Family matters

One couple's labor of love nurtures a new family tree

One couple's labor of love nurtures a new family tree

December 06, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

The Daveler family took a pre-Christmas trip to New York City six years ago. They went to the top of the Empire State Building.

Bobby and Debbie Daveler waited in line with their three foster children to see Santa Claus at Macy's department store of "Miracle on 34th Street" fame.

They made the jolly old elf cry.

With Debbie and the kids - Kelly, Matthew and Emily - gathered around, Bobby Daveler sat on Santa's lap and put his arm around St. Nick's neck.


"All we want for Christmas is for their adoption to go through," he said.

"Santa broke down," Debbie Daveler recalls. He had been listening to request after request for toy after toy. When he heard the Davelers' wish, he had to take a break and reroute his line to another department store Santa.

The couple had promised the children that their long-awaited adoption would be final by Christmas. Although some technicalities almost delayed the process, the agreement was signed and approved Dec. 20, 1996.

"Miracle on 34th Street," laughs Debbie Daveler.

The Davelers, both 46, graduated together from South Hagerstown High School. They got reacquainted at their 10-year reunion, dated and were married April 20, 1985.

The couple wanted children. Debbie Daveler was able to become pregnant, but wasn't able to carry a baby to term. They went through the "emotional roller coaster" of in vitro fertilization. Two private adoptions fell through.

"It just felt like there was an emptiness," Debbie Daveler says.

They decided to take the foster child path. They received the required training and were licensed in November 1994.

Less than two months later, on Dec. 26, Bobby Daveler got the call that three children, siblings ages 11, 9 and 2, needed a foster home.

"I'll have to check with Debbie," he told the caller.

"They're bringing three kids out here," he told his wife.

The placement was intended to be temporary, since the Davelers were interested in adopting younger children.

It didn't happen that way.

Kelly, Matthew and Emily - three children of different ages with different issues - arrived Jan. 3, 1995.

The challenges the Davelers faced were not small. But they kept their word, says Jennifer Peifer, foster care social worker with Washington County Department of Social Services, who has worked closely with the family.

"They are by far the most excellent foster adoptive parents I've come in contact with," she says. "They see beyond problems and difficulties. They're able to pull out (the children's) potential and strengths."

"They love their kids. It's very natural," Peifer adds.

She calls the Davelers "great people" who deserve the award presented to them in Baltimore Nov. 1 by the Maryland Department of Human Resources Social Services Administration - Washington County Adoptive Parents of 2002.

Kelly Daveler, 19, agrees. "They are wonderful people," she says of her parents.

She admits that the process was not all easy. She says she was stubborn and sometimes "acted out."

But she came to realize that she and her younger brother and sister were better off. "We were getting an opportunity that a lot of kids just don't receive."

"I couldn't ask for a better family," Kelly Daveler says. "I wouldn't change a thing."

The Davelers told their children they'd never lie to them, that they would not "sugarcoat" things about the adoption or anything else, Debbie Daveler says.

There were nightmares and many nights spent in the rocking chair as they became a family. There were learning and adjustment problems. The family worked each problem through, little by little, Debbie Daveler says.

"It's been so emotional at times. But the kids kept us going," she adds.

The couple wanted to provide the children with the opportunity to be the best they could be. And, she says, there's nothing like the sense of pride and joy that comes in knowing the children are happy.

So the Davelers decided - "as a family" - to do it again.

Joel, then 3, came to the Davelers' Sharpsburg home in March 1998. His adoption was made final in November 2001.

Legal adoption was important to Bobby and Debbie Daveler. "We had made that promise," Debbie Daveler says.

Kelly Daveler says she breathed a big sigh of relief when her adoption was finalized six years ago, providing a blanket of security.

"When you're in foster care, the fact that you can be moved always is in the back of your mind," she says. "To be told something and to actually see it in black and white was totally different."

Before the adoption became final, the Davelers were constantly aware they could lose their foster children. Debbie Daveler designated songs for them, so even if they weren't together, they'd have a connection to her and Bobby when they'd hear the songs.

Like their children, the couple felt a calm when the adoption was final. Now, instead of dealing with court dates, reviews and vistation, they could focus on the kids and their way of raising them. "We became a 'forever family,'" says Debbie Daveler, using the phrase that's become a slogan for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

For Matthew, the adoption papers were more of a legal thing.

"We already felt part of the family," he says.

Terry Phillips, a home coordinator with Washington County Department of Social Services, wrote the letter nominating Bobby and Debbie Daveler for the adoptive parents of the year honor.

"The Davelers taught these kids what family means," she says. "This family is going to be a family for a lifetime."

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