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By the time she reached her sophomore year of college, Anna Guntlisbergen knew she was destined to one day become an adoptive parent.
While volunteering in Uganda, she fell in love with the country as well as its orphaned children, most recently estimated at 2.5 million, including 1 million orphaned by AIDS.
In fact, she formed a close bond with one little boy named Lucas. When she met her future husband, David Guntlisbergen, she asked if he was open to the idea of adoption.
He was. But baby Lucas passed away in Uganda before they could bring him home. Though they were heartbroken, the couple knew it wasn’t the end of their journey to adopt.
Over three years, the St. Paul couple adopted three boys from Uganda — Solo, Zion and Finn, now ages 3, 4 and 5 — all shortly before they turned 1.
Earlier this year, they brought home their daughter, 15-month-old Zimrah, from India.
Going into their first adoption, they were most concerned about the funding, Anna Guntlisbergen said.
Adoption costs vary, but they can easily range between $5,000 and $50,000, after agency costs, legal fees and, in the case of international adoption, travel expenses.
“It’s daunting to look at that number and know: We have to figure out a way to pay for this,” Guntlisbergen said.
But love found a way for the Guntlisbergens.
Fearless fund raising
By the time the Guntlisbergens made it to their fourth adoption, they were so busy raising their growing family that financing was low on their list of concerns.
“The funding always comes through,” said Guntlisbergen, who estimates the adoption costs of all four of their kids at $120,000 collectively.
But that money didn’t come out of nowhere.
Far from it. The Guntlisbergens have worked tirelessly to raise funds for each of their four international adoptions, using a mix of grants and personal fund-raising campaigns.
“Otherwise, we would have had no way to adopt even one child,” Guntlisbergen said.
For their most recent adoption, the design said, “Send our Love to India,” and could be purchased by friends and family.
Guntlisbergen also designed a grid-pattern graphic to share on Facebook, inviting friends and family to choose a heart numbered 1 through 100, corresponding to the amount they wished to donate to the cause.
Today Guntlisbergen — who worked for three years at an adoption agency helping families navigate the sometimes-daunting process of adoption — runs her own adoption-consulting service called The Gathering Room.
She helps other families set up their own adoption fund-raisers and shares advice for life after adoption, too.
“Adoption is my biggest passion,” said Guntlisbergen, whose personal focus has been the cause of orphan care.
Crowdsourcing has helped many families raise money for adoption costs, she said.
The Colorado-based nonprofit Adopt a Love Story combines the power of crowdfunding and video for families hoping to adopt. A professional film team flies to the family’s location to create a video (for a fee) about their adoption journey. The Guntlisbergens’ touching 10-minute Adopt a Love Story video can be seen at adoptalovestory.com/family/guntlisbergen. Their campaign raised more than $29,000.
Guntlisbergen also recommends adoptive families seek out grants. There’s money out there for adoptive families. It just takes time and research to find it, she said.
Guntlisbergen’s a la carte services through The Gathering Room range from $200 to $300 for various support services or $40 to $50 per hour for consulting.
An Adoption LOC
Geoff and Nicole Bullock of Brooklyn Park can’t imagine life without their daughters, 7-year-old Alaya, who brings her diary wherever she goes, and 5-year-old Annika who wants to be outside in the backyard 24/7.
“You don’t know how many times I’ve watched Frozen,” their dad said. “I know it word for word.”
Both girls joined the family as infants through domestic adoptions through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
When unexpected costs arose with their second adoption (ultimately totaling more than $35,000), the Bullocks refused to give up.
Geoff Bullock said: “We literally sold our house to adopt Baby No. 2. We were lucky we had the equity in it.”
Knowing others won’t necessarily have that option, Bullock, a financial educator at Firefly Credit Union, came up with the idea of a special line of credit for adoptive families, allowing them to borrow money as expenses arise.
Instead of paying interest on an entire sum as is customary with a traditional loan, the adoption line of credit requires a payment only on the amount borrowed, making it more affordable.
“You can take out what you need — for example, for a home study,” Bullock said of the long and involved evaluations families go through to receive adoptive placements.
On Jan. 2, Firefly Credit Union’s nine Twin Cities locations launched the new line of credit.
The idea won an industry competition and grew in momentum: Now credit unions around the country are contacting Firefly to pursue the concept.
“People are priced out of adoption,” said Bullock, who hopes to change that fact.
Keep in mind that a tax professional can help to determine eligibility for state and federal adoption credits for all types of adoptions. Also, many workplaces offer adoption benefits, including financial assistance for adoptions
and/or parental leave.
A culture of adoption
When adoption costs become prohibitive, another option to explore is the adoption of kids in foster care, said Alexis Oberdorfer, Executive Director of Adoption at Children’s Home Society of Minnesota.
“Let’s not forget we have lots of kids in foster care with a range of needs whose adoption fees are free,” Oberdorfer said.
Adopting a child from foster care typically involves few or no fees in most states. Parents may choose to hire a private agency to help them through this process. These families can incur out-of-pocket expenses, but they can typically recoup them from federal or state programs after the adoption is finalized.
In the U.S., roughly 100,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted, according to the St. Paul-based North American Council on Adoptable Children.
Overall adoption rates are decreasing nationwide and in Minnesota, especially in the area of international adoptions, according to a June 2018 article in the Star Tribune.
Foster care adoptions in Minnesota, however, appear to be bucking that trend, climbing nearly 30 percent during the past decade. The Children’s Home Society and Lutheran Social Service programs, which used to handle primarily international adoptions, in 2017 facilitated 137 adoptions from foster care, 95 international adoptions and 43 domestic infant adoptions.
Minnesota is special in that it boasts a strong history of adoption. More than 5,000 children arrived in the state via orphan trains from 1882 to 1929, according to the Minnesota Historical Society. The orphan train movement was the largest mass migration of children in U.S. history with an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 children relocated from the overcrowded streets of eastern cities like New York and Boston.
“Minnesotans are caring people, with a higher median income,” Bullock said. “There’s a culture around [adoption] that’s unique to who we are as Minnesotans.”
Bullock added that almost everyone he talks to has some connection to adoption, either personally or through someone close to them.
“[Adoption] permeates the culture,” Oberdorfer said. “And we don’t even know to what degree.”
Whatever the historical and cultural history around it, potential parents today seem to be creatively overcoming their financial obstacles to grow their families through adoption.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Bullock said. “Our daughters have brought us so much joy that I can’t explain with words. I would encourage everyone to explore adoption.”
Oberdorfer agreed: “People who have room in their hearts to expand their family should not let money stand in the way.”
Abbie Burgess is a Twin Cities freelance writer and lifestyle blogger at thepinkpaperdoll.com.
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