Redstone couple’s adoptions, foster care reunite five siblings
The Aspen Times
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a song that should resonate for the Wofford family, of Redstone, this week.
Mary Ann and Bob Wofford have gone to extraordinary lengths to reunite five children who were scattered among three foster homes in the Front Range and the Eastern Plains of Colorado.
The Woffords became foster parents and adopted the two youngest girls among the five children in 2012. After adding Ali, now 4 years old, and Lilly, now 6, to their family, they learned the girls had three older siblings — one sister and two brothers — that were residing in other foster homes. The Woffords took the administrative steps necessary to become foster parents for 9-year-old Aniayh in January. They are in the process of adopting her.
But even with that step, the family wasn’t complete.
“We always had it in the back of our heads — ‘what about the boys, what about the boys?’” Mary Ann said.
They stayed persistent about finding a way to make ends meet well enough to bring the boys to Redstone. Israel, 10, and Isaiah, 11, visited their three sisters and the Woffords in Redstone for about 30 days during the summer. The boys were as excited about the prospect of moving to Redstone as the Woffords were to have them. The dream comes true for all Friday when the boys come to Redstone for good and the five children, who were apart for more than three years, are back together.
“They say the sibling bond is the most lasting bond of a person’s life,” Mary Ann said.
Eight is exactly enough
In many respects, the Woffords were a typical family scrapping by to make life work in the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys. They were raising their three biological children while patching together various jobs. Times were tough for them, like many, during the recession.
“We started reading the Bible and we realized we were missing what we should be doing,” Mary Ann said. “We don’t think everybody should adopt, but we can all love.”
They prayed to find inspiration, and decided in 2011 it was their mission to help children caught in foster care with limited prospects for being adopted. A significant number of children in foster care “age out” — they bounce around foster homes, reach age 18 before finding a permanent home, according to studies. Statistics also show that siblings who are separated in foster homes are more susceptible to suffer emotional and behavioral issues, according to the Woffords.
But adoption wasn’t so simple. Although so many children in foster homes are in need of adoption, the process isn’t quick or easy for someone living in a different county from where the children reside, the Woffords said. Top of the Trail child placement services in Montrose helped get them on track. It connects parents willing to adopt with foster children and serves as the caseworker. After one year, the Woffords obtained their license to be foster parents after background checks and home visits.
Mary Ann and Bob were thinking at the time that it would be nice to foster and adopt a boy 8 to 10 years old. That would be the perfect blend for their own children, Abriah, then 15, Justice, then 13, and Sam, then 11.
Instead of one boy, the Woffords were approached with a request to foster two girls, toddler age. Five days after the call, Ali and Lilly were transplanted in Redstone — and immediately transplanted into the Woffords’ hearts. They adopted the girls in August 2012. Even with successful fostering, it takes a minimum of six months to complete an adoption, they said.
The Woffords declined to discuss the circumstances that led to the kids being taken out of their original home. The kids were living in Colorado at the time, they said.
Girls miss their siblings
Despite being happy in a stable new home, the young girls talked about how much they missed their sister and brothers, Bob said. After working with family services officials, the Woffords were able to arrange a meeting among all of the five displaced children. The visit occurred in 2012 at a Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza parlor in the Denver area.
“The older kids jumped out of their seats,” Bob said. “It was an exciting moment for them.”
The Woffords knew it would be best for the kids to be together. They were able to add Aniayh to their family, thanks to tightening their belts and making lifestyle adjustments to accommodate their growing family. They moved from their 800-square-foot cottage on Redstone Boulevard to the first floor of Bob’s dad’s house a few doors down.
Aniayh meshed well with the family, but she immediately begged them to bring the girls’ brothers into the fold, as well. The couple wanted to help, but with six kids already, they felt hamstrung.
Bob works for an Internet start-up firm in Carbondale that tests products. Mary Ann is a part-time nanny. They also are property managers at a handful of second homes in the Redstone area and they maintain a town park.
“We knew we couldn’t do it financially,” Mary Ann said.
A homeowner that they work for had different visions and urged them to dig deeper to try to make it work. Mary Ann said her resolve was bolstered by encouragement from her daughter Justice. “She said, ‘Easy isn’t fun. You need to keep going,’” Mary Ann said.
Friends create nonprofit to help
Friends of the Woffords created Stepping Stones of the Roaring Fork Valley, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Carbondale, to raise funds to help remodel the house to accommodate all the children and aid their ongoing food and clothing costs. Most importantly, the efforts of their friends and other contributors touched by their story have given the Woffords the confidence that they can handle bringing two more children into their family.
Brooke Coon, a family friend and artist, is one of several friends helping out the Woffords because she’s inspired by what they’re doing. She said it is only fitting that the Woffords are adopting five kids since they seem to adopt everyone they come in contact with anyway.
“They’re just born to adopt,” Coon said.
The goal of Stepping Stones is to raise $70,000, which includes about $28,000 to reconfigure the residence and add bedrooms. They have accomplished about 74 percent of the goal. Contributions included a $14,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a regular contributor to National Public Radio, among other causes.
Stepping Stones is about $20,000 short of the overall goal.
Bob acknowledged he thinks of “simpler times” in his life. With his oldest biological children out of high school and the others in their junior and sophomore years of high school, they were close to being empty nesters and more financially secure. They decided helping children in foster care was more important than traveling down easy street.
“It’s never been about making a bunch of money,” Bob said. “It’s about doing the right thing, I guess.”
Sam and Justice said they don’t mind sharing the affection of their parents. They enjoyed gaining sisters and, soon, brothers.
“It’s an exciting experience to say the least,” Sam said.
Justice helps get the kids ready for school, paints her sisters’ nails and eases her mom’s burden of household chores.
The three adopted girls were happy as clams on a day when a newspaper reporter and photographer visited their house. They beamed most of the time and only occasionally interrupted a rousing card game of Uno with Sam and Justice to jump into the arms of one parent or another.
Mary Ann said “the love from these guys” is what makes the challenges of adopting five kids worthwhile while struggling to make ends meet.
“I’d feel like I was missing something without them,” she said.
More on the Woffords’ story and instructions for donations can be found at http://trappedinfostercare.org/cause/the-isaiah-and-israel-fund.
Members of the valley’s Jewish community gathered at the Albright Pavilion at Aspen Meadows Thursday for their second annual menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate and acknowledge the first day of Hanukkah.