For thousands of Texas children without permanent, loving homes, the wait to be adopted may be long and discouraging. No matter their age, most of these children still hold out hope that someday, someone will open their heart and give them a family they can call their own.
17-year-old Leah Garcia has a great smile and a wonderful personality to match. Yet since entering foster care at age 12, she spent years asking herself, "Why can't I get adopted? Why haven't I been picked? Am I that bad of a person? What is going on that no one wants me?"
"Once I hit 16 years old, I figured no one would want me because I was almost old enough to go out on my own," she says. "I prayed to God to give me a sign to have hope. My caseworker said she would find someone."
Child Protective Services Adoption Caseworker Susan Brezina of Corpus Christi says Leah's story weighed on her heart. "Leah saw kids in her foster home get adopted but nobody picked her, nobody loved her. I told her I was going to find her an adoptive family–whatever it took. She didn't believe me and at one point, I think she gave up hope. I told her I knew it would be hard but I would keep trying. And, I told her that once she found an adoptive home, I hoped she would advocate for other teenagers who are also looking for loving homes."
Brezina says the fear of rejection for older children is a major hurdle. "Just think back to when you were a teenager. Can you even imagine having to live in a stranger's house and having them watch everything you do? It's a tough sell to get teens to take that leap of faith and trust a family to love them and not reject them. But, when it works, it's magic."
Finally, Leah found her family at an adoption recruitment event, and her life changed forever. "I had always been interested in adopting children," says her adoptive father. "We had two children but my wife had complications during her last pregnancy. We wanted a girl but I didn't want to put my wife through that again. That's how we got into adoption."
Leah never thought she would finally find her forever family. "I didn't even know I was going to find parents at the recruitment event--I thought it was just to take pictures," says Leah. "I just went there and acted like myself, like I usually do, and that's when I met the people who would become my adoptive parents. I asked God, please let it be them."
Now that she has a family of her own, Leah spreads the word about the joys of adopting older children, speaking at Rotary Club meetings and adoption recruitment events. "I care and want to speak out for the older kids," says Leah. "Any time someone calls, I am ready to go. I tell other kids there's someone out there for them. I tell people that older kids need love too, someone they can depend on."
Her adoptive dad says his family is truly blessed to have Leah. "She's really made an impact on our family. She and our boys are really close. If you were to spend a day with our family, you'd think they'd she's been part of our family for the longest time. Give those older kids a chance. You'll never know. Leah's been a real blessing."