Nick grips the bark of a backyard tree and scrambles up to a perch among its broad leaves. It’s a pretty good spot for a photo with his parents. Nick was adopted by Kelly and Mary Clanahan last month, so he is, after all, the newest branch on the family tree.
The Clanahans had prior experience blending families. Nick, 16, has a brother and sister from his father’s previous marriage and two brothers from his mothers’.
In addition, Kelly and Mary are high school track and cross-country coaches of the sort who treat their teams like family. They have lent a sympathetic ear to many a teenager with a problem to share and quietly helped athletes with food, shoes, and clothes.
So while the Clanahans had enjoyed the quiet after their youngest moved out, they still had time, energy and love to share.
A pivotal moment came one Sunday morning before church. They were watching NBC4-TV Washington’s weekly program, “Wednesday’s Child,” which profiles area children in need of families. They saw a segment about a girl who said, “I want a place to call home.”
“That makes me want to call,” Kelly told Mary.
“Why don’t you?” she asked.
He did, and though nothing came of that inquiry, the Clanahans began checking the program’s web site each week and praying about parenting another child. When they saw Nick’s bio in late 2013, it felt right, and they called. Lutheran Family Services called back within 30 minutes, “and the ball started rolling,” Mary said.
“You take that leap of faith,” Mary said. “To do that, you take in the whole scope, you accept what God has blessed you with.”
There were signs this was going to work. Mary’s eldest son and Nick look like, well, brothers; after meeting the Clanahans, Nick asked his caseworker when he could see them again; his first full weekend with the Clanahans was on Mother’s Day weekend; he moved in with them on Father’s Day.
But there was more here than just the stars aligning.
“The Clanahans are very patient, very understanding,” said Lauren Knox, treatment foster care manager in LFSVA’s Winchester office. “They work well with Nick in particular: They are able to have discussions with Nick, versus getting into a power struggle. They are a great family to work with.”
Nick shares his parents’ philosophy about celebrating the good and accepting the bad. That approach fits perfectly with his favorite sports (he is serious about basketball and long-distance running – and yes, his parents are his coaches at Stonewall Jackson High in Quicksburg), but it proved especially valuable during his years without a permanent family.
Nick’s advice for teenagers in foster care: “Just don’t quit. Whatever happens, don’t ever quit. You don’t know how your story’s going to go, so you have to make the best of it at every turn. You have to keep on trucking, but also step back every once in a while and take in what you’re doing.”
– Story and photo by Dan Montgomery