Here is a story that will tug at your heartstrings. But, it's more than just a story, because the lives of one hundred thousand plus children are the focus of the story, more than 1,400 in Missouri alone, children searching for a place to call home, wandering in a system of uncertainty and fear not knowing what tomorrow holds or if it holds them at all. November is National Adoption Month, a time to focus on education, awareness, and a public cry to the masses regarding adoption, whether this be adopting or getting involved locally in a volunteer capacity. And, because of the modern age in which we live, getting involved could mean something as simple as logging on to your favorite social media website and sharing a story or connecting folks with local adoption events or agencies; simple doesn't mean insignificant. This year, the occasion of National Adoption Month was launched with a nod to the 21st century and technology, virtually, as “Adoption in the Digital Age” was proclaimed. The U.S. Department of Human Services acknowledges that social media and networking allows for information to be easily and quickly shared and is extremely valuable to the 104,000 children presently waiting for adoptive families in the United States. The Heart Gallery of Missouri This virtual channel specific to adoption is thriving in Missouri by way of The Heart Gallery, an online extension of the physical photographic exhibit featuring 144 Missouri children and youth waiting for adoption, a display that travels throughout Missouri. The online gallery can be viewed at: http://moheartgallery.org. As you're looking at the many precious faces, looking into the eyes of children yearning for a home … the want for parents who will pick them up when they fall, support them always, and always be there to say goodnight … a hope to be safe and protected … you can't help but wonder if one or more of these children are meant for you. Should you consider adoption? Perhaps this article, and the resources it connects you with, can help you answer this question. In Missouri, 64% of children adopted are adopted by non-relative foster parents. Who are the children waiting in Missouri for permanent homes? Here is a breakdown, according to The Heart Gallery of Missouri: • years of age: 5% 1-5 years of age: 25% 6-10 years of age: 20% 11-15 years of age: 28% 16-18 years of age: 18% Over 18: 4% The numbers paint a picture of need, a need for adopting older children, even children over 18. Some may ask the question as to why someone over 18 years of age would seek to be adopted. Having been told a response to this question from someone, a lovely young lady, in this situation, I can share that it's rooted in a need for lifelong connections, and the fact that life does not end at 18 for children seeking adoption. This young lady shared a dream with me, a hope to have a mom and a dad to share the many special occasions and milestones in life, like graduation, her wedding, the birth of a child, holidays, and birthdays. And, though she is strong and courageous, she yearns for someone to say, “You're so special, so special that I want you to be a part of my family…forever.” The Heart Gallery of Missouri was on display this month in Jefferson City at the “Forget-Me-Not” Gala, an annual celebration and fundraiser for The Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association, a not-for-profit agency that educates, supports, and advocates for foster and adoptive children, youth, and families in central Missouri by offering services and partnering with community and governmental agencies to develop health and self-sufficient individuals and families. Local Event Makes a Difference DeAnna Alonso, of Jefferson City, Executive Director of the organization shared that the “Forget-Me-Not” Gala is held every November to raise awareness on behalf of National Adoption Month. When asked the local purpose of the event, Alonso responded, “to hopefully find forever families for more than one thousand children lingering in the foster care system.” Alonso said the event also raises money for the next year of organizational programming with direct services provided to over one thousand children and youth in the area. According to Alonso, “The event reaches out to the communities we serve and offers opportunities for businesses, individuals, and groups to sponsor and help raise the awareness of this vulnerable population.” She went on, “Our attempt is to bring the forgotten out of the shadows.” Alonso shared that the event was a success, allowing for increased recruitment of quality foster homes, adoptive families, and mentors for the organization's “aging out” youth, even more recruitment results than prior years. According to Alonso, “Our communities are so giving and we appreciate their willingness to help us gain some traction surrounding abused and neglected children and youth in the foster care system.” In parting, she said, “In Missouri alone, there are 1,400 children and youth awaiting a forever family. Foster care is supposed to be temporary and some of these children have no way out except through the commitment of a family that takes a risk of love! Otherwise, the grim statistics are real and foster children will age out at the age of 18 and most become homeless, incarcerated, or dead within six months of emancipation. We can stop the statistics one child at a time.” Alonso's passion for adoption is inspiring, but it stems from much more than her service to the community through The Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association. She herself is an adoptive parent. Alonso shared, in speaking about her children, “They had a pretty hard life and were in a foster home that only wanted to adopt the youngest. We simply couldn't have them separated.” The reward, according to Alonso, “is the blessing to see the growth and determination formed around health and happiness.” In looking back, she said she “wouldn't change a thing.” It's Personal to Me While foster care and adoption is a life-changing, sacrifice-filled undertaking, the rewards, if you ask most adoptive parents, far outweigh any struggles and hardships. In fact, this article is personal to me, having adopted three children from foster care. I will never forget the time I went to parent-teacher night, just two years ago, and my son's teacher showed me an art project he made entitled, “The Best Day of My Life Was When…” She handed it to me in tears. I opened the flap on the project to reveal his response. It read, “…the day my parents adopted me.” In honor of National Adoption Month, a special thank you is extended to adoptive families everywhere, here in Missouri and afar, and to the tens of thousands of children and youth still waiting to find “forever families.” For more information about foster care and adoption, contact: The Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division at (573) 522-8024 or visit them online at: http://dss.mo.gov. Even if adoption isn't the right fit for you, there are lots of ways to get involved and make a difference in the lives of local children and youth living in foster care-- The Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association is just the place to lend your support on a journey to giving back and touching lives! Visit them online at: http://www.ccfosteradopt.com.