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The Lifeline

Bringing you the best local stories in and around our community.

The Selfless Gift of Love

Featured Photo from The Selfless Gift of Love

I didn’t give you the gift of life, But in my heart I know. The love I feel is deep and real, As if it had been so. For us to have each other Is like a dream come true! No, I didn’t give you The gift of life, Life gave me the gift of you. While the origin of this touching poem is unknown, it captures the special bond between parents and their adoptive children. In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Lake Mary Life salutes two couples from our community who made the choice to adopt in the face of some extraordinary obstacles, and an organization that helps keep families together.

GRETA AND TODD POWESKA

Already the adoptive parents of two children, Greta and Todd Poweska did not hesitate when they learned that a six-year-old “mildly-disabled” boy was available for adoption in the Ukraine. Committed to adopting children in need, they traveled halfway around the world to bring him back to Florida. When they arrived at the adult mental institution where the boy lived, however, they found him in terrible condition. The Ukrainians had diagnosed him with brain damage, severe mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. He had lived in a crib for the first six years of his life. He could not move, roll over, or speak.

“You could hear a pin drop in that place because all the residents were drugged,” explains Greta. “Being there was an awful, eerie experience, and this boy was definitely in bad shape, but we knew he was going to be our child.”

They took the boy, whom they named Moses, to Kiev, where he started to detox from all the drugs in his system. Once back in Florida, it was discovered he was born in an extremely poor rural community and was the youngest of 12 siblings. Every one of them had been placed in the Ukrainian orphanage and foster care system.

“Once we got him home, we realized he wasn’t going to be a fully-developed child,” explains Greta, who took him to several specialists. “A neurologist believed he most likely suffered a stroke while in utero, but I was determined not to limit him in what he could do.”

The Poweska household is a dynamic one. In addition to Moses, two domestically adopted children (Shaniah, 10, and Anthony, 9) and two biological children (Ariel, 12, and Dylan, 8) round out the clan. Once Moses was introduced into this stimulating environment, he quickly started to communicate to his siblings in English. He also immediately became more mobile with the help of a walker. Doctors believe that with some corrective spine surgery, he will walk independently one day.
“I’m convinced being in a loving, engaging family environment and having proper stimulation has made him much better,” says Greta. “In the Ukraine, the neglect came from a lack of any stimulation whatsoever.”

Since living with his new family, Moses has gained weight, grown six inches, and built some strength and endurance. He has been given a new lease on life, thanks to the Poweskas’ selfless act of kindness. After a brief adjustment period, his siblings have all developed close, loving relationships with him. At this point, they can’t imagine life without him.

“We have a mix of biological and adopted children, and there have been some challenges because children who are traumatized and damaged for whatever reason at a young age have some behavioral issues that need to be corrected,” admits Greta. “But when you’re committed to giving them a secure, loving home, and you’re willing to put in the work as a parent, adoption is truly a special gift everyone benefits from.”

STACEY AND CHRISTOPHER BECK

For some people, adoption has always been on their radar. Strong believers in this selfless act make a conscious choice to adopt long before they actually do it. For others, adoption comes out of nowhere and chooses them, which is exactly what happened to Stacey and Christopher Beck.

Stacey, who volunteers at Lifeway Church and other regional charities, first met a woman named Sandy at a local maternity home in 2015. She soon learned about Sandy’s horrific childhood. When Sandy was seven, her mother (a drug addict) and her grandfather (a child molester) sold her (along with her sister) to sex traffickers in South Florida. Authorities did not track her down until she was 13 and severely traumatized by her experiences. Sandy, now 31, has walked a difficult path. When she met Stacey, she was with her seven-month-old son Rylan, looking for shelter.

“She told me her story, and I was dumbfounded,” remembers Stacey, who formed a close bond with Sandy. “I was impressed by the fact that, despite everything she went through, she was making every effort to build a decent life for herself and Rylan.”
Sandy, however, realized her trauma and mental health needs were too severe to allow her to raise a child, so she took the initiative and called Child Protective Services. She wanted a better life for Rylan and was willing to give him up to make       that happen. 

That is when she approached Stacey.

“She made me promise that Chris and I would take care of him,” recalls Stacey. “I wasn’t surprised because I knew she wanted to do what was best for her little boy, but I told her I needed to talk to Chris about it.”

Stacey, who works for Central Florida Community Initiative (an initiative of Community Based Care of Central Florida), spoke with some of her coworkers to get some information on the adoption process. After serious consideration, she and Chris realized it was meant to be and adopting Rylan was the right thing to do. They informed Sandy of their decision, began the approval process, and signed up for Community Based Care’s 10-week training and preparation course (PRIDE), which prepares adoptive parents for the enormous responsibility ahead of them.

“They don’t sugarcoat anything in that course,” says Chris. “If you’re going to adopt, you better not do it lightly, and you better not have selfish motives. This is a ‘for-life’ decision and has to be about the child.”

The entire process took about three months. At the beginning of 2016, the Becks finalized Rylan’s adoption. An open adoption, Sandy will always remain part of Rylan’s life, which is how all involved parties wanted it. Stacey and Chris visit Sandy regularly, and they maintain a close relationship with her. 

“She shouldn’t be punished for a decision she made in the best interest of her son,” says Stacey. “She was an innocent victim and forced to endure the most terrible things. She’s a good person and will always be a part of his life, as well as ours.”

Pathways to Home

Family stability, foster care, and housing often go hand-in-hand. That’s why local foster care leaders are branching out to help prevent homelessness and keep families together.

The statistics are revealing and clear. A stable home life is one of the most reliable predictors of a child’s success in school, career, and personal growth. Unfortunately, every morning more than 2,000 children in Seminole County wake up without a place to call home. Homelessness among families with children continues to increase and represents 62 percent of the entire homeless population. That’s why Pathways to Home was created by Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBC), the region’s coordinating agency for foster care and child wellness. Pathways to Home is a collaboration between the CBC, social service agencies, the faith-based community, and various public and private entities dedicated to ending child homelessness in Seminole County. And it’s working, one family at a time.

“Right now, there’s only one homeless shelter in Seminole County, and it isn’t designed to keep families together,” explains Jennifer Bero, Pathways to Home’s program director. “This represents an enormous gap that needs to be filled. Pathways to Home fills some of this gap by creating housing stability for homeless families in the area.”

Pathways to Home works to provide financial assistance and permanent housing for families in need. The goal is to minimize the time families stay homeless and give them the tools needed to remain housed through an intensive case management process known as the Rapid Re-Housing Model. The process can last up to nine months, during which Pathways to Home staff guides families to services that best meet their needs and asks them to draw upon their own strengths, experience, and knowledge to reach their goals. Since the program began in 2009, it has served 281 families and 722 children. Last year alone, 70 families and 204 children received assistance. Every family who graduates from the program finds a stable home.
“We develop trusting relationships with families and find out what’s behind their troubles,” says Jennifer. “Once we do that, we connect them with the right resources and provide positive reinforcement both before and after they find housing. If they’re struggling, they usually call us first because they feel safe with us and know we’re true to our word.”

Whether the result of a job loss, underemployment, substance abuse, divorce, domestic abuse, or mental health issues, the resulting homelessness is traumatic for everyone, especially the children. At a true disadvantage, children in these situations worry about things most other kids take for granted, such as showering, eating breakfast, and getting a good night’s sleep. As a result of this instability, they often struggle at school. What’s worse, research has shown that 21 percent of homeless children become homeless adults.

“This is unacceptable and exactly why we get families into permanent housing as soon as possible,” explains Jennifer. “We don’t want homelessness to become a child’s ‘normal.’”

Pathways to Home advocates for prevention, identifies issues that hold people back, and attempts to break down those barriers. The lack of affordable housing, for example, represents the biggest obstacle for working people who only earn minimum wage.

“Affordable housing is a serious issue nobody wants to talk about, and it’s why many homeless families are everyday people you wouldn’t know are homeless,” says Jennifer. “We need to treat them with respect and change our understanding  of what homelessness really is.”

Jennifer knows that Pathways to Home cannot do it all alone. Partnerships and collaboration are crucial to the process, and the entire community needs to work together if it is to end homelessness once and for all. Jennifer is constantly reaching out to local businesses and other community entities in an effort to get them involved, whether by donating furniture, creating job apprentice programs, or becoming mentors.

“It all helps,” Jennifer says, “and it’s a great example of community collaboration.”

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