This is the fourth in 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.
Laverne Moore-Jenkins and her husband Terry have been fostering children for almost 30 years — in addition to raising nine of their own. They’ve always enjoyed working with teens especially, to help them get the skills they need to transition out of the foster care system as well as provide them a place to come back to.
When Raychelle was placed in their home, Laverne didn’t want to let her go. “Had Raychelle aged out of foster care, her only option was to go to a group home,” Laverne says. “I knew that wasn’t a good place for her, and I wanted to make this her home.” By the time Raychelle joined the Jenkins family at the age of 15, she’d lived in about 26 homes. “She’d lost a lot in all those transitions,” Laverne adds. “She’s deaf and developmentally delayed. When we first met her, she only knew about 10 words of American Sign Language.”
She was in good company: Laverne and Terry didn’t know ASL either. Working together, they learned. Now they sign to each other, and Raychelle knows hundreds of words. And communication isn’t the only improvement Raychelle has made. Laverne describes Raychelle as shy and withdrawn at first. After a time, she came out of her shell. “She’s my social butterfly,” Laverne laughs. “Always giving everyone hugs and compliments I have to translate. She’s truly happy now.”
Terry and Laverne Jenkins met in the armed forces and knew they were meant to be together and join their families. At the time, Terry had two sons, and Laverne had one. Over the years they adopted two nieces due to a family tragedy, and went on to have a biological son and daughter together. They decided to become foster parents out of a desire to help other families succeed, and for the last 30 years they have done just that.
Raychelle was 15 when she first met the Jenkins. Scheduled to stay with the Jenkins for a short 72 hours, Laverne says Raychelle was placed in her home with only a black trash bag containing her belongings—which were severely lacking. “She came with clothing appropriate for an older man—not for a teenage girl. It looked as though someone’s grandfather had passed, and she was given his clothing. She had no toothbrush or pajamas—none of those things,” Laverne recalls.
It was apparent that Raychelle, born deaf, had been extremely neglected in her previous foster environments. “She hadn’t bathed in weeks, and the stench was awful. Her hair hadn’t been washed or braided, and she had bald spots from the lack of grooming. I couldn’t believe it,” Laverne told Reader’s Digest. Raychelle entered the foster care system due to neglect from her biological mother right before her sixth birthday, and had bounced from home to home throughout the years—some of which were abusive. “When Raychelle came to us she was extremely withdrawn and afraid of people. She would put her hands up because she was afraid of being hit, and her ability to communicate with others was almost nonexistent,” Laverne explains.
When a social worker told Laverne and Terry that after her weekend stay with them Raychelle would be placed in a group home, Laverne knew she had to take action. “I called the social worker I knew with Wendy’s Wonderful Kids and told her I wanted to petition for adoption immediately—there was no way a group home would be prepared to take care of Raychelle in the way she needed.” Once Raychelle was placed with the Jenkins, others began noticing changes in the teen as well. “The school social worker told me, ‘We knew she had to be in a new home, because she came to school clean,” Laverne recalls. “I told her, ‘You don’t have to worry about her anymore, she’s in the right home now,” she adds.
Laverne says that adopting Raychelle, who functions at a first grade level due to brain trauma she sustained during abuse, has been a motivation for growth in her own life. She says, “Adopting her was something that God put on my heart, and looking in her eyes I knew I was meant to be her forever mom. She’s made me a better person. I’m more empathetic and sympathetic to others. People think I’ve done great things for her, but she’s done them for me, too.”
Today, Raychelle is 20, and about to graduate high school. She only knew five American Sign Language words when arriving at the Jenkins home, and she now communicates well with over 400. Learn some fascinating facts about American Sign Language. Laverne says her daughter amazes her, and she’s learning sign language to communicate even better with Raychelle. “She’s learning to read and write, and she could barely write her name when we met. I believe she can go so much further,” she explains. Previously withdrawn and fearful, Laverne says Raychelle has grown to love others. She says, “Raychelle has more of a social life than I do, she goes to dances and recreation programs. I want her to be comfortable wherever she is, whether that’s with hearing people or non-hearing people. I want her to know her world is broad.”
Laverne wants others considering adoption of older children or those with special needs to know that any child in foster care has special needs. She explains,”Foster care children all have a special need for something. If you’re considering adoption or foster care, you should pray about it—we all have a mission in life, and if this is yours, then a higher power will provide for you.” She also encourages other adoptive parents to educate themselves about advocating for their child. “Go to the doctor and tell them what you think your child needs, get familiar with the IEP (individual education program) process, and advocate for them. If you don’t, no one else will. They can’t advocate for themselves,” she says.
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