“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 three teens. “This whole ‘permanent homes for teens’ thing kind of found me!” he jokes.
Chester received a call from his college buddy Pat O’Brien nearly 23 years ago inviting him to be part of a new adoption initiative he was leading. Incredibly, Chester would learn on the job that he had been informally adopted himself. He’s said that the revelation of his own adoptee status work greatly impacts his work with older children who are waiting for families.
On the job, Chester met Robert who was 15 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 was nearly adopted by a relative at one point. Chester was struck by the fact that so many people were intimidated by Robert’s size and age that they wouldn’t even take the time to get to know him. “That’s when I started thinking… how about us? My wife Karin 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”. Karin was pregnant when they first discussed the idea of becoming family with Robert. Brandon was born and then Robert moved in.
From there, the Jackson family continued to grow. Robert’s biological sister Eboney 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. “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 says that it was actually after she moved out when she really felt that she was a part of the family. Ebony – “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 were 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 what Eboney loves to do with her own daughters. “People laugh that I vacation at my parents’ house, but spending time together is the best”.
Years later, another Robert (aka Bobby) joined the Jackson family. Thirteen year old Bobby was the adopted son of a neighbor who informed them she was critically ill and in need of a plan for her teen son. Chester and Karin knew they could make it work for their family and took Bobby in upon his mother’s passing later that year. Following the wishes of Bobby’s mother, he was never legally adopted but the family was decreed his legal guardians.
The Jackson children are all grown now and the landscape is full of grandchildren and even a great-grandchild. Chester proudly reflects that adoption has not only been his life’s work, it is also his life.