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More than four years ago, Tonie Alfonso and Bianca Monreal decided to start a family, believing that finally making such a monumental decision would be the most difficult part of the process to bring a child into their lives.
Having already chosen to adopt, the married LGBT couple applied with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and wound up fostering adoptable twins. Although they knew there was a possibility of the babies being returned to their birth parents, Alfonso and Monreal were devastated when it actually happened.
Down but not out, the Long Beach couple learned of an orientation being held in West Hollywood by a company with a good track record in finalizing adoptions. They attended, and less than a year later, the two were introduced to Jacob.
“When we met him, it was like we just knew,” Alfonso said.
Raise A Child, a company on Sunset Boulevard that specializes in facilitating adoptions, supported the Long Beach residents when they were in dire need of inspiration and motivation, she said.
The orientation was held in December 2012, and just after Christmas that year, Alfonso and Monreal received the call about Jacob, who was on emergency placement after being placed for adoption at two days old.
The family continued to work with Raise A Child as it worked through the finalization process. Raise A Child referred “the most amazing attorney” to the couple, Alfonso said. On Aug. 9, it became official.
“We connected on a pure level,” Alfonso said, adding that her son had lived in four homes by the time he was 18 months old. Like the couple, the 2 year old had endured his fair share of adversity, but it was evident that Jacob was going to be a wonderful addition to the household. “He knew he was home, and we knew after four-and-a-half years why we needed to wait so long.”
Monreal, a licensed therapist, said the process tested every emotion, but it was worth it in the end.
“I love it,” she said of being a parent. “And you know what, he’s a cool kid. Jacob is really just a cool person. He’s a handsome little man.”
Alfonso, a fifth grade teacher, said it was almost as if Jacob adopted them.
“It’s so uncanny when you finally connect,” she said. “It’s like falling in love. …Adoption is very similar.”
They give a lot of credit to Raise A Child for supporting them through the process. Alfonso said the company was there for the family during its darkest moment and its brightest moment. She said all of its staff members “have lived” the process.
“That’s what makes them, I think, different,” Alfonso said.
Raise A Child co-founder Rich Valenza had decided at 45 years old that he wanted to start a family. He really enjoyed being an uncle, but very much wanted children of his own.
That was “kind of a challenge” for a single, gay man nine years ago, Valenza said. After a “long and tedious” process, he adopted two children from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Valenza stayed in touch with the department, volunteering when needed. One day, staff members asked him if he had any ideas to help reach out to the LGBT community. Specifically, they asked him what he would do if challenged with the task. He said he didn’t know, so he consulted with a friend.
“That proposal turned out to begin the start of Raise A Child,” Valenza said.
Headquartered in Hollywood, Raise A Child has been in existence for three years. During the first two years, all of the staff members worked from home, but the operation became too large, Valenza said.
Thus far, the company has helped facilitate approximately 20 adoptions, and a number of families are still in the process of finalizing their adoptions, he said.
Valenza said the process takes a “long time, unfortunately.” When couples decide they are interested, they generally attend an orientation meeting, “which is really the first step,” he said. Then, they take six to eight sessions of a training class.
“It’s a long process, which is valuable,” Valenza said, adding that it weeds out the people who aren’t interested in adopting for the right reasons. He said the sessions include an “awful lot” of training about the psychology of the children who are in the foster care system; they also make people aware of the services and resources available to them.
Valenza said there is a lot of preparation involved. He said the adoption agency and the state sends someone to the couple’s residence for a home inspection.
“They do everything from making sure light sockets have safety plugs to [checking] temperature of the hot water,” Valenza added.
He said Raise A Child has learned that the biggest challenge for agencies is finding prospective parents. The father of two said the company reaches out to LGBT and heterosexual individuals alike.
However, the LGBT community is a “relatively untapped market,” Valenza said. The repeal of Prop. 8, while good for LGBT individuals and the marriage equality effort, can also be a positive for foster children, he said.
“We as an organization feel that if we can rally and educate and outreach to our own community, what a great thing that the LGBT community could do for society by addressing the foster care crisis we have in this country,” Valenza added.
The most important element of the process, of course, is the children, he said. Valenza said approximately 400,000 children are in the foster care system nationally, and 104,000 are available for adoption immediately.
Sari Grant, recruitment administrator for the department of children and family services, said the department has contracted with Raise A Child to recruit adoptive parents for 500 waiting L.A. County children. She said most of the children are older and are part of a “sibling group.”
“Everybody needs a family to call their own,” Grant said.
She said Raise A Child has been very effective in helping the department get the word out, and that the LGBT community has been “great” in helping the cause.
“We’re open to all types of families,” Grant said. “We welcome all types of families, because it’s a matter of the amount of love and commitment you can give a child, not configuration of your family.”
Valenza said Raise A Child recently expanded its campaign to New York, Chicago and Kansas City. He said the company now has six agency partners in L.A. County, and the effort continues to grow.
For information, call (800)958-9478 or visit raiseachild.us.
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