Covenant Spotlight
The heart gallery The heart gallery
The heart gallery

By Andria Fontenot  

   I set out to give back to our community and share the gift of photography God had blessed me with, and I gained something invaluable in return. What started as a volunteer photography role resulted with our family gaining a daughter. 

   Seven years ago, I began volunteering to photograph children who are available for adoption from foster care. Of the 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., approximately 120,000 are waiting to be adopted. There are over 3,400 children in foster care in Louisiana; over 100 of these children are part of the Louisiana Heart Gallery.  

The local need 

   The Louisiana Heart Gallery facilitates and utilizes photographs, paintings, and videos to highlight the personalities of children awaiting adoption. These works of art are displayed within churches to help find forever families for waiting children and to mobilize the faith-based community to support the needs of the foster care system. The children who are part of Louisiana Heart Gallery are ages 7-17. Each year, approximately 20,000 youth across the U.S. age out of the foster care system, and without the support of a family, they are at significantly increased risk of experiencing homelessness, criminal justice system involvement, teen pregnancy, trafficking, unemployment, and other adversities.  

Foster & adoption truths 

   Across the state of Louisiana, we are in desperate need for more foster families. If you have ever considered becoming a foster or adoptive parent, I urge you to take the next step and begin your foster care journey. You don’t need to own your own home, be wealthy, have children already, have a college degree, be married, or be a stay-at-home parent to foster or adopt. Adoption from foster care is free and a large majority of children adopted from foster care are eligible for support after adoption.   

   As a volunteer photographer who also interviews youth for video bios, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a large majority of our youth who are available for adoption. Sometimes, I am brave enough to ask them what they desire in a family. The answer I hear the most is “someone who will always be there for me, no matter what.”  

Teens need a chance too 

   Sometimes, they feel comfortable enough with me to share their fear that “no one wants to adopt a teenager.” I reassure them that there are people out there who want teenagers, and that it’s never too late. I share with them the story about how our family gained a daughter, Natalyia, after she aged out of foster care. At the time our daughter aged out, youth exited the foster care system at 18. Her caseworker called and said that her foster parents kicked her out after they weren’t receiving payments for her anymore. She had recently graduated high school and needed a place to stay in until she began college in the fall. She is the best “yes” we’ve ever said.  

   That was 4 years ago, and she has brought so much joy, laughter, and love to our family. If you are considering fostering a teenager, Natalyia wants you to know that “teens in foster care are often overlooked and pushed to the side because they have more baggage than younger children. But, it does not mean that they are any less deserving of the same love and affection that younger children receive. Yes, teens can be challenging. But with support, love, and patience, they will open up and become the best version of themselves. I believe every child deserves a chance at having a great family. To feel loved and truly wanted.”