Adoption Love Train Makes Connections: Destination Home
from Summer 2002 Adoptalk
by Ruth Amerson
Founder and director of North Carolinas Another Choice for Black Children, Ruth Amerson is dedicated to finding families for children. Through creative recruiting, thoughtful customer service, and inventive matching techniques, Another Choice has placed more than 400 children in seven years. Below, Ruth shares her latest venturea spring train trip that brought waiting families and children together. To learn more, call Ruth at 704-394-1124.
"Love Train," the OJays most popular single, hit the top of the charts 30 years ago. In April, strains of the well-known oldie welcomed children and adults aboard a modern love train for a historic ride between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina. On board a private train car were 25 children who needed permanent homes and two dozen families who were hoping to welcome a child or sibling group into their lives. The ride has already changed the lives of several children and families involved.
It all began in February of 2002 when Al Deitch from North Carolinas Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office read about a recruitment event in New Mexico. He immediately called and told me that the event involved a train ride and had earned an award for innovative approaches to recruiting families for older children. Excited by the possibilities, I called the agency in New Mexico to learn more about their event.
Preparation and Collaboration
As it turned out, the New Mexico event wasnt scheduled until well after ours, so I had no idea how well the strategy would work and no real model to follow. Fortunately, I am no stranger to challenge and I could already envision the wonderful train ride in vivid detail. The trick was to convince other agencies of the events great potential for bringing children and families together, and find partners to make the ride a success.
We started by approaching recruiters at three agencies with which Another Choice has a strong relationship. Though we could supply most of the families for the project, we needed the agencies to identify children. The recruiters then introduced the idea to their supervisors and administrators, and we worked from there to make final arrangements for the 25 children who would participate. The children ranged in age from 8 to 15 and included at least six sibling groups.
Next, we needed to work out arrangements for the train. Al contacted Julia Hegle from the state Department of Transportation, Railways Division and shared our idea. Julia was excited, but cautious. She agreed, however, to participate in conference calls with Amtrak (the rail service we chose). Several conference calls later, we had a deal that worked well for everyone involved.
Because we didnt want everyone cooped up in the train all day, we also made arrangements for an adoption party in Raleigh. With the help of the NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network and Wake County workers, we planned outdoor activities for the children and recruited NC Kids staff and foster parents to help supervise. We also found a speaker to keep the families motivated about helping children.
The event was looking more and more promising every day. NC Kids created a mini-photolisting of the children for the families and donated T-shirts, games, souvenir bags, and snacks for the train ride. Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation covered train tickets for the children and provided coloring books, crayons, and hats. First Cosmopolitan Baptist Church in Raleigh catered lunch, and the Agency for Public Telecommunication even loaned us a cameraman to film the event.
Once we had the train and the other arrangements set up, we carefully selected and prepared families for the ride. Guilford and Mecklenburg Counties chose about five of the families; the rest came through Another Choice. Families we chose had expressed an interest in adopting older children or sibling groups and seemed most likely to follow through.
To prepare families for the train ride, we called to explain the responsibilities and expectations for interacting with the children. Every family also received a flyer that listed DOs and DONTs for the train ride and adoption party. The first DO was "have fun" and most other DOs followed that theme. Most of the DONT list involved protecting the children and setting privacy boundaries"Dont ask the children if they want to be adopted." "Dont ask children for their last names." "Dont promise that youll adopt a child."
The morning of Saturday, April 6th dawned cool and bright. By 6:30 a.m., 16 families and 10 children had arrived at the Charlotte train station to start the days journey. Amtrak representatives greeted them cordially and laid out the red carpet. As "Love Train" played softly in the background, the children and families quietly boarded the train. Then, before we left the station, one parent led us in prayer. His words were so uplifting that we were almost ready for a revival.
During the first leg of the train ride, everyone sang gospel songs and hymns. Then one of the social workers entertained us with storytelling until we reached the next stop. In Greensboro, after Another Choices board president, another 8 families, and 15 more children joined us in our private car, the party began in earnest.
Children entertained us with their singing and dancing talents, and even showed the adults how to do the crypt walk. While this was going on, we interviewed the children and adults on film. Some passengers who passed through on the way to the dining car stopped to ask what we were celebrating, so we shared the message that school-aged children and sibling groups need permanent families. As word of our event spread through the train, other passengers simply came by and smiled.
The children understood why they were on the train and many of them connected with families right away. They would move to sit next to a particular family and ask questions about the familys home, and what they liked to do for fun. One boy couldnt wait to tell us that he had already spotted his new mom.
When the train finally stopped in Raleigh, there were cameras everywhere. We craned our necks to see what celebrity was on our train, but as it turned out, every television station in the Raleigh-Durham area was there to cover our story and interview a few families and children. Jamal, one of our 12-year-olds, gave interviews to every station. One reporter asked if he believed he would find a family. "Yes," Jamal replied boldly, "because I just rode the Adoption Love Train."
From the station we hurried to the Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office for the match party. The mayor pro tem and several public agency officials were there to welcome us. The children, however, were much more fascinated by the Another Choice band as they played their rendition of "The Adoption Love Train."
After lunch, the families and children separated. Cary Graham, author and co-founder of "Walking the Talk to Manhood: A Rite of Passage," reminded the families how important it is to be there for children. Then the adoption coordinator for the Division of Social Services awarded MAPP certificates to the 12 Another Choice families. Each family also received a small photolisting booklet with profiles of the children on the trip.
Meanwhile, the children were busy having fun. They played games outside, worked on art projects, and enjoyed a visit from the local fire department and Wake County law enforcement officers. A number of the children got to climb up into the fire truck and see how it works.
Soon it was time for the families and children to come back together. Mr. Graham recited the poem "I Can" to put everyone at ease, and before long, everyone was dancing and having a good time. They could have danced all night.
On the return trip, the children talked non-stop about all the fun they had and what they were going to tell their school friends. We stopped briefly for some supper in Greenboro (compliments of Guilford County DSS), bid some of the families and children farewell, and thought more about our day through the hour ride back to Charlotte. We pulled into the Charlotte station exhausted but exultant.
We have stayed in touch with all the Another Choice families who rode on the train. Quite a few called us the Monday after the trip asking about specific children. While some families withdrew their match after learning more about the childrens specific needs, many other families have held firm to their decision to adopt certain children. In the five months since the historic ride, permanent placements have been identified for more than a dozen North Carolina children. Some pre-placement visits have also begun.
The Adoption Love Train gave families a chance to interact with children throughout a full day of unique activities. The children really enjoyed the fun-filled outing and the chance to possibly connect with a new family. Staff who were on the trip came to know the children and families betterknowledge that is helping us to identify other potential families in our network for some of the children. Within a few years, we know that the Adoption Love Train will become a fondly remembered part of many of these families and childrens adoption stories.
Adoption Love Train Lessons
Seek out partners; networking is a critical element of success for recruitment events.
Identify agencies that are most likely to help and invite them to participate first.
Maintain an open dialogue with the agencies and other partners to keep everyone abreast of developments and challenges. Someone may know of a solution.
Identify children for the event quickly, secure a firm commitment from the agency concerning their participation, and obtain a copy of their pre-adoptive summary prior to the event.
Prepare the children for the day. Let them know what could happen, prepare them to deal with reporters and cameras, and let them know what to expect (as well as what not to expect) from the days events.
Arrange for transportation to and from the train station for all children.
Distribute a photolisting of the children to the families when the children are not present.
Plan varied indoor and outdoor activities to enhance interactions between the children and families.
Follow-up with all the families and the childrens workers after the event and be prepared to address new questions and concerns.