through life. One of these kids is Leon.
Leon entered the foster system in Arizona when he was just three years old. He bounced around from home to home and was searching for a place to land. Finally, he made it to the home of Kelley and John McGinn when he was in the 6th grade. Kelley had always wanted to help children and fostering and adoption was an extension of that goal. They decided to foster Leon and here, he finally began to feel like he belonged.
Leon came to the McGinn family on Christmas Eve in 2011, because of this they’ve always called him their Christmas present. When Leon entered their home he was understandably very nervous and unsure about being in a place with new people. Luckily, the McGinn family had something that Leon connected with instantly. Kelley’s husband John is a firefighter and Leon had wanted to be a firefighter his entire life. This connection instantly put Leon at ease and set him on a path for the future before he even knew it.
Leon had been through many homes by this point and had never seemed to bond with the people who were caring for him. Kelley spent much of her time with Leon because they were at school together while she was working. This sense of companionship and unwavering support for Leon helped him turn a page and begin to open up to Kelley. The school spent time tutoring Leon. They took the time to get him up to speed and make sure he was on track with the other kids. Leon was succeeding and finally beginning to feel like he belonged to a family.
Then, there was talk about changing Leon’s case plan. His rights had been severed by his biological mom and he needed a permanent place to call home. Leon was intent on staying with Kelley and John. So intent in fact that he requested to stay in foster care so he didn’t have to leave their home.
Kelley and John knew it was time to approach the subject of adoption. “Leon was overwhelmed when we decided to adopt him. Kids want permanency, they want a normal life, they want to know they have a place to stay,” said Kelley. The DCS worker assigned to Leon’s case was supportive and knowledgeable and helped Kelley and John through the entire adoption process. Once the adoption was finalized, Leon couldn’t wait to be a McGinn, he took the family name and truly felt like a member of the family. Finally, he belonged, he was home.
As Kelley puts it, “The impact you can have on these kids is immense. Leon is able to look at what his life might have been like and see the blessing that came from adoption. Leon is an example of the system working.”
These days, Leon is doing well. He is following in his adoptive father’s footsteps and is part of the JTED (Joint Technical Education District) program at his school which allows him to spend part of his learning time training to become a firefighter. He is thrilled to be working towards something that has been his dream from the start. “Leon has persevered and that drive has helped him overcome his circumstances.. Throughout his journey, he has stayed true to himself. He is a helpful and caring young man and now he is living his dream,” says Kelley.
Adoption gave Leon the safety and stability to grow into the person he is now. His adoptive parents Kelley and John along with his new siblings feel they simply helped along the way. If they could say anything to those thinking about adoption it would be this, “Have compassion and empathy – step back and appreciate the world. These kids change you for the better if you let them.”
Tons of Teens
Julie Crane and her husband Jimm married young – they knew they were meant for each other and took the plunge. Julie was 17 and her husband only 20 when they tied the knot, but they were already thinking about a family. Later, they added two biological children, Tanner and Bailey, to their growing family. As a military family, they had a different kind of life, often moving around or dealing with Jimm’s deployments.
In 2005, when Julie felt called to add to their family while living in North Carolina, she knew adoption was an option for them. Her husband was set to deploy again soon and was on the fence about growing their family through adoption. One day, as her husband was getting ready to deploy, the call that Julie had been waiting for came. There was a baby girl at the hospital born to a mother who couldn’t care for her.
As Julie pondered whether she would take the baby in, she looked for a sign to tell her what to do. Luckily, God gave her just that. Jimm’s ship had actually broken down earlier that day, just before the phone call came, leaving him unable to deploy. Julie and Jimm headed to the hospital to bring home this baby girl. Fast-forward to the present, and Breanna is now a happy and healthy 14-year-old and sweet addition to the Crane family.
Julie thought that might be the end of their adoption story, but soon realized that her heart was being pulled to adopt once again. By 2017, when Julie and her family had moved to Arizona, she had been hoping to consider adoption again and turned to God to give her a sign that she was on the right path.
As Julie puts it, “I asked God to have my husband call me and bring up adoption, so I would know it was right.” Sure enough, her husband called and they decided this was the right path. Julie and Jimm applied for their license to foster and adopt. They decided they would open their home to the 0-9 age group and were looking to bring a younger child into their home. God, however, had other plans.
When Julie and Jimm met 17-year-old Danny, she knew he was meant to be a member of their family. He pulled at Julie’s heartstrings and she couldn’t see not bringing him into their home. This opened the floodgates for teenagers entering the Cranes’ life. They went on to adopt 15-year-old Aleja and 13-year-old twins Givaunni and Alexa.
“These kids age out and never have the stability of a loving family,” says Julie. Opening her home to teens just felt right.
If you’re keeping track, Julie and Jimm now have a home filled with 5 teenagers, lots of noise, and so much love. Most days, Julie finds such a reward in being a place for these kids to call home. Other days she finds herself looking for strength in all the corners of her life, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“You should be prepared for anything and everything – it will be overwhelming, but it is all worth it in the end,” says Julie.
God called Julie and her family to the journey of adoption, which changed her family's life. He gave them the chance to be a place of refuge for the teens who needed them the most. Looking back, Julie knows that this was the path she was meant for and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Pit Stop
If you ask Kenda vonHamm what is important to her, she’ll tell you that she loves providing a place for teens to stop before they head out into the world as adults. “What if we made a difference? What if these 3-4 years were enough to positively impact the road that they are taking forward? Foster kids are going to grow up, become adults and go out into the world whether we do something or not. Even if we haven’t helped them finish growing up, they’ll still be out there in the world, trying to figure out life on their own,” says Kenda.
Kenda first experienced a strong connection to teens when volunteering as a mentor for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK). During this time, she met her first two adoptive daughters Alexis (16) and Selena (11). Kenda and her husband Daryl still lived behind a high school even though their two children were grown and left home. They felt that it was the right time for them to bring these two sisters into their home when it became obvious that reunification was no longer an option for the girls and their birth mom.
In 2018, with their adoption and foster licenses closed and that chapter of their story behind them, Kenda sat down to read the local newspaper one morning over breakfast. After reading the story of a girl she felt like she already knew, Andrea, she passed the newspaper to her husband, who quickly skimmed the description of a teen girl looking for her forever family. “She sounds like she’s already part of our family,” he said after reading about a young lady who loved the Cardinals and Mexican food. Kenda agreed but wanted to make sure their daughter, the last one living at home, felt comfortable. When Selena, now a senior in high school, came downstairs, Kenda handed her the newspaper and let her read about the girl she already felt was supposed to join the family. Selena simply replied, “We’re going to adopt her, aren’t we?”
That afternoon, Kenda sent an email to the DCS caseworker assigned to this particular case. She outlined her background, her work as a mentor and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), their history of adoption and strong interest in Andrea. Kenda and Selena met Andrea on June 30, and by September 1, she was living in their home. Their connection continued to build and Andrea felt like she was the perfect next piece to the puzzle of their family. Andrea (16) was officially adopted in June of this year. The foster family she had been staying with stayed in touch and have become the unofficial “aunt and uncle” which provided a nice support system from her old life to this next chapter.
Why teens? For Kenda it’s simple – she and her husband are action-oriented. They enjoy sharing large and small life experiences with teens who are learning to build their own life. Sure, teens come with “baggage” and memories, birth families, connections and prior experiences, but Kenda sees herself and Daryl as an extra set of adults offering to help these teens think about the choices that will give them the best outcome moving forward. “There are so many ways to do life – we just want teenagers who have been caught up in the foster care system to have a chance at actually shaping their future.”
“These teens have been through so much, they deserve a chance to catch their breath and just be kids. You [adoptive parents] become a rest stop for them to gather their thoughts and get the support and encouragement they need to take on the world,” says Kenda. She and Daryl believe that they can honor the past of their adoptive children while helping them focus on the future.
Call Me Armando
Monique Hernandez and her husband Gerardo had never considered adoption – it wasn’t something they had on their minds or felt called to. Adoption came to them in an unexpected way. In 2013, Monique and her husband made the move from Colorado to Arizona. That same year, Esias Seumptewa was placed into the foster care system in Arizona and began his journey to find his forever home.
Monique and Esias crossed paths years later, when she became his mentor after seeing an ad on FOX10 calling for mentors to help kids who were getting ready to age out of the foster care system. Monique began mentoring Esias up to 8 hours each week and each time she had to take him back, it became harder and harder for her not to ask him to stay.
Finally, Monique and Gerardo decided it was time to offer Esias a home after some encouragement from her family. According to Monique, “This was not in the plan. It was not how it was supposed to be. Our family helped encourage us to make it happen. How could we leave him now that we’ve invited him into our lives? How could we turn our back on him?” Monique knew that they were right and that Esias was meant to be with them.
Monique and her husband decided permenent placement was the best thing for Esias and their family and began the adoption process. Since Monique had a previous relationship with Esias, this adoption was considered a Kinship Placement; however, the family still had to go through the struggle and excitement that come along with the adoption process.
Throughout the process, there were many trials that Esias and his new family had to face. Having been in care for six years of his life, he was often worried that he wouldn’t get adopted after all and might end up back with strangers. “He’d had so much rejection that he was worried about these complete strangers taking him in and never giving him back,” said Monique. Esias was searching for stability. Finally, after a year of living in the Hernandez home, his adoption was made official.
The process has been one that Monique and her family have taken in stride. She says, “I didn’t have any expectations. I just went with it and took it one day at a time. We cry when we need to cry, laugh when we need to laugh, and pray when we need to pray. We stayed very flexible. We don’t make decisions or react on emotion. We act on fact. We love the way God has taught us, patient and kind.” This attitude is the one that helped bring this special young man into a family that loves him.
For Monique, there are so many things about Esias that have changed since he became a part of her family. One of those changes, his name. Esias felt so connected to his new family that he chose a name that meant something to them all. Upon learning he was going to be adopted, Esias told his class at school, “Start calling me Armando because I’m getting adopted on Thursday.” Armando chose his name because it was Monique’s father’s name and it felt like the name he always wanted.
Monique isn’t the only one whose experience with Armando has been something special. Gerardo, Monique’s husband, says Armando is the son he always wanted. There are so many things that they spend time doing together, so many ways that they just “click.” The most spectacular thing about their relationship according to Gerardo? They choose to have it, it is a parent-and-child relationship that was hand-selected, and that means something special to them.
If you ask Monique what Armando is like now, she can’t say enough about her son. “It doesn’t feel like work with him. The way he smiles and lights up when he gets to answer questions about his family and how many siblings he has. It’s indescribable how someone so young can change us and influence us and teach us,” says Monique.
Armando is constantly growing and changing – he is becoming who he was meant to be, and Monique and Gerardo couldn’t be more proud. Monique says it best when she describes how she feels about his presence in their family, “He’s supposed to be here… it’s so hard to find the perfect words, but you don’t have to have a child from the beginning for him to be your child.”