Heart Gallery of Sacramento, Giving Hearts a Home

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Heart Gallery of Sacramento Children's Photos
Media Articles-Parent Magazine

Still at 15, "My dream is to have a mother"

Meant to Be (November 2006, www.sacramentoparent.com/heart_gallery.htm)
By Juliana Pugliese

Like most couples, Ty and Catherine Rowe expected that they would be able to start their family whenever the time felt right, but when that time finally came, they discovered that Catherine was infertile.  Asked about the measures they took in trying to get pregnant, Catherine summed it up by saying, “We went through basically the whole gamut.” Two years ago, in January, frustrated with fertility treatments and beginning to feel “like a guinea pig,” Catherine was ready to adopt. The couple began their search by looking into international adoption. Like most people, Catherine was set on adopting an infant at first; Ty was hopeful to find a boy.  They began with three-hour training sessions, once a week, through Placer County’s Adoption and Foster Care Program, Placer Kids. In these sessions they would learn “how the system works,” how to care for neglected or abused children, and some of the different levels of commitment involved: weekend care (housing a child for the weekend in transition between foster homes), foster care, foster care with the option to adopt, and permanent adoption. Catherine and Ty chose the Foster-to-Adopt program. Today, just a year after meeting their kids for the first time, they are the happy parents of not one but three children, two boys and a girl, ages 5, 6 and 7, all siblings and able to grow up together in a loving, safe home now, thanks to the Rowes.

The Rowes searched patiently. They knew they wanted to eventually have more than one child, so when Ty suggested they adopt two at a time, they started looking at sibling sets and reflecting on all the wonderful kids they had met through the Placer County Receiving Home. Ty has hosted an annual holiday dinner for children in the Placer County Receiving Home since 1996, before he even met Catherine, at his restaurant, Bootleggers, in Old Town Auburn. The Receiving Home is a 24-hour emergency shelter that houses and cares for neglected, abused or abandoned children while more permanent care is arranged. The County tries to place children with their families for the holidays, but for those kids unable to go home, their Christmas dinner at the restaurant is a much-needed source of holiday cheer. Ty serves exactly what the kids want: "If they want Chinese, then I'll have one of my staff go pick up Chinese.  If they want pizza, then we'll order from Old Town Pizza.  If they want filet mignon...” In addition to their favorite meal, the kids receive presents donated by supporters from local businesses. (Past donations have included a three-foot-tall chocolate Santa from local candy shops and name-brand clothes from Auburn skate shop Boards ‘N Motion.) “My wife does sterling necklaces for girls," Ty told me. (Catherine is a jewelry designer who owns and runs her own business, Oz! Gallery, also in Old Town Auburn.) Ty also collects a wish list from each child, along with their ages and genders. At the end of the night, the servers pool all their tips together, and Ty matches the total; he and his staff then shop for gifts for the children. Having that experience, Catherine realized, “There are so many great kids out there that need homes, not only infants, but toddlers and teenagers as well.”  The Rowes discovered that there were many more children eligible for adoption in Sacramento County, so they took their search there, hoping to find at least two siblings to adopt.

Asked why she was set on adopting an infant at first, Catherine explained that she wanted to be part of those earliest, most formative years.  She also didn’t want to miss “those firsts” (first steps, first words, etc.), “but,” Catherine continued, “we’ve had a lot of firsts with them.” Just in the past year, they have taken the kids on their first trip to the ocean, their first trip to the snow, and other travel firsts.  Almost every day, she said, brings something new to share with their children.  It’s a reminder that throughout every stage of childhood, and even adulthood, there are first experiences that allow kids to benefit from their parents’ guidance and allow parents to share in their children’s discoveries and sense of wonder.  “We have absolutely no regrets,” Catherine said. In fact, she was quick to point out that skipping the newborn stage also meant getting to skip midnight feedings, diaper duty and the like.  “We have friends who tell us, ‘These kids really hit the parental jackpot,’ but [Ty and I] feel like we hit the jackpot!  …I never knew I could love anyone as much as I love them.”

It was October of 2005 when the Rowes looked through Sacramento County’s photographs of eligible kids. I asked Catherine what drew them to their kids in particular. “They’re very animated kids,” said Catherine, “and the photos of them were very animated.” That may be, in part, because Catherine and Ty’s three children were part of the first Sacramento Heart Gallery. The Heart Gallery is an exhibit of kids’ portraits taken by professional photographers who volunteer their talents to try and capture each child’s unique personality and the special bonds that exist between the siblings. Held for the first time last year in Sacramento, the event is aimed at bringing extra attention to kids with special adoption needs, kids like Catherine and Ty’s children, who are part of a group of siblings, or older kids, who often get overlooked.

She remembered laughing and smiling with Ty as they gazed at the youngest child’s photo, and then the next one, and then the next one… Meeting their kids for the first time only deepened the impression made by those photographs.  “We fell in love with these kids,” said Catherine, “and the thought of not having them- even if they were going back to a great situation- was just… not even something we wanted to consider.” The Rowes initiated the adoption process after that first meeting, in which they carved pumpkins and strung beads with the kids.  They were- and still are- extremely grateful to Sacramento County adoption specialist, Helen Barber, their kids’ social worker.

Considering how many children in the foster care system have survived abuse, neglect or the loss of their parents, it is obvious how important it is for social workers to keep siblings together, yet it can be incredibly challenging to find adoptive parents willing to bring more than one child at a time into their families. Older children face a similar challenge finding parents. That is why Barber and others are so enthusiastic about the Heart Gallery. "Government is a very poor parent,” Ms. Barber said.  “Kids need families.  We don't find children for the families.  We find families for the children." 
Clearly, the kids’ needs come first; at the same time, Barber was extremely supportive of Catherine and Ty, helping them navigate the public foster care system and assuaging any fears that came up: “I tell them not to worry unless I’m worrying.”  More than once during our conversation, she said, "Things can seem very daunting sometimes." But working with the Rowes was easy, according to Barber, because they were committed from the beginning. "It was a perfect match.  They were flexible and already have amazing parenting skills.  I'm thrilled with the family." 

The Rowes attended last year’s Heart Gallery event, along with other people interested in adopting. There they got to see the kids for the second time, meet with Helen Barber again, and meet the kids’ foster mother. “They had really great foster care from a woman in Sacramento,” said Catherine. This year’s event dinner, held Saturday, October 28, allowed the public to again view photos of local kids waiting for families (like those you see on the pages you’re holding), and speak with social workers about the kids, their backgrounds, and the adoption process. Describing her hopes for the future of Sacramento County, Helen Barber said, "My goal is that we don't have teenagers in foster care going from home to home any longer.” 

The Rowe children moved in with Ty and Catherine last December, after about a month of gradually increasing their time spent together as a family, building up to sleep-overs and weekends, doing all they could to ease the transition for the kids.  Catherine and Ty were both present at the children’s last meeting with their biological mother, a moment which Catherine described as “very emotionally charged.”  Catherine recalled, “She shook Ty’s hand, and then she just came over to me and gave me a long, long, long hug. She said [giving her children up] was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but she knew it was the right thing to do.”  That encounter not only created some important closure for the kids (Catherine’s first concern), but it also helped Catherine gain some understanding, and have more compassion, for the children’s birth mother, who was particularly grateful (tearfully grateful) to the Rowes for giving her kids a home that kept them together. Aside from that “really hard, but… important” goodbye, the kids’ transition was made much easier because they had each other. Catherine told me, “They picked their rooms, and, basically, that was it.”  They were home.  It took a little more time for Catherine and Ty to adjust to the whirlwind of parenting. “We affectionately refer to them as ‘The Bermuda Triangle,’” Catherine told me, “because they’re just so tight… They do everything together… They’re clearly meant to be together, and clearly meant to be with us as a family.”

Find out more about Sacramento’s Heart Gallery at SacHeartGallery.org.

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