Below is the first of a series of assignments that I had for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This was a very meaningful project for me, as I too was adopted, but I had found a forever family when I was only months old. Many of the children I documented in this series were not so fortunate, spending years in a system that passed them from one home to another until DTFA stepped in and helped them find a stable home life and loving forever family.
A day with Olivia Grace Hargis and the Hargis family in Celia Kentucky photographed Saturday July 23, 2016 for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
“I was nine when I first met my mom and dad,” says Olivia, now 13. “I was nervous, because that’s how I am with new people.”
Lorie and Dwain Hargis – Olivia’s adoptive mom and dad – had a few hesitations as well. “I felt like we had to be on good behavior,” Lorie says. “But I also wanted her to see the real us.”
Olivia, it turns out, likes the real them quite a bit. She talks about how well they cared for her after all her surgeries (she’s had three so far). Her dad gently carried her between the couch and the bed, and her mom fed her chicken noodle soup. They both stayed by her side as she recovered. There are lighter stories too: Olivia’s first time on an airplane, late night conversations, the family’s wonderful “weird side.” Olivia tells about the goofy things her mom does, like dancing solo on New Year’s Eve and serenading the vacuum cleaner when she thinks no one can hear. Olivia shares these stories with palpable pride and admiration.
Seeing Lorie and Dwain’s comfort with their identities has given Olivia a strong sense of who she is as well.
“She’s gained so much confidence since she’s been with us,” Lorie says. “Things just don’t bother her like they used to.”
Inspired by Olivia’s growth and the joy she’s brought to their lives, the Hargises have adopted four more children. “It can be hectic at times,” Dwayne says, “but life is what you make it. It’s nice knowing we can let these kids be kids, and we’re here to love them.”
Dwain and Lorie Hargis were nearing a stage in life that most parents either dread or welcome with open arms: they were almost empty nesters. With their two biological children grown with lives of their own, Dwain and Lorie were unsure of their next step. Lorie recalls, “I turned to God, as I often did, and just said ‘Whatever you want me to do with my life, I’ll do it’. That very day my husband brought home a phone number for a foster agency.” Over the years, the Hargis’ fostered almost two dozen children of all ages and abilities. “We didn’t really put any stipulations on what “type” of child we would take, and were very open to anything they called us for,” Lorie explains.
When they got the call for Olivia, they never expected her to be anything more than another child they fostered. Olivia had been placed in foster care when she was four, and experienced being moved to five different homes within seven years. During that time she quickly learned the ropes of foster care, and how to get a new placement when she wanted one. Lorie explains, “Olivia learned how to play the system. If she didn’t like the home, she would do things that would make most people ask themselves ‘What were we thinking?’ She knew when she was wanted, and when she wasn’t.”
The Hargis’ open their homes and hearts to almost every child they are contacted about, and they offer to adopt each child that is adoptable. “Once we met Olivia, it seemed very natural for her to be with us, Lorie recalls. ” After all, she even looked like our biological daughter with blonde hair and blue eyes. It absolutely broke our hearts to hear how she had lived her young life up to that point. She was a free spirit and full of life and excitement. Not too many things affected her since she had already learned to block things out,” she continues.
Their two biological children echoed Dwain and Lorie’s thoughts on fostering children and adoption. Her daughter, a cosmetologist, will often do Olivia’s hair and other big sister activities. Her son is in the Air Force, but spends as much quality time as he can when he’s home with the children his parents have fostered and adopted. Lorie says, “They both have asked on different occasions, ‘Why didn’t you do this when we were growing up?’ They are now 26 and 24 years old and treat each one of the fosters or adoptive kids as their own siblings.”
Although Olivia had experienced hardships in her young life, she eventually learned that she could trust Dwain and Lorie. Lorie recalls,”She was very used to people giving up on her, and not wanting her. She tried to test the waters with us. When she figured out we weren’t going to give up, she finally learned to trust and love us as her parents.”
Dwain and Lorie say that their dreams for Olivia are big, and no matter what, she will have their support. “Olivia knows she is well-supported with whatever she decides to do with her life. Now, there is a reason to believe that she will change the world. We hope that she takes what she has known with us and continues to spread the kindness and love that has been shown to her into her adult life,” Lori explains.
She adds,” We have always told our adoptive children, “When it’s time for you to go into this big world by yourself, you will be confident in knowing you are well equipped to spread your wings and fly.”
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