Reese and Jared: 2015 Stella Mae Carmichael Award Winners

Jared and Reese at the Sheraton Seattle.

The Stella Mae Carmichael award honors families who open their hearts and homes in exceptionally kind and selfless ways to our community’s children in foster care.

This year, Amara was proud to have Daniel Bryson-Beane and his adoptive mom and Amara board member, Anne Bryson Doyle, present the award to Jared Mills and Reese Umbaugh at Amara’s annual luncheon From Hope to Home.

Jared Mills and Reese Umbaugh received their foster license in 2012. Since that time, they have parented three groups of siblings, including the two boys currently in their care.

Each time Reese and Jared welcomed a new child to their home, they did so with 24 hours or less to prepare. In her nomination of the family, Amara Adoption and Foster Care Specialist Kate Rocke said, “despite the short notice Jared and Reese had with each placement, they created an environment of acceptance, surrounding each child with loving kindness and support. They never wavered in their dedication to a child in their home – no matter how high the child’s needs or how brief the child’s stay.”

During their acceptance remarks, Reese commented, “Jared and I are honored to be the recipients of the Stella Mae Carmichael Award. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost four years since we became licensed foster parents through Amara. To be honest, we don’t feel like what we’re doing is anything extraordinary — we have always loved children, and have so much love to give. And there are a lot of children who need loving, supportive, safe homes. To us, becoming foster parents seemed like a no-brainer. We had the extra space in our home, why not take advantage of that and let some of these kids be kids again?”

Update:

Shortly after the Luncheon, we received some exciting news from Reese and Jared:

“We just met a really special kiddo who needs a home and it sounds like he’ll be joining our family tomorrow. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.”

Today, they are preparing to welcome that very child into their home!

My journey as Damien’s birth mother

To answer the question What Makes a Family, we invited one family to share their story. Judy wrote about becoming a mom through an open adoption. Damien wrote about meeting Judy and joining her family. This is part three, from the perspective of the birth mother, Diane, as told to Judy.

Can you tell me about your pregnancy and Damien’s birth?

When I had Damien, I had no intention of giving him up. The worker from CCS made sure that I knew I could change my mind; the remark felt almost insulting. It was hard to come to the realization that this was not about me, but about Damien, that he needed to be in a stable place and that’s what would be in his best interest.

Coming to that realization (and I think I started thinking about it long before I actually took action) took a while. It sat in the back of my mind, and I turned it over and over. Then a time came when I said to myself I “can’t go back on this”. Focusing on Damien meant to stay focused on his well-being, and waffling about his care would have been about me.

When I was pregnant, I waited until it was too late to have an abortion to tell my family. I didn’t know what they would say, and part of me wanted to own the decision.  I felt like I was an adult, and in my twenties thought I knew everything (ha, ha). I didn’t want anyone to try to influence me. Later, my decision to keep my child or allow him to be adopted was the same way.

I wondered, what would my family think about letting someone adopt Damien? I had to get to a point of knowing that it didn’t matter what they thought or felt. It was truly my decision. I still didn’t tell them right away. I didn’t tell them because… actually I don’t know why. I do know that I didn’t want to hear negative things about my decision. I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

What happened next?

When Damien was about nine months old, I was sexually assaulted. The man threatened to kill Damien if I didn’t do what he wanted. That was the beginning of a downward spiral. How could I protect my son?

The event triggered flashbacks and brought PTSD to the surface. I’d never realized the intensity of the abuse of my early childhood, because I’d never even acknowledged that my early experiences had been abuse. I began to go back and forth into the hospital, and during this time Damien was in foster care.

My doctor suggested that I consider long term foster care. I responded that my son was my responsibility; he said that sometimes the responsible thing to do is to let other people help take care of the child’s well-being. That was the best thing he ever told me.

When Damien was about two and a half, he came to Judy and John’s. I remember telling my friend that if I could, I’d ask them to adopt him. During a conversation with a mutual friend, Judy mentioned that she would never keep Damien from me. That was reassuring.

I resumed care of Damien for a time, and he told me he missed Judy. I could only hold him; I wanted to take action but I was too shy. But then out of the blue, Judy called asking for “Damien time”. I was glad to see simple, caring gestures between Judy and Damien. They demonstrated a bond. This was a step along the way.

Shortly after, Damien was going back and forth between my home and Judy’s. I was suicidal, and told my sister that if anything ever happened to me, I’d want Judy and John to adopt. I knew my sister had a big mouth and would spread this around, and that’s what I wanted.

What happened then?

I took a deep breath, and asked Judy to have both of them to come to talk to me. The rest is history.

What has it been like for your son to have two moms?

When Judy first adopted Damien, I was told that I would be seeing my son less often…every 4 months, as I remember. It was really hard, but also a relief. There weren’t so many hard hello and goodbye times. It was also comforting that Judy was willing to have my mother and uncle stay in touch.

One Easter, I purchased a bunch of things for Damien. Judy asked that I not give the gifts to him because there was not enough for all of the kids. That made sense to me, the value was shared.

I was grateful for Judy. I didn’t always agree with her values, but it was okay because I respected her and the focus was Damien’s best interests. This was an area of personal growth for me.

Years later, Judy and I connected in West Seattle and she asked me to help make a plan for Damien. I was excited, but nervous. I also thought it was great that he got two mothers.

Judy and John eventually divorced and John remarried. I saw that Damien would get one more mom. Sometime later Judy married again, and it meant that there would be one more caring man in Damien’s life. They took to each other like two peas in a pod.

What a great thing for Damien to get so many worlds. He got to see me and the way I lived, and was exposed to lots of other ideas, values and opportunities.

Diane holds her diploma after graduating from Everest College

Damien, 2000

Damien, 2000

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary

Amara serves children who have been removed from their homes due to suspected abuse or neglect. Each year, more than 700 King County children, most under the age of 12, are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services or local law enforcement. Amara is working to meet an urgent need created by these unplanned removals by establishing the Amara Emergency Sanctuary.

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary, located in a residential neighborhood in Seattle, will serve as an entry point for children coming under the State’s care. Each child will be warmly welcomed and provided with clean clothing, homemade meals and loving attention from staff and volunteers trained in the effects of trauma during their stay. While a child is in our care, the State will be able to focus on finding the care option that is in the best interest of the child at that time.

By offering a comfortable environment full of attentive caregivers and interesting activities, Amara hopes to absorb the chaos created by an abrupt removal.

The Amara Emergency Sanctuary is only possible through the generous engagement of our community. You can support this effort by volunteering, making an in-kind donation or by offering a financial contribution. For more information, please see below.

Adoption: A Grandmother’s Perspective

Dorothy has 16 grandkids, 5 of which were adopted by her daughter, Julie and son-in-law, Matt.

My daughter and her husband have adopted five children over the years, and we haven’t always been sure how to best support them on their journey. Being involved with Amara has enabled me to better understand the challenges adoptive parents and grandparents face.

Julie and Matt Hellstrom and kiddos

Julie, Matt, and their five adopted children.

Read full post »

Our courts: through the eyes of a child

When I was removed from my birth family at age 15 and placed into foster care, I felt conflicted, isolated, and that my feelings didn’t matter. I had no idea what was happening to me. I just knew that I would be living with strangers, away from my sister, my family, and my pets. It was terrifying.

Forever family

These feelings heightened when my first foster family required me to attend all of my court hearings. The insensitivity in the courtroom alienated me. I heard docket numbers, court lingo, and attorneys speaking, but I didn’t know what they were negotiating. I often wondered when I would get to go home. I missed my sister. I didn’t even know that I could ask the judge for visits with my sister. These adults were making all the decisions for me, without me.

Read full post »

Born this Way, Cynthia’s 28 years (and counting!) at Amara

Cynthia Williams has a pretty good handle on the Top 40. When asked whether she always wanted to work in social services, she references the popular Lady Gaga song. “I think I was born for this…Who’s the one who says I was born this way?” Cynthia’s been serving children, teens, and families for 36 years, 28 of those with Amara. As our longest tenured employee, she’s earned the title of the “Amarasaurus,” made official with a plaque she keeps in her Tacoma office.

Cynthia Williams

Cynthia, March 2014

Read full post »

Once Upon an Email: A Story of Two Dads

Jordan nervously messaged Freddie. “Did you get the email too?”  Most people don’t find out they’re going to have a child over email, but one magical email changed Freddie and Jordan’s life. They remember the EXACT moment they got “the email” informing them of a potential match with a baby for adoption – before Thanksgiving in 2012. Little did Freddie and Jordan know that they would find out whether they were going to be fathers in just a matter of days.

Our Family PRIDE!

Our Family PRIDE!

Read full post »

Father’s Day: A New Reality

I grew up in rural Louisiana, so far out in the country that we had only two industries; farming and families. I knew from an early age that the former was not the life for me. When I came out at age 25, I assumed that I had given up the latter.   I have always loved children but I never thought that it would be in the realm of possibility for me to have a family of my own. For much of my life, there wasn’t even the concept of gay marriage, let alone gay parenting.  Now, same-sex couples can get married more than a third of this country, including my home state of Washington, and even if same-sex parents aren’t routine, we are no longer an exception.   For me, having a spouse and family has gone from being an abstract concept to an achievable reality.

D&K&E&L 2

Erin, Dan, Kyle and Lucas enjoy family time on vacation, April 2014

Even now, with a wonderful husband and two amazing children of my own, I still marvel at this blessing.  For Dan and me, parenting was not a biological imperative or an intellectual choice; it was a choice about love and sharing our lives with children.  There are a lot of options available to those who want to become parents, but for us adopting through the foster system felt right. We are both caretakers by nature and had been very involved in the lives of our many nieces and nephews.   There are so many children in foster care who have never been nurtured or cherished in the way that we were as children, who never had the safety and stability that we had received from our parents. We talked over every aspect of the process before making our decision and decided that this was the way to go.

Read full post »