They almost lost hope in foster care, but these teens found their happy ending instead.

The first time John and Jane Thomas met three of their kids, they saw so many camera flashes, it felt like the paparazzi were there.

But this wasn’t a newborn photo shoot. It was a meeting in a chain restaurant, and the kids — Jonathan, Alaina, and Isaiah — were 10-, 13-, and 14-year-old siblings who had lived in foster care for most of their lives. Until they met John and Jane, they’d moved around from home to home, and Jonathan, the youngest of the three, was often separated from his older siblings.

John and Jane didn’t plan on taking any pictures at this first meeting because, more than anything else, they wanted the siblings to feel comfortable with them.


But as soon as they opened the door to the restaurant, that plan changed.

“For five minutes, we could not see because [the kids] took like a hundred pictures,” John remembers fondly.

All images provided by the Thomas family.

These kids were so thrilled to meet their prospective parents that they wanted to document every moment of it.

And they weren’t the only ones who were excited.

John had always wanted to adopt, and when he suggested it to Jane after they married in 2006, she got on board right away.

At first, the Pennsylvania couple looked for a child who was between 3 and 5 years old. But in 2007, a family member of Jane's contacted them about a soon-to-be-born baby in need of a family. So they adopted Jordan, the first child they would adopt together. They were in the delivery room when Jordan was born, and John cut his new baby’s umbilical cord.

Soon afterwards, they contacted an adoption agency to resume their search for a 3- to 5-year-old. But that all changed when their case worker asked, “Have you ever thought about teens?”

They hadn’t considered teens before, and because of the huge need for homes for teens in foster care, their case worker suggested they think about it.

After doing some research, John and Jane learned that every year in the United States, more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care system — and immediately face high risks of homelessness, incarceration, and mental health struggles.

This fact really hit home with them. Jane worked as a prison chaplain and John was a warden, so they both had witnessed some of these effects firsthand. Many of the incarcerated people they worked with had once been youth in foster care.

“We didn't want to see kids end up that way,” John says.

They also learned that siblings have a hard time getting adopted together, so not only did John and Jane decide to adopt teenagers — they set their sights on siblings.

They started attending adoption events and flipping through sibling adoption lists. There were so many in need of homes that it was difficult to narrow down their choices.

But three kids in particular stood out because, for some reason, their photo kept showing up.

“It was like they were following us,” says John.

Those kids were Jonathan, Alaina, and Isaiah.

“By the fourth time of seeing the same wonderful picture of the three of them ... we contacted the agency and said we're interested in these three.”

The kids were interested too. When the adoption agency told them about the couple, the kids zeroed in on John’s job, saying, “If your dad’s a warden, he’ll keep you safe.”

In 2009, John and Jane officially adopted the siblings.

Like many kids from foster care, Jonathan, Alaina, and Isaiah carried their belongings in big black garbage bags when they arrived at the Thomas home. But for the first time, they knew they could finally settle into a home knowing they’d never have to haul around those bags again.

John was determined to teach his kids that love is unconditional.

“We loved them through their initial pain of, are you going to disappear like the last family?” John says. “And we never disappeared. We weren't going anywhere.”

He knew it would take time for the kids to adjust. At first, he wasn’t sure what they would call him — maybe “Mr. John”? But, much to their delight, the kids began calling them Mommy and Daddy almost immediately.

But any parent with teenagers knows they can go through some difficult moments, such as sibling rivalries, missed homework assignments, and raging hormones. John and Jane tackled it all, and John says that what his kids went through was no different from the kids he knew who were living with their birth parents.

Jonathan's high school graduation day.

And, just like any other parents, they continued to love their children through all of the ups and downs.

As a result of that unconditional love, the siblings blossomed. They recognize the value of family and speak often about what it means that they were able to stay together.

“It's just a big deal, especially when you don't have a whole lot of constants in your life,” John explains. “To have your siblings with you is a constant, something you can count on.”

John and Jane have no regrets about adopting teenagers. In fact, three years after adopting Isaiah, Alaina, and Jonathan, they adopted 15-year-old Dontae.

“We would do it all over again,” John says. “If our house was bigger, we probably never would’ve stopped.”

Dontae, now 21 years old and living in Ohio with his fiancée, recently called John at 1 a.m. Like most parents would, John immediately asked him what was wrong.

“Nothing,” Dontae said. He just wanted to tell his dad that he’d just played a great football game. And, for a teen who’d been in foster care, it was really special to have someone to call.

Dontae and John on the football field.

“It’s just a wonderful thing when you see the kids grow up and you see what happens in their own lives,” John says. “We didn’t realize how much it would change our lives, and how much it would bless us.”

Now, the siblings are 19, 22, and 23 years old. All three have graduated high school, and Isaiah and Alaina have moved a few hours away from home. But they all keep in touch and come home for the holidays.

Those precious visits continue to remind John why the entire journey was worth it.

“Every child needs at least one person who is crazy about them,” John says. That’s why he’s passionate about spreading the word about the joy of loving teens who have been in foster care.

“What do you want to leave behind? That you had the nicest car or home or whatever? Or that you invested in the life of some kids who by no fault of their own had to find a family?”

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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