Connie Alders walks among a portrait exhibit at Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital where she works. As she stares back at the subjects, she says, "I think I'm drawn to their eyes, and they just look like they're wanting to talk to you, like they're wanting to tell you something."
The subjects are telling Alders something. The pictures are of cute youngsters in the Texas Foster Care program. They ask, "Why not me?."
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson Shari Pulliam said, "Children age eight and over and children from large sibling groups, our data shows, are the hardest children to find the forever home for."
In an effort to find them homes, the state launched a new adoption campaign that provides imaginative portraits and biographies of the children. "It's the packaging of these children. You hate to say you're marketing them, but that's exactly what you're doing," said Pulliam. And the campaign is working. The adoption rate has tripled in communities where the traveling portrait exhibit has appeared. People come away thinking as Alders. "I would like to have all of them. Make them all happy," she said.
Children's advocates praise the idea. Nacogdoches County Child Welfare Board president Lisa King knows people must learn about all the children needing families. "In this region, there's usually 20-30, and then again, that can vary. But there's generally that many waiting for a forever home," said King.
Actually, that's the number of older foster children in Nacogdoches and Angelina counties and contiguous counties. For all of Region 5, which includes Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Tyler, Polk, Trinity, Sabine, Houston, and Jasper counties, the number rises to almost 100.
Leola Davis is drawn to four siblings, but she already has three adopted children. She's mainly here to advise prospective parents. "The main thing in adopting, to me, is that you have to have patience and a whole lot of love, and the rewards of having a child is just a gift," she said.
Alders and four others have signed up to learn more about some of the children. A difference in someone's life is about to happen.
To see the children waiting for homes, go to http://www.easttexasheartgallery.com/. To learn more about adoption, go to http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/ and http://www.adoptchildren.org/.