The following story was provided by Kinship Center, a nonprofit offering adoption and foster care services in San Benito County.
There were times when Lisa Morales wondered if her family would ever get through it all.
Eighteen years ago, Lisa Morales of Hollister and her husband Gilbert, adopted two children, and their new family’s challenging journey began.
After adopting Josey at birth, they wanted to complete their family with a baby boy, and it was a special moment when they met Mario: “I guess Josey came over and tried to get on a chair next to me, so I helped her up,” Mario says. For Lisa, Mario’s gesture was a sign of sweetness and tenderness – an inherent goodness. It gave her hope that she could suture the wounds he had suffered in his two-and-a-half years in and out of the foster care system.
Then life as they knew it changed radically. Considering Mario’s troubled background – it included being bitten, burned with cigarettes and finally abandoned at six months by his drug-addicted birth parents – the Moraleses were not fully prepared for what was in store for them.
“I thought I could just be me, love him and everything would be fine,” Lisa says.
But that love would eventually teach the family about patience and the importance of establishing a support system outside of their tight-knit family.
For the Moraleses, Mario’s sweet manner came with intense outbursts of anger and an inability to communicate about his deep-rooted troubles – and the emotional barriers he put up became a challenging obstacle for the family. By age 4, Mario’s behavior change radically. He would eat out of the garbage and manipulate people by lying and making up scenarios to get what he wanted. As he got older, he would shoplift and sometimes exhibit violent actions that made his family fear for their lives.
“I didn’t care for the world. It still haunts me, and I still struggle,” Mario reflects, “but I try to step back and analyze why.”
Carol Bishop, co-founder and executive director at Kinship Center, a nonprofit offering adoption and foster care services in San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, says, “Post-adoption services are at the core of helping families maintain permanency. That was crucial for the Moraleses. With professional support they were able to overcome the countless behavioral hurdles they faced with Mario.”
Bishop says raising a child who has experienced trauma is unlike anything a parent could ever prepare for. “They will test and test and test until they fulfill their self-prophecy that they are not loveable,” she says.
After numerous failed counseling sessions with different therapists, Lisa sought help from Kinship Center. She says the nonprofit was the miracle they needed.
At Kinship Center, the focus was on addressing the needs of the entire family, not just the at-risk child. “Their program is so committed to holding adoptive families together when traumatized kids are destructive within the home,” Lisa says.
Mario eventually graduated from high school, despite teachers and family friends believing he couldn’t, Lisa says. In 2015 he completed the City of Hollister volunteer fire fighting training, and he is pursuing a career as a professional fire fighter.
“My whole life I’ve been served by my teachers, family, friends, everyone sticking with me through it all, and now I want to give back to my community,” he says.
As Lisa reminisces on the difficult times, she appears proud of the man she helped raise. She thinks back to the day she first met him and that moment at the adoption agency’s playroom.
“Mario exhibited that day a character trait he still shows today,” she says. “He is kind and gentle in spite of what the world throws at him."