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Empty Stocking Fund

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As the pain of losing their 18-year-old daughter Avery in a traffic accident became more manageable, Chad and Erica Austin asked, “Does God want to bless us with another child? Is that our purpose now?”

There was an array of parenting alternatives, including mentoring, fostering, adopting.

Sifting through such choices could have been overwhelming.

But with the guidance of the Colorado Springs office of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, their decision was clarified.

“They helped set a positive tone in our approach,” Chad Austin said.

Lutheran Family Services is a faith-based organization that provides adoption assistance, foster care, caregiver respite, disaster response, refugee resettlement and other services.

“We provide support to children and families during challenging times,” said Gwen White, Lutheran Family Services director of the foster care and prevention program.

The Austins, through Denver-based Adoption Exchange, attended several events where fostered youths and prospective families get to know each other. The youths, ages 12 to 18, were from backgrounds where parental rights had been legally terminated.

Chad Austin, a law professor at the Air Force Academy, and Erica Austin, a federal civil rights attorney, are in their mid-40s and both are in the Air Force Reserve. The gatherings solidified what they felt in their hearts: they wanted to share their lives with a teen.

Twice at the events they found boys they were interested in mentoring but who were adopted before they could follow through.

“We felt we were good luck charms for them because they kept getting adopted,” Erica Austin said.

Then they were introduced to 12-year-old Schianne. “She stood out in a very good way,” Erica Austin said. The girl had also named them as a family she would like to know better.

They initially thought the relationship was going to be one of mentoring. But soon the caseworker called saying that Schianne could be adopted. Under the guidelines, a child has to be fostered for six months before adoption can take place.

The Austins were very willing, but the obstacles seemed high and they feared they would lose her because of red tape. They were not yet foster certified, and Chad Austin, who had a Fulbright Scholarship, had to leave for his sabbatical at the University of Warsaw in Poland.

The Colorado Springs office of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains stepped in to help cut through the bureaucratic process.

The staff helped Erica Austin wade through the many requirements to become foster certified: lengthy paperwork, background check and fingerprinting, health checkup, and passing the required classes in foster training. Chad Austin kept in touch from Poland by video conference calls.

“I thought we couldn’t get it done. But LFS got us through it” Erica Austin said. “Because of the staff we now have a wonderful daughter,”

Schianne came to the Austins’ home in February to be fostered. During that time, she blossomed in school with good grades and joined the volleyball and track team and took piano lessons.

In October, Schianne was adopted by the Austins.

“We are so proud. She is such an amazing girl, smart, resilient,” Erica said.

Schianne said that initially she named the Austins as a potential family at the adoption events because, “They listened. Lots of the adults just talked.”

She told them she wanted to study law someday at Harvard. Chad Austin was back home from his sabbatical and coincidentally had some work to do at Harvard, so they all went for a short trip.

Schianne says of her new life, “It’s fun and exciting. There are ups and downs, but it is easy to get through with my new family.”

Chad Austin sees it this way: “Our narratives has been bound by loss. Our loss of Avery and Schianne’s loss of her family. Our philosophy is to love one another, to create the best of lives.”

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