It’s a sad fact of this modern world that there are a lot of children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of new homes and new families. Luckily, the world is also filled with kind-hearted strangers willing to open their homes and hearts to kids who are desperate for help. We’ve gathered together some stories of Southern families brought together by fate, faith, and love instead of biology. They are heartwarming stories of children’s lives transformed by kindness, but as you read, remember that there are thousands of children in foster care still waiting for their forever homes. Contact your state’s foster care licensing organization if you want to help a child in need and maybe make a heartwarming story of your own.
Here are seven stories of families finding each other:
The Washingtons and The Houstons
Julie and B.J. Washington had two biological children, but were ready to open their home and their hearts to three brothers who had spent years in the Georgia foster care system. It was a big move to turn their family of four to a family of seven, but they were determined to make it work. Then a caseworker called with an unusual question: Could they take a fourth child? Turns out the boys had another brother and the caseworker really hoped to keep the family together, according to People, who reported the story in 2016. The Washingtons weren’t sure if they could make it work. Julie Washington opened her heart to her friend, Jay Houston, explaining that she wasn’t sure she could handle four boys. A few days later, Houston called Washington and announced that she and her family would take the newly discovered brother. Jay and George Houston already had five children, including three adopted ones, and were willing to throw one more into the mix. It meant that the brothers could grow up near each other and get to know each other as part of one big happy family. The Houstons and the Washingtons now get together for playdates and movie nights during the week and celebrates birthdays and holidays together, an unconventional family, but a family nonetheless.
Seven siblings, ranging in age from 5 to 14, had spent three years in foster care and were beginning to face the dark reality of being split up. After years on their own, the siblings were closely bonded, relying on each other for everything, but adopting seven children is a daunting task. Then the Clarks came into the picture. They had always wanted to adopt siblings and grow their family and when they met the seven kids they knew they had met their new kids, according to Savannah Now. In August 2016, the seven brothers and sisters moved into the Clarks’ three-bedroom home sharing a room with the Clark’s biological son, three-year old Noah, who was thrilled to have siblings. Four girls stay in one bedroom and four boys share another bedroom, making it cozy but do-able for the family. However, the family might add one more member—an eighth sibling has been found and if she comes to live with the Clarks, they will need a bigger house.
The DeCiccos desperately wanted to have a child, but when they got the call from the adoption agency, they paused for a moment. The child they had been offered was born addicted to opioids and even at two days old was suffering from withdrawal. If they didn’t take him, the baby boy would become a ward of the state. It was a lot to ask of new parents, but the DeCiccos followed their hearts and welcomed the child into their home in Fort Myers, Florida. They named him Enzo and nursed him through his withdrawals and seizures, according the Tampa Bay Times, seeking help from experts and outside support. At four-years old, when the Tampa Bay Times was telling his story, Enzo was playing soccer like many other kids his age. He still needs special support and extra help, but his family makes sure he has everything he needs to thrive. After all, they’re family.
Linda Hooper was an elementary school teacher when she first met Cruz Riojas—and she didn’t like him at all. He was a “holy terror” whose antics were legendary at the school, according to Lubbock Avalanche-Journal who reported this story in 2014. When Riojas joined Hooper’s sixth grade classroom, she finally saw a different side of him. He was simply a kid in a very rough situation with absolutely no hope. So she gave him some. She and her husband hired him to do odd jobs around their house, which soon became a refuge for Riojas when his troubled home life got too stormy. When Riojas was 12 his stepfather kicked him out of his home. Hooper came to pick him up and he moved in. What was meant to be a temporary fix, turned into a lifetime. It took a while though. Riojas wasn’t officially adopted by the Hoopers until he was almost 30 years old, not that any of them needed paperwork to prove what they already knew—they were family.
Back in 2005, Plant City police detective Mark Holste went to investigate charges of child abuse, reported the Tampa Bay Times. What he found was "the worst neglect situation [he had] ever seen". The house was filled with mold, cockroaches, and human waste and in the middle of it all was an emaciated six-year old wearing a diaper and kept in a dark room the size of a closet. Her name was Danielle and she desperately needed help. She was immediately hospitalized and her parents’ right terminated. The little girl couldn’t walk, talk, or eat food and would need a lot of special care and unconditional love. She found that in the home of Bernie and Diane Lierow, who adopted her in 2007 after spotting her picture in a window. It took time and patience to get “Dani” to connect to the world around her after suffering through years of neglect. They documented their family’s journey in a book, Dani's Story: A Journey from Neglect to Love. When Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network checked in with the family in 2014, Dani was 15 years old and a high school student in Tenneessee and very much a part of the family. Read the full heartbreak to happiness story at the Tampa Bay Times.
Millie Holloman had just become a foster parent when she met the girl who would become her daughter. 5-year old Vera Wren was scared, as would be expected of a child pulled from her home and thrust into that of a stranger. Holloman helped the little girl feel comfortable, and more importantly, safe. The two hit it off and Holloman told the North Carolina agency overseeing the little girl’s care that if anything changed in her case and if she needed a forever home, she wanted to be the very first phone call, according to ABC News. A few years later, her wish came true and Vera Wren Holloman came home. Vera Wren’s adoption day was special, of course, but it was also carefully documented because her new mom is a photographer who put together an incredible adoption-day photo shoot that featured “the village” of social workers, family, the attorney, and even the judge who helped the two one-time strangers become a family. See the full story and some highlights from photo shoot over at ABC News.
WATCH: A South Carolina Firefighter Adopted A Baby He Helped Deliver
Jim and Katrina Baldwin were used to having a very full house. After all, the Tennessee family had five biological children who grew up and gave the couple seven grandchildren. With just one son still living at home, the Baldwins decided to take in foster kids desperately needing a safe home and a support system. They took in two foster children, Lily, 6, and Tristin, 2 and then a few months later, they got a call asking if they would take in two of Lily and Tristin's siblings — Kamrin, 3, and Danny, 5. There were more siblings, though, and the Baldwins just kept adding beds Ryan, 9, A.J., 12, and Shanda, 14 joined their expanding family, according to USA Today who reported the story in 2014. Once everyone was settled in the home, the Baldwins thought it would be a shame to split up the family again. So they adopted all seven of them. The Baldwins had a very full house again, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.