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|14-year-old has big Christmas wish: family of his own|
Fourteen-year-old Martin wants some brothers and sisters and a chance to celebrate the holidays with a family of his own.
Martin is a foster child in custody of the state of Louisiana. Because he is in foster care, Martin's last name cannot be revealed.
Martin spoke Tuesday as part of Monroe's adoption celebration, which is held every November during National Adoption Month.
The purpose of the event is to encourage more local residents to become foster and adoptive parents to area children who have been removed from their home due to neglect or abuse.
Martin wants to be a race car driver one day. He loves sports, playing outside and playing video games.
"I'm waiting for a family to adopt me," Martin said. "A family who would love me and care for me. I want to go places with them, and when holidays come around, I don't want to sit in places with people I don't know. I want to sit with people I know who love me."
Martin recently was afforded an opportunity to drive around the Monroe Motor Speedway in a truck. He has been promised that next year, he will be allowed to drive around the track in a real race car.
Callie Russell, an adoptive parent, said one day she looked around her home and thought there was enough room for someone else to live there.
She and her husband decided to look into becoming foster parents. She simply wanted to provide a home for children until they returned to their families.
"I got some foster children, little ones, babies," Russell said. "One was almost 2, the other almost 4. Then I got a sister and a brother, ages 4 and 5. I wasn't going to adopt no kids, but those first two made me change my mind."
Now that Russell is an adoptive parent, she couldn't imagine what her life would be without those children.
"Those kids keep me going," Russell continued. "They help me as well as me helping them. I wouldn't give nothing for it.
"You'll have ups and downs, but it's all a part of raising kids. I wish I could get more of them, but my house isn't big enough. I'm handling seven kids, and I think that's sufficient for me right now."
Kim Marques Graley was adopted when she was a teenager. When she was 12, she entered foster care, and for the next four years, she remained in state custody.
"I was such a troubled youth that no one really wanted to take me on," Graley explained. "I was a challenge, at best. I was angry.
"I was very blessed and have been for the past 24 years to have a forever family. It is so dear to my heart, and a wonderful memory, the day they asked me to be a part of their family.
"My mom and dad are amazing people and they knew God wanted them to take me on. I believe it was God, otherwise they were insane, because they had five other children of their own. I am so fortunate. I'm their baby. I'm somebody's little girl. I'm daddy's little girl.
"I never thought I would have that opportunity. These children deserve to know that they are valued, that they are loved. Whether they are 3 or 13, they need to know that they are loved. They need someone to tell them they are special. I thank God my parents did that for me. I wouldn't be standing here today without them."
Graley and her husband are in the process of adopting a 2-year-old.
Jackie Perkins, Office of Community Services administrator, said November is a time to honor local foster and adoptive parents.
"We also want to share the message for the need of more families for our children who are available for adoption," Perkins said. "This is the perfect time to thank them because this is the season where we all stop and pause on Thanksgiving to thank the Lord for our blessings."
"Our adoptive and foster families have given so much of their time and energy to provide homes for children," she said.
This year's theme for National Adoption Month is "Answering the Call of Building Families through Adoption."
She said many local families have answered that call, but OCS needs many more to provide homes for older children and teenagers.
"Right now in this area, there are children waiting for homes," Perkins said. "They dream of having a permanent family that they can call their own. Some of the kids keep dreaming because they are really scared to hope. It is almost too difficult for some to believe it would ever actually happen for them, so they keep dreaming. We want to make sure their dreams come true."
Rev. Shane Creech of The Assembly of West Monroe knows firsthand the difference adoptive and foster parents can make in a child's life. He and his wife took in a 17-year-old girl to mentor and treat as their own daughter. She was on her way to Green Oaks Detention Center following her mother's death.
"Now she's in our discipleship program and working to get her GED and go to college," Creech said. "It makes a difference in a child's life when you take them into your home and you take them into your heart. I salute all of our adoptive and foster families. I know it takes time and it takes sacrifice, but if each and every one of us would just take time for one child, I believe we could affect a change in a generation of children."
Beth Green, OCS foster/adoptive home recruiter, said there are more than 500,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.
In Louisiana, there are more than 5,000 children in foster care.
Green knows not everyone can be a foster or adoptive parent for a child in need. But, she said each person can spread the message that there are many children who need homes. People who cannot provide a home themselves can always encourage others to become foster and adoptive parents, she said.
For more information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, call the Office of Community Services at 362-3362, or go to www.fostercare.la.gov.