Home for the Holidays: Billy and Kelly Smith’s Adoption Story
Billy and Kelly Smith met at Pinkerton Chevrolet where they both worked in 1996. They fell in love and were married two years later, with hopes of starting a family together. Their dream came to a halt in 2002 when Billy was diagnosed with cancer. As Billy endured rounds of chemotherapy, the couple was told that they would have difficulty conceiving children in the future. Billy entered remission and the Smiths began fertility treatments, rekindling their desire to have children. Despite multiple attempts, they were still unable to conceive. It was then that they decided to explore the idea of becoming foster parents. Little did they know that this would be the most rewarding pursuit of their lives.
“During foster parent training we were told that the goal of foster care is always to return the child home,” Kelly explains. “The easiest thing about being a foster parent is falling in love. The hardest thing is not knowing what will happen to a child after he leaves our home, or sometimes even how long we will get to have him in our home.” Kelly says that being a foster parent definitely calls for patience with the court system, social workers and other people that are a part of the process. The couple has had to let some children go back to their biological families, and as undoubtedly emotional as that has been, the rewards have been worth it.
Through the foster-to-adopt process, the Smiths are currently finalizing their fifth adoption, and Kelly says they “don’t know that they’re through yet.” These days on a typical evening, Kelly holds little four-month-old Karlee in her arms while wide-eyed toddlers, Baby A and Maddie laugh and play on the living room floor. Five-year-old twins Jake and Zack wait for Billy to get home to tell him about their day. There is a beautiful warmth in the Smiths’ house. It’s a welcoming feeling, as if no matter where you come from, you are home here.
Five children age five and under may seem like a big undertaking. The Smiths don’t deny that it takes work. Kelly, a former nurse, stays at home with the little ones during the day. Her sister, a teacher, home schools Jake and Zack. When asked what sparked the decision to learn at home, Billy explains,
“All of our children have special needs. We both came from public schools, and we understand that the boys could easily be placed in a class with twenty-five or more students. We want them to have as much one-on-one teaching as possible. It helps us build therapy into their education and ensure all their needs are met.”
Don’t think for one second that the Smiths are a bunch of hermits either. Many weekdays, you can find them piling into their van for a field trip with other kids in their home school group. Their next adventure will be to the pumpkin patch. The Smiths are actively involved in their church, and the boys play soccer for a local league. With their busy schedule Billy says they make it a point to sit down and eat dinner together, even if they have to eat out. Billy explains that some of the most rewarding times for him are at the end of a long day. He joyfully describes how special it is to open the front door and see little faces light up and run to greet him.
When asked what some of the couple’s biggest challenges have been, Kelly simply smiles.
“Laundry,” she laughs. “Lots of laundry.”
Kelly and Billy’s advice for couples thinking about the foster to adoption process highlights another challenge.
“Make sure that your marriage is strong,” explains Kelly. “Of course there is not a lot of alone time when children come into your home.”
Billy also continues, “We have date nights at least once a month. It’s funny because we always find ourselves talking about the kids. About all the things they say or the funny little things they do. It’s important to make time for the two of us. Family helps and it’s very essential to have a support system in place.”
The Smiths make individual dates with each child as well.
“You wouldn’t believe how special Jake and Zack feel just to ride in the truck and run an errand with dad.” Kelly says. “It’s their own special time.”
The boys have started asking the hard questions about when they were born and where they came from. Kelly can’t help but tear up as she explains.
“I tell them ‘the lady whose belly you grew in needed help and we were the ones that could help her. You didn’t grow in my belly but you grew in our hearts’.”
The Smiths will celebrate the holidays by eating together, decorating, and baking cookies. They will take a trip to Valley View Mall to get an Angel off of the Angel Tree. The Smith children are learning what a healthy and happy family is. They are learning to serve and to give back a little bit of the joy and love that they’ve received.
The Smiths encourage those who may be interested in adoption to get acquainted with other foster families, to ask them questions and talk through any concerns. They suggest visiting a foster family’s home to see what it’s like. The Roanoke community often holds support group meetings where interested individuals can come to ask questions about the process.
According to the Roanoke City Department of Social Services through which the Smiths have adopted their children, there is a current need for families willing to foster school-aged children, six and older. The foster care parent training usually takes between four and six months to complete, and consists of a 27 hour program. The instruction helps families prepare to deal with issues of grief, loss and trauma that many foster children face. The goal during the foster care placement timeline is to move the child as little as possible. Treena Thornton, Parent Program Coordinator with Roanoke Social Services, explains that deciding whether or not to commit to foster is a no-pressure sort of experience.
“If you begin and don’t feel like it’s the right thing, if anywhere along the process you decide not to commit, it’s okay,” she continues.
It seems the common thread among foster families and professionals alike is the understanding that no one can or should go through the foster care/adoption process without a strong support system. Joni Davis, another Family Program Coordinator at RDSS points out that their foster families provide a great deal of support to each other.
“After all,” she says, “deciding to care for these children isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle change.”
Foster families celebrate the small steps together and experience joy through little triumphs and victories. A four-year old speaking her first complete sentence, or a foster parent hearing a child call him “Dad” for the first time-these are often the most rewarding stories that Treena and Joni get to hear. Treena recounts a telephone conversation with Kelly several months ago.
“I called to ask Kelly how things were going. She starts talking very excitedly, telling me everything that was going on. I stopped and said, ‘Kelly you sound really happy,’ or something like that. She said, ‘Treena, when I’m driving the van, I look back in the rearview mirror and see these five beautiful faces. I can’t believe they’re mine. I just never thought that could happen.”
Treena encourages any interested potential foster parents to visit Villa Heights Baptist Church on December 8th to meet and greet current foster families. Contact Treena, Joni, or your local Department of Social Services for more upcoming events during National Adoption Awareness Month and for more information about becoming a foster parent.