Today’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series takes us to the Florida home of two men who met ten years ago and then chose foster-adoption as the ideal avenue through which to build their dream family.
“Pass the pasta, please!” is a familiar refrain at the Orlando-Reno home on school nights. With three energetic and ravenous boys ages 5, 6, and 7 -- and two equally hungry dads -- dinnertime is a lively affair.
“We’re both from Italian backgrounds so everything revolves around food,” said Bill Orlando-Reno, 39. That includes Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities where Bill and his husband Brian, 32, typically host 20–25 of their extended family members.
“Brian and I are both the youngest of three kids,” Bill continued. “Our own kids are the youngest in the extended family so it has been easier for the family to gather at our home. I’m very proud of the fact that our families enjoy a long-time family tradition of gathering at the home of the gay sons.”
Bill and Brian have just completed a move from Rhode Island -- where they adopted their three boys from foster care -- to Punta Gorda, Florida. The State of Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Family (DCYF) in Providence had been very welcoming, as had the school system. Though the couple had to launch an extended campaign to push the Rhode Island school to change official forms listing mother and father to parent and parent, it appeared to be a lack of prioritizing than outright prejudice.
“No one batted an eye at us at DCYF or the school,” said Bill.
Originally, Bill and Brian had looked into surrogacy but decided against it because of the the legal complications involved. After careful research, they decided to pursue foster care. They had high praise for the training class they took through DCYF. The experience also opened their eyes to the challenges foster youth face in being adopted.
“There were some people in the classes that we couldn’t even picture adopting because they would say things like, ‘We only want a white baby because we’re a white family’ and we would roll our eyes,” said Brian. “We knew this was one way the teachers weeded out the families who were not appropriate. And they actually said to us at one point, ‘Sometimes we would rather have a gay family adopt than a heterosexual one, because you guys have been through so much we know you will fight to get whatever the child needs.’ We definitely had a good support system within the foster care system.”
Bill and Brian take great pride in their children and the challenges they have overcome. Christian, now 7, came to the couple at age 13 months. His biological siblings Dominic, now 6, and Noah, now 5, soon followed.
“Picking them up at school and hearing them say, “Daddy, I missed you and I love you!’ is the best feeling,” said Bill. “We have been approached by so many kind strangers to let us know what a good job they think we’re doing with these boys and how lucky they are to have us, but we feel like the lucky ones to have such great kids.”
“We are so glad that we chose foster-adoption, which was originally our Plan B,” said Brian. “It was not only a dream come true for us to have a family, but we were able to help three boys in the foster system as well. These brothers very well could have been split up and sent to separate homes.”
Moving to Florida’s more temperate weather was a necessity for Bill’s health conditions, but it also meant that the kids would no longer be cooped up inside six months of the year. Already the boys are enjoying the warm days, vast open spaces and the opportunity to use their bikes and scooters year-round.
At present the couple does not plan to expand, though in a few years adding a little girl to their brood is not out of the question.
Of the fost-adopt process, Bill said, “Be prepared for a possible rough start, but with love and devotion these children will warm your heart and [you will build a future together].”
What will the Orlando-Reno family do for Christmas this year now that they are far from their extended families? Well, the open-ended invitations for anytime during the year have already been issued, and the Orlando-Renos expect the snowbirds to flock in at some point during the winter months.
“Now our family has a place to come and get away from the cold, and they can come and see us as often as they want!” said Brian.
Brian and Bill’s holiday wish for Huffington Post Gay Voices readers is “Buon Natale!” And if you are thinking of fostering and adopting, they ask, “What are you waiting for?” To fulfill your New Year’s resolution to look into building your family, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”
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 2,500 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.