Few churches throughout the United States have as long or as solid of a reputation for respecting, accepting and supporting its LGBT parishioners as All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. In this week’s RaiseAChild “Let Love Define Family®” series installment for Huffington Post Queer Voices, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom shares how All Saints converts its beliefs to practice for the benefit of children of the foster system.
It is word-of-mouth advertising at its highly effective and heart-changing best: promoting fostering and adoption of children by hearing the story of people who've already been down that road and learning about the vast network of support services available to new parents.
On May 22, All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, will celebrate Foster Care Awareness Month with a reception hosted by the church's Foster Care Project, RaiseAChild and one of its many partner agencies, Five Acres.
Five Acres is one of 22 partner agencies that works with the All Saints Foster Care Project. Project members volunteer to act as contact people with each foster and adoption agency and help with needs that may arise, such as recruiting for mentors or finding volunteers for other efforts.
Featured speakers will be church parishioners, Steve Hurley and Jim Rice, East Hollywood residents who are dads to two boys, 12-year old Joshua and 10-year old Nathaniel. The kids use the hyphenated Hurley-Rice for their last name.
According to Rosemary Hyde of the Foster Care Project, "The importance of having Jim and Steve speak at our event is immense. They have gone through the process necessary to be approved as foster and adoptive parents and have successfully demonstrated that they are great parents."
"As Steve and Jim are a gay couple, they also demonstrate the diversity of who may adopt to anyone who has doubts. Families who have gone through the foster/adoption process are probably the best resource for others considering adding to their families."
Married on Oct. 18, 2008, Steve, 52, and 50-year-old Jim celebrated their 20th anniversary as a couple in April.
"We met the old fashioned way -- in a bar," Jim said with a laugh. "I was living in Dallas and Steve was there on a business trip."
They moved together to the Los Angeles area 18 years ago. Steve is the vice president of sales for a lighting manufacturer while Jim is a financial analyst for Los Angeles County.
After nearly 15 years together, traveling and enjoying the childless life, Jim and Steve decided it was time to start a family and looked to adoption to achieve their goal.
"We knew families who had adopted or were foster parents and we were in a great place with the stability of our relationship, our home, friends and work, so it seemed to be the right match for us," Steve said.
Steve and Jim said they were determined to find their children locally and turned to the Los Angeles County foster system.
"When I consider the people who go overseas to adopt, I don't think they really know how many children are available right here in our county. The need is immense. Also, with current foreign laws prohibiting adoption by gay people, it makes sense to keep it in our country. Gays are the largest population adopting now, so it's important to spread the word about all the opportunities and all the support available to adoptive parents," Steve noted.
"The big issue for adoptive parents is, what will the experience be like? They want to know how to get started and want to know there will be help available if they need it," he added.
Helping prospective parents get started is the purpose behind All Saints' efforts like the awareness event slated for Sunday, although promoting foster care and adoption is a year 'round mission for the church.
According to Jeannette Mann, one of the original founders of the Foster Care Project, "The church's sacred stories, the prophets and Jesus have provided a template for our work in the community: to care for the marginalized and most vulnerable. The Foster Care Project is a peace and justice ministry. We seek to embody Christ's love through direct service and public policy advocacy to improve the the quality of lives of the poorest, most disenfranchised and most dependent of the community: children who have been removed from the custody of of their parents.
"Most of our volunteers have told us that having direct contact with the reality of the lives of these children and young people has provided the opportunity for personal transformation and spiritual growth."
Jeannette continued, "Having received so much from these children, we believe that the greatest gift we can give them is the presence of a loving, caring adult in their lives -- a mentor, a foster parent, or an adoptive parent.
"We know that without such a supportive adult, many of these children will not thrive, will not become independent, self-supporting adults. The very best we can wish for these children is that they become part of a loving family that will care for them."
Steve and Jim laud All Saints for being cause-oriented. "They have a table promoting fostering and adoption every week and members made Easter baskets for kids in foster care. They also make sure they have birthday and Christmas presents, too.
"They are very proactive and very involved. They recently had a fundraiser and sold artwork created by the foster kids," Steve said.
On Sunday, Steve and Jim will take the audience through their journey to fatherhood, how they applied to be foster parents, explaining the paperwork and the home study, the foster parent certification classes and how to navigate the court process.
They will also discuss the benefits of family-building by fostering-to-adopt in California, such as health and dental insurance coverage, a monthly stipend to assist foster and adoptive parents in support of the foster children, and all of the support services for parents and children, such as TIES for Families at UCLA.
"TIES was a fantastic experience. It provides counseling, group and individual, for parents and children for a year. New parents can be anxious and this kind of help is very reassuring," Steve explained.
Most of all, Steve and Jim will talk about the joys -- often unexpected -- of parenthood.
"’Be patient’ is our mantra. Be patient and it will all come together. The reward is so great. Others will tell you kids will change your life and that's true except it's so much for the better.
"It was so rewarding, so exciting to experience us becoming a family and the first time we heard the boys say 'our house'. We've met some fabulous people through the boys' school. Parenthood changes your life? Oh, yes, it changes it completely. And you can't replace the rewards," Steve added.
Have you ever thought of building a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting? RaiseAChild is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.org or call us at (323) 417-1440.
Five Acres believes that children grow and heal best with families. Five Acres’ mission is to promote safety, well-being and permanency for children and their families by building on their strengths and empowering them within communities.
Join RaiseAChild and Five Acres for a very special National Foster Care Awareness Month Event at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA on Sunday, May 22, 2016 from noon to 1:00PM. RSVP at https://www.raiseachild.us/event-rsvp/.