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Following her spirit

The Graham family

Ramona Graham did not know Ashley (third from left). But when she heard the teen tell a judge that she wanted to be adopted, Ramona felt compelled to help.

Ramona Graham works as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) supervisor in Louisiana, monitoring the cases of children in foster care and learning which of them need an advocate in court.

Already a mother of two children, a son Eugene, 20, and daughter, Sydney, 12, Ramona knew that she would eventually have another child. She just wasn’t sure when it would happen.

“I was not interested in birthing any more children, but I always knew I would adopt another child one day. I thought I would adopt a boy,” Ramona said.

“My spirit said, ‘that’s her!’”

Ramona was working in a courtroom the day she met her daughter, Ashley.

“I had been at that job for at least 15 years, and I had never seen Ashley before, even though her case had been open for over four years,” Ramona said. Ashley was living with a relative who did not want to adopt.

Ramona heard the judge ask Ashley if she still wanted to be adopted. “She lit up like a Christmas tree in Times Square with her big brown eyes, and said “yes.” Ramona felt immediately drawn to Ashley. As she puts it, “My spirit just said: ‘That’s her!’ ”

Ramona talked to Ashley’s social worker to learn more about Ashley’s situation. When Ashley’s worker told Ramona that she could become a placement resource for Ashley, Ramona started the process to be licensed to foster and adopt.

Eventually Ramona was able to invite Ashley to visit and join Ramona’s family and friends at their dance group. Ashley enjoyed that day so much that she stayed for the weekend. Soon, she was spending every weekend with Ramona and her family. Finally, Ashley decided she wanted to move in for good. It was what Ramona had hoped for—she was officially Ashley’s foster parent.

Moving through moments of sadness

When Ashley moved in full-time, she “didn’t fully know my mom side yet,” laughs Ramona. Ashley now had chores and other new expectations, such as keeping up with school work.

While working through conflicts brought about by those changes, Ramona also realized that she needed to learn more about her daughter’s history in order to understand why Ashley would get emotional at certain times, or shut Ramona out.

Before Ashley moved in, Ramona had avoided reading all of the documents about Ashley’s background. “I wanted to get to know her on her own,” she said.

Now Ramona decided to read about her daughter’s past. What she learned helped her better understand the hard times Ashley had been through and how they might have led to her current behavior.

Ramona wasn’t quite sure how to best comfort Ashley, especially during sad times, which included holidays. Even with all her training, Ramona says that “those were challenging moments.”

She stayed close to Ashley.

“I went to her bedside and I would pray with her, and just reinforce that she didn’t have to be by herself.”

She also made sure that if Ashley wanted to see any of her biological family members, she could.

“Ashley has given me a clearer understanding of what children need, and in my work I was able to help some new foster parents through my own experience,” Ramona said. “A child that feels unwanted needs to know that they are wanted, they are special, they are worthy.”

Showing Ashley that she was special brought joy. Ramona threw Ashley her first-ever birthday party. They visited Chicago, and Ashley touched sand for the first time. The family took a seven-day cruise to Mexico, the first time Ashley had left the country. They were making new memories and getting to know each other better. Ashley’s adoption was finalized on February 11, 2019.

Opening hearts

Ramona calls the family refrigerator her “sharing wall.” At the end of the school year, she posted Ashley’s report card, showing the A’s and B’s Ashley had worked hard to attain, which landed her on the school honor roll. The wall is also covered in photos that depict their lives together as a family.

Beyond their tight-knit family, Ramona says that as a single mom, her larger community has been a critical support system for her and for Ashley.

“That old saying is so true, it takes a village to raise a child,” Ramona said. “If we see one child in need, there should be more than one person there for them. There’s no reason for children to have to grow up without parents. We have the resources and the people. If we can just open up our hearts and not be afraid, we can do it.”