By JENNIFER DEAN
Redlands parents Jeff and Serena Oriero know what it's like to open their home and hearts to children who need a family.
And now they hope sharing their stories of adopting two young boys through Olive Crest Homes and Services for Abused Children will inspire others to do the same.
Despite the fact that nearly 40 percent of American adults have considered adoption, thousands of children are still waiting for a "forever family."
There are about 500,000 children in foster care throughout the nation, according to the U.S. Children's Bureau.
More than 5,000 of those children are in Riverside County, said Kerri Dunkelberger, director of foster and adoption services at Olive Crest.
Olive Crest, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, has centers throughout Southern California and the Pacific Northwest. The organization serves at-risk families and children from birth to age 22.
The Orieros already had three birth children, but wanted to adopt someday. When their oldest hit high school, they decided it was time.
"A friend knew an adoption worker with Olive Crest and gave me her number," Serena Oriero said. "I gave her a call and we talked for well over an hour. By the time I got off the phone, I knew it would be a good fit for us."
She and her husband immediately began the certification process, which included a family interview, home walk-throughs, pre-certification training courses, including attachment and adoption training, and licensing paperwork.
"There is training for everything from attachment to grief and loss," Dunkelberger said. "We do a lot of training."
"We got a call one Monday afternoon asking if we could foster a 2-month-old African-American baby boy," Serena Oriero said.
When she met little Caleb for the first time, he was asleep in his car seat.
"He did one of those baby smiles in his sleep and that was it for me," she said. "He had the most beautiful dimples."
Because he was an infant, the Orieros fostered him until he was old enough for adoption. Within a year, he was old enough to be eligible for adoption. They began the process and six months later it was official.
Caleb's adoption was finalized three years ago and a short while later the family got another call. Elijah, who had just turned 2, had come up for adoption. The rights of his parents had already been terminated.
The Orieros met him at the county office and then took him to church that weekend.
"On Valentine's Day we brought him home for good," Serena Oriero said.
Serena now works as the Inland Empire church engagement recruiter for Olive Crest. She visits churches sharing her story in hopes that it will inspire others to adopt or foster.
"I love their heart and passion to help kids," she said of Olive Crest. "I've only been with them for a month ... I consider it my dream job."
During the holidays, there's always a need for volunteers and donations, Dunkelberger said. "In Riverside, we have some volunteers who work with at-risk youth in the community. We also need tutors and mentors."
Each Olive Crest office has a community involvement coordinator who works with the community to find donations for individual needs, plan events such as holiday parties and coordinate wish lists for children.
Visit www.olivecrest.org for more details.
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008