Dave and Laura Whelchel never planned on moving to Nebraska when they saw a listing for an old farmhouse outside of Harrisburg, Neb. They never planned on adopting five children either. But they felt a special calling, changed their plans, and last week, it was my privilege to honor them in Washington as 2012 Angels in Adoption.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Whelchel family farm last month during my August travels. They are truly committed to providing a loving and nurturing environment. I am thrilled to have nominated them for this recognition, which honors those who enrich the lives of foster and adopted children in the United States.
In 2000, the Whelchels, with their two biological children, took a leap of faith, sold their home in Colorado and began work to repair their new old farmhouse in rural western Nebraska.
"I think God led us here," Laura told me when showing me around their family farm.
Their newly remodeled home had plenty of extra room to spare and the Whelchel's family of four felt another calling.
"The house was big and we only had two kids," Laura said. "It just sort of screamed foster kids."
So not long after moving to the farm, they welcomed their first foster child, whom they later adopted. Today, they have four adopted children: Ruben, 18; Arielle, 13; San Juan, 12; and Josefina, 11, who join their two biological children: Chance, 26; and Jenna, 23. They are in the process of adopting another child: one-year-old Kayleigh. Each of the adopted children are biological siblings, and came into the Whelchel home with special physical, occupational or speech therapy needs.
"We can't let them go once they are in the house," Laura said. "We fall in love."
Dave and Laura's work helping children with special needs goes beyond their family, which has now blossomed to nine. Three years ago, they founded Camp Grace, a summer camp for special needs children held on their family farm near Harrisburg. The camp, which helps children reach therapy goals, relies on the support of dedicated volunteers and therapists as well as the Whelchel family's time and resources.
"It's more exciting to work on your therapy goals when you have something fun to do," Laura said.
Through their selfless dedication and commitment, the Whelchel family has touched the lives of many children who have faced hardships at young ages, providing a home and encouragement to face down challenges. I could not think of a family more deserving of this recognition as adoption angels, and hope their story inspires others to consider becoming foster and adoptive parents.