Youth Villages stories
When it comes to adoption, flexibility is key
The journey to adoption is sometimes a long and winding road. Such was the case for MacKenely (also known as Mack), whose adoption was finalized in August 2020.
Mack was born in Haiti and was placed in an orphanage at age 4. Four years later, Mack and his younger sister were adopted through another agency by a family in Middle Tennessee. Even with the best of intentions, the adoption failed after a year, and the children came into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Mack was referred to the Youth Villages Bartlett Campus for help in dealing with past trauma and a new hope for finding his forever family.
In 2018, Katie Dunlap, a mom of three boys, came across Mack’s profile on the Youth Villages website and was instantly drawn to his story. Katie and her husband, Brad, enrolled in Youth Villages’ classes for fostering and adopting with the hopes of providing a forever home for Mack. After completing certification, the Dunlaps met Mack in the summer of 2019, starting with meetings at parks before officially bringing him home in November for the foster-to-adopt time period.
Because of Mack’s history, the Dunlaps worked, and continue to work, to provide a higher level of counseling for him. Katie is a social worker by trade, and her husband is a pastor. They moved to Memphis in 2011 to help establish a new church in the Midtown area. They have two teenage biological sons and another adopted son, Yohannes, who is from Ethiopia and is ten months older than Mack. He was adopted through a private agency in 2010.
“Adoption became a part of our family story, but we hadn’t planned to continue that,” Katie said. “I can’t really explain it, but we saw Mack’s profile… there was something about him. He wasn’t smiling. He looked lost, like he had been through a lot. I have a soft spot for teenage boys in the system, and I knew we were supposed to help Mack.”
The road to adoption, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a rocky one, but the Dunlaps and their Youth Villages adoption specialists expected that. They’ve worked through Mack’s trauma and slowly gained his trust so that he knows the Dunlaps are stable and secure. Education was another part of Mack’s rocky road. He had gone to school at the Youth Villages Bartlett Campus before moving in with the Dunlaps and enrolling in a traditional middle school, with different teachers and students in each class. Shortly after that enrollment, the COVID-19 pandemic sent students back home to learn remotely, which was a big transition for all students.
“We have a great support system in our church community,” Katie said. “We’ve been very intentional to promote fostering and adopting in our church. If you aren’t comfortable taking that big step, there are other things you can do to support those in the system.”
Melinda Wilbanks, the Youth Villages adoption specialist who worked with Mack and the Dunlaps, agreed.
“During a meeting with Mack, I showed him a church congregation photo, pointing out all the kids who had been adopted by their parents,” Melinda said. “After all of his previous traumas, Mack needed to know that his family would keep him.”
Katie reinforces how important it is for families to be flexible, patient and caring.
“Foster care requires so much flexibility and patience,” Katie said. “It’s easy for kids’ trauma to trigger us as adults, so you have to learn how to deal with your own stuff so you can stay the adult to meet the kids where they are.”
Mack is making friends in the neighborhood and doing well in school now, building trust in the Dunlaps more and more every day.