They adopted him when he was 16. 8 years later, he's in prison — and they're waiting, as parents do.
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When Cory was 5 years old, he was removed from his home by the state and placed into foster care. For the next 11 years, he bounced between homes, ultimately landing in a facility at age 15.

By then, the odds were beginning to dwindle that he would be adopted, as older children in the foster care system typically have a harder time finding their "forever family." Unfortunately, this part of Cory's story isn't all that rare.


Cory at almost 16, the first time he met the Crouch family. All photos courtesy of Tanja Crouch.

When it comes to U.S. foster care, many of the statistics are troubling.

Over 400,000 children were in foster care in 2013. And in the same year, 23,000 children “aged out" of the system.

That means they hit an age, usually 18, where they're simply “too old" to remain in foster care. They are turned out into the world on their own with no safety net — no family to come home to when life throws up an inevitable roadblock, nobody to call when their bank account balance dips below zero.

Teens who age out of the system face a more difficult road in life than average folks who have families. They are less likely to graduate from high school or get a GED, and they are far less likely to graduate from college. Additionally, they are more likely to become pregnant, homeless, or end up in jail.

Cory, however, didn't age out.

Cory was almost 16 when he met the people who would become his parents.

When I talked to Tanja and Kevin Crouch, they had recently celebrated their 36th anniversary. Tanja shared with me the memories of their life pre-Cory. Tanja, a recording studio manager, and Kevin, a college professor in the fashion department who has worked as a costumer designer for Disney, Vogue, and other companies, had assumed they would have biological children together. When they discovered they wouldn't be able to, they realized that parenting would have to look a little different than they envisioned.

But Tanja and her siblings were adopted, so she was no stranger to family ties in the absence of biology. The Crouches were open to adoption.

After learning about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the U.S., Tanja and Kevin decided it was right for them. They attended months of training sessions and went through certification, and then the Crouches were ready to open their home.

Kevin, Tanja, and Cory Crouch.

In 2007, they opened it to Cory. “The first time we met Cory, I knew he was our son. I just felt it. … I felt a connection to him," Tanja told me. And the feeling was mutual. Although his caseworker presented him with the files of three families to review, after he met the Crouches, Cory said he didn't care to meet the others. He also felt the connection.

Following a few more meetings and a trial weekend, the three agreed that Cory should move in with Tanja and Kevin, one week before his 16th birthday and two short years before he would have aged out of the system.

That day, the Crouches became a family of three.

Kevin and Cory rappelling.

But for kids who have lived a large part of their childhoods in foster care, their troubles don't simply stop on a dime just because they've found a permanent home. Rough roads were still ahead.

Tanja and Kevin were committed to Cory from the beginning, like most parents.

And like all parents, they made some mistakes. “We probably spoiled Cory, giving him too much, too soon," Tanja said. “But we had waited so long for a child that we just wanted him to have every opportunity."

Cory later told them about his feelings, common among many foster children who find themselves in loving families after years of having the opposite. It was difficult for Cory “to suddenly have a family and people who cared if he did his homework and showed up for school and was where he was supposed to be," Tanja said.

“He never had anyone care or check up before. He also never had a cellphone or a computer or other things. The first week we had him, we took him shopping for new clothes and let him pick out his bedding and other things for his room. It became a little overwhelming to have choices and new things. This he shared with us more recently. He did not appreciate and take care of those things, probably because he was used to having to leave everything behind and just move with his clothes and a few other personal items."

The Crouches did what parents do when their kids have significant unmet needs: They find a way to meet them.

“Cory was nearly two years behind in school because no one had ever cared if he was in school and if he was passing classes," Tanja said. It was a lot for him to catch up on.

Additionally, they learned that Cory was heavily medicated for misdiagnosed ADHD. “There was a lot of counseling, tutors, and doctors' visits — things we never imagined."

At the same time, the couple also had to adjust to a big life change.

“Getting used to a third person who was an active teen ... lots of his friends coming and going — it was a big adjustment for us," Tanja explained. “We had been married for more than 20 years with no children, just the two of us. ... We were not prepared for all the adjustments. However, the sacrifices were worth it, to finally have a son."

Unfortunately, the impact of nearly 11 years in the foster care system, coupled with his other challenges, led Cory to make some poor decisions.

Cory ran into legal trouble when he was caught with pot, and his situation was further complicated when he failed to show for court dates. As a result, he's now serving time in prison.

His situation, it should be noted, is one that thousands of other teens — not just adopted teens — find themselves in every day, regardless of their backgrounds. Poor decision-making is often a rite of passage to adulthood. But unlike individuals who age out of the foster care system, Cory had a family before he turned 18 — and he has a family waiting for him when he's released. Tanja calls and writes to Cory weekly, sharing Scripture lessons and providing words of hope.

Cory has told Tanja many times that her letters are a source of encouragement. “I always start my letters by mentioning something we talked about on the phone and how proud I am of him. I end by telling him I love him," Tanja said.

She believes that has further solidified their relationship. “I know he never heard things like that when he grew up. My constantly reminding him he is my son and I am proud of the changes he is trying to make helps him to further believe in himself."

The Crouches are optimistic that Cory will be released this fall — and when he is, they'll be there for him. “I believe Cory is the son we were supposed to have. I believe that God found a way to finally help us to find one another," Tanja said.

Despite the challenges, Tanja and Kevin aren't going anywhere.

“This is not the plan I had for being a parent and certainly not the plan I had for Cory. But, I love him and I want this to be a blip on the radar." Her hope for him sounds like that of any parent who wants the best for their child. Their love is a great reminder that parenting comes in all shapes and sizes and families are created in many ways.

A mother's love knows no bounds.

Tanja shared a memory with me that sums up their journey so well:

“One time when Cory was kicked out of school for a week, he ran away. I went looking for him and finally found him with a group of 'troubled teen' friends. I told him to get in the car because we were going home. He was my son and I would always come and find him no matter what he did and where he went.

That is why, although he is sitting in prison, I have not given up on him. He is my son and I will always go and find him and bring him home because I love him. He is our son forever."

That is what a "forever family" looks like.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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