Skip to main content

Home is Where the Heart Is

11/04/2013 12:50PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

Gallery: Adoption Day [4 Images] Click any image to expand.

Ah, November! It’s such a wonderful time of the year; the start of the upcoming holidays and the beginning of the end of another year. November has a shortened work and school week set aside to celebrate those things in life we are thankful for and is the most traveled holiday in the country with millions of people going “home” to see family. Did you know that November is also National Adoption Month? It is! What a great reason to celebrate and be thankful for families.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute ( states that over 400,000 children in the U.S. are living “without permanent families” within the foster care system. Furthermore, over 25% of these children are eligible for adoption and will wait over three years for any kind of family to call home. In addition, according to UNICEF, “around the world, there are an estimated 153 million orphans who have lost one parent.” Of those, 17,900,000 orphans have lost both parents and are living in orphanages or on the streets and “lack the care and attention required for healthy development.”  The statistics are overwhelming.

But there is hope! In the past 15 years, huge strides in government programs, initiatives and awareness have helped break down barriers, allowing for single parent home adoptions, more transracial adoptions, gay couple adoptions, as well as ease the financial burdens of adoptions.

In 1998, President Clinton announced an expansion of the internet to increase adoptions.

In 2001, President Bush signed into law the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act increasing the tax credits for adopting families as well as the employer-provided tax benefits. There was also an increase in allowable subsidies.

In honor of National Adoption Month, to celebrate families and give thanks, On The Coast magazine recently sat down with some area residents who turned to adoption to fill their homes with children to complete their family. We also talked with a frequent visitor to the area who tracked her birth parents and was graciously willing to share some truths and triumphs about her journey. Those special people include:

Steve and Tammy Wright, longtime residents of Niceville. Steve was the Director of Golf at Kelly Plantation from 1999-2011 and then the Head Golf Professional from 2011-2013.  Tammy was involved in sales and marketing for many years as well as active in the Chamber of Commerce before becoming a full-time mom.  They recently relocated to Nags Head, NC.

Daniel “Ryan” and Janice Dunlap. Ryan is the 911 Communications Chief for Okaloosa County and Janice, an ARNP, works for White Wilson Medical Center. They adopted two girls only 4 ½  months apart!

Daniel and Kelli Higgins in Crestview have a full house with eight children! Daniel is the administrator for the area VA benefits center and Kelli runs her own photography business on the side when her full-time job as Chief Operations Operator of the Higgins clan allows her time. She also volunteers her time to take profile pictures for children awaiting adoption.

Erin “Nikki” Heinemann, now in her mid-thirties, is a frequent yearly visitor here on the coast and knew from an early age that she and her three siblings were adopted. She has since found her birth parents and maintains the relationship.

OTC: What made you choose adoption?

[Both the Wright and Dunlap family faced years of failed fertility treatments before turning to adoption.]

Higgins: My husband and I wanted a large family, but when I was expecting baby #5, I felt guilty that we were growing our family this way when there were so many children out there who needed a home. After Harrison was born we decided to look into adoption and started to take classes. A year later in 2010 we received an email with photos of Latrell (10) and Chanya (5). After a family discussion with all our children, we decided we would put in our paperwork to adopt them. The fact that they were African American didn't make any difference - our family was already of diversity and we were used to that. We make sure we celebrate our differences and don't ignore them. I want to make sure they grow up being proud of who they are.  

OTC: In your adoption decision-making process, what were the key factors to your decisions and how did you get to those decisions?

Wrights: We prayed A LOT!  We truly relied on His direction. We chose Catholic Charities (in FWB) because it was the closest and it turned out to be the least expensive for Home Studies. We chose to sign on with Bundle of Hope Ministries because they called to check on us four months after we had inquired about their agency. They also had a great percentage of successful adoptions, their wait time was shorter than the others and they had the most completed adoptions in a year. I truly feel they were both God’s path for our journey.

OTC: Please describe your adoption process.

Dunlaps: We adopted two children. They were newborns when we got them. They are 4 ½ months apart in age. Currently they are 18 months and 13 ½ months old, both girls (pray for us in about 13 years when they are teens!). During our adoption process we experienced many failed attempts.  We had two birth mothers change their minds, one of them was after the birth of the child. We supported her financially through the pregnancy and turns out she was running a scam, never intending to give us her child. Because of this devastating experience, we gave up on the idea of ever having a child. Early in 2012 we received notification through personal contacts of the opportunity to adopt again. We were very excited that the birth mom chose us and she seemed very confident in her decision. Since she was early in her pregnancy we were able to attend all her appointments and ultrasounds with her. I also got to be in the delivery room while my husband waited in a nearby room. Shortly after we found out she chose us we were notified through another personal contact that another opportunity was unfolding and we were able to adopt our second child. We could not believe how blessed we were going from thinking we would not have any children to having two.

OTC: What are some of the blessings pertaining to the process? 

WRIGHTS: The process of the Home Study is pretty grueling. There is SO…MUCH…PAPERWORK! I have joked that the road to the Profile was my labor! (The Profile is the completed Home Study with the “albums” that are shared with potential birthparents when they choose adoption. The birthparents then choose who they want to raise their child.)  We were so blessed in the timing of it all. Our caseworker had decided to leave the industry and so instead of passing us along to the next person she busted a move and got our Profile done two months early. It was incredible! Huge blessings!   

Dunlaps: The blessings are endless. Both girls are a joy and a blessing from the minute we laid eyes on them. Oddly enough I feel they were born to be sisters. We could not imagine our life without them and the worries I had about not being able to love them as my own, I can’t even remember what that was.

Higgins: The process was very easy and in our experience, fast! They got along so wonderfully with the other children and had no problem fitting in to our already busy household.

OTC: How did you tell or plan to tell the children that they are adopted? 

Wrights: We talk about adoption freely and spend time with other adopted families.  We celebrate their Family Days each year - we have Family Day both on June 21 and on November 13. On those days, the judge signed that they are and will always be ours.  On their special Family Day, we let them choose the dinner and dessert and we tell their story from start to finish. My girls are five- and six-years old. They are starting to piece together what it really means to be adopted. Our goal is to always have it be understood as the wonderful way we became a family. We don’t want it to ever be a label and so instead of saying they are adopted, we say we are ALL adopted (which, when you think about it, we are!)  I often say, "They didn’t come from my belly, they came from my heart!"

Nikki: They (her adoption parents) sent out special adoption announcements instead of birth announcements, bought an adoption baby album (I don't see what's different about it compared to regular baby books), and the notice in the newspaper of my grandparent’s hometown mentioned I was adopted.  So I've always known.

OTC:  If older when adopted, did you let them pick their own name? If younger, did you keep the name given by their birth mom?

Dunlaps: No, we had specific names picked out for the girls and knew that’s how we would do it. Oddly enough their names fit their personalities perfectly!

Higgins: The children kept their first names; it was the only thing they had that belonged to them and I didn't want to change that.

Wrights: Names and their meanings have always been important to me. Both of our girls have names that represent something about their birth mom. Our oldest's middle name is part her birth mom’s first name and part my middle name. Our youngest's name has the same initials as her birth mom's first and middle names.  The names also both represent water in some way.

OTC: If resources were limitless (all resources - including time/energy/money/space), how many children would you adopt? 

Higgins: If resources were limitless I would adopt so many more. I wish I could now but our five-bedroom house is bursting at the seams.

Dunlaps: I always wanted five children [but we] agree after all the heartache we went through, we are done.

Wrights: If God was to open our hearts again we would be more than happy. As I see it, our resources ARE limitless to what we truly desire and if it was meant to be, the doors would open for us to adopt again. 

OTC (to Nikki, specifically, since she has been through the other side of the adoption process): How has the process of finding your birth mom enriched (or burdened) your life?

Nikki: It has enriched my life. I'd been curious about her since I was 5 or 6 years old. My parents knew she was 16 years old [when she delivered me]. When I would ask, they would tell me that they didn't know all the circumstances but she must have loved me very much to understand that they could provide better for my needs than she could. When I was 16-ish I carefully asked my mom for all the information she had. She shared the small file of information and offered to help me search if I was interested. I've been in touch with my bio-dad too. We met for the first time Christmas 2000. Getting to know him has been a bit more complicated than getting to know her; he's a little more stand-offish. (It’s a process.)

OTC: Did your birth mom have any additional kids? If so, do you know any of them?

Nikki: Yes and yes!

OCT: Did your birth dad?

Nikki: No, surprising since he's been married three times.

OTC: How do you tackle the medical history questions about "immediate" family members?

Nikki: I always tell the docs I'm adopted up front, then explain I'm slowly getting to know my bio family and health issues. I tell them what I know for certain, diabetes and high blood pressure on both sides, and that the rest is still a mystery. Because adoption is considered more mainstream now (thank you, celebrities), the docs don't flinch anymore. When I was kid, the docs would look at my mom as if she had just spoken in a foreign language.  So she would have to explain that the medical records of the parents were not included in the small packet of information she received.  There have been a handful of times the docs have said, “OK, well, in that case, we'll need to run additional tests since we have no starting point.”  Meeting bio-mom and getting to know her has given me access to more medical history and a glimpse of what I could look like as I grow older - hairy chin and all!

OTC: Has being adopted and going thru this process affected your decision to have (or not have) children? If so, how?

Nikki: I've always wanted to adopt kids rather than birth them. But I think that's more because I watched a very graphic movie about the changes to a woman's body when she is pregnant starting at embryo development to birth at the inappropriate age of five.  It so forever scarred my retina and parts of brain, I can't look at diagrams or models of the uterus without having flashbacks!

My folks were 30 when I was adopted, 48 when I graduated from high school. They were the oldest parents I knew at the time; most of my friends' parents were much younger than mine. Luckily my parents were the “cool” parents on our street and within our circles of friends. But there were some days when it was embarrassing that they were so old - like at HS graduation, someone asked me if my dad was my grandpa.

My heart breaks for all the kids out there in horrible situations through are no fault of their own.  There's a movie called Martian Child with John Cusack.  My favorite line of the movie is near the beginning; he's talking to his sister as they walk up to one of her kids' soccer games and says, “I don't want to bring another kid into this world. But how do you argue against loving one that's already here?” Seriously, how do you argue with that?!  That one line sums up my feelings about adoption 200%.


Adoption is changing the way we define families. Data for the number of private domestic adoptions is not systematically reported because states are not legally required to report the number of private domestic adoptions, and there are few sources of that information. The most recent and comprehensive data is reported by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCSC gathered adoption totals from a variety of sources and estimated that in 1992 nearly 127,000 children were adopted through all types of adoption -- international, foster care, private agency, independent and step-parent.

International Adoption in the U.S., prompted by war, poverty and social upheaval, shows
U.S. citizens started adopting children from other countries in substantial numbers after World War II (1939-1945). Many of the children adopted were European and Japanese war orphans. Additional adoptions followed after the civil war in Greece (1946-49), the Korean War (1950-53) and the war in Vietnam (1954-1975). But war and its aftermath are not the only factors leading countries to allow their children to be adopted abroad. Desperate poverty and social upheaval have been critical factors in the adoption of children from Latin America, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe over the last 20 years. In China, government population control policies contributed to abandonment of infant girls and overcrowded orphanages, factors in the government's decision to facilitate international adoptions.

Whatever the reasons and motivations behind prompting a mother to realize her limitations and courageously and selflessly give her child to others, one cannot help but be thankful for the process allowing life and love to enter wanting and waiting homes. November is National Adoption Month. It is also the month of Thanksgiving. There are millions of children in need of a loving, safe home and hundreds of thousands of others thankful for the brave souls who have provided one through adoption. (To get involved and learn more, please visit

Subscribe to On the Coast Magazine's Free Newsletter for regular updates!
Community november/december 2013 adoption wrights dunlap higgins heinemann

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

This Month's Issue:


Want more? Like us on FaceBook to keep updated with local events, activities, stories and more! On the Coast Magazine