Every time I start a new volunteer activity I have this moment of panic. Why am I here? What am I doing? It’s a Saturday, why am I not on the couch eating chocolate? Who are these people? Why did they agree to have me help them if they don’t know what they want me to do? It’s pretty much the same drill every weekend though I’ve now volunteered for dozens of different groups.
It was no different last week when I found myself standing on the porch of Alex and Gregg, a couple I’d never met. The paper sign on the door said KidSave Welcome or Come In…something like that. I had defrosting cranberry sauce in my bag, it had to go in someone’s fridge, might as well be theirs. I pushed the door open and was greeted by a woman with a clipboard and three dogs.
“Fill this out. You’re a…” Her voice lilted up expectantly.
I know what she wanted me to say, but she was going to be disappointed.
“I’m a volunteer.” Yup. There it was. The almost imperceptible sigh. She wanted me to say “Parent.”
KidSave helps find homes for older children who are orphans or in the foster care system. Instead of following the typical model of helping parents find kids, KidSave helps children find parents. They do this by throwing events where the children can meet prospective parents as well as weekend and summer stays. I contacted KidSave and their Program Coordinator, Nicole, got back to me briskly. She asked if I would be willing to help out at a potluck Thanksgiving style party. Yes, absolutely.
So there I was standing in the middle of a foreign living room with cranberry sauce melting into my purse with no volunteer job to speak of besides just being at a party. I had walked around outside asking if anyone needed help, but was repeatedly told everything was under control. Great. I’ll stand here.
People stared at me. I stared at the dogs, shifted awkwardly, and looked at the furniture like I was trying to distinguish the origin. Then a man dashed through the house with a potholder. I followed him. It was instinct. Where there was a potholder there would be cooking, and if nothing else I can cook. Sure enough the kitchen was hot from a roasting Turkey and bubbling pots. “Hi, I’m here to help you. I’m Raegan.”
The man, who turned out to be homeowner Alex, put me to work immediately. He had prepared a full Thanksgiving feast and was making the final items and prepping. I love love love to cook so this was fun for me. In the process of learning how to make gravy from Turkey drippings and mashed up pretzels I got to know Alex and Gregg better. They were looking for a child, had three dogs, one of which they had found abandoned last week, they had redone this stunning house and Gregg had landscaped the back yard to look like a Tropical paradise.
Another kitchen helper named Marlene was a social worker. She had brought two boys from a group home to the party. When we finally sat down to eat I asked Marlene to fill me in on KidSave and the adoption experience for older kids. The two boys she had brought had been in the foster system for 9 years. She said they try to act stoic at the parties (indeed one sat beside me and he barely spoke 4 words) because they don’t want to get their hopes up or be hurt again. “The sad thing,” she said, “is that when I am in the car with them taking them home the first thing they ask is ‘Did someone ask about me?’” At this point I had to fight back tears.
I finished eating and walked around the party. I had been given information on two teenage girls who wanted to be writers. My goal was to meet them and give them my card if for no other purpose than possibly helping them with a school paper. I got to talk to one of the two (the other was running track sprints outside with some perspective parents). We’ll call her Amy*. Amy was a lovely and eloquent 17-year-old. She had started a new school this year as a senior and was trying to catch up with her work because she wanted to go to college. Amy also wanted to see the movie “The Blind Side,” but her group home had cut its entertainment budget so she didn’t think that was a possibility. As she talked I wanted to put my arms around her and give her a hug. I was too young to adopt her, but she was running out of time. The law says Amy is one year from being an adult, but she still needs someone to help her, protect her, and give her advice. If she isn’t adopted soon she is out on her own, without a family.
Marlene told me another interesting fact before I left the party – People always want to adopt 5 and under. They think it’s easier for young children to adjust to a new family. The problem is young children cannot often conceive of why such extreme life changes have happened to them. Older children on the other hand are part of the decision making process. They help chose their parents, which often results in a more harmonious adjustment period.
KidSave completely changed the way I thought about adoption. I was touched by the warmth and openness of the people I met. All in all working with KidSave was one of the most emotionally rewarding experiences I have had on this long journey. Good luck to all the kids and prospective parents – I hope you find each other soon.
*Name changed to protect a minor.