Originally created 05/11/02

Couple aid children in need of love, home



Roosevelt Walden wanted to be a full-time fisherman and a part-time church organist after retiring from the ministry in New York City in 1989.

But over the years, his boat gathered dust behind his Martinez home while he and his wife, Cheryl, took up the slack for other families - first as foster parents, then as adoptive ones.

Two state agencies, the Georgia State Office of Adoptions and the Division of Family and Children Services, are betting there are more Augusta-area families like the Waldens - couples or singles willing to give a child a home.

Singles, age 25 or older, or couples who are interested in learning more about giving foster or permanent care are invited to a Family Funfest at Pendleton King Park on Kissingbower Road between noon and 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18.

Besides an afternoon of food, games and entertainment, agency representatives will explain foster care and adoption opportunities. Georgia has approximately 15,000 children in its care, with about 275 available for adoption.

"The picture has changed for adoption," said Dan Almeter, regional adoption coordinator with the Georgia Office of Adoptions in Augusta.

Older children, rather than babies, are more likely to need placement. The state will place children with single parents - their households might even be better than a two-parent home if a child has experienced sexual abuse, he said.

Care-givers must be self-supporting and emotionally stable. The government gives assistance through stipends and other resources, seminars and support groups.

"Parents expect children to be grateful for taking them in," Mr. Almeter said, but these children often don't show that immediately. Feelings of anger and depression are common among children taken from their families. Care-givers need good communication skills to help them over the rough spots.

The Waldens knew their job was to get the children ready to go back home, said the minister, who has opened his home to about 30 foster children. "The gift of love is the No. 1 need. Once you love someone - even if you can't understand them - if you keep loving them, it has got to take effect."

The Waldens have taken in newborns and older children, such as the child who currently lives with them during the week and goes home on weekends.

One toddler, a girl, came with "a multitude of problems" a few years ago, Mrs. Walden said. "For all we went through when she was so small - it could not have worked out any other way but for us to adopt her."

Christina, now 8, came to live with the Waldens shortly after her first birthday. She weighed only 13 pounds. The child required many operations, from hernia repair to eye surgery, to correct problems common to children born prematurely - Christina had weighed about 24 ounces at birth.

She "is doing wonderfully well now," Mrs. Walden said. Christina wants to ride her bike to Westmont Elementary School in August when she starts fourth grade.

Rajiyah Smalls 13, a sixth-grader at Columbia Middle School, is their ward. She was living with her grandmother in New York until the woman, a life-long friend of Mrs. Walden's, became too ill to care for her.

Mrs. Walden, who bore a son, always wanted more children, and now she has them, she said. "When I think how badly I wanted a girl (or even) another child ... The Bible has always said you are going to have the desire of your heart, if you put the Lord first."

The Lord "worked it all out," she said. "I have so many children - they are all over the place - when they call, they still call me Mom."

For more information, call the Georgia Office of Adoptions at (877) 210-5437 or see the Web site www.adoptions.dhr.state.ga.us.

ADOPTION INFORMATION

WHO: Georgia State Office of Adoptions, Division of Family and Children Services

WHAT: Adoption/Foster Care Awareness Funfest

WHERE: Pendleton King Park on Kissingbower Road

WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18

COST: free

PHONE: (877) 210-5437

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.