When Mandy Gallagher first approached her husband Mike seriously about taking steps towards adoption, they had three of their own biological children at home.
“I’m embarrassed and humbled to admit this, but I thought adoption was a bad idea,” Mike said candidly in an interview from his office in Hawaii. “I didn’t want to get stuck raising another man’s kid.”
But almost from the moment Mike and Mandy met at Lake Forest High School, he knew she had a great love and passion for orphans. “Adoption for me was a step of faith,” Mike said. “For Mandy, it was a step of love.”
In what the couple described as happening almost over night, they went from a family of five to a family of eight—adopting Hannah from China and Ellie and Eli, twins from Uganda.
“Now, everyday is a step of love for me,” Mike said. “These children are treasures and I love them every bit as much as my biological children. And our oldest three children who we have asked a lot of are always asking when we’ll adopt again. ”
Mike and Mandy’s commitment to orphans didn’t stop with their own adoption stories. They founded Chosen & Dearly Loved, an organization with the mission to find permanent homes for orphans with special needs. Their foundation strives to provide adoption grants, family support, advocacy for adoptive families, and education for those for a child with special needs.
“Our vision is for every child, whatever special needs they may have, to have a loving, permanent, equipped family,” Mike explains. “Ideally this can be their birth family or extended family. This is our priority for our existing work in Uganda and Cambodia, and for our developing work in Kenya and China. And for children whose only hope for having a family is through adoption, we have helped make this possible for more than 150 children in recent years—19 of whom are now in loving families in Illinois and surrounding states.” Mike hopes that by the end of 2017, this number will surpass 400 adopted children with American families, and thousands of children preserved in local families in the other nations Chosen & Dearly Loved is working with.
To this end, Chosen & Dearly Loved hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year, in different parts of the country. On Tuesday, October 18, Mandy’s brother and sister-in-law, Billy and Sondra Douglass of Lake Forest, will host a Chosen & Dearly Loved fundraiser at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel with legendary football coach Lou Holtz as its keynote speaker.
“This foundation provides adoption grants to families wanting to adopt and there are so many special needs children that need and want to be adopted,” says Sondra. “I am humbled by the work of Chosen & Dearly Loved. Mandy and Mike truly took a step of faith and love when they adopted three kids with special needs. What a blessing for these children and yet what a blessing for our entire family.”
Billy echoes Sondra’s sentiments. “Our family has been so positively impacted by Chosen & Dearly Loved that it is hard to put into words,” he says. “My sister and her husband have brought children into our lives that not a lot of people think about, orphans with special needs. And they didn’t just bring them into their charitable work, they adopted them into their immediate family. My life is absolutely better with Hannah, Eli, and Ellie in it. They are beautiful, fun, strong, smart and have so much to give in their lives. Besides the immediate joy they bring when they’re around, they have really helped ground and center me and my family. They’ve helped us identify what matters in life more than anything else—family and health.”
Chosen & Dearly Loved aims to be a champion for orphans and according to Mike, Coach Holtz will speak to this spirit of a champion at the October 18 event and “give a voice to the voiceless.”
When Mike reflects on the adoptions of his children, he admits that it hasn’t been easy. “Without a doubt, this has been one of my greatest challenges, but also one our greatest blessings. I get to be a dad to these children. How lucky am I?”