Nathan and Ana were formally adopted this week by Erin and Mike Romans of Jamestown after years in foster care.
But the children haven’t forgotten when they were removed from their biological homes, said Erin. Each came from a different family - and each child left with nothing but what he or she was wearing when removed from the home.
Nathan came to stay with Erin and Mike in 2016; Ana, in 2019.
“Both kids have been in foster care for over five years,” Erin said.
Erin said she and Mike had been talking with Nathan, 8, and Ana, 9, about their adoption and celebrating it in some way, and the children themselves came up with a toy drive.
“Originally Nathan had thought of it,” Erin said. “He had just said, ‘Mom, do people usually bring us gifts?’ and I said, 'Yeah, there might be people who bring you gifts.' And he said, ‘I think we should give whatever gifts we get to kids in foster care who don’t have anything.’”
Erin thought that was a great idea. Then Ana suggested a toy drive.
“Both Ana and Nathan remember - and still talk about - being removed, the day they were removed from their home and they weren’t allowed to bring anything other than the clothes they were wearing,” Erin said.
That’s also not unusual, she said.
“That’s very common, actually, especially this day and age when kids are removed due to drug exposure, many children are forced to just leave everything behind,” she said.
When the children came to the social services office, they were given a blanket and a small stuffed animal, Erin said.
“... Nathan had said that it was really hard for him to leave all of his stuff behind, it made him really, really sad that he had to leave all of his toys behind, his favorite stuffed animals, his favorite blankets,” Erin said.
Ana and Nathan said they wanted other kids who had to be removed from their home to be able to come to social services and pick out toys that could be theirs, something that would be their own after losing everything.
Originally the family planned to tell people about the toy drive on the back of an invitation to the children’s adoption celebration. But then Ana and Nathan thought about getting kids involved from their school, Lincoln Elementary.
”They wanted to ask their classmates to do it,” Erin said. The parents visited with the principal, Sherry Schmidt, and from there the toy drive "just blossomed," Schmidt said.
“We just put the word out to the kids and the parents and have had a really, really good response,” Schmidt said.
The toy drive at the school has been going on for a week and Schmidt said a "trunkful" has been collected.
Schmidt said the school uses “greatness” to build character traits in children and celebrate them. This week, for example, the school was using the “greatness of punctuality,” such as turning in assignments on time and being on time for class. The toy drive project was about the greatness of compassion, she said and helping kids in their time of need.
“It’s just been great, I think, as far as all around teaching kids to care for each other and not all kids come from the same backgrounds," Schmidt said, "... and if we can help make that better, then it’s just all-around good."
Erin also posted the toy drive to social media and said the response has been "amazing.”
“They (Ana and Nathan) have high hopes that they can fill a truck full of toys and I think we’re to the point we’re going to have more than a truck,” she said.
People interested in contributing to the toy drive may drop toys off during regular business hours at Babb’s Coffee House or from 5 to 7 p.m. at I Will Fitness & Training. The toy drive continues through Monday. After that, people interested in donating are asked to contact their local social services office and find out if there is still a need, Erin said.
Due to COVID, the preference is for people to donate new toys for children from birth through age 15, Erin said, but gently used clean toys are also being accepted.
Also being sought are suitcases and duffel bags in good condition. The need is great for them also, Erin said.
“... so many kids when they are forced to leave a home, anything that they’re allowed to take with is just typically shoved into a garbage bag, so to avoid having kids being forced to use garbage bags for their belongings, duffel bags and suitcases are a huge need as well,” Erin said.
Erin said the children will present the collected toys, suitcases and duffel bags to Mandi Freije, lead foster care worker in the Stutsman County office of Buffalo Bridges Human Service Zone, previously known as Stutsman County Social Services. Buffalo Bridges Human Service Zone now includes Stutsman and Barnes counties. Depending on the volume of items donated, some may be given to other social service agencies in area counties, Erin said.
“I think what they’re doing is wonderful,” Freije said of the children’s toy drive.
Foster homes needed
Erin encourages people who are interested in being a foster parent to contact Buffalo Bridges Human Service Zone. Mike and Erin have been foster parents for almost five years, she said.
“Mike and I firmly believe that we were blessed with infertility in the sense that this is our way to give back,” she said. “And this is our way to help kids whether it be they’re only in our home for a short amount of time or a long period of time.”
Freije said there are on a given day about 40 children in foster care in the area.
“We’re in need of foster homes and people can help out in lots of different ways,” she said. That can range from long term to short term or on an emergency basis.
Ana and Nathan were only expected to stay for a few days when each child came into their home, Erin said.
“Obviously, that didn’t happen because other foster homes fell through, other placements didn’t work out," she said. "So we look at this as an opportunity to give back, an opportunity to help kids and we know that had we had biological children of our own this ... wouldn’t have been the journey that we really feel got placed in front of us - and we wouldn’t change it for anything.”
The adoption celebration for Ana and Nathan with others will likely be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Erin said.
Mike and Erin have four children with the adoption of Ana and Nathan. Their two other children, Jeremiah, 10, and Gabby, 14, were also adopted, Erin said.
‘“I am so crazy proud of these kids,” she said. “Both of them are - they are just so strong and they have been through so much in their short lives and (are) so resilient, so, so resilient. And so just watching them grow into the kid that they have become and just being able to see the excitement on their faces to be able to give back is so amazing.”