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Debby Ryan Headshot

What Family Means to Me

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Mountains and milk chocolate: that is all I knew of Germany. When I was seven, my family moved away from home in Texas to a country halfway across the world. Saying goodbye to my friends, then starting a school in a language I did not know, getting used to a new house, culture, and life, I felt scared and more alone than ever. I remember thinking about the concept of "home" and realizing that at that time, home was the three sets of arms I had to run into. My parents loved me in ways I could not even understand yet, and I may have fought with my brother like nobody else, but he knew me better than anyone. Realizing how much they meant to me was also when I started having dreams about what it would be like to not have them.

Some people very close to me have built wonderful families through adoption, and I've gotten to know what's in their hearts about the subject. As adoptive parents, they went through months, sometimes years, of true effort, homebuilding and expense to adopt a child. Their adopted children were hoped for, fought for, chosen, and ultimately celebrated.

It seems to me that one of the most beautiful things we can do is to become family with someone who wasn't born into it. The blended family is just another family; stepbrothers, stepsisters, halves, foster sibs, extended family, anyone you love. They always say you can't choose your family but I firmly believe that the most beautiful thing we do in life is choose where we put our love. Every single day, my family loves me more, and I choose to love them more and differently.

I was raised in the kind of home where there was always an extra seat at the dinner table and an extra pillow for a friend. I grew up watching people of all ages, backgrounds, races, and lifestyles ask my parents for advice, confide fears and dreams in them, or just wander over for a home cooked meal. I'm very blessed to live life with my family, and even more blessed every time I watch it grow.

When Pam Eells, the show runner and my mentor on "The Suite Life on Deck" -- whose creative voice I greatly respect -- first called me with the idea for "Jessie," I was so moved by her story about a family with adopted children from different places in the world, one that would ultimately show how love and laughter transcend all barriers. The lasting effect it can have on the younger generation is not lost on me, and I am honored to work on it every day, and hopefully leave a footprint of acceptance and appreciation about adoption for millions of kids and families who watch it.

The way I see it, our hearts are the most powerful things we have and to love is the most important thing we can do. That's what a family is, no matter how it came to be.

In honor of National Adoption Month, The Disney Channel's "Jessie" is premiering a special adoption episode on Friday, November 15 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT). On "Lizard Scales and Wrestling Tales," Luke is assigned a school report about his family history and asks his adoptive mom Christina for information about his birthparents.