MARIETTA - It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. But first it takes a family.
Finding that family would be a dream come true for the approximately 3,000 children in Ohio, including two in Washington County, who are awaiting adoption, says Teri Wright, foster care and adoption supervisor at Washington County Children Services.
"There's no real mold. We've got single parents. We've got families who have been married a long time and those wanting to start their families through foster care and adoption," said Wright of the types of families who foster and adopt through their organization.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, which celebrates adoptive and foster families while encouraging other families to do the same.
Though the process can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster, it has been a positive life-changing experience for several area families.
Tim and Erica Heiss of Marietta were not interested in adoption when they started fostering children several years ago.
By The Numbers
* Seven Washington County children were adopted in 2012.
* Eight Washington County children have been adopted so far this year.
* Seven Washington County children are pending adoptions.
* Two Washington County children, a 15-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, are in need of an adoptive match.
* Twenty-two families are providing foster care.
* Thirty-four Washington County children are in the foster program.
* For information on local adoptions or fostering: (740) 373-3485.
Source: Washington County Children Services.
With two biological daughters, 14-year-old Mikayla and 12-year-old Mikinzi, fostering seemed like the best way to make an impact on other childrens' lives. And over the years, the Heisses have fostered 18 children.
Then one day in 2006, baby Kevin arrived in the Heiss home, followed approximately four and a half months later by baby Jeremy.
"When you have them since birth, you've raised them. They already felt like my kids," said Erica.
Kevin, now 7, and Jeremy, now 6, were officially adopted in 2008.
The process has not always been easy, admitted Tim.
"It definitely takes the right person. You've got to have the willingness and open-mindedness to deal with everything that is thrown at you," he said.
Seeing foster children come and go over the years has sometimes been hard, added Mikayla.
"You kind of get attached to them," she said.
But it has always been nice getting to know other children and feeling like she somehow impacted them, she added.
When it comes to making the leap to adoption, none of the Heisses would change a thing.
"I knew it was going to be good for our family. It makes your family grow together more," said Mikayla.
And Mikinzi said she is proud that she has been part of a foster family.
"I thought it's nice that people care and will put an effort into adopting kids and fostering because a lot of kids need a home and a family to take care of them," she said.
Just more than three years ago, Marietta resident Ali Doerflinger and her husband Clay Paschal decided their biological daughter, Sophia, needed a sibling.
Though Sophia was healthy, beautiful and bright, health concerns prevented Ali and Clay from trying for another pregnancy, said Ali.
"We initially started looking at foster care and adopting through the state foster care system...but we were told it was unlikely we'd be able to bring a foster child into our home that was younger than Sophia," she said.
Clay and Ali turned to an agency in northern Ohio and were very close to adopting through an international program in Ethiopia when a government change in March 2011 put a stop to their plans.
"We could have pushed forward. But around that time our agency sent a picture around of a little baby in Florida," recalled Ali.
That two-and-a-half-month-old baby was the future Emma Paschal.
"It's hard to imagine life without her," Ali said of Emma, who will be 3 years old in December.
And Sophia, now 6, has adjusted perfectly into her role has big sister.
"It's been really healthy for our family to have a second child and we've been able to provide a happy enriching home for the girls," said Ali.
Adopting their son Parker has been a refreshing experience for Lowell residents Konnie Yoho, 55, and her husband Steve Yoho, 61, whose seven biological children are all grown.
"We love and appreciate all our children. But because of our age, I think we're able to sit back and relax and enjoy it more. Nothing surprises you," said Konnie.
Though she spent 15 years fostering countless children, Konnie never expected to adopt.
Like many of the children she fostered, Parker was born with special needs. Born prematurely, he came to them with health concerns.
"I can help him fight for his life," Konnie recalled thinking of Parker, who will turn 7 in December.
The moment Parker officially became a Yoho was one of Konnie's happiest memories.
"When the judge named him and said he's a Yoho, that's when-oh my gosh-it hits you," she said.
Fostering and adopting is not for everyone, said Konnie. But those who do choose to foster and adopt can make a huge impact on a child's life, she said.
"The big thing is to teach them they are loved and no different that your own children," she said.
Neither Dee nor Tim McKenzie knew much about fostering or adopting when they decided in 2009 to look into the process.
"I never grew up around it. Tim didn't grow up around it. We didn't know anything about it," Dee said.
Unable to conceive again after the birth of their biological daughter Madison, now 12, the McKenzies turned to fostering.
"We got our certification on Dec. 27 (2009) and got a call to get Trinidee on Jan. 15 (2010). We were very lucky," said Dee.
While the process of fostering Trinidee and then her brother Braxton was quick and painless, adopting them was a long and emotional journey.
Trinidee was re-unified with her birth family for a short time before being placed in the McKenzies' care again. Waiting for the adoption to finalize can be stressful, but it should not discourage families from fostering or adopting, Dee said.
"People say they are afraid of losing the kids. You may lose them but you're gonna touch their lives for that little bit of time and that may make the change in their life," she said.
Trinidee, 4, and Braxton, 2, officially became part of the McKenzie family in January, making the whole journey well worth it, she said.