‘Making a lifetime commitment to a teen isn’t something we decided, it was something that we just did,’ reflects Chester Jackson, an adoptive father of two teens. As he puts it, ‘This whole ‘permanent homes for teens’ thing kind of found me.’ He jokes. Chester had received a call from Pat O’Brien nearly 20 years ago inviting him to come and be part of the staff of a new adoption initiative he was leading. Because Chester had been adopted himself, Pat thought he could share his personal experience with older children who were waiting for families.
Then at work, Chester met Robert who was 8 years old and had spent most of his life in foster care . ‘We always had a connection,’ says Chester. ‘He was on my caseload.’ Robert had been in foster care for several years, and was nearly adopted by a relative at one point. When that fell through, Chester thought Robert would never be the same. ‘That’s when I started thinking… how about us? My wife will tell you that it was all my idea, but she’s really the star. She welcomed Robert with open arms and didn’t look back.’
From there, the Jackson family continued to grow. Karin and Chester had a biological son, Brandon, and then Robert’s sister, Eboney, surfaced. She, too, was living in foster care, where she had been for several years in multiple placements. Eboney remembers the first thing that got her curious about the Jacksons, ‘I liked baby Brandon. That was a relationship where I felt safe and in control. I wanted to be a big sister.’ But for many years that is the only family role that felt comfortable for her.
‘I was never open to [formal] adoption until I got pregnant as a teen,’ says Eboney. Chester recalls that period as a challenging family time. As he says, ‘It wasn’t easy. It hit hard on so many levels, but Eboney was pregnant and that is what was happening… so we dealt with it.’ One might think it was a turning point for Jackson family bonding, but Eboney relays that it was actually after she moved out when she really felt that she was a part of the family.
‘I was used to leaving places and never hearing from anyone again… this time, they got us settled and called the next day.’ Then there were pictures, presents, financial help, and visits. And when times got tough as a teen mom, Eboney’s new family was there. It was just what she needed to feel like she belonged. Now, so many years later spending time with her family is Eboney’s favorite place to be with her own daughters. ‘People laugh that I vacation at my parents’ house, but spending time together is the best.’