After having three biological children, the Snyders wanted to adopt a fourth from China. But when their adoption process stalled, they decided to consider other options. Through their local church, they heard about a Chicago-based child services agency called Safe Families for Children, an organization that helps parents safely and voluntarily place their children during times of need. Thinking it might be a good interim solution, they decided to volunteer, never imagining it would lead to an adoption.
A few days after signing up, the Snyders found a package containing baby formula at their doorstep. They thought someone had made a mistake—until they received a phone call four days later, asking them to bring a newborn baby boy named Zachary into their home.
That baby formula, Lisa Snyder now says, signified something much larger. “One of the neatest parts of this is the unexpected nature of it. You get this call, and you’re instantly a parent,” she says.
When Zachary’s mother, who lives in Chicago, was unable to parent due to illness, the Department of Children and Family Services initially wanted to take full custody of him, Snyder says. But since Lisa and her husband, Doc, had already obtained a foster care license, which was necessary to adopt through China, Zachary was able to stay with the Snyders. Over the next few years, the family worked to develop a meaningful relationship with Zachary’s mother, who was eventually comfortable enough to allow the Snyders to adopt Zachary. Now, three-and-a-half years later, Zachary is their legal son.
Lisa can now see how everything that happened was part of a bigger purpose that would shape her family and impact the community. “It’s taught [my family] to love outside their biological lines,” she says. “It’s been a reciprocal gift in so many ways.”
The Snyders received mixed reactions from friends and neighbors. A few wondered how they could love foster children as much as their own. Others thought it was crazy to take in a child on a whim. Some parents would like to do the same, but feared they weren’t capable of raising another person’s child. But the Snyders welcomed the risk.
“Without risk, there’s nothing to talk about in this mundane life. When you put yourself out there, you gain so many blessings,” Lisa explains. “It’s been such an incredible journey for us.”
Northbrook resident Jen Shanahan has learned the same lessons—she and her family have cared for seven Safe Families children in the past few years. Like the Snyders, Jen and her husband, Jim, had three biological children and wanted to adopt a fourth. They decided to sign up for Safe Families to try taking in a child temporarily before committing to adoption.
Becoming a Safe Families volunteer has given Jen even more compassion for these families in need. Once, she worked with a mother who was not able to pick up her baby from the hospital. Jen used to wonder why some parents don’t take better care of their kids. It wasn’t until she got involved in this mother’s life that she realized some people do not have the resources to get by or a support system to help when unexpected hurdles get in the way.
“Their situations are much bigger and more difficult that I ever thought,” says Jen, who is currently caring for and hoping to adopt a 2-year-old girl named Mia, whose parents’ rights were terminated in January. “They don’t have the resources we have here in the North Shore.”
On the other hand, Jen has learned that it doesn’t take a big house or a tremendous number of resources to have a positive impact upon these kids. “The kids just need a place to be loved and nurtured. Everything else is a bonus.”
There are many opportunities to get involved with Safe Families for Children that do not necessarily involve taking in children. Volunteers are needed for short-term babysitting, as well as to provide donations of baby food, clothes, diapers, or toys.
For more information, go to lydiahome.org. —By Rachel Bowker