Matt and Tacy Riehm were reluctant to adopt, but not for the reason you might think.
“When Tacy came to me and said she wanted to adopt I was … you know, I love family,” Matt said. “Family’s great, but I was really concerned about the cost.”
His concern was not the lifelong expenses of raising a child. Matt knew they would find a way to provide, as they have done for their three biological children. What held Matt and Tacy back was the initial price they’d have to pay to adopt.
The average cost of domestic adoption ranges from $15,000 to $40,000, according to 2016 estimates by Child Welfare Information Gateway, operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. International adoptions range from $20,000 to $50,000.
It takes a village
Enter Hank Fortener, who has made it his mission to remove this barrier to adoption.
Hank knows intimately what it means to open your family to others. While he was growing up, his parents adopted eight children from five different countries. They also brought 36 foster kids into their home over a seven-year period.
“What I learned growing up,” Hank said, “is that your family becomes the people that you choose.”
But for many families, like the Riehms, choosing to adopt was not enough. That initial financial barrier often keeps wanting families and adoptable children apart. Hank’s solution was for a broader community to carry that burden together, rewriting the old adage to say “It takes a village to adopt a child.”
In 2012 he launched AdoptTogether, a crowdsourcing funding platform that helps families raise money for adoptions. Once a family’s profile is vetted, their page goes live. It can then be shared far and wide on social media.
When the Riehms signed up with AdoptTogether, friends, family and strangers donated $36,000 to help them adopt Gregory, a boy from Haiti.
“It is the most humbling experience we have ever been through.” Tacy said. “It has brought a whole community toward this.”
Not only was Tacy overwhelmed by the number of friends, church members and neighbors who contributed, but she was also surprised how much they have stayed involved.
“Everyone wants updates on how Gregory is doing,” Tacy said, “and friends in the community can’t wait to meet him.”
Fortener said he understands this feeling all too well, as he would often would try to find and stay in touch with the foster kids that stayed briefly in his home when he was young.
“If you give someone an opportunity to get involved, they will want to stay a part of it,” Fortener said.
And this outpouring of support has made a difference. In five years, donors contributed more than $10 million through AdoptTogether, helping 2,400 families bring an adopted child home.
“AdoptTogether means that if you want to adopt, you can,” Fortener said. ” If you want to help someone adopt, to make a family whole, you can.”
Fortener and AdoptTogether helped launch World Adoption Day in 2015. This annual Nov. 9 celebration raises awareness, celebrates adopted children and all the families that have been touched by adoption. Around the world, participants draw smiley faces on their hands to share in photos with the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay.
For Fortener, those smiley faces are positive symbols of something that once carried a stigma. Fortener’s grandfather Charles was adopted in 1929, and for a long time his family kept it a secret. Fortener’s parents, the next generation, embraced adoption openly, but he grew up knowing how rare and odd it seemed to others.
Now it is his generation’s turn, Fortener — and parents like the Riehms — see society not just embracing and encouraging adoption, but also making it financially possible.
“Now we get to celebrate together how a family can be brought together in so many different ways,” Fortener said.