ADOPTING WHEN OTHERS CANNOT

Date: 2008-04-01
Source: Madison

ADOPTING WHEN OTHERS CANNOT THIS FAMILY HAS TAKEN IN FOUR CHILDREN WHO WERE NOT ABLE TO STAY WITH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS.
GENA KITTNER gkittner@madison.com 608-252-6139 | Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 12:00 am | No Comments Posted

.Of the 10 children Sharon and Reed Leonard have adopted in the last nine years, they consider four "accidental."

They were the result of families who didn't research foreign adoptions enough and found themselves faced with a situation beyond what they could handle, Sharon Leonard said.

It's a problem she thinks is under-reported.

"I don't think people really talk about adoptions that don't work out," she said.

The Leonards know what they are talking about. Through their Heart of Hope Adoption Ministry, they offer post-adoption counseling to families.

"People know they can call us 24 hours a day," she said. "It's not unusual for me to have 100 e-mails a day from people asking for adoption assistance."

They don't just help the parents; they help the children, too, by taking in kids who need a respite from their new families.

Two recent respite situations this year brought the Leonard's adopted children to 10 - three from China and seven from Ethiopia - including a sibling group of four.

"Everybody has a bed and place to eat at the table," Leonard said. "It's all good."

Some parents tend to focus on material things, thinking if they give these adopted children "stuff," they will be happy, she said. Instead, the parents need to let the children know they're going to be there for them "no matter what strange stuff they do. We just accept the children for what they are."

Julie Dahlen, director of Adoption Advocates Inc., which serves much of Wisconsin, stresses to families not to expect gratitude from the adopted child - at least not right away.

Sometimes families planning to adopt make the decision based on altruism alone, she said. "Altruism is very low on the list of healthy motivators when it comes to adoption."

In fact, families might not always be realistic in their expectations of adoption and the challenges they will face, she said.

Some day, the Leonards hope to move somewhere with a lower cost of living and expand their adoption ministry, maybe even buying a ranch with plenty of room for families and children who may need respite or education about adoption.

A CHILD FROM CHINA

Sharon Leonard, 49, who works as a part-time nurse and home-schools all 10 children, credits their daughter Hope with leading the family down this path.

Hope, 10, was adopted from China by a family in Indiana when she was 4 1/2 years old. Her family contacted the Leonards worried that she was autistic and at 5 1/2 had never said a word. They asked the Leonards to take her.

"We got her in the car and she talked for nine hours straight in perfect English," Leonard said.

Over the next three years, her Christmas wishes included world peace, feeding the hungry and finally something Sharon Leonard felt she could help accomplish: ensuring every orphan in Ethiopia had three pairs of underwear.

In a month, the family had 3,000 donated pairs. They organized a mission trip to Ethiopia to deliver the underwear and in the process fell in love and adopted a sibling group of four.

"I took all that underwear and got four kids," Leonard said.\

TO HELP

For more information about the Leonards or to donate items to them or for future mission trips, visit www.heartsofhopeadoption.com.

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