Thirteen years ago, my wife and I adopted a sibling group of racially mixed boys. When the oldest was in 1st grade, I stated to the assistant principal of our local public school that I didn’t think he was being treated fairly because he was black. To my surprise, she agreed with me. We immediately pulled him out of that school and started home schooling. After a year and a half, we were exhausted.
I arranged a visit at Salem Lutheran School. I met Dr. Gaertner and she arranged a tour of the school with one of the outstanding 8th graders. I was very impressed.
The next day, we met in Dr. Gaertner’s office. (A number of people in the school office had seen an article in the local paper about us, celebrating National Adoption Day.) I told Dr. Gaertner we had two problems and she wanted to know what they were.
I told her that I had not seen a black face anywhere in the school. She got really excited and told me it was a problem that she and her staff regularly prayed about and that our family was an answered prayer. That got my attention.
My second problem was that my wife and I had both taken very early retirements and were no longer receiving salaries. Dr. Gaertner assured me that we would not have to worry. Salem Church and School were willing to partner financially to make tuition affordable with our ministry as adoptive parents. We became members at Salem Lutheran Church and the boys attended children’s ministry events.
Over the years, there have been many personal family issues that needed attention. I can’t count the number of times that we have walked into the school feeling like the weight of the world was on our shoulders. Not only were all of those problems solved, they were always solved quickly. Dr. Gaertner’s eyes would light up and her response would blow us away.
We would walk out of the school amazed that she and her staff had again reduced our mountain to a molehill.
There were serious things and humorous things as the years went by. The boys came from a rough, abusive environment, to put it nicely. The older boys were old enough to still have memories of their environment, while the younger ones were manifesting their experience in other ways. Some of these experiences involved their classmates and sometimes created very difficult situations, even branding the boys with a poor reputation. For example, when one of the boys habitually stole another child’s snacks, his teacher understood that his behavior was the result of having been in a horrible situation as a toddler. She worked out a perfect solution. If he went all week without taking someone’s snack, there was a surprise for him in one of her desk drawers. Problem solved.
Sometimes the situations became unmanageable and solutions didn’t always yield lasting results. As the boys got older, they had a difficult time making friends due to some of their choices. Mr. Saalfeld, Salem School’s assistant director of the school, worked with the boys individually as they experienced various issues, mentoring and providing a consistent system of behavior management. It would work for a while but their behavior would backslide. The boys weren’t able to establish lasting relationships.
It became clear that we needed to search for a different environment where they could begin to establish new relationships and better reputations. We found a church where the boys are in the majority and mom and dad are in the minority. They now have young role models that look like them, and understand where they’ve been. They appreciate the progress the boys have made, thanks to their time with Salem Lutheran Church and School, and are willing to invest in their future. The boys are excited to go to church and to the youth activities.
We are forever grateful for the season of love and support we experienced at Salem! We have to believe that Salem is different because we were there, too. We watched the minority population grow and we partnered with teachers as to how best to help kids coming from these types of backgrounds, as well as providing Salem’s student population with opportunities to grow and accept others with different points of view.
During those years, we were loved unconditionally,
A thankful family.