Never Hurts To Ask

One ques­tion leads to for­ever fam­ily

The Saline Courier Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Perry

Be­ing a Ben­ton na­tive and teacher at Ben­ton Ju­nior High School for seven years, Jor­dan Hi­b­long was anx­ious about start­ing a new ca­reer in the Lakeside School District. Now she feels

God sent her to the job for a more im­por­tant rea­son — to give one of her stu­dents a home and for her to be­come a mother.

Hi­b­long comes from a large fam­ily with sev­eral sib­lings who were adopted from fos­ter care. She is also a di­a­betic, which af­fects her abil­ity to have bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren.

Be­cause of these fac­tors, she and and her hus­band, Paul, al­ways knew that they would adopt a child even be­fore they were mar­ried.

They orig­i­nally thought they could be­gin look­ing into the adop­tion process once they hit two years of mar­riage, but the new­ly­wed’s plans change ap­prox­i­mately a month and half af­ter ex­chang­ing their vows.

Gio­vanni, who is known as

“Gio,” was one of Jor­dan’s stu­dents that pulled at her heart strings from the very be­gin­ning of the se­mes­ter.

“I had been bur­dened for Gio from the first week,” Jor­dan said.

Both of them re­called the

assignment that con­nected them. The class was com­plet­ing an assignment about their fam­i­lies.

“I thought it was safe,” Jor­dan said. “We were good un­til the very last line.”

As she was help­ing him with the assignment, Gio’s re­sponse took her back.

“I don’t have any­thing. I’m in fos­ter care and I’ve been in fos­ter care for most of my life,” he told her in re­sponse to a ques­tion about fam­ily me­men­tos.

“It was his blunt de­liv­ery that com­pletely hurt,” she said. “It made me so cau­tious of him and of kids who come from all dif­fer­ent back­grounds and re­ally made me check my priv­i­lege.”

One day, Gio stayed af­ter class and asked Jor­dan to be his mother.

“I saw how much she loved the kids and wanted them to pass … I loved that about her. That’s what made me ask her,” Gio said.

Of course, she was shocked, but knew she had to do some­thing.

“I never had a kid who truly needed a home … and said I want a home with you,” Hi­b­long said. “It’s just the great­est priv­i­lege ever. It was just very stun­ning”

Through his wife, Paul had heard sto­ries of Gio, but had never met him.

“God kept call­ing him to my heart like I was sup­posed to be con­nected to this kid or help this kid or just pray for this kid,” Paul said.

Gio had been in fos­ter care for more than seven years and had lived in more than 20 homes. At the last group home he lived at in Hot Springs, Gio said he was a “peace keeper.”

The cou­ple de­cided to be­come a host fam­ily for

Gio.

“We tried to con­tact mul­ti­ple peo­ple in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent ways — no an­swer,” Hi­b­long said. “We had been dis­missed pretty much and we have a home that we can of­fer a child … it fu­eled our fire.”

Even­tu­ally, they got in touch with a per­son who had the right con­nec­tions and the cou­ple re­al­ized they had an­other op­tion.

“It’s not work­ing be­cause he’s sup­posed to be my son,” Paul said.

On Feb. 19, 2018, the Hi­b­longs were awarded fic­tive kin­ship sta­tus and Gio would move into their home days later.

Through­out the en­tire process, the Hi­b­longs never told Gio what was go­ing on un­til it was time for him to move into their home.

“You never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Hi­b­long said, ex­plain­ing they were try­ing to pro­tect him. “If you were to tell a kid (that they will come to your home) and then some­thing hap­pens … there are so many mov­ing parts to fos­ter­ing.”

Even on his adop­tion date, things did not go as planned. The adop­tion had al­ready been resched­uled and was planned to be moved again un­til Hi­b­long stood her ground.

“This is com­ing from the most non­con­fronta­tional per­son in the world,” Paul said. “She was momma and she was pro­tect­ing her boy from the be­gin­ning.”

“You never want to be that per­son that is go­ing to let a kid down — es­pe­cially when it is some­thing that is valu­able,” Hi­b­long said.

Gio be­came a Hi­b­long on Sept. 17, 2018.

Even though the fam­ily loves each other very much, the Hi­b­longs said that the ex­pe­ri­ence can be dif­fi­cult.

They had to learn how to com­bat the trauma that Gio had faced in his life.

“You have lay­ers of trauma, abuse and ne­glect and a teenage opin­ion,” Jor­dan said.

“He came with an opin­ion of the world he had lived in which is not our world,” Paul added. “There is a lot of dis­func­tion in the world that he came from.”

Gio’s past has af­fected how he con­nects or doesn’t con­nect with things and how he builds trust with oth­ers.

The fam­ily even had to “re­brand” sur­prises to be a good thing.

“His sur­prises had al­ways been bad,” Jor­dan said.

The cou­ple had to teach Gio how a fam­ily op­er­ates and what it means to be a fam­ily.

The Hi­b­longs have good and bad times, but ev­ery day they are still a fam­ily.

The par­ents also had to drop their pride.

“If you’re mar­ried, you have to be strong and be able to laugh at some of the things that hap­pen,” Hob­long said. “You re­ally have to meet a kid where they’re at.”

The fam­ily lives in Ben­ton and are mem­bers of First Bap­tist Church of Ben­ton.

At church, Gio be­came a mem­ber of the choir. His in­volve­ment in the church choir would later lead to him be­come ac­tive in the Young Play­ers at the Royal The­atre. Gio re­ceived a lead­ing role in his first play, “Lit­tle Princess.”

“I like the thrill,” Gio said. Prior to be­ing adopted

Gio did not have the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

“We think (be­ing adopted) it’s a home, it’s par­ents, but it’s also find­ing your niche,” Hi­b­long said.

“It’s a fu­ture,” Paul added. The cou­ple also wants to “give him ex­pe­ri­ences” which have in­cluded a trip to Ire­land, North Ire­land, Scot­land and Eng­land, along with a trip to New York where he saw the Em­pire State Build­ing and watched “Wicked” on Broad­way. The cou­ple took Gio to see the ocean for the first time as well.

Ear­lier this month, Gio cel­e­brated his 15th birth­day.

The cel­e­bra­tion in­cluded lots of Oreos and even a new puppy, Ger­tie Mae.

Gio and his fam­ily feel that by shar­ing their story they can make a dif­fer­ence.

The cou­ple gives some ad­vice to those con­sid­er­ing adop­tion of older chil­dren in fos­ter care.

“It’s not a fairy tale. It’s not a pic­nic,” Hi­b­long said, adding that it’s not al­ways “warm and fuzzy.”

They sug­gest peo­ple re­ally con­sider the sit­u­a­tion be­fore ex­press­ing in­ter­est in a child.

“It’s hard, but it’s good,” Paul said.

Ev­ery child in fos­ter care is dif­fer­ent, Hi­b­long added.

“It’s just like any par­ent­ing, just maybe jump­ing off the deep end,” she said.

Even though adopt­ing a fos­ter child can be dif­fi­cult, Hi­b­long said she found parts of her­self that she never knew ex­isted.

Gio shared his own mes­sage to those think­ing about adopt­ing an older child.

“For the par­ents out there that are want­ing to adopt older kids and or think­ing about younger kids, the older kids don’t have a suc­cess rate for adop­tion be­cause they are older and like mom said, they live their own way. Some of them have prob­lems … peo­ple like that need homes. They need to be able to be­lieve and trust in some­body, not just them­selves and other chil­dren. They need a home and peo­ple to love on them be­cause other chil­dren don’t fill their heart enough,” Gio said.

For those want­ing to help but can­not adopt a child, the Hi­b­longs sug­gest do­nat­ing to The Call of Sa­line County.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion helped the fam­ily to get set­tled when they were new.

“That was such a big thing for our fam­ily,” Paul said while telling of shop­ping us­ing gift cards from the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

SARAH PERRY/THE Sa­line Courier

Paul and Jor­dan Hi­b­long share a mo­ment with their son, Gio Hi­b­long, 15. The Hi­b­long fam­ily shares its story in hopes of “mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

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