A place to belong: UNT freshman starts anew with adoptive parents

A place to belong: UNT freshman starts anew with adoptive parents

A place to belong: UNT freshman starts anew with adoptive parents
September 05
09:00 2018

Shayna Russo remembers the day she became a Rogers.

She was standing in the Johnson County Courthouse Annex, surrounded by her loved ones and new family, the Rogers. Russo wore a floral dress as she stood before the judge who asked her and her adoptive parents if they wanted to become a family forever.

“Them saying the standard ‘yes’ meant way more than just three letters — it was like they were actually accepting everything that I am as a person,” Russo said. “I remember the feelings more than I remember the actual day. I felt accepted more than anything and it’s just a really good feeling to have.”

For most adopted children, it is a day they are too young to recall and are told about by their adoptive parents one day when they are older.

For Russo, she has fresh memories of her adoption because it happened five weeks before she moved into her freshman dorm in Kerr Hall.

July 17, 2018 was a day she and the Rogers had been hoping would happen for years, a day that finally closed the door on the pain, hurt and trials Russo said she had lived in for most of her life.

Hopeful through hard times

Before the day she became a Rogers, the last time Russo can recall having a mom she loved was when she was 8 years old. She was living in Beverly, Massachusetts, with her dad and twin brother when her mom died of breast cancer.

“I was sad when she first passed away,” Russo said. “I didn’t really show my emotions a lot but, I mean, I was sad. I just didn’t really understand how important my mom was at the time.”

The reality of her mom’s death began to hit her when her dad remarried and moved her family to Aledo, Texas, in November 2008. As a fourth grader, she didn’t know this would be the place she would experience physical, emotional and mental abuse throughout middle school and high school.

“Even though I should have just given up and kind of given in, a part of me was like, ‘Don’t do it because something is going to change,’” Russo said.

And something did change.

In December 2014 after being put into a Waco residential treatment center for the second time, Russo was sent to live in a group home in Itasca, Texas, at the  Presbyterian Children’s Homes & Services.

It was on her tour of the group home that Russo met Andrew and Christen Rogers, who were working as group parents at the time.

“Usually before they would place the child in the home, we would do a tour and meet the staff, so that was the first time we met her,” said Andrew, Russo’s adoptive dad. “You could just tell there was a life in her. I don’t really know how to say it — just a livelihood in her that made her very, very different.”

Russo lived in the Rogers’ group home with their two children, Autumn and P.J., and six other girls. During her first six months at the home, Russo said she experienced an instant connection with her group home parents.

“They felt like my parents from the first time I met them,” Russo said. “Even when I was doing something wrong, they taught me instead of punishing me and I think that’s when I really realized that they cared for me.”

After six months, Russo was forced to leave the place that had become home and go back to the original environment she had been trying to leave.

Russo said she spent nine long months of the worst abuse she experienced before she was dropped off at Child Protection Services at 17 years old.  Returning to the Rogers’ group home for good, Russo spent two and a half years bonding and healing at the group home as she finished high school.

“During that nine-month period I always thought about them,” Russo said. “I always thought, ‘I wish I could go back and live there with them, I wish I could see that place again.’ I never thought it was going to happen but it actually did. That was cool.”

A family to belong to

“Is it OK if we adopt you?”

This was the question Russo had always wanted to hear but did not expect to hear, especially as a 19-year-old adult. She spent countless hours doing homework in the Rogers’ living room, playing with their kids and eating at their dinner table.

But she never felt like she truly belonged as their daughter, until they asked her to.

“It really felt like I was a guest for a long time, so when they finally did ask me to be adopted it was like that barrier was gone,” Russo said.

It was a normal evening in the house, the same one Russo made so many memories in, when she was asked to become part of the family. The Rogers’ tears flowed as Russo realized her hopes for a better future came true.

“Andrew and I had been talking about this day for years honestly — she had been a daughter in our heart,” Christen said. “So for us to finally say that she is our daughter, it was just this sigh of relief. We were like, ‘Yes, this is home, this is what our family needed to be complete.’”

Russo’s adoption day was very personal and intimate. The only people present were the ones who had been by her side, the Rogers and her boyfriend Scott Williams.

“I was actually really excited for her getting to become a part of a family again,” Williams said. “I know she hasn’t had that experience ever since her mom passed away. I could tell they were all happy, and that was definitely what they wanted.”

It is not the typical adoption story, but to the Rogers family, it was everything they ever wanted. Not only did it bring closure on the painful past of Russo’s life, it was an open door to her new future in a family and at college.

“I think for Shayna, the adoption was like watching chains come off,” Andrew said. “I felt like her move into college and everything was more successful because these other things were no longer holding her back.”

Today, Russo is a daughter and college student. To be given a chance and a place to call home is no longer something Russo has to hope for — it is her reality. Now, she is more excited than ever to move forward knowing she has a family she belongs to.

“I really don’t have to worry about anything anymore,” Russo said. “Everything is actually going to be OK and I don’t have to say that anymore to prove it. It’s just something I know now.”

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Rachel Linch

Rachel Linch

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