ABOUT EVERY CHILD A HOME - The Lee Family
Alan Ray Lee and Anna Giattina Lee, married June 3, 1989
In 1995, God called the Lee Family to foster and adopt hurting children. We offered our home, our money, and our lives to children who are typically difficult to place in either foster or adoptive homes. This includes older children and sibling groups, as well as teen moms and their babies. These children might otherwise be separated from each other, moved from place to place until they age-out of the system and are left to fend for themselves, or raised in a group setting with a paid staff that offers little in the way of healthy long-term relationships.
We are currently the tired but proud parents of 20 children - 3 biological children, 5 adopted, 8 for whom we are legal guardians, 2 for whom we are legal custodians, and 2 that have aged out of foster-care that we raise and support as if we are legally related. Sixteen people are living in our home at this moment. In addition, we have provided foster care to 30 plus children for periods extending from days to years.
Our mission is to spread the gospel person to person by serving the needs of each individual child in the context of a loving committed family. Over the past 17 years, we have seen what can happen when we, as parents, make a long-term, unconditional commitment to accept a child into our family - without regard to their previous circumstances and no matter how badly they act out. It is challenging and difficult, exhausting and expensive, but because we believe that we are doing precisely what God called our family to do, we endure and are now even more committed to showing God’s love in action than when we first started in 1995.
Until very recently, we have raised and supported all these children with Alan's income as a Certified Public Accountant, help from our parents and family, and a small state stipend for each foster child - which typically ends when we become the legal parents. To date, we have remained debt free except for our mortgage. However, with college students and the long-term needs of our young-adult children that weren’t placed with us until their teens, as well as a large number of young children, our mission is larger than our ability to manage it alone. We are humbly looking for assistance from others that share our vision.
We are not a non-profit organization. We are simply a family, called to a very specific task – to raise and parent and love other people’s children as our own. If you are considering financial support, you should know that the donations are NOT tax deductible – yet no amount is too small. (And as an accountant I would suggest that you reduce your donation by the amount of the tax deduction you would have received IF that is a factor in your decision. The children still benefit.) If you have time or skills or prayers or resources, we welcome you to join us in our calling.
For more information and financial data, as well as links that will show you OTHER WAYS you can support Every Child a Home, please go to www.facebook.com/groups/EveryChildAHome.
WHY WE DID NOT CHOOSE NON-PROFIT STATUS
We are aware that becoming a non-profit organization would yield economic advantages for us and for donors, but we strongly believe that God calls us to parent these children as mom and dad, not as a paid staffer or a member of a formal organization that would make our family accountable to others. Over the past 17 years, we have seen what can happen when we, as parents, make a long-term, unconditional commitment to accept a child into our family - without regard to their previous circumstances and no matter how badly they act out.
Ultimately, it comes down to a belief that these children need to know that they are part of a family, not an institution. And the only way to create that feeling is to remain a family. That same belief is what causes us to take the rather unusual approach of taking legal guardianship of some children who would linger in the system for years and years waiting to become available for adoption. We are committed to removing the children from the system and giving them permanancy - even though that means we no longer receive the state stipend for a foster child, nor do we gain the benefit of tax laws for adoption.
It is challenging and difficult, exhausting and expensive. The very act of asking for support and help is a tremendous leap of faith and trust for us. We have managed to live nice, frugal lives without debt based on our income and some occasional support from family and friends. Quite frankly, when you are used to being the one helping, it is hard to humble yourself to ask for help.
But we never envisioned 20 plus children. And there are still hundreds of thousands of kids in the U.S. waiting for something like what we offer. Because we make long-term, permanent commitments, the needs and costs don't suddenly end. So we must reach out.
We trust that those who know our family personally, have witnessed how we handle our money. And those that do not know us, will find the data provided sufficient to conclude that we will use the money wisely to raise children with a mindset toward helping our children develop into honest, productive, healthy members of society that give more than they receive.
Te see a chart showing the what percent of our income is devoted to each of our family expenses, as well as a graph showing our income sources for 2011, CLICK http://dl.dropbox.com/u/57165486/Lee%20Family%20Expenses%202011.pdf . Please note that by 2012, we had obtained legal guardianship of almost all of our children; therefore we have/will not receive the state stipend for any of our current children in 2012.
THE FOSTER CHILD DILEMMA - LINGERING FAR TOO LONG WITHOUT A PERMANENT HOME
There are about 408,000 foster children in the United States. The system is designed to be a temporary solution to a problem, giving parents approximately 12 months to regroup, accept help, and regain custody of their children.
Not surprisingly, according to 2010 data, 34% of children had been in foster care for at least 2 years. (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report18.htm). Many of these children linger in the system for many years, while their parents are given opportunities to regain custody of their children.
During this time and after, someone must be a guardian of the children. If not the parent or another willing person, then the state social service agency is mandated to take on that role on behalf of the child. When the state is the mandated guardian, children are placed into the foster care system.
By the time parental rights are finally terminated on the children who do not go home, many have been moved from placement to placement and are emotionally unstable, or are simply "too old" for most families considering adoption. As a result, they may continue to move from placement to placement until they age-out of the state system. And for those older children fortunate enough to be adopted, statistics show that about 25% of those adoptions will disrupt or dissolve, placing the child back into the social service system. http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/s_disrup.cfm
We are the willing people, ready to accept financial responsibility and take on the parental role, when the birth parents can’t and the state isn’t the best long-term solution.
Our solution is unique and simple, but also expensive and not necessarily appropriate in every situation. In other words, this isn’t a substitute for adoption – which is ideal but not always possible. This is a substitute for children that might otherwise stay in foster care, and it is a way to prevent our foster children’s children from entering the foster care system in the first place.
2012 FUNDRAISING GOAL - $54,780 TO OFFER HOPE AND A FUTURE
$54,780 - THE AMOUNT WE HAVE GIVEN UP IN FOSTER CARE BOARD PAYMENTS FOR 2012 IN ORDER TO OFFER A PERMAMENT HOME TO CHILDREN WHEN ADOPTION ISN'T AN OPTION.
Our Mega-Family currently consists of 22 people, excluding grandchildren and son-in-laws that don’t live with us! Our unique family consists of birth and adopted children, as well as children for whom we are legal guardians or custodians, and a few more young adults that have aged-out of the foster care system but still need permanency and the love and support of family.
Currently, we are legal guardians for 8 of our children. (Plus 3 more that are now young adults.) In monetary terms, that means that we are legally responsible for all of the childrens’ needs – including housing, food, education, medical care, insurance, clothing, college, weddings, sports, extra-curriculars, and anything else we would provide children we had birthed or adopted.
In choosing the guardianship route, we have had to voluntarily forego the state foster care board payment/adoptive subsidy, and we cannot claim the adoption tax credit on our federal return. In essence, we accept full financial responsibility for raising someone else’s children, without assistance from the state or from the parents.
We are educated people. Alan is a Certified Public Accountant. Anna is a retired attorney. We are not uninformed. And we haven’t totally lost our minds. Rather, we stumbled upon a need and we decided to take action, rather than wait around for the system to change or someone else to solve the problem.
To put this in perspective, the board payment for a foster child in Alabama is about $14.00 per day -- less than it would cost to board a dog at your local vet. Yet, it isn't nearly enough to raise a child. Nonetheless, if we had simply acted as foster parents for the very same children, we would have been entitled to about $212,770 in board payments over the past 12 years.
What does that mean? It means that what we didn’t receive from the state, we have had to pay from our own family budget in order to provide a permanent family to these children.
We have adopted those children that we could. But for those who are not available to adopt (for a variety of reasons), and who still need a permanent home and family, we have chosen the rather unique route of obtaining legal guardianship or custody so that they can be parented by a mom and dad and raised in a forever family, instead of being managed by multiple social workers while they linger in a broken system for years.
Now that we are up to 20 plus children, our ability to do this alone is exhausted and we find ourselves choosing to expand our vision and ask others to help.
We can’t help every child. But we can help the ones that cross our path. And we can help them better and longer with support from others.
$54,780 is the amount we would have received in foster care board payments in 2012, BUT ONLY IF we had allowed the children to become or remain foster children - which is not going to break the cycle of destruction in the lives of these children.
We need help to make up the deficit so that we can continue to support our mega-family – offering hope and a future to kids who might otherwise have none?
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOSTER CARE AND A PERMANENT HOME
Almost without exception, no matter how bad things are at home, children in foster care want to be reunited with their birth families. This does not mean they liked their situation. It does not mean they wanted to be abused or neglected. It doesn’t mean anything except that they have lost what should be the most significant relationship in their childhood. And that is a terrible loss for anyone – especially a fragile child.
Unfortunately, placement in a foster home or in a group facility or even a psychiatric institution (which often happens with rebellious teens) doesn’t magically solve the problems at home, nor does it make a child feel safe and secure.
Quite the contrary. Being uprooted from everything that is familiar and moved into a new family group – even if it is a loving, warm, safe place with happy people that welcome and want the new child – doesn’t negate the feelings of loss and abandonment these children feel.
Add to that undeniable feelings that they don’t quite fit in. And that they are forced to form new relationships. Eat new food. Be exposed to new ideas. Change schools. Lose friends. And so much more.
Even if everything is good. It is still unbelievably hard. And the truth is, it isn’t always good.
Making matters worse is the loss of siblings. Although most social service agencies prefer to put siblings together, the truth is siblings are often separated because homes are not available for multiple children, or because a large number of foster families do not want older school-age children because they tend to have more challenging issues. This means that a group of siblings with an older child may be dispersed to different homes, perhaps even in different counties – leaving the older children in group placements or institutions.
And teen mom’s, who are foster children themselves, frequently find that their own children are placed into foster care because the teen mom has limited family, financial and emotional resources. So the cycle continues.
Not exactly ideal, is it? Now imagine having to endure that life-altering change repeatedly. Imagine being moved after a month, often with no warning whatsoever. And then again after 6 months. Or after a few years. And repeating this process over and over again until the child is 18-years-old, when he usually leaves the system to fend for himself.
Can we honestly say these children are better off than they would have been in their own birth family? The issues may be different, but the emotional trauma caused by a lack of permanency may never be erased.
Permanency is almost always the first step in establishing stability, which still takes years to achieve. In the interim, the problems caused by the original abuse and neglect yield issues that must be managed, as does grieving the loss of the birth family, and adjusting to each new placement. There must be a starting point for recovery from all this trauma.
So what if we could change that for at least some of the children? What if some of these children were taken in by families willing to make permanent commitments to these kids, either as foster children or legal guardians – knowing that these children may never be legally adoptable. And what if that family was committed to keeping sibling groups together, taking older children – even with problems, and giving them all permanency?
To create true permanency you must have someone willing to accept full financial and personal responsibility, sometimes without the benefits of adoption. And that’s where this fundraising campaign comes into play.
I asked one of my young adult children who has been part of our family for over 10 years, how she felt about her situation now that she is an adult. Her answer tells the whole story.
“Even though ya’ll gave me permanency and I’ve had stability for a over 10 years, I’m just now able to start dealing with my past, which still bites me in the butt! Ya’ll have continued to support me emotionally and financially – even giving me health insurance and helping me get into college. You would allow me to move back home if I needed to. Without all of that, I would be S.O.L. (So outta luck!)
When I was growing up, I always hoped I would get to go back home. I even left ya’ll and tried a group home to see if it would be better. But ya’ll took me back. If you hadn’t, I would have stayed in the group home until I was 18 and I would have felt lost and alone, thinking I had no one. I want a different life for myself than my birth family, who has never been able to help me. Without this family, I would still be trying to find out who to turn to for help, for insurance, for advice, for stability, for love and for a place to call home.”
Early on we were simply her long-term foster parents. And life with this child wasn’t smooth and easy just because we offered her permanency. She hated us for a time, which is why she voluntarily left our home for a group home. And as much as we hated her leaving, we knew she needed to explore her options. If we left the option open and she chose to come back home, it felt better for all of us.
She is well into adulthood. Life has been challenging. But now that she knows that we will be by her side. That we are her forever family and she can still be in relationship with her birth family without depending on them. Now that she is sure she can make lots of mistakes and we will still love her. Only now is she ready to dig deeply into her past and try to resolve those issues. Without permanency, she would more likely be repeating the cycle of her parents – not learning and growing and helping others.
Links to Other Sites that Will Help You Learn More About Every Child A Home
- www.EveryKidAHome.blogspot.com - Sometimes funny, sometimes deep and serious, this is Anna's BLOG about what it's like to be the mom in a Mega-Family of Birth, Foster and Adopted Kids, many of whom were traumatized.
- www.DialogOfTheHeart.blogspot.com - After 18-year-old Heather died in a car accident, the family found about 200 letters to God and herself that Heather had written as a struggling adopted teen. A grieving mom, Anna wrote a response to each letter from a mother's heart. The compelling story is unfolding daily on our blog.
VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES FOR EVERY CHILD A HOME
If you are interested, contact us at EveryKidAHome@gmail.com (Anna) or EveryChildAHome@gmail.com (Alan).
NOTE: Some jobs require criminal and child abuse background checks per Social Services unless the service is offered at business or a licensed facility.
Here are some ideas:
- Cook a freezer meal - some dietary restrictions apply
- Spend a day with us cooking large batches of food to freeze.
- Teach a Child a Special Skill - music, art, crafts, woodworking, cooking, etc.
- Play with the Younger Children
- Tutor a Child
- Mentor a child
- Help with Homework and special school projects.
- Read to or practice Reading with Children.
- Offer Remedial Help to Older Children.
- African-American Haircare (haircuts, processing and styling as needed).
- Housekeeping - we can always find a job to suit your desire, skill and time.
- Landscaping - general cleanup and weeding.
- Home Mainentance - If you have a particular skill or aptitude, we have some jobs that we can't do ourselves. (For eg. sheetrock repair; rotting wood needs repair on outside columns, then repaint; interior painting; finish roughing in basement bathroom and install fixtures - licensed plumber required, etc.)
- Mom's Helper - manage the children so Mom can get some things accomplished!
- Deep Cleaning and Organizing - as needed or offered.
- Laundry - an everyday chore.
- Ironing - a luxury we usually forgo.
- Window Cleaning - inside and out.
- Offer to transport a child (some restrictions apply).
Just the Facts Please...
- 8 bedrooms
- 3 1/2 baths
- 23 beds
- 4 refrigerators
- 4 freezers
- 2 dishwashers
- 2 ovens
- 4 cars
- 30 + Birthdays
- 21 Home-cooked meals per week
- 8-10 loads of laundry per day
- 3 55-gallon trash cans per week (plus overflow)
- 1 trash compactor
- 1 semi-truck to deliver a 3 month supply of frozen meats and veggies
- 2 trips per month to Sam's Club
- 1 trip to the farmer's market every week
- daily trips to the grocery store
- no sugary soft drinks
- 5 dozen eggs a week
- 3-4 gallons of milk per day
- 1 case of formula per month
- 300+ diapers per month
- 2 cases of diaper wipes per month
- 160 pull-ups/goodnights per month
- 1 loaf of bread per meal
- 2 boxes of cereal per meal
- 3 cats (no dogs)
- 1 fish
- Who knows how many frogs and lizards the kids can catch each day
- 3 televisions
- 2 babies under 2
- 4 kids under 5
- 5 kids under 6
- 6 kids under 9
- 1 mom almost 50
- 1 dad over 60
- 5 couches
- 4 swings
- 1 treehouse
- no garage
- 3 baby beds
- 60 color coded towels
- 100's of dishclothes (few paper towels)
- Hand Sanitizer by the gallon
- 2-4 pounds of protein per meal
- cheese in 5 lb blocks
- 14 special blankets (for comfort and sleeping)
PERSONAL THANKS to SOME of OUR SUPPORTERS!
Every day we recieve some sort of help or support from others. Neighbors meet an immediate need. Friends support us emotionally. Family provides. Someone drops off clothes or shoes or baby supplies, knowing that we will use them or give them away to someone else. Even strangers have watched me handle 6 kids and groceries and have helped me load my car. All of this makes our days easier. We hope that we have shown our gratitude and respect for you in our words and actions.
Some donors and volunteers stand out in our minds because of the level of their commitment. In no particular order - except for our parents who are by far the most important to us - some of these people include:
Rosalie and Joe Giattina and Helen M. Lee - Our Parents: We literally couldn't survive without your financial and emotional support. You have never let us or the children suffer, expecting nothing in return. You have given our children grandparents who love them and are willing to give them opportunities and experiences. Beach vacations - which couldn't happen without you -give our family a special time to bond away from the usual troubles and creates good memories they can keep for a lifetime. We love and appreciate you every day.
Chris Giattina and Dr. Ingrid Straeter: You have been generous in so many ways, providing opportunities for our children that we could not afford. You took Rebecca to Germany and Heather to Colorado at your own expense. When Heather died, you paid some of her funeral expenses. When our 15-passenger van needed unexpected repairs, you went above and beyond. You have supported our children's dreams and aspirations. We know that you could use or donate your valuable resources in other ways, but we appreciate that you trust us enough to support our family. We love you.
Shades Valley Community Church: On multiple occasions, our church family has donated money to pay for holiday gifts for the children. When the mother of three of our foster children died suddenly, our church helped us pay for a funeral and burial for our children's mother. This was a tremendous sign of respect for these kids - whose mother would have been buried without a funeral in an unmarked grave - had others not valued these children enough to value their mother.
EBSCO Development Company, Inc.: Our home was built by Town Builders, Inc., on property developed by EBSCO. After working for years to find a suitable place for what we thought would be 12 children, EBSCO and Town Builders, Inc,. helped us make a dream a reality. We were able to build a custom home, designed specifically for our growing family of birth, foster and adopted children within our budget constraints. After meeting some of our family, several sub-contractors donated some portion of their services or provided us with an even better quality product than was budgeted. In the end, we had a beautiful, well-built 8-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath home that has 23 beds ready and waiting for whoever comes our way.
Ty Cole, Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio, Inc.: Every time we look at our home, we thank you for designing a home that is beautiful, functional and by far the best in our neighborhood. And you did it all for free, with no expectation of anything in return. Your legacy lives on with each child that passes through our incredible home. Thanks Ty.
Cathedral Church of the Advent: Although we are not members of this church family, we were nominated for and received a $10,000 grant that was used to build a fenced in play area and play equipment for our younger children. This literally changed our lives because prior to this time we had no outdoor play area. The fence allowed the children to play freely without us worring about children escaping out the front door into the street.
Dr. Brandon Boggan - Orthodondist (2705 Pelham Parkway): Dr. Boggan has graciously provided braces at cost for two of our adopted children. He is a dedicated, Godly family man who is a servant to others. He volunteered to take on this task and we so appreciate him. We would have had to allow only one child at a time to get braces if he hadn't stepped in. You will not be disappointed in him or his skills.
Dr. Sherri Weissman - Orthodondist (202 Inverness Center): Dr. Weissman, who was a stranger before we walked into her office with multiple children in need of braces, graciously offered to provide our foster child with braces at no cost. Braces are not someting the state can or will provide for foster children. We would have strained to make the braces happen, but Dr. Weisman took on that burden for us.
Steve and Susan Upton: Thanks for the financial donations, but more valuable was the time that you spent with our children at the lake. For several of them, this was their first boating experience. To this day, they talk about the day you spent on the boat with them. You helped create positive, life-long memories for these children. Thanks. (P.S. Steve, you are also pretty popular with my kids because you made sure that they got a personal meet and greet with Taylor Hicks at the Craneworks Christmas party. They felt very special!)
David Upton/Craneworks: When you invited us to join you on the Craneworks private plane to travel to the National Championship game, it made us feel like royalty! Although you might not think this would benefit the kids directly, it actually did in several ways. First, as a couple we need to be alone more than once a year and this gave us that ability to do something fun. But also, having lost many people in their lives, the kids don't do well when we leave together for an extended time. The plane allowed us to go and come home in a single day. That meant a lot to us.
Bill Farris, Friend and Professional House Cleaner: Bill, thanks for calling on the spur of the moment to say that you have a few hours free to come clean some portion of my house at no cost. You take on the jobs that I can't seem to get to on a regular basis. And you do it with a smile and many prayers. We so appreciate your help.
Renee and Scott Prescott, Neighbors and Friends: Thanks for the financial contributions, but what we value the most is your friendship and commitment to our family. You are not just friends, but mentors and very important people in the daily lives of our children. Whether mentoring a single child through a difficult time, taking a random group on a nature walk to give me a few minutes peace, or taking my boy on the men's camping trip for days in the wilderness - the two of you are a rock of support for us. We love you and thank you.
Mary Lichlyter, Friend and Student: You have been a quiet servant to our family for many years, watching and playing with the little children without pay when you could have been doing much more exciting things. The kids adore you and love that you are willing to come to the beach and play with them. I respect you as a young woman and love our friendship. You are a great girl and we all appreciate you. (And to mom Lisa, thanks for driving Mary all those times before she could drive herself!)
Joyce Melton, PawPaw Patch (Homewood) and Dr. and Mrs. Michael Sillers: Your generous donations paid almost a month of living expenses for our family when the economy was taking its toll on our income and we were struggling with several of our teens who needed our attention. Your donations gave us some freedom and security to focus on the children. We are so grateful.
Trish and Emory McChargue: It all started with a chance meeting of my daughter at thrift store where you learned that you shared a common vision for missions. You immediately stepped in and helped us launch this site and that was after you babysat for 8 hours and brought us the Panera donation! Thanks for supporting us until you leave for your own mission field. We appreciate you.
Dawson Memorial Baptist Church: Dawson is yet another church that has helped our family - even though we are not a member of their church family. I needed a place to work out that offered child care. The Family Rec Center Staff came through with a membership - including free child care. And when I had to walk in tennis shoes that caused blisters on my feet, I was surprised when I was escorted by the Director, Nancey Legg, to a local shoe store, where she had them fit me in athletic shoes - and then paid the bill. A gift from the FRC. It blessed me in countless ways.