Five years ago, the last of Christy Obie-Barrett’s 12 children were about to enter kindergarten. The 42-year-old stay-at-home mom was used to a lively, laughter-filled home. “I started to evaluate my life,” she recalls. “What is my path now?”
When the answer didn’t present itself, the Eugene, Oregon, resident set a goal: to write about her marriage to Bill, a radio announcer, and about Jason (now 33), Mike (33), Maleah (25), Casey (22), Molly (20), Mason (18), Karson (16), Bailey (15), Brayden (13), Cooper (12), Lilly (10), and Delaney (10)—their three biological and nine adopted children. Within six months, she had 200 pages, much of it about adopting older children, of different races and with special needs.
In the process, she began to wonder why, if there are children in foster care who are eligible for adoption and there are adults who are ready to adopt, the system is so disappointing. (Obie-Barrett adopted her children through relatives and a private program.) “Over 75 percent of families don’t adopt because they’re so frustrated with the system,” she says. “That’s bad customer service.”
Obie-Barrett set a second goal: to offer an alternative. She bought the book Nonprofit Kit for Dummies and followed it chapter by chapter. “I was sitting on my bed with my laptop when my girlfriend stopped by. ‘Whatcha doing?’ she asked, and I said, ‘I’m starting a nonprofit.’ ”
Within months, A Family for Every Child (AFFEC) was born. The agency matches families who want to adopt with adoptable children in Oregon and Washington, many of whom have bumped around from family to family for years, some as many as 20 times. “From the start,” says Obie-Barrett, “our mission was clear: to get children out of foster care quickly.”
She partnered with Heart Gallery of America, an organization that holds photographic exhibits of waiting children, and hosted an event at the local mall to help find families for them. Since then, all 44 children in that first exhibit—plus 200 more—have been adopted, and the number of families wanting to adopt has quadrupled. Fourteen employees (mostly volunteers) operate out of donated office space, where Obie-Barrett is often barefoot and in jeans, working the phones. (In the winter months, the staff forgoes heat. Obie-Barrett prefers to spend the money helping more children.)
Many credit Obie-Barrett’s success with her belief in the importance of a good match. “No child,” she says, “is unadoptable. Yes, the kids have issues. They’ve been separated from their biological parents and their siblings, friends, and possessions. But the adults waiting to adopt,” she adds, “can be somewhat damaged themselves. It’s a matter of finding the right family.”
A small committee of experienced social workers makes the matches. Families pay about $1,800 to adopt a child (enough to cover expenses; a domestic adoption at a private agency can cost $4,000 to $30,000).
Tracey and Frank Komisar called AFFEC (afamilyforeverychild.org) after years of trying to adopt. Obie-Barrett told them about Kyara, an eight-year-old who’d been in foster care since she was 11 months old. The Komisars’ Department of Human Services caseworker had insisted Kyara wasn’t right for them. “But Christy said, ‘Keep pushing,’” recalls Tracey. Within months, they were approved to take Kyara home. Kyara says someday she will pay Obie-Barrett back for finding “my family.”
“Kids are in foster care through no fault of their own,” says Obie-Barrett. “We need to start giving the biological parents fewer chances and the children more chances. I didn’t graduate from college. I just know what works for kids. I’m living proof that normal people can change things.”