I didn’t give you the gift of life,
But in my heart I know.
The love I feel is deep and real,
As if it had been so.
For us to have each other
Is like a dream come true!
No, I didn’t give you
The gift of life,
Life gave me the gift of you.
While the origin of this touching poem is unknown, it captures the special bond between parents and their adoptive children. In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Altamonte-Wekiva Springs Life salutes three couples from our community who made the choice to adopt in the face of some extraordinary obstacles, and an organization that helps keep families together.
GRETA AND TODD POWESKA
Already the adoptive parents of two children, Greta and Todd Poweska did not hesitate when they learned that a six-year-old “mildly-disabled” boy was available for adoption in the Ukraine. Committed to adopting children in need, they traveled halfway around the world to bring him back to Florida. When they arrived at the adult mental institution where the boy lived, however, they found him in terrible condition. The Ukrainians had diagnosed him with brain damage, severe mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. He had lived in a crib for the first six years of his life. He could not move, roll over, or speak.
“You could hear a pin drop in that place because all the residents were drugged,” explains Greta. “Being there was an awful, eerie experience, and this boy was definitely in bad shape, but we knew he was going to be our child.”
They took the boy, whom they named Moses, to Kiev, where he started to detox from all the drugs in his system. Once back in Florida, it was discovered he was born in an extremely poor rural community and was the youngest of 12 siblings. Every one of them had been placed in the Ukrainian orphanage and foster care system.
“Once we got him home, we realized he wasn’t going to be a fully-developed child,” explains Greta, who took him to several specialists. “A neurologist believed he most likely suffered a stroke while in utero, but I was determined not to limit him in what he could do.”
The Poweska household is a dynamic one. In addition to Moses, two domestically adopted children (Shaniah, 10, and Anthony, 9) and two biological children (Ariel, 12, and Dylan, 8) round out the clan. Once Moses was introduced into this stimulating environment, he quickly started to communicate to his siblings in English. He also immediately became more mobile with the help of a walker. Doctors believe that with some corrective spine surgery, he will walk independently one day.
“I’m convinced being in a loving, engaging family environment and having proper stimulation has made him much better,” says Greta. “In the Ukraine, the neglect came from a lack of any stimulation whatsoever.”
Since living with his new family, Moses has gained weight, grown six inches, and built some strength and endurance. He has been given a new lease on life, thanks to the Poweskas’ selfless act of kindness. After a brief adjustment period, his siblings have all developed close, loving relationships with him. At this point, they can’t imagine life without him.
“We have a mix of biological and adopted children, and there have been some challenges because children who are traumatized and damaged for whatever reason at a young age have some behavioral issues that need to be corrected,” admits Greta. “But when you’re committed to giving them a secure, loving home, and you’re willing to put in the work as a parent, adoption is truly a special gift everyone benefits from.”
STACEY AND CHRISTOPHER BECK
For some people, adoption has always been on their radar. Strong believers in this selfless act make a conscious choice to adopt long before they actually do it. For others, adoption comes out of nowhere and chooses them, which is exactly what happened to Stacey and Christopher Beck.
Stacey, who volunteers at Lifeway Church and other regional charities, first met a woman named Sandy at a local maternity home in 2015. She soon learned about Sandy’s horrific childhood. When Sandy was seven, her mother (a drug addict) and her grandfather (a child molester) sold her (along with her sister) to sex traffickers in South Florida. Authorities did not track her down until she was 13 and severely traumatized by her experiences. Sandy, now 31, has walked a difficult path. When she met Stacey, she was with her seven-month-old son Rylan, looking for shelter.
“She told me her story, and I was dumbfounded,” remembers Stacey, who formed a close bond with Sandy. “I was impressed by the fact that, despite everything she went through, she was making every effort to build a decent life for herself and Rylan.”
Sandy, however, realized her trauma and mental health needs were too severe to allow her to raise a child, so she took the initiative and called Child Protective Services. She wanted a better life for Rylan and was willing to give him up to make that happen.
That is when she approached Stacey.
“She made me promise that Chris and I would take care of him,” recalls Stacey. “I wasn’t surprised because I knew she wanted to do what was best for her little boy, but I told her I needed to talk to Chris about it.”
Stacey, who works for Central Florida Community Initiative (an initiative of Community Based Care of Central Florida), spoke with some of her coworkers to get some information on the adoption process. After serious consideration, she and Chris realized it was meant to be and adopting Rylan was the right thing to do. They informed Sandy of their decision, began the approval process, and signed up for Community Based Care’s 10-week training and preparation course (PRIDE), which prepares adoptive parents for the enormous responsibility ahead of them.
“They don’t sugarcoat anything in that course,” says Chris. “If you’re going to adopt, you better not do it lightly, and you better not have selfish motives. This is a ‘for-life’ decision and has to be about the child.”
The entire process took about three months. At the beginning of 2016, the Becks finalized Rylan’s adoption. An open adoption, Sandy will always remain part of Rylan’s life, which is how all involved parties wanted it. Stacey and Chris visit Sandy regularly, and they maintain a close relationship with her.
“She shouldn’t be punished for a decision she made in the best interest of her son,” says Stacey. “She was an innocent victim and forced to endure the most terrible things. She’s a good person and will always be a part of his life, as well as ours.”
COURTNEY DAVIS AND HENRY ALLEN
Seven years ago, Courtney Davis and Henry Allen found themselves in Siberia, anxious to meet the three-year-old boy they were about to adopt. Being in an antiquated orphanage in the middle of the Russian wilderness was both surreal and unnerving for the couple, but they were determined to endure the journey and give young Maxim the home he deserved.
“We had to learn Russian because nobody at the orphanage spoke English, and we weren’t quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into,” explains Courtney. “But our concerns were overshadowed by our excitement to meet Maxim for the first time. Orphans in the Soviet Union live in tough conditions and face bleak childhoods, and we wanted to provide a brighter future for this young boy.”
Today, Maxim is a well-adjusted 10-year-old who also has two younger siblings – a brother (Blake) and a sister (Reese), both adopted in the United States. In Seminole County alone, however, there are 400 children in need of a permanent place to call home. “This is one of many misconceptions associated with adoption,” says Jennifer Peterson, adoptions manager for Community Based Care of Central Florida. “People think too many barriers exist for them to adopt. But if you can find a place in your heart to adopt a child, you can become an adoptive parent.”
Started in 2004, Community Based Care does whatever it takes to keep kids safe and provides foster care, adoption, family assistance and independent living services to children and families throughout Central Florida. The organization brings its resources to bear to find children loving, permanent homes, also known as “forever” homes. The organization also paves the way for adoption by coordinating educational programs for prospective parents and simplifying the process so that kids find stability as quickly as possible.
With Maxim now in the family fold, Courtney and Henry were determined to provide a home for any child who needed it and were willing to go through the home studies, medical exams, and background checks required to become adoptive parents. They inquired domestically and were quickly matched with two birth mothers, both in Arizona. After talking it through, they decided to adopt both children. “Blake and Reese were born in Phoenix and Mesa respectively, so we traveled there and got them at the same time,” says Courtney.
Although adoption can be filled with unknowns, it has been a joy for Courtney and Henry. Maxim is a happy, carefree kid who loves his parents and adores his brother and sister, who are still too young to understand they are adopted.
“Once they’re old enough, we’ll have that talk with them,” says Courtney. “I’m happy to talk openly about it and proud of the fact that we did this. So many children need loving homes, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to provide that.”
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