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Five questions with Charmaine Jennings, former foster child

Published:   |   Updated: July 25, 2013 at 05:29 PM

This week we chat with Charmaine Jennings, a Spanish teacher at Plant High School who spent much of her childhood in foster homes before she was adopted through One Church, One Child, a faith-based nonprofit. The group's mission is to find "one family in each church to adopt one child."

On average, about 800 children are in Florida's foster care system awaiting adoption. A disproportionate number of those children - about 50 percent - are black.

One Church, One Child is a national organization founded in Chicago nearly 35 years ago. Florida's chapter opened in 1988 and works with the Department of Children and Families, predominately black churches and community-based care agencies. For information, contact LaKay Fayson, recruitment coordinator, at 813-985-7831 or visit www.ococfl.org.

Q: What was your childhood like?

Answer: My childhood may be described as eventful, adventurous, and reflective; all characteristics that are still present in my personality today.

I'm told my first foster mother was loving but she died suddenly and I moved in with new foster parents. ... They were responsible for taking me to church and helping to shape my initial exposure to God. At church I met a little girl my age that became my best friend in church. The mother of this girl was my Sunday school teacher. This Sunday school teacher and her husband became my adoptive parents when I was age 7. The (couple was) not rich by any means but summers and holiday seasons were filled with love, family singing, decorating, story time, pizza and movie nights.

Q: How did One Church One Child help you?

Answer: One Church One Child helped to place me in a safe and loving home environment, ultimately giving me a chance to live an abundant life. ... The organization spiritually and financially supported my adopted parents throughout the adoption process while giving great advice and information.

Q: What difference did being adopted make in your life?

Answer: Adoption provided me with a safe and caring place to call home. Home was not a real place that existed outside of my dreams. As a child in foster care I felt as if the United States government was my mother and father and the social service workers were the nice messengers responsible for keeping me within safe environments. Foster care felt lonely and scary because I could be moved or relocated at any moment. Adoption gave me a security blanket and the chance to understand the difference between a place to live and a home. ... Adoption gave me a chance to experience familial love, trust, forgiveness, safety, traditions, and the power to turn an unpleasant situation into a positive.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to adopt a child?

Answer: From the sincerest and deepest place in my heart; I encourage individuals that seek to adopt a child or children to pray and to accept that the reward from adoption is a reciprocal gift. I would tell you to be brave and to enter into the adoption experience with faith and fearlessne+

ss. My adopted parents had three children of their own; a 15-year-old teenager with chronic asthma, a 10-year-old with juvenile diabetes, and a 6-year-old daughter that suffered from migraine headaches. Their bank accounts were less than sufficient; their medical bills and responsibilities exceeded the income earned from both of their jobs. Their faith and obedience to their spiritual beliefs allowed them to respond to the One Church One Child organization's recommendation to adopt their youngest daughter's best friend from church. My adopted parents are among America's best-of-the-best parents because they shared their home, hearts, family, personal values, love for God, childhood struggles and histories, and modeled hard-work and perseverance. We continue to disagree about who has benefited mostly from adoption.

5. After years of separation, have you been re-united with your sister and brothers?

After years of separation, my brother Bobbie (the eldest), Rodney, Herbert and I all reunited and have communicated ever since. The one thing that we have yet to accomplish is finding our sister, Karen Steele, who is older than Herbert. We dream of meeting her one day.

Kathy Steele

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