Reel Hope videos highlight foster care children in need of permanent families

| Debbie Musser | November 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

Kaycee and Pete Stanley hold their son, Martez, for a family picture June 24 at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. COURTESY KIM BERGGREN

Kaycee Stanley and her husband, Pete, had decided on adoption to build their family. Specifically, adoption from foster care.

“We would get enthusiasm and support when we shared our interest to adopt, but that would change to concern and doubt when we said we wanted to adopt a foster care child,” Stanley said.

“It broke our hearts. And I thought, how can we help change the narrative about foster care adoptions?”

Stanley, a former youth minister at a Lutheran church in Elk River who now lives in Robbinsdale, notes that children age 6 or younger tend to get adopted fairly quickly from foster care.

“It’s after that, age 7, 8 or 9, where kids start getting stuck in the system. We don’t see them. They’re invisible,” he said.

And the need is great. As of August 2019, 905 Minnesota children were in need of adoptive families, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Many of those are in foster care, which finds temporary homes for children whose parents are struggling and unable to care for them, with the goal of finding a permanent home that is nurturing, safe, stable and supportive.

Inspired by America’s Kids Belong, a Colorado program that makes foster children the stars of their own stories with photos and videos, Stanley founded The Reel Hope Project in September 2016, with a mission of a “forever family” for every child.

Reel Hope’s lead videographer, Daniel Luedtke, makes two-minute profile videos of Minnesota children waiting to be adopted. Funding for the nonprofit effort comes from private donations, primarily within the faith community, resulting in 107 videos to date.

“Around 60 of those children have been matched with families, and one thing we celebrate is how many families — over 250 since we began — that we are connecting to adoption agencies to start the process,” said Stanley, who oversees a staff of four, manages fundraising, builds relationships with counties and adoption agencies, manages the video shoot and editing process, and speaks weekly at churches and at events throughout the year.

As a Christian organization, Reel Hope reaches out to the faith community through fundraising and church visits, introducing children to as many people as possible through the videos.

“We really feel that people of faith are called to adoption,” Stanley said.

Jennifer Mak, pastoral care director at St. Joseph in West St. Paul, recently invited Stanley to give presentations after Sunday Masses.

“There was a lot of positive feedback from our parishioners, and an increased openness to look more seriously into adopting kids in need of families,” Mak said. “Reel Hope makes the need visible. … These are real children, with real stories, and a dignity and purpose given to them by God.”

“The people at Reel Hope have been called to a very special mission,” said Nancy Schulte Palacheck, family and laity coordinator in the Office of Marriage, Family and Life in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “If we can encourage each Catholic parish to showcase these children, can you imagine the possibility of having no more children waiting for adoption here in Minnesota?”

Providing the videos at no cost, Stanley works with a number of adoption agencies as well as MNAdopt, which contracts with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and officials in Minnesota counties who advocate for the adoption and foster care systems.

Social workers determine the level of exposure each video gets — for example, whether a video appears on the Reel Hope website or social media, or if it is used in recruitment efforts at faith communities and events.

“Reel Hope videos have been instrumental in helping with multiple matches and adoptions of youth I serve,” said Bambi Holloway, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Child-Focused Adoption recruiter at Kindred Family Focus in Waite Park, Minnesota’s largest private, nonprofit foster care, adoption and home-based care agency, based in Plymouth.

“A 16-year-old young lady was a little nervous about doing her video shoot but ended up having so much fun, allowing her personality to shine,” Holloway said. “That’s what drew in her permanent family, and her adoption should be finalized in the next six months.”

Reel Hope works closely with the social worker to plan the video shoot and make sure the child feels comfortable. “They bring kids to life which is so important when helping families see the whole kid, not just what is on paper,” Holloway said.

The Stanleys recently fulfilled their dream of building their family through the adoption of their 13-year-old son, Martez, whom Kaycee met on a video shoot.

“Martez is the sweetest boy and fits with our family; it’s going really great,” Stanley said. “It’s very clear the Holy Spirit let things process.”

November is National Adoption Awareness Month

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Category: Adoption