They almost lost hope in foster care, but these teens found their happy ending instead.
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Ad Council - Adopt US Kids

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?”

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."