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Same-sex adoption focus of Center seminar
by Vern Hester

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Let it Be Us and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ( DCFS ) hosted a seminar on foster care and adoption at Center on Halsted on June 29.

The event was aimed at the LGBTQ community, Let it Be Us Board Chair Bob Noonan said as his organizations aim is to court communities that have been discriminated against or excluded. The event featured a short introductory video; a testimonial from Stephan Westman, a single out father who is currently fostering three small boys; a panel discussion; a testimonial from a young gay man who has graduated out of foster care; and a Q&A segment that featured several speakers from organizations involved in the process of foster care and adoption.

After Noonan opened the presentation with introductions of the speakers, he introduced Westman, who spoke about his experiences fostering three young brothers ( with the oldest being 6 years old ). As the brothers giggled and frolicked in front of him, Westman spoke about his decision to include the birth mother in the process, although he had doubts at first: "I made a commitment to have my heart fully open to the birth parents but at first it was hard. With time I came to respect her and she has given me full guardianship. The one thing I can suggest is to keep your heart open..."

Later, several representatives from various organizations spoke about the processes involved in foster care and adoption. A major facet of the seminar was the presence of DCFS whose representatives painted a seldom seen picture of what the organization does. Anika Todd, the statewide recruitment and resource administrator for DCFS, spoke about the difficulty of making the right decisions for children on such a large scale. Maria Nonos of The Center for Law and Social Work spoke about the Heart Gallery, which features a photographic display of every child in the state of Illinois who is available for adoption, while Michael Ann Wiley of Uhlich Children's Advantage Network ( UCAN ) and Renee Lehocky spoke about specialized care.

A major part of the seminar was Naheige Lewis, a 22-year-old gay man who had been in the foster care system for roughly half of his life. Starting his segment off by thanking everyone in attendance "from all the children looking to be loved," he spoke about being moved around in foster care seven different times by the time he was 8 years old. When he was adopted at the age of 13, he said the experience changed his life. He now works at UCAN as a counselor. During the Q&A, he spoke about his coming out, saying, "So I had to deal with [my sexuality] and that creates a level of difficulty because you don't know how that will be accepted." He spoke about the trend of gay children who are thrown out of their homes for being LGBTQ and about how one prospective foster parent had a problem with his sexuality.

Before and after the panel discussion and question and answer segment, members of the audience were given the chance to speak with adoption organizations and agencies including Lawrence Hall, UCAN, Camelot Care Centers, Kaleidoscope, Let it Be Us, Center for Law and Social Work, Chile Serv, DCFS and Child Serv.

The next seminar with Let it Be Us is scheduled for Saturday, July 28, at St. Theres of Avila Church, 1037 W. Armitage Ave.

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