November is National Adoption Month and RaiseAChild.US is celebrating with twice weekly “Let Love Define Family™” series installments in the Huffington Post Gay Voices. Today, we are proud to introduce you to an amazing family with incredible heart.
When the families line up outside to enter All Saints Church of God and Christ each week in their Sunday best, the six youngest children of Teves Lee and Vonetta Mobley-Lee clamor to enter the church, knowing that they are in their second home. The two hard-working moms from Long Beach, California adopted five of their seven children through the foster care system and say that they could not be more blessed.
Teves, 41, is a fifth generation barber and the owner of Afros of Hollywood Barber and Beauty Salon. Vonetta, 38, worked as a bus operator for 15 years prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. They met 21 years ago through a mutual friend when Teves’ biological daughter, Kyrstena, was one year old and became a couple 14 years ago. Together they founded and run a nonprofit called Haven of Hope Foundation in Long Beach that houses homeless individuals, including single mothers and fathers, homeless teens and former foster youth.
While her children are in school, Vonetta tends to the nonprofit by conducting intakes of new residents, meeting with case managers and so forth. In the evenings, Teves often teaches at Marinello’s School of Beauty in Boyle Heights, so Vonetta teams up with the oldest daughter, Kyrstena, who is 22, to help the younger kids with their homework. The children attend church every Saturday and enjoy family outings on most Sundays.
The couple originally focused on fostering, but when reunification of the foster children with their biological family fell through, Teves and Vonetta decided to adopt them. Ultimately, Vonetta adopted TeVon, Teves’ second biological child, who is now 10 years old, and together the couple adopted five foster children. Only a few children who came to their home did not end up staying.
All the foster children they adopted arrived at their home as very young babies at ages one day, three days, 14 days, two months and 18 months old. Today, Tiffini and DyLin are now seven, Navaya is six, D’wayne is now five and KaLaya is four. They finalized their last adoption on Aug. 1 of this year.
The family lives in a 7,000 square-foot house with seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a good-sized yard sheltered by high brick walls. They have three dogs, Mister, Dosha and Seven, who was a gift to Vonetta on the couple’s seventh anniversary. The menagerie also includes six new puppies that TeVon and Kyrstena delivered, an African Grey parrot named Huckleberry and a couple of little fish.
If the large two-mom family seems unusual to anyone, they keep it to themselves.
“I haven’t had very many issues with people accepting me or my family or my homosexuality,” said Teves. “They just take us as a whole, because I don’t really allow there to be too much room not to. I think if you give people the room to have a problem with something that doesn’t have anything to do with them, then of course they’ll have a problem with it. But if you don’t give people the room to have a problem with it, then how can they?”
Teves herself grew up in All Saints Church of God and Christ, formerly Jesus Memorial Church of God in Christ where her uncle is the pastor, and for her there is no compromising when it comes to its role in her life.
“They weren’t that happy with the dynamics of my family,” said Teves of the church, “but that’s what my family is so they really have no choice but to accept it.”
What Teves would most like to share with prospective foster-adoptive parents is encouragement for individuals who may be nontraditional or non-gender conforming, or who may have small criminal matters in their past.
“Gay couples, especially ‘aggressive’ females, may feel society sees them as unfit to be a parent and I didn’t come across any of that kind of stereotyping whatsoever,” said Teves, who had initially feared her tattoos and masculine personality might cause the foster agency to reject her. “Not to say that it’s not out there or that it wouldn’t happen, but I personally didn’t experience any of that. I would also want to tell people that if you’ve had a legal history of some sort or hiccup in the past, it might not automatically disqualify you so do your research.
Two years ago, the Mobley-Lees took the kids to the nearby mountain resort town of Big Bear for Christmas, and now it has become a cherished family tradition. This fall, they will host a huge Thanksgiving celebration for extended family at their new home. The Mobley-Lee clan may seem large to some people, but it’s actually rather small in Teves’ family tradition.
“My mother was one of ten children,” explained Teves. “There’s about 45 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and about 15 great-great grandchildren. My family is huge, so going to church on Sundays was big. All of the grandchildren were always at church. We stayed at church all day and went upstairs to eat dinner at Grandma’s and came back downstairs to church again. I’ve always been around a lot of kids and had a lot of cousins and a big family, so it was always something that I was interested in.”
Having a lot of children was not part of Vonetta’s plan but she fell in love with them, and now she wouldn’t have it any other way. Vonetta and Teves demonstrate the kinds of family values that can create loving homes for so many children in foster care. All kinds of parents are needed. Maybe a parent like you.
For National Adoption Month, RaiseAChild.US is hosting two free events for prospective foster and adoptive parents. We hope you will join us and learn about the advantages of building a family through fostering and adoption. Tuesday, Dec. 2 at The Garner House in Claremont, CA. Wednesday, December 3rd at The Montalbàn Theatre in Hollywood, CA. RSVP and information at www.RaiseAChild.US.
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.