October 27, 2021

Family grows with each adoption

Katie Keyser/Living and Leisure Editor

A photo of a family portrait of the Thomas family.

Colleen and Bill Thomas of Cortlandville are adopting a 6-year-old girl in Ukraine who has Down syndrome.

They’ve been down this road before.

The couple are parents of seven children — three adopted from Ukraine, where they lived and worked for 12 years offering parenting and marriage conferences.

Now their children are all grown, save for 10-year-old Micah, their birth child with Down syndrome.

“We always joke, ‘Do you want to be pregnant for nine months or do paperwork for nine months,” said Bill, 56, a bivocational pastor of a new nondenominational church coming to Dryden. He also works at Whitmore Fence in Dryden.

“I always wanted to adopt,” said Colleen, 54, director of the Cortland Pregnancy Center. “And have a large family.”

The couple returned to Ukraine two years ago to Christ’s Fellowship church. They went to an orphanage and met Maria, a loveable little girl.

“When we saw Maria at the orphanage, our hearts went out for her. In Ukraine, if you have Down syndrome or a disability and you age out of the orphanage, you go to a nursing home,” Colleen said.

“Group homes and foster care are starting out,” she said. But they aren’t the norm.

The Thomases said they wanted to adopt her, but the parents had not given up the child for adoption. The couple expressed interest and wanted to know when her parents formally relinquished their rights.

The Thomas’ daughter Sophia, who lived in this orphanage, encouraged the plan and even started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the adoption at www. gofundme.com/f/thomas-family-ukraine-adoption-journey.

At one point, Colleen Thomas seriously wondered about the idea. It wasn’t a convenient time, she said.

“Yeah,” Sophia told her mom. “It’s pretty inconvenient to grow up as an orphan.”

The couple’s grown children contributed adoption seed money a year ago. In April, the Thomases learned the parents had given up their rights and the little girl could be adopted.

They moved forward, — “prayerfully, with fear and trepidation” to adopt, Colleen Thomas said.

Katie Keyser

Colleen, left, and Bill Thomas of Cortlandville are in the process of adopting a child from Ukraine.

Children need a good home

“There’s a child in need in a foreign county, in an orphanage, with Down syndrome,” said Anita Stevens, director and founder of Family Connections at 156 Port Watson St., Cortland, with whom the Thomases are working for the adoption.

“These children need a home, typically in Ukraine, China, all over the world,” Stevens said.

The non-profit is a state-authorized agency to provide adoptions and has Hague Accreditation from the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, meaning it is committed to the well-being of the children.

Hague countries actively prevent child trafficking and abduction, according to MLJ Adoptions in Indianapolis, also an adoption agency. And Hague countries try to find adoptive parents in their own country before encouraging international adoption.

At Family Connections, prospective parents get help planning for costs, for the selection process to adopt and the paperwork as they seek a child. It also help moms who put their child up for adoption.

Stevens said the Thomases meet the standards of the laws of the United States and New York state.

“They are a perfect family to take care of children,” she said. And their older children are supportive, too.

Suzanne Searle of Cortlandville, an administrative assistant at the YMCA, knows the Thomases.

“I met them when they first came to Grace Christian Fellowship in Cortland in 2014,” Searle said. “The first time I met them I saw this little boy with Down syndrome running around the church and a teenage girl chasing him, and a teenage boy chasing him. Bill Thomas was the associate pastor there.”

“Then I found out that the teenagers, they were the little Micah’s siblings. … You could tell they loved, loved, loved their brother. They were so protective of him. They took turns spending time with him.”

A child with Down syndrome

Ten years ago, Colleen Thomas became pregnant with Micah.

“He was our welcome back to America present,” she said.

They were living in Texas, just fresh from Ukraine, and Bill was starting seminary school to become a pastor. Three days after he started school, she found out she was pregnant.

The couple knew their child might have Down syndrome, because Colleen was 44 at the time. They chose to go forward anyway.

If God gave them a child with Down syndrome, “we are going to call it good,” said Bill Thomas. “We are going to embrace it.”

“This could be good for our family,” Colleen said.

And it was.

“We don’t see dysfunction in Micah,” Colleen said. “We see him.”

“Micah has learning difficulties. He lives in the present. He drives us crazy,” said Colleen Thomas. “He’s happy and loving and he accepts people as they are. That’s equally precious in God’s eyes.”

“People with Down syndrome are peacemakers. They bring people together,” she said.

Their children, Sophia, Samuel and Noah went to Ukraine for a month in June on a mission trip. They visited the orphanage.

“They got to know Maria and play with her,” said Colleen Thomas. The three fell in love with the girl.

Colleen Thomas has been handling the adoption paperwork this time. Bill has done it in the past. But he is starting a new church, which is like birthing and parenting itself, the couple says.

Colleen Thomas is pursuing grant funds. The GoFundMe campaign has a $19,000 goal.

They will make three trips to L’viv, Ukraine, to finalize the adoption, Colleen Thomas said. The adoption will cost about $27,000, plus another $10,000 for travel.

People can send support via a check to Family Connections with the Thomas’ name on it or go the gofundme route.

They’ve been tight spots before and trust in God.

The first trip to Ukraine will likely take place this month. If all goes well, Maria could be in her new home in February.

“I honestly can say if we didn’t believe God was leading in this and we didn’t believe God would make a way, I would be too chicken to do this,” Colleen said. “God just asks us to do the next thing. When the mountain is so large — no, you don’t have to look at it. Do the next thing. There is a little girl who wants to have a family.”