A Nana’s Story
Kathy Conn is the office manager for MSGPR in Lufkin. She is also a Nana to three grandchildren and has opened her heart to a young girl called “M,” a five-year-old who is in the process of being adopted by Conn’s daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Kalon Reynolds.
Kalon is a 7th grade history teacher and coaches football, basketball, and track at Henderson Middle School, and Jennifer is a Kindergarten teacher at Full Armor Christian School in Henderson. The Reynolds sought adoption in early 2015. With one failed adoption in May of that year and another in early 2016, Conn said it was difficult “watching my daughter and Kalon because there are some tough times and letdowns, especially the first time. They had everything set up for the baby.”
“Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Conn said. “As a mom and a nana, you want to make everything nice and easy and good, and sometimes it’s not. Obviously that first baby was not what God had for Kalon and Jennifer. At the time, it was hard to realize that.”
The Reynolds sought out to foster-to-adopt through Child Protective Services. They began the paperwork and attended the necessary P.R.I.D.E. classes in April of 2016. By the end of July, they had completed their part of the process. They are currently waiting to be licensed to foster.
In the meantime, an unique opportunity opened up for the couple.
A friend and teacher at HMS attends the same church as the Reynolds, and she is the current foster mom for “M.”
When “M” came into care with their friend, she brought her to church. On Wednesday nights before Bible study, the Reynolds family, week after week, would eat with “M” and her foster mom. This small tradition would soon begin a relationship that will last a lifetime.
“She began going to football games with Jennifer and loved it,” Conn said. “She would always ask if she would be able to go to the football games the following week.”
“M” began to stay Friday and Saturday nights with Kalon and Jennifer.
“She loves going to the games, staying all weekend, and going to church with ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy,'” Conn said.
“M” has been told that the Reynolds will be adopting her, and is excited to take this next step. However, she is too young to understand the legal process that currently prevents that.
The family is currently at a standstill waiting to see what the outcome of their court case will be.
With tears in her eyes, Conn related how she and her husband (whom “M” already calls Granddaddy) try their best to love and support Jennifer and Kalon even without any experience with adoption.
“My husband and I have just been there with support for them, trying to give them any advice we can,” Conn said. “I can be their prayer partner. When I can’t do anything else, I can pray.
“It has just been a very up-and-down emotional roller coaster but also very exciting,” she continued. “We’ve already attached her to our family. She’s already there in our hearts. She’s just not there physically.”
After the court proceedings are complete, and “M” will potentially move in with the Reynolds, they will foster her for 180 days. After the 180 days is over, they will be eligible to legally adopt “M.”
“I think that every child is important whether adopted or biological,” Conn said. “It is an opportunity to share God’s love. I know I’ll love her just the same.”
When “M” is cleared for adoption, the family will throw a “Gotcha Party” to celebrate the day “M” will legally forever be a part of their family.
Adoption through the Generations
Hudson resident Nicole Torrez and her older sister were adopted in 1991 in Minnesota. They were in foster care for about seven years prior to that, sometimes together, sometimes separate.
“It was a little bit harder on her than it was on me,” Torrez said. “She felt a lot of responsibility to take care of me since our mom was not around.”
When Torrez was about five, she and her sister were featured on a Dave Thomas advertisement special dedicated to showing kids who needed forever families. That’s how her adoptive parents found her, and they both were adopted together in 1991.
“Basically, my adoptive parents saved our lives,” Torrez said. “If it wasn’t for them we could have potentially stayed in foster care for years. It’s a lot easier to place a cute five year old than it is to place a 14 year old. Not a lot of people want teenagers because they come with a lot of problems.”
She met her husband Daniel in Korea when they were in the army. Torrez had the desire to adopt, but her husband was reticent to the idea at first. After the couple had two biological children, Isabel, 11, and Noe, 7, Daniel got on board with the idea of adoption.
They started the process in San Antonio with completing paperwork and then training. They were contacted about a six and four-year-old brother and sister who needed a family two weeks after being approved to foster and adopt.
The children lived with them for about 18 months before the mother’s rights were ultimately terminated. CPS tried to place them with other family members until it was determined that none were suitable for the kids to live with. The Torrez’s finalized the adoption in July of 2016, and now Elijah, 8, and Lexi, 6, are a part of their family.
“It has really just been a blessing, hopefully as much for them as it is for us,” Torrez said. “We were able to grow our family and help some kids who potentially could really have turned into something negative.”
Torrez said she would adopt all of the children if she could, and she encourages anyone to foster and adopt even if they are worried about the struggle of the training and classes.
“Really, it’s not about you,” Torrez said. “It’s about the kids and what you can do for them and what impact you can make on their lives, even if it’s temporary.”
The Torrez’s were placed with another foster care child four weeks ago. He came from a boy’s home in Beaumont and Torrez said the older boys there were a really negative influence on him. He was placed with the Torrez’s in Hudson to be near his brother.
“We’re in that phase of our life,” Torrez said. “We’re raising kids. Our house is set up for young kids. We’re running around with young kids. So, adding another one to the mix really wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Torrez said she will always encourage people who can’t foster or adopt to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
When a child who has been abused or neglected goes to court, he or she is appointed a CASA who has gone through at least 30 hours of training, a background check, and an interview process to advocate in court for the child’s best interests. CASA members volunteer and are local citizens.
“It’s a long process [to become a CASA],” said Susan Faver, program director at Angelina County’s CASA of the Pines. “There’s a lot of involvement, but you can usually do it in a few months. People from all walks of life become a volunteer – men, women, younger and older, across the board. Most volunteers even have full time jobs. As long as you have a little flexibility, you can do it.”
To find out more about becoming a CASA, check out this website.
Torrez recommends that everyone do their part in some way. People can adopt, foster, become a CASA, or donate money, shoes, clothes, and more to places like the Buckner Family Home in Lufkin, she said.
She also recommends people should not be afraid to adopt or foster because they might become attached and have to say goodbye to the child.
“[People] don’t want to have to say goodbye to a kid they won’t get to keep,” Torrez said. “And I felt that way, too. My husband felt that way. But really, it is all about the impact you can make at the time that you can make it. You have no idea what kind of impact you can make on a child, even short term.”
Torrez said she can remember some of the foster homes she has had, the good ones and the bad ones, and she and her family want to be that good home for the kids.
“It’s worth it,” she said. “All the stuff you have to go through, the paperwork, the training, is just really trivial when you think about adding another person to your life. I really wish more people would do it.”
Find out more information about both the private and public adoption process, foster care system, CASA program, and donating locally by visiting the websites for CASA of the Pines, Child Protection Services, Buckner Family Place, Bear Foundation, and Grace Manor.