Jon and Grace loved the girls as their own, but the union almost didn't come to pass.

They Were Meant For Us

As 3-year-old Alexandria Jean and 2-year-old Amora took turns banging the judge’s gavel in a Travis Country courtroom, Jon Ong and Grace Santosa fought to hold back tears.

The sound marked the end of a long and emotional journey that ultimately made them “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the two little girls they held in their arms. Love and excitement filled the room as family and friends celebrated the new additions to the family, and with much reason. The union was one that almost didn’t come to pass.

Jon and Grace never wanted to have biological children, but they always wanted kids. When the time came to start a family, adoption had been their plan A.

After moving to Round Rock in 2011, the husband and wife team became licensed foster parents. Fostering allowed them to serve the children in their city while giving them a taste of what to expect as parents.

One morning while Grace was at work, a client became aware of her desire to foster and adopt. He shared the story of his own child’s adoption through STARRY and strongly encouraged her to look into it.

Jon and Grace began working with STARRY as respite caretakers, providing short-term care to children in order to give other foster parents and families a break and to gain experience as parents before accepting their first foster placement. During their first weekend they cared for three boys, ages 2, 4, and 7.

“We were completely tired and wasted afterward,” Grace said. “We didn’t take in kids for a month after that. We were just so overwhelmed.”

Jon and Grace grew as parents as they continued to foster and provide respite care for children until 2013. That’s when they told STARRY that they were ready to adopt. Their case manager, Nita Riggins, introduced them to two young girls named Alexandria Jean (AJ) and Amora, who were in need of a loving home and might be candidates for adoption.

At the time, the girls were in the care of foster parents Shawn and Ellen Briscombe. In a series of respite stays, Shawn and Ellen were surprised at how comfortable AJ and Amora felt around the couple.

“Every time we saw Ellen she’d tell us, ‘These girls were meant for you. You guys are their parents,’” Jon said. “She believed deep down in her soul that we were meant to have them.”

The girls were placed in the care of Jon and Grace in June of 2013, but the road to adoption was not smooth. Their birth mother was willing to terminate her parental rights, but at almost the last minute, she suggested that a distant aunt was interested in adopting the girls. However, after several months it was determined that the aunt’s home was not the best fit for the sisters.

In February 2014, AJ and Amora were officially adopted by Jon and Grace, where they found their forever family.

Now a family of four, Jon, Grace, AJ and Amora are looking forward to a future saturated with joy, family travel, play dates and even a minivan. They are grateful for God’s sovereignty and are completely open to whatever He has in store for them next. But for now, Jon and Grace are focused on enjoying their children and the moments they share together.

“It was amazing to see that when we were losing hope, we had our friends at church, Ellen and Shawn, STARRY staff and everyone around us encouraging us not to lose heart,” said Jon.

“AJ and Amora challenge me every day to think of someone other than myself,” Grace said, “and they just make us happy from the beginning of the day.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez

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As seen on Turning Points Magazine May/June 2014

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The Hidden Talent of Terrance Carson

 

Terrance Carson headshot

Texas Baptist Children’s Home has been home to thousands of boys with incredible gifts and talents for more than 60 years, but perhaps never one like 15-year-old Terrance Carson.

Terrance is one of seven boys that call Cottage 8 home and during the day he does just as they do: he attends his classes, completes his chores, and occasionally joins in on a pick-up game of after-school basketball.

But in the evenings, Terrance leaps, kicks and turns his way across glossed wooden floors with nearly as much ease and poise as a seasoned danseur.

Terrance is a dancer, one with more talent than is usual for his young age, and it’s beginning to turn heads.

“He has something that could lead to a scholarship and professional dance in his future,” said China Smith, his dance coach and mentor. “It was very apparent to me, almost like his body was made to do this.”

Terrance is a dance major at The Fine Arts Academy at McCallum High School and a member of Smith’s dance company, Ballet Afrique, in East Austin. Although talented, he goes about his life in humility and quiet confidence.

For this teenager, dance is more than a hobby; it’s his preferred way of communicating.

“I take dance as an expression or as a way to tell a story,” he said. “I like to blend contemporary and African styles together. It’s really fun to connect to my history and share it with other people. It has made me grow a lot.”

At the age of 9, Terrance got his first taste of the arts while performing for a summer camp musical. That’s where he met Smith and their paths crossed again a few years later when he moved to the Texas Empowerment Academy. Smith worked as a dance instructor and Terrance, seventh grader, decided to take Smith’s dance class.

“When we’re just talking about boys in dance in general, ballet requires a certain amount of discipline and focus that even adults have a hard time with,” said Smith. “But this is something he loves to do.”

After a rigorous audition, Terrance was accepted into the McCallum Fine Arts Academy. Due to family needs, he was accepted into residence at TBCH and was able to continue his studies at The Fine Arts Academy. For that, Terrance is grateful.

“Everyone else has things going on too, but they do a really good job of helping you do what you want to do,” Terrance said. “It would have been a lot harder to go to school and be in the dance company living anywhere else.”

After Smith, who is protective of her protégé, met his house parents, David and Kae Lyn Geyman, any misgivings she might have had about him moving into the Children’s Home disappeared.

“We talk about what a blessing it is to have so many families around you to support you with love,” Smith said. “I think that’s going to be what makes the difference in a successful story for him. He has all these people that are going to love and care for him.”

His house parents and cottage brothers saw him dance on stage for the first time in December. The entire cottage watched his performance in awe of his capabilities, applauding his every move, and bragging about his accomplishments all the way home.

“I really enjoyed them coming out,” he said. “It’s nice when you go out to do something you like, having people appreciate it and supporting you.”

By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Dwayne Hills (DHills Photography)

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As seen in Turning Points March/April 2014

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A Goodnight Kiss

 

SONY DSCSix year-old Issac Andes lies in bed as his mother, Amanda, tucks him in for the night. She leans in for a kiss and a sly smirk eases across young Issac’s face. He looks across the room to his father, Jon.

“Look Daddy, I’m giving your wife a kiss!” he brags before throwing his arms around Amanda and attacking her with his lips. He kisses her on the cheek, the nose, and the forehead. Between each display of affection is the sound of laughter.

This is Issac. He is the lover in the family and the first of four children adopted through STARRY into the Andes family household. Issac was adopted in March 2010. His sister Ainsley, also 6, was adopted just five months later. The two siblings quickly formed an inseparable bond.

“Never have I met a kid with a heart that Issac has,” Amanda said. “He loves people, he loves helping and he loves his family. He is seriously a jewel.”

For the next two years, Amanda and Jon continued to foster children through STARRY while enjoying the time with their new family. Their hearts still longed to expand their family and Amanda prayed for God’s guidance. If they weren’t to pursue adopting more children, she and Jon wanted some peace of mind.

But the peace never came.

“We kept feeling like there were other kids that God wanted in our family,” she said.

The Andes called STARRY to give notice of their availability for any children seeking adoption. Because they had adopted two local children already, Amanda and Jon doubted the likelihood of their being chosen as parents again. They still believed the Lord was calling them to grow their family, but how?

They began to consider the possibilities of an international adoption, but God had other plans in mind. Within a week of their decision, the Andes received the phone call from STARRY that they were on the final list for two little boys, Eli and Canaan.

“As soon as we stepped out there and said, ‘Whatever you want, God. We’re willing to do whatever we have to do,’ we got a phone call,” Jon said. “It was one of those times where you know that it was God who answered what we were going through at the time.”

In October 2012, Eli and Canaan were adopted into the Andes family. The addition turned Issac and Ainsley’s world around. Ainsley now had to learn to share her beloved big brother. Issac, being the lover that he is, embraced his new role. In a casual display of brotherly duty, Issac asked his dad where he could find the vacuum cleaner to pick up after his siblings.

“It’s not my mess, but it’s my responsibility,” Issac told his dad.

Amanda said that Issac and the rest of her children have taught her more about herself and about love than anything else.

“If it wasn’t for my kids, I would have never changed or wanted to change into the person God really wants me to be,” she said.

Amanda admits she is still learning how to handle the different personality types, and about emotionally being able to handle the children asking about their biological parents.

“I’m still learning how to be okay with that,” she said, “but how awesome that I get to learn that. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”

As for the kids, they are currently learning how to raise chickens and milk goats at their country home north of Georgetown. However, the most important lesson Jon and Amanda say they are trying to teach their children is that of God’s love.

“No matter their past, future, or how they are treated by others, I want them to know they never have to doubt the love God has for them,” Amanda said. “May they always feel the security in knowing that their heavenly Father loves them.”

 By Jeannie L. Rodriguez
Photos by Sharon Strong

As seen on Turning Points Jan/Feb 2014

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