Seventeen might seem a young age to give up hope for a family, but by last year, Amanda Olivero had.
Because when you’re hoping to be adopted into a loving home, 17 is ancient. Each year in America, 20,000 teenagers “graduate” from the foster care system directly into adulthood, never knowing a lasting home or family.
“I didn’t think I was going to be adopted. Most families probably don’t adopt older kids because we’re set in our ways,” said Olivero.
But hers is a rare story, a journey out of an abusive home, through numerous foster families, to the most unlikely of places: the family of her court-appointed special advocate.
As of last month, her mother.
Removed from her home at 15 along with her three brothers and step-brother, the world of foster care was a whirlwind for Olivero. The kids, products of their upbringing, fought and argued — and proved too much for their foster parents.
The siblings were scattered by the system. Olivero went to live with a family in Falcon, then Fountain, then back to Falcon. “We’re all trying to help you.” “It’s in your best interest.” Words from social workers and foster parents she grew to hate. She spoke her mind and trusted nobody.
Then she met Gail Wahl.
Wahl joined the volunteer CASA program after volunteering at a Christian pregnancy counseling center. If only these teen girls had come from different beginnings, she thought, maybe they wouldn’t have wound up there as young moms-to-be.
CASA volunteers represent children in court proceedings and that’s how Wahl met the Olivero kids. She took a special interest in Amanda.
“I saw her go in and out of homes and I saw the potential of what she could be with the right surroundings,” Wahl said.
Olivero was considering emancipating herself from the foster care system and striking out on her own. Then last fall, after talking to Olivero on the phone and hearing her foster parents yelling at her in the background, Wahl decided to do exactly what CASA volunteers aren’t supposed to do: she got personally involved.
She couldn’t be her CASA advocate anymore, Wahl told Olivero in December.
“She was the only permanent thing in my whole life that stuck with me from the beginning,” was Olivero’s reaction.
Then, after a two-month delay for approval for the move — during which Olivero was kicked out of one foster home and sent to another (and transferred to her third school in one year) — Wahl invited her to come live with her family. Her husband, Tom, and two sons, one of whom still lived at home, were thrilled.
Said Olivero, “I could see they all cared about me. Gail has been with me since forever. She understands me. She’s not giving up on me.”
She joined the family in January, joined counseling for her anger, and enrolled at Rampart High School.
In July, on a family vacation to Wisconsin, they celebrated her five months with the Wahls — longer than she had lived anywhere since being removed from home. That day, having met the extended family, Olivero popped the question:
Would Wahl be her mother?
“I was excited. I knew she was going to say ‘yes,’” Olivero said.
Wahl, who has a strong religious faith, believed that adopting the teenager “was what we were supposed to do,” God’s will. On Oct. 5, Olivero became part of the family. Twelve days later she turned 18. She plans to attend college in the fall, and the Wahls plan to take in her older brother.
“It’s about having someone to walk her down the aisle. And we can’t wait to have her brown-eyed grandchildren,” said Wahl.
Wahl and Olivero spoke Tuesday at an event at Focus on the Family aimed at encouraging others to adopt children. “Wait No More” is a Focus program that encourages Christians to adopt children in foster care. It is hosting the Heart Gallery, a national program that features photos and short biographies of foster children, along with information on how to adopt.
“If you feel you need to be part of the solution, you need to do it,” Wahl said.
For kids waiting to be adopted, Olivero said, “Though you might think nobody is there for you, there will be somebody there.”
The two shared their story at Tuesday’s adoption event.
“I want to be a daughter.” Olivero told the group. “I want to have some place I can go to, so here I am."
“And I love my mom.”