OAKLAND -- Adopt A Special Kid recently announced the appointment of Doni DeBolt as its new executive director.
In taking over this position, DeBolt is, in a sense, completing a journey that began in 1970 when Robert and Dorothy DeBolt married and over time became the parents of six biological and 14 adoptive children in their Piedmont home.
As a member of this remarkable family, Doni DeBolt comes to the position with two immeasurable advantages -- growing up within this unorthodox, loving family and understanding the importance of the revolutionary adoptive work begun by Robert and Dorothy DeBolt when they founded AASK in 1973.
"They have left me a beautiful, powerful, life-changing legacy," DeBolt said. "The meeting of Dorothy Atwood and my dad, Bob Debolt, was a destiny event."
Even before founding AASK, Dorothy DeBolt -- who died Feb. 24 -- had started to break the norms by adopting two medically fragile, 14-year-old Caucasian-Korean boys. She was amazed by how difficult it was to adopt and worse yet, how many children languished in foster homes, considered unadoptable by the system.
AASK was the first adoption agency in 63 years to ask for a license in California, and from the beginning it went straight to the core of the problem. It focused on who should be able to adopt and on placing special-needs children, those with physical handicaps, from abusive homes and war-injured children from Vietnam.
The agency that Doni DeBolt now leads had not changed its mission. Forty years down the road, the original motto of "It's not what a family looks like, it's what a family feels like" remains.
AASK reaches out to prospective parents who are single, older, lesbian, gay, renters, in relationships or who want to adopt a child out of their ethnicity.
"We've opened the adoption possibility to people who would never have gotten in the door at a traditional adoption agency," DeBolt said.
"There was a single, gay African-American male who wanted to adopt, and the third time we told him that he qualified he broke down and cried."
The staggering statistics tell the story of how badly agencies like AASK are needed and also attest to its success. In the United States, 250,000 children are placed into foster care annually at a cost of $9 billion. Only 15 percent are placed into permanent homes. Since 1973, AASK has placed 3,400 foster care children, 54 in the last five years. The cost for a prospective parent to adopt a child through a nonprofit like AASK is -- zero.
To continue this success, DeBolt realizes that AASK must get its message out there to reach more potentially adoptive parents and to have them select AASK as their adoptive agency. The fact that federal grants and state funding are no longer available puts the burden on relying on fundraising to cover operating expenses until an adoption is finalized, which can often take three years. To meet these needs, AASK has planned a chili cook-off on May 4 and a 5K family fun run honoring Dorothy DeBolt on July 7.
Doni DeBolt comes to the position with a background as a special-education teacher and administrator, so she has knowledge of budgeting and working collaboratively. She also brings her experience of how adoption enriches lives. Doni DeBolt herself is Robert DeBolt's biological child and was living with her mother in New Mexico and came to live with her father and the rest of the family in Piedmont when she was 8. Robert DeBolt lives in El Cajon.
"I'm passionate about this agency, and I can see all the goodness and greatness that happens for the child that's adopted and for the family that adopts," she said. "I love being part of that process, and I love how everything comes together."
She wants to get the message out there that AASK is an agency that will introduce prospective parents to hundreds of children who need to be adopted and that it will give them one-on-one support, along with workshops, classes and support groups, during all the stages of the adoption process.
DeBolt speaks from experience when she said: "If a person has it in their hearts and wants to be part of the greatest philanthropic adventure they could ever take on, then they need to come talk to us. We'll help you through that journey even if other agencies have turned you away."
Doni DeBolt has her work cut out for her, but she absolutely loves her new position, and as a DeBolt, she knows that her work is worth the effort.
Adopt A Special Kid is at 8201 Edgewater Drive, Suite 103, Oakland. For more information, go to www.aask.org or call 888-680-7349.
AASK plans to two events: a chili cook-off family fun event from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, at Classic Cars West, 411 26th St., Oakland, www.aask.org/chilicook-off. The second event is a noncompetitive 5K family fun run and walk around Lake Merritt at 9 a.m. July 7.