If the faces of the sweet children, some shy, some serious, some grinning for the camera, don’t break your heart, then the comments beneath them will:
She was such a sweet kid.
His smile just lit up the room.
I wanted to take him home with me.
Some family would be lucky to adopt her.
The comments were written by several professional photographers around the area about kids waiting to find an adoptive home. It was all part of the Heart Gallery, a gallery featuring a number of children currently in foster or group care awaiting a permanent home.
The gallery is part of an awareness campaign initiated in conjunction with National Adoption Awareness Month. In addition to the Heart Gallery, county offices held a National Adoption Day ceremony to thank adoptive parents and celebrate those who have chosen to welcome other people’s children into their homes. Onondaga County’s Department of Social Services also launched a Give Your Life a Smile campaign to promote foster care and adoption of hard-to-place kids. When a person or family becomes certified as a foster home through this campaign, they become dually certified as an adoptive home. For more information, visit giveyourlifeasmile.com.
According to Onondaga County Family Court Judge James C. Tormey, there are some 523,000 kids nationwide waiting for a foster or adoptive home. Right here in Onondaga County, 420 kids are in foster care. Thirty-six children are in need of adoptive homes, and 33 of them are between the ages of 10 and 16.
Home is where the heart is
That’s the goal of the Heart Gallery: to find homes for older kids and others who are traditionally hard to adopt out. In addition to teens and preteens, this group includes children with developmental disabilities and sibling groups. This group makes up a large percentage of those waiting for adoption. However, many would-be adoptive parents are looking for babies and toddlers.
We don’t have a lot of babies, said Barbara Gifford, supervisor for the home finding unit at the Onondaga County Department of Social Services. The concept [of the Heart Gallery] is to capture the spirit of these kids who are a little harder to place.
The Heart Gallery, which can now be found in states across the nation, got its start in New Mexico in 2000. A Santa Fe photographer worked with an adoptive mother to try to get homes for other area kids.
It’s just grown since then, Gifford said. It’s totally grassroots from the photographers. They all volunteer their time to be a part of the project.
After taking their pictures, the photographers write a brief message about the children to pair with the photos.
People might be more interested in seeing what the kids are all about, Gifford said.
This year, the Heart Gallery in Syracuse, located at 805 East Genesee St., features 18 kids from Onondaga County. A total of 55 portraits line the walls, featuring children from all over the 14-county region that makes up Central New York. The gallery is open until Nov. 30.
We hope the portraits will interest folks and get them to think about what it might be like to adopt an older child, Gifford said. And what a wonderful experience it has been for us. These kids are putting it all out there. They really want to be adopted.
The purpose of the Heart Gallery and the Give Your Life a Smile campaign is twofold: to get these kids adopted and to get people to consider becoming a foster home.
It takes 18 months between the time someone starts to think about becoming a foster parent and the time they actually do it, said DSS worker Mary Schapley of Liverpool. We want people to start to think about it now so that, 18 months from now, they’ll take in a foster child.
Gifford agreed. We’re planting seeds, she said.
Gifford, Schapley and everyone else associated with adoptive and foster care hope that the recent publicity will spark interest in people to take in a child.
It’s heartbreaking to think that there may not be a permanent home for some kids, Gifford said. Every child deserves a family and someone they can call Mom and Dad.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.