AUSTIN, Texas — Every day, nearly 1,000 children in Central Texas are looking and hoping for a place to call home.
KVUE’s Forever Families helps connect you to those kids. Throughout the year, KVUE's Tori Larned has worked with the Central Texas Heart Gallery every week to learn about the children in the foster care system.
In this 2020 year-ending special, we're going to look back at some of these amazing kids who are still waiting to be adopted.
(YT EMBED OF WHOLE SHOW HERE???)
First up, we have the very first kid KVUE met through the Heart Gallery, AJ. He’s 13 years old, incredibly intelligent and athletic. We got to hang with him at Tumble Tech in February before the coronavirus pandemic changed everything as we know it.
He has dreams in life, and with his smarts, athleticism, hard work and drive, he is well on his way to reaching them.
The one thing he does not have is a family to call his own, not yet anyway. When asked about what he is looking for in a family, his answer was quite simple:
"For someone who cares about me," he said.
If you would like to learn more about AJ and adoption, visit his page on the Central Texas Heart Gallery website.
Next up, we'd like to introduce you to Isaiah, 7, and Paul, 14, energetic brothers with smiles that light up a room.
The brothers are in school and participate in specialized classes that push them to grow developmentally.
"There needs to be structure," said Cho Law, the duo's program director.
Paul loves his tablet, interacting with videos and games. He is also learning sign language. Isaiah loves to spend time outside. His favorite thing to do is ride in his wagon and use the swings. Both of these boys have big appetites. They love pizza, corn dogs and hamburgers.
Now, here is an energetic and kind 12-year-old who wants a family that will have fun with him. Here's Khristian's story.
Khristian's personality shined through from the minute he started sharing his story. He's a vibrant and kind 12-year-old who will fit in well with an active family.
He has one sibling, but he said having even more in his new family is a big plus. Khristian loves to make people laugh! He is also smart.
When he has downtime, he can be found either building unique contraptions with Legos or snuggled away with a book in-hand and music playing. When he hits the outdoors, it is a whole different story. He loves playing basketball and going to the zoo.
Most of all, Khristian is polite, kind and very caring. He hopes to find a forever family that will make him feel safe, secure, loved and accepted.
Here is a look at Hope, a 10-year-old who loves playing mermaid.
She has an imagination that reaches beyond the stars. She is creative, friendly and loves being around people.
Hope has three siblings, two sisters and one brother, but she does not live with them.
"I would love to have some [siblings]," Hope told KVUE.
Hope's idea of having fun involves playing outside, jumping on the trampoline, swimming, skating and playing with animals. She loves the beach. But on a hot day, you might find her inside putting puzzles together and doing arts and crafts.
Next, we have Kaidyn.
Kaidyn said he wants to be a paramedic when he grows up, so we recruited Round Rock Fire Chief to help us out with this interview.
The 14-year-old is also respectful, humble and carries a "small-town-boy" charm. In fact, he loves the outdoors, construction projects and agriculture.
"I used to hate agriculture," he said. "I realized, let me give this a shot because I had an agriculture class. We had to show goats for the stock show that year. This year, I showed a rabbit. Two rabbits."
Kaidyn's caseworker, Lauren Morgan, believes Kaidyn will bring laughter and liveliness to his future home.
"Kaidyn has many hopes and wishes for his forever family but is clear that what is most important to him is love and kindness," Morgan said.
He also wants a family who will allow him to play team sports and explore the outdoors. If he has siblings and a dog, that is the cherry on top.
To learn more about Kaidyn or put in an inquiry, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
KVUE interviewed Logan in July. He’s got a big heart and a love for country music, so it felt only fitting to bring in one of his favorite artists.
It is not every day Logan dresses up in a suit and tie, but the 16-year-old wanted to show Texans what he is all about in hopes he finds a family to call his own.
The upbeat and kind boy typically likes to spend his time outside playing with friends or riding horses in the country, one of his favorite places to be.
He would fit in well with a family who is kind and supportive.
"Mainly I'm looking for people who care and have an understanding of what I can do and where I have been," he said.
Logan described himself as fun, caring and easygoing, but anyone who meets him would see those qualities shine within minutes.
His favorite country singer, Jack Ingram, can attest to that. He joined in on the interview to help families get to know Logan.
To learn more about Logan or put in an inquiry about adopting him, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Matthew is proud to be a member of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American Tribe, and hopes to find a family who appreciates that about him, too.
The 11-year-old lives by the motto, "Don't worry, be happy," and tries to make sure the people around him feel the same way. Linda Lowther, Matthew's caseworker with the Department of Family and Protective Services, said that is her favorite thing about him.
"Matthew loves people deeply and with all his heart," she said. "He's open, honest, willing to share about himself, and interested in other people."
KVUE's Tori Larned surprised Matthew by inviting Cosby to join their Zoom chat. During the interview, Cosby shared a special moment with Matthew when he told him about his upbringing.
"I have a forever family. I was adopted. So we share that piece of it," Cosby told Matthew.
Matthew hopes to be a football coach someday. If not that career though, he would like to go into the military.
To learn more about Matthew or send an inquiry about adopting him, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Tim is a 10-year-old boy who loves Beyblade, Legos and puppies!
He is a shy but energetic boy who loves to build things. Legos are his favorite.
So many things stand out about this 10-year-old, including his sweetheart, energy, great imagination and his love to teach others about his passions.
He even taught KVUE's Tori Larned how to play Beyblades during their time together.
His caseworker, Tony Finch, said every minute spent together with Tim is a blessing.
"He has a big personality. He really likes to laugh. He likes to make jokes, make funny faces. He just likes to be himself and just enjoy, you know, the time that we have together. We always have a good time and have fun together," Finch said.
Tim does well in school, particularly in a one-on-one environment. He said his favorite things at school are recess, science and math.
While Tim has so much to offer, he wants a family to walk alongside him through it all. When asked what he is looking for in his family, he said simply for them to be "nice people."
More than that though, Tim's family will need to be nurturing, but be able to provide him with a very structured environment. He needs a family that will be patient with him and reminds him of how special he is. Tim should be in a home where he is the only child or one where there are older siblings.
To learn more about Timothy or send an inquiry to adopt, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Every year, Travis County celebrates several children who say yes to their forever families. It's called National Adoption Day, and it happens in November as part of National Adoption Month. KVUE's Tori Larned spoke with one family who adopted a sibling pair in 2019 – about what this means to them.
KVUE interviewed Kanzes in August. She’s a smart young girl who’s ready to find her forever family.
She is 12 years old and full of personality. She sings and likes to dance. She even makes up her own dances too.
KVUE asked her why she likes singing and dancing.
"It brings back memories with other people I danced with," Kanzes said, adding that she dances almost every day.
Kanzes told KVUE she's more on the quiet side and likes to stay to herself.
"I don't really talk a lot. I am nice to people but I don't really like to talk to a lot of people," she said.
When she grows up, she wants to be a veterinarian. She loves snakes especially.
To learn more about Kanzes or send an inquiry about adopting her, visit her page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Kimeon is a 13-year-old who wants a family who plays sports and will help him navigate his emotions.
He is as active as they come. His love for basketball started young when he played with his cousins. Since then, his competitive and athletic nature pushes him to get better every day.
But he is a big fan of any sport, whether it's watching it, playing it in person or playing it on video games.
Off the court, Kimeon is just as talented. His steady hand lets him express himself through drawing and playing the piano.
"It helps me relax," Kimeon said.
When he grows up, he wants to be a basketball player, but one who uses his platform to make a difference in peoples' lives just like others have done for him.
"I want to give to charity and help people who have no homes and stuff," he said.
But first, the young, bright, energetic and kind boy wants to find a home of his own.
"An active family that likes to do sports and like and a family that can help me get through my stuff like my behaviors," Kimeon said. "When I get mad they can help me calm down."
Finding a forever family is important to Kimeon, who said he has been in the foster care system for a while now.
"I honestly want to be able to find a family that can take care of me forever, that makes me happy," he said.
His adoption preparation specialist, Jennifer Cuellar, picked up Kimeon's case a few years back. She said he will do well with a family involved in the community.
"Kimeon has a big heart. I think that is going to be the main thing that sticks out about Kimeon," she said. "He is trusting. He wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt."
To learn more about Kimeon or send an inquiry to adopt, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Natasha is a 16-year-old with many dreams, including finding a permanent place to call home.
Style is the 16-year-old's outlet. It is her way of expressing who she truly is – a vibrant, creative and hopeful girl who just wants to get adopted by a loving family more than anything.
"I've been in poverty and I've been poor before all those things, and I just want not the luxuries in life, but more than anything I just wish for them to love me," Natasha told KVUE's Tori Larned during their filming of Forever Families. "More than anything I want someone to love me."
Knowing the world is her oyster, Natasha's dreams extend far and wide. She dreams of being a model and actress, just like Brooklyn Decker, who joined in on the interview.
"I want that for you," Decker told Natasha about following her passion. "You deserve the luxuries of life. You deserve someone to love you unconditionally."
If Natasha is not a model, she said a tough life experience motivated her to think about being a paramedic.
Growing up under the care of Child Protective Services (CPS) has not been easy for her. Some moments are great, and others can be hard, she shared. One of those darker moments led to her encounter with a paramedic, where she found the positive.
"She was very kind to me and I didn't know what was happening," she said. "I want to be somebody who can impact somebody going through something."
On top of a loving family, Natasha said she wants to be an only child with a family who can focus on giving her the support she needs and wants. She would love for her family to enjoy spending time outdoors and playing sports.
To learn more about Natasha or send an inquiry to adopt, visit her page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Meilin is a 12-year-old girl who is deaf. She is looking for a family fluent in ASL to give her a good life.
Meilin's foster family takes her out to their farm often, where she gets to play football and ride horses, two activities she has come to love.
She also loves animals and hopes someday she can be a veterinarian.
Meilin is setting herself up for success to do just that. The bright and driven 12-year-old does well in school, especially in science. Math, on the other hand, Meilin said she can do without.
The 12-year-old is bright and driven. In fact, she already has her sights set on attending Gallaudet University when she is older, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C.
"That's one of my goals," she told KVUE's Tori Larned.
While she has her future laid out for her, as much as a 12-year-old can at least, Meilin needs a family fluent in American Sign Language who can support her on this journey.
"She needs parents who are going to accept her for who she is and be able to communicate with her and understand what she is saying and feeling," said Amanda Whisenhunt, Meilin's CPS adoption caseworker.
To learn more about Meilin or send an inquiry to adopt, visit her page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
In October, KVUE highlighted a sibling trio: Kristalyn, Phillip and Maryjane. All of them are deaf and need a family fluent in American Sign Language.
It's not every day that Maryjane, Phillip and Kristalyn get to be on TV, and they stole the spotlight!
The sibling trio is the most outgoing and upbeat bunch.
"We love these kids so much! They are great kids," said Kristen Hoyt, the children's foster mom.
Kristalyn, 8, is the oldest. The caring older sister loves to express herself through art, especially singing.
Phillip, 6, is the active one who likes to discover new things. He loves being around the animals out at the Hoyts' farm and playing with cars. He is learning to channel his energy into his learning.
"I like his energy. He's always going, going, going!" said Charles Hoyt, their foster dad.
Finally, Maryjane (MJ), 3, is an aspiring gymnast. She loves to be outdoors playing with the animals. However, a lot of the time she finds her way to the sandbox.
A common theme between the sibling trio is that they love the outdoors and animals. They could play outside and burn their energy all day if they could.
The three are developmentally on track and work on their sign language every day.
"They are just going to need some extra love, support, nurturance and attention so they can continue to grow and bond together," said Rebecca Salem, the children's adoption prep caseworker with CPS.
Once they find that, Salem said these children have a bright future full of so much growth and love.
Kristalyn, Phillip and Maryjane have to be adopted together.
To learn more about this trio or send an inquiry to adopt, visit their page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Next up we have Matthew, a superhero who’s ready to use his powers to find a home.
Matthew B. has always wanted to be a Ninja Turtle, and with his kind heart, agility and turtle shell, he is well on his way to being one.
"They like fighting crimes and they like solving mysteries and they are trying to stay in the shadows because they are turtles," Matthew said.
Yet, unlike these hidden superheroes, Matthew wants to step out of the shadows, hoping someday soon a family will finally see him.
"I want a nice family. Outgoing. Supportive," he said.
The 9-year-old loves spending time outside, either playing soccer or creating his own obstacle courses. He said he loves meeting new people so he can make them smile.
When he isn't scrambling around to burn his energy, Matthew likes stimulating his mind. He loves school because of math class, but in his free time, he bundles up in a book.
To learn more about Matthew or send an inquiry to adopt, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Joseph is a sweet and supportive 16-year-old boy looking for a forever home.
He loves to express himself or hone in on his emotions through many different outlets, whether it's sports or drawing.
"It keeps me focused. It helps me calm down when I'm frustrated or angry at something," he said.
His favorite sport is basketball, but swimming is a close second. He would love to make a career out of either someday.
When he is not playing sports with his friends or team, he loves to draw and help out his friends and family.
"I'm very helpful to people. I care about others and I'm a happy person," he said.
When I asked Joseph about one thing that would surprise people about him, he said many people do not know he used to be a dancer. Hip hop.
When it comes to the perfect family for him, he said it is one that is always there for him.
"[A family] that looks out for me and just makes sure that I'm doing the right thing and keeping me on track," he said. "I kind of grew up with a family that wouldn't really check on me that much. They kind of really didn't pay attention to me. They were just doing their own thing, and I felt like I was abandoned."
But Joseph's love stems far and wide and he has dreams of doing big things in this life with a loving family by his side.
To learn more about Joseph or send an inquiry to adopt, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
Javier is a sweet and determined boy who wants to join the military when he grows up.
At just 15-years-old, Javier has mapped out his life's journey, from what he wants to be when he grows up to who he wants to be as a person. The only thing missing from the equation is a family to call his own.
Javier has grown up with a heart that cares for others. Like any other teen, he likes catching up with friends, playing sports and spending time outdoors at the lake or beach.
He also has his sights on ROTC, a program that prepares high school and college students for a life in the military.
"Physical fitness is kind of a big thing for me," he told KVUE about why he wants to go into the military.
He also said it offers a vast variety of job opportunities he can explore.
When Javier is not immersing himself in his extracurriculars, he values his time reading a book or drawing.
"It gets my mind off things," he explained.
He describes himself as sometimes serious when he has a goal to reach or has a bad day, but he always tries to be very nice and generous.
Javier hopes his future family has two parents and a sibling. He would not mind a dog either! More importantly, he hopes whatever family brings him in has time to spend with him and is supportive of all his goals in life.
He enjoys quiet time, so having his own room would be a plus!
To learn more about Javier or send an inquiry to adopt, visit his page on the Heart Gallery of Central Texas.
The Wangerin family adopted Lily, 11, in February and they are in the process of adopting Victor, 12.
Two children, two portraits, two parents – the ingredients needed to bring one Austin family together.
For years, Lucas and Jonathan Wangerin wanted to start a family but weren't sure which avenue was best for them.
"It was either going to be surrogacy which was really expensive or just finding a kid that needed a home," said Lucas Wangerin.
Jonathan's niece, Lily, was already a part of their picture before they considered adopting her. Circumstances separated Lily from her mother, also Jonathan's sister, but how she fits into the Wangerin's picture was not so clear at first.
The couple wanted to be there for her, but they battled with what was the right way to do that. As they weighed their options, they kept circling back to the Heart Gallery.
"We had actually been looking at the Heart Gallery a lot throughout our process," Lucas said.
The Heart Gallery is a nonprofit highlighting children in Central Texas foster care in need of a permanent family.
"Then, when that came back up is when we saw Lily on there," Lucas added.
They knew their love for her was boundless, but seeing her photograph in the Heart Gallery was the sign they needed to take the plunge and adopt her.
"I finally upgraded from uncle to dad," Jonathan said about her adoption.
Lily is a beautiful and energetic 11-year-old with autism, but that's why Lucas said Lily, alongside many other children in the Heart Gallery, have trouble getting adopted.
However, for the Wangerin's, that is what made her all the more special to them. They adopted Lily in February 2020.
During the process of adopting Lilly, Jonathan and Lucas knew their family had room for one more.
"When something feels right, that that's the right time that we do it again," Jonathan said.
They revisited the Heart Gallery and found Victor, a 12-year-old with autism. They took him into their home, and now he is in the process of getting adopted too.
Lucas and Jonathan said they were supported throughout their entire adoption experience, specifically in receiving the resources they needed to take care of children with autism.
They hope their story shows other families the magic of the Heart Gallery, and the importance of giving children like Lily and Victor, a forever home.
"People tell us we've done so much, and all I tell them is I just feel like I was being the parent that I was supposed to be," Lucas said.
If you'd like to learn more about any of the kids we've highlighted in this special, just head on over to the Heart Gallery of Central Texas. For every child's individual stories, visit kvue.com/foreverfamilies.
Remember, it's more important than ever to share their stories on social media because you never know how many shares will get this story in front of their future family.
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