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Let Love Define Family

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Seven years ago, I walked in to my first Pop Luck Club meeting with two small foster children tightly grasping each index finger. The kids had just moved in with me the day before, and I had only heard about the group a few days before that. I understood that the Pop Luck Club is a Los Angeles based non-profit organization of gay dads, prospective dads, and their families. On that morning, I was trying to find my own footing and self-confidence in my new role as a freshly single, gay father of two. From the moment that I walked in to that first Pop Luck Club meeting and saw all the other gay dads and their families, I felt completely reassured. I knew I was on the right path to finding the strength I would need to be a good father to these two innocent children who had been signed over to my care.

Through my involvement in the Pop Luck Club, I met John Ireland, his husband and family. I learned quickly that John and I shared an affinity for the needs of children who, through no fault of their own, had ended up in an overburdened foster system. We also shared a passion for doing what we could to help other gay men realize their dream of fatherhood.

About five years later, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) invited me to represent the Pop Luck Club in the monthly meetings they lead as part of their new relationship with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's (HRC) "All Children-All Families" initiative. I had adopted my kids through DCFS, and regularly donated to HRC, but that was as much as I knew about the meetings or the invitation. For the first few months, I kept my mouth shut and listened. After about the fourth meeting, I called John and filled him in: "All of these foster and adoption agencies are trying to reach the LGBT community. They seriously want to recruit from our community. Today, they asked me what I thought about various LGBT recruitment event ideas and proposals, including whether they should sponsor a resource table at a lesbian biker ride."

"What did you tell them?" John asked.

"I told them that if they really wanted to target and reach the LGBT community that are most likely to foster and adopt, they would have to wait until next month for the presentation that you and I would make," I said.

"What proposal is that?" he laughed.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure," I answered. "But we have four weeks to figure it out."

At the next meeting, John and I stood up. We pitched a proposal that we believed would connect this pool of HRC "All Children-All Families"-certified agencies with the right segments of a large and diverse LGBT community that they were looking to recruit. We admitted that it was a rather radical departure from their previous recruitment efforts: Our proposal involved promoting the face of adoption by same-sex parents. We pitched the idea of flying these gay family images on large streetlight banners all across Los Angeles. We asked for the agencies' trust in broadcasting Public Service Announcements that would boldly invite the www.cwla.org Children's VOICE 7 LGBT community to a recruitment event. Then, with perhaps our most radical concept, we explained our idea that the entire multimedia campaign would direct people to a website that we would own. We explained how we would collect the data on all inquiries and prospective parents, then divide them back to our agency partners.

Finally, John and I finished the presentation and sat down. The entire room was quiet. Eyes were on us and many brows were raised. The lead agency director was rubbing her temples with her thumbs and looking down at the large conference table. After a long, awkward silence, she raised her head and said simply, "We are in."

At that instant, RaiseAChild.US was born. We established a mission statement to encourage the LGBT community to consider building families of their own through fostering and adoption. Today, our RaiseAChild.US website continues to build and collect a database of more than 1,000 interested and prospective parents from Reseda, California, to Rome, Italy. Plans for our 2013 November's National Adoption Awareness campaign includes RaiseAChild.US events in New York City, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. RaiseAChild.US has a strong national partnership with HRCs, and partners exclusively with "All Children-All Families"-certified foster/adoption agencies. We are especially proud of our crosspromotional relationship with ABC Family's bold hit drama series, "The Fosters."

In the United States, where so many children lack the basic comforts afforded by the stability of a safe, permanent home--including the secure knowledge that they are absolutely wanted and loved--LGBT people are the great, untapped resource that foster and adoption agencies need to embrace. Based on the numbers, RaiseAChild.US believes it is a real possibility that the LGBT community could be the answer for the reported 100,000+ children in foster care who are waiting for safe and loving adoptive homes. The Williams Institute, a UCLA thinktank devoted to LGBT research, has reported that 41% of lesbians and 52% of gay men want to have children. This 2007 study reports that "an estimated two million GLB people are interested in adopting" (see http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-Badgett-Macomber-Chambers-Final-Adoption-Report-Mar-2007.pdf). In the October, 2012 issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, another UCLA study concludes that "foster kids do equally well when adopted by gay, lesbian or heterosexual parents" (see http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/foster-childrenadopted-by-gay-239748.aspx). Beyond the research, I personally believe that many LGBT people share an inherent compassion, based on our own personal experiences, that can help us be terrific parents.

Within the short history of RaiseAChild.US, several foster/ adoption agency executives have shared that recruitment is one of their biggest challenges. It is certainly understandable. After years of trimming budgets, advertising and promotion probably still seem like a luxury. But the recruitment of quality prospective parents is what RaiseAChild.US is all about.

Our motto is "Let Love Define Family(TM)." Together, let us tap all resources for the good of the children. Join with RaiseAChild.US and let us solve the foster care issues in our country.

Rich Valenza is the co-founder and president of RaiseAChild.US, based in Hollywood, California.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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