Tammy Hollingsworth expects adoptions to take off in Augusta soon.
That’s because a lot has changed for adoptive families this year.
“Last year, we had so many families in Augusta call our office in Atlanta,” said Hollingsworth, a regional adoption specialist for Bethany Christian Services. “They were turning families away. You have to live within 100 miles of an office.”
Hollingsworth, a social worker for more than 20 years, runs a new satellite office for the private adoption agency. It opened July 1 in Augusta.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “A year ago, there wasn’t a single private adoption agency in Augusta. Now, there are two.”
After months of fundraising, Covenant Care Services has hired its first caseworker to work exclusively with families in the Augusta area.
November is National Adoption Month. President Reagan declared a national Adoption Week in 1984, and it was expanded to the entire month of November under President Clinton in 1995.
The goal is not only to raise awareness about the number of children in need of homes, but also to share resources and dispel myths about adoption, said Lynn Barmore, the director of the Richmond County Department of Family and Children Services.
Earlier this month, she sent a letter to area churches asking them to publicize National Adoption Month. Barmore said several included fliers in their Sunday bulletins with the message: “Adoptive Families are needed! Become a Foster or Adoptive parent!”
In the lobby of the Richmond County DFCS office, there’s a “balloon bouquet” with one balloon for each child adopted this year.
“Richmond County has successfully completed 32 adoptions,” Barmore said. “We have about five weeks to go and anticipate this number to increase.”
Currently, 158 children in Richmond County are in foster care. Barmore said about 52 are, or are about to become, available for adoption, including 31 who are already in the process.
“That’s an important thing for us to celebrate,” she said. “November is important for us but, honestly, we’re always advertising in the community. We get inquiries for foster and adoptive parents year-round. The need is year-round.”
Organizations such as Reaching Hands Adoption Ministry use November to plan their largest fundraising events.
The ministry of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta held its fourth annual banquet this month, raising $27,000 for grants that help Christian families with their adoption expenses.
In three years, the ministry has awarded grants to 17 families adopting 19 children from five countries, said David Bullington, who volunteers with the ministry with his wife, Leslie.
The Bullingtons have three children: Faith, 6; Davis, who is 3 and was adopted from Ethiopia in 2009; and Pearl, who is 18 months old and was adopted from China in March.
“Reaching Hands is trying to be a resource. We want to be there for families interested in learning about adoption,” David Bullington said.
More often than not, those interested in adopting just don’t know where to start, Leslie Bullington said.
“They don’t know other people who have done it,” she said. “Hopefully, with our family and all the families involved in Reaching Hands, they see people making it work. We say, ‘Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith.’ Once you meet families who have done it, it becomes less overwhelming.”
Help for birth mothers
In her new job as a birth-mother caseworker for Covenant Care Services, Thea Barry aids women on the other end of the adoption process.
The Augusta native and Augusta State University graduate started with the private adoption agency in June. While Covenant Care has previously served women in Augusta, its closest caseworker was based in Macon, Ga.
Local supporters of the nonprofit raised $50,000 in 1½ years for the new position, with hopes of eventually establishing a standalone office in Augusta.
Since June, Barry has worked with nine pregnant women who have chosen adoption.
“We want to talk to them about their options and, as a Christian agency, we want them to choose life, but our priority is being there for them,” Barry said. “We go to appointments and buy maternity clothes. If she’s young, we’ll be there with a girl when she has to tell her parents she’s pregnant.”
Babies born to women in Augusta are adopted by families elsewhere in the state, Barry said. The costs vary, and both Covenant Care and Bethany operate on sliding-fee scales.
It’s not uncommon for a private, domestic adoption to cost $12,000 to $20,000 or an international adoption to cost upwards of $30,000, Hollingsworth said.
“It’s a complicated process, but we’re here to walk people through it,” she said.
On Tuesday, Bethany Christian Services will hold a workshop for families interested in adoption at Burns Memorial United Methodist Church.
“It’s not for everybody, but I always tell people to pray about it. Let your heart lead you,” Hollingsworth said. “You might surprise yourself.”
Hollingsworth urges families to learn more about the need for adoption in their own community.
“We need to do more education in our country about adoption,” she said. “Adoption isn’t about just taking somebody’s child and putting them in a new home. It’s about an expectant mother making a difficult choice for her baby. We are talking about a woman who is making the gutsiest decisions of her entire life. She’s not giving up her child. She’s giving him a better life.”
“My desire is to see a passion for adoption grow, and not only for adoption, but the birth mothers,” she said. “It is a strong, courageous woman who makes that choice. That’s something we celebrate this month.”