Two families share how they made the choice for adoption.
THIS IS A STORY about grit, determination, and perseverance, but it’s also about unwavering hope and acceptance. It’s about second chances, especially through the hard times, and how we can put love into action by actively caring for others. It’s about kids needing a safe space to be nurtured and adults opening their homes, and their hearts, to make it happen. This is a superhero story about fostering and adoption.
Living Out Loud
For Mike and Tina Cole of Jefferson City, life has been dramatically turned upside down in the last two years. Luckily, they wouldn’t change a thing.
The couple first met as students at Lincoln University, and their paths would cross again years later as young professionals working at the same company. While love and business flourished, the couple tried for more than a decade to become parents. Tina had always wanted to adopt, but she thought the order might be biological first, adoption second. However, timing is not always our own.
“I’ve always wanted to adopt because so many kids need a home,” Tina says. “We can’t say we want to take care of the future and not take care of the kids.”
Mike and Tina took action to become licensed for adoption more than two years ago, undergoing foster and adoption training through the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association. CMFCAA is a nonprofit agency that educates and advocates for foster and adoptive children, youth, and families in central Missouri. They also collaborate with community and governmental agencies to provide training and services to help kids and families be self-sufficient and successful. “Our license went through at 11 a.m. and that same afternoon our son, Cameron, came to us,” Tina says. “I had nothing. I joke that my labor and delivery was three hours and 36 minutes, because that’s how long we had to prepare before he arrived.”
Cameron was only two months old when he arrived. He was 4 pounds, 8 ounces. Tina recalls how small he looked in the car seat and how it was such a beautiful moment to begin their parenting journey. She had no idea then how his tiny life, including his biological connections, would change the course of her life forever.
“Fostering was a great experience, but our goal was to be adoptive parents and start a family,” she notes. “We asked for a child that could possibly be up for adoption, and we ended up with siblings.”
Exactly nine months later, Cameron’s biological sister, Miyah, who was 5 years old and living with another foster family in town, joined their growing family. The hope was to keep the siblings together so they could have a lasting relationship with each other. While Mike and Tina’s initial desire was for a newborn adoption, having Miyah come into their life was an unexpected blessing and a life lesson in loving kids as they are and as they come.
“When she came to us, she was so loving and willing, but she had zero home training and didn’t know things a 5 year old would know, so I started by teaching her skills a toddler would learn to be independent,” Tina recalls. “Because she was a den mother and cared for her siblings before coming to us, I did not give her responsibilities other than what a 5-year-old would do, especially playing and being happy.”
In less than a year, the Cole family went from a family of two to a family of four, but this parenting journey was far from over. After 14 years of trying to conceive, Tina became pregnant in June and welcomed a new baby boy, Michael Jr., this past January. Even though he had an eventful entry into the world, including time in the NICU, Tina sees the divine gift of his birth in his happy and healthy face.
“God said, ‘You’re taking care of my kids. I’ll give you one of your own,’” Tina says.
While giving birth was a new experience for Tina, she views all her children as a beautiful gift, and sees all of them as being equally hers.
“They are all mine,” she says. “I don’t see any differences except seeing my husband’s eyes in the baby. I have all the same feelings for all three. Cameron is my first child. Miyah is my only girl. I carried Mikee in my womb.”
As a mother, Tina also carries a special place in her heart for the biological mother of Miyah and Cameron. While their fostering journey has been a beautiful experience, her empathetic heart also recognizes the hard experience of their biological mother. It’s a relationship she is open to her kids reconnecting with one day when they can make that decision on their own.
“I live out loud, so she’ll be able to find her children someday,” Tina shares. “I can’t imagine someone taking my kids. I hurt for her in that way, and hopefully she can one day reunite when the kids are ready. If my kids want to find her, I will help them. If they don’t, that’s OK, too.”
While the Cole household is a busy place these days, with a newborn, 2-year-old, and 7-year-old, the family finds great joy in their journey and also has a passionate heart for so many kids that still need love and care in our community.
“I want people to know there are so many kids that deserve what you have. It is our obligation and our job to care for the uncared children,” Tina reflects. “Maybe you can’t foster or adopt, but you can support the agencies, babysit for a date night, provide coats for winter, or whatever you can do. It’s everybody’s job, not just those with an extra bedroom.”
The staggering number of kids in foster care weighs heavily and is a constant reminder of why it was placed on her heart to adopt. Because she lives it every day, she’s a strong advocate for asking others to join in this fight to care for these kids.
“We have more kids in care than we have homes for. Let’s put our priorities in order. Let’s worry about the humans walking the earth and not just our material stuff.”
The Best Yes
Nickii Stone knows a lot about kids. Growing up near Columbia, she had 10 siblings, and if that wasn’t enough care and tending already, her mom also ran a day care out of their home. Nickii learned at an early age about kids of all ages and how to take care of each other. It also taught her to be calm — almost unflappable really — in the midst of lots of noise and chaos.
Ashly Newlon, Nickii’s fiance, had a totally different upbringing. Growing up in Springfield, Ashly was an only child, and in later years, would spend much of her time caring for her grandpa, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis.
She would eventually find work helping the elderly after moving to Columbia for a fresh start after an abusive relationship. When she met Nickii, they both knew they wanted kids. But Nickii had previously gone through IVF treatment and suffered a miscarriage. A new idea flourished for both of them.
“We really wanted kids, so I surprised her with an informational packet from Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association,” Ashly says. “I asked her if this was something she wanted to do with me.”
The answer was a resounding yes, and the two immediately went through the licensing process and foster and adoptive parent training through CMFCAA. During their training, the two met Carol Montie, the family development supervisor for CMFCAA, and it would be a pivotal relationship in their fostering journey. Carol would connect them immediately with Grace, who was a 7-year-old needing to find her forever family and be adopted. Grace came with a challenging history, one filled with severe trauma, and had been in the foster system most of her life. Although unsure of what was ahead, Nickii and Ashly said yes to the opportunity to care for Grace.
“The stories of these kids can scare people, and some come with a terrible list, but they’ve been looking for people to love them,” Nickii says. “I don’t want them to be orphans. Saying yes to this is the best decision we’ve ever made.”
And they just kept saying yes. Yes to eventually adopting Grace, who is now 10 and doing very well, and yes to adopting Kendryk, who came to them with severe medical issues after an overdose of narcotics at 2 years old. He is 4 now and thriving in his home environment, with the sweetest smile and disposition.
“The best ‘yes’ is our adoptive kids, but nothing was easy,” Nickii notes. “Both are miracle stories. They could still be in care or could be orphans if they weren’t here. All they needed was a chance.”
While they first started fostering younger children, including adopting two already, they’ve even said yes to fostering teenagers, which is not always the norm. According to the 2017 U.S. Adoption Attitude Survey, among those who have either adopted previously or are considering adoption, the majority prefer a child younger than 5 years of age.
The pair have been fostering Cheyenne, 17, for the last two years. It’s been a rewarding experience for them to see her flourish, including improving her school work and working hard to keep her grades up. It’s opened their eyes to what a rewarding and life-long relationship fostering teenagers can bring.
“So many teenagers in care have never had a home and age out of the system with no support,” Ashly says. “They are in care for a reason, and it’s not their fault. You can be a good example and you can put them on a different track.”
“With teenagers, you get to see them be a sponge and see them doing well,” Nickii adds. “They are also more likely to stay in contact and be a permanent family.”
It’s a busy home with four kids, including another 4-year-old they’re fostering, but they do it with no regrets. They also get calls frequently of kids needing a safe place to stay, including kids being held at a police station where they were abandoned with nowhere to go for the night. They often come with just the clothes on their back and years of hurt built up, so trust takes time. To both Nickii and Ashly, it’s worth the hard work and patience.
“We have big hearts,” Nickii says. “We want kids to see the best in themselves. Your impact could set them on a path that changes everything.”
While they lean on each other for support, they also find support in the foster and adoption community. It’s a tight-knit group that offers support through a private Facebook group, where people share guidance, encouragement, and access to resources. It reminds them they’re not alone in this journey.
They’ve also been greatly supported and encouraged by Carol at CMFCAA, who’s helped navigate the process from the very beginning.
Both Nickii and Ashly share the importance of foster and adoptive parents utilizing respite care to be able to refuel. Those who help with respite care provide a valuable resource to these primary caregivers because they also understand the foster situation and it gives them short periods of time to rest. While they always need more foster and adoptive parents, respite providers are a huge need as well to ensure the health and long-term success for foster parents.
With all four kids surrounding them in the living room, including one snuggling on Ashly’s lap while she talks, it is evident that loving kids through the fostering and adoption process has been life-changing for this family — both for the kids and the parents. It’s been a story with many highs and lows, plus lessons learned along the way, but it’s one they would never change for the world.
“Being a foster parent is a blessing,” Ashly says. “It’s an exciting experience. You learn something new about everybody because they’re an open book to you. You just have to take them and love them.
Statistics in Missouri:
- There are over 13,000 children in Missouri foster care, but only 650 licensed foster homes.
- Only 48% of children who enter care are expected to be successfully reunited with their biological family.
- The average age of foster children is 9 years old.
- The average time in foster care before reunification or another form of permanency is 28 months.
- 14% of foster children without a permanent family become homeless adults.
- 18% to 26% of foster children without a permanent family end up in the prison system.
CMFCAA is currently assisting more than 640 foster families, 1400 foster children, and 400 adopted children in Mid-Missouri.
For more on fostering and adoption, including training and resources, visit Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association at mofosteradopt.com.