Express-News: Lifestyle & Features
Adoption efforts net 'angel' honors

By Jeanie Tavitas-Williams
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 09/11/2001 12:00 AM

The existence of angels on earth has long been a topic of debate.

For the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, an organization dedicated to improving adoption policy and practice, the answer to the age-old question of whether or not these spiritual guardians exist is easy.

Today, during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., the coalition will honor more than 130 "Angels in Adoption" from communities nationwide for their efforts in trying to find permanent homes for the more than 550,000 children in foster care. Among these "angels" is San Antonio resident Patricia Martinez Dorner, who was nominated by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith. Other angels being recognized include talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell and Wendy's chairman Dave Thomas.

"Her relentless dedication for open adoption has enriched the lives of countless families," Smith said in a written statement. "As a hero to those whose lives she touched, an expert to those she counseled, and an advocate for openness to her professional peers, she personifies what it means to be an 'Angel in Adoption.'"

Since its inception three years ago, the Angels in Adoption campaign has been speaking to the public, through professionals such as Dorner, on the benefits of adoption for the children and the adoptive families.

"This (adoption) is both a challenging and enriching experience," says Dorner, an adoptive parent herself. "Children deserve to have loving, devoted parents; they deserve stability in knowing they won't have to pack up their suitcases one more time."

Childhood and adolescent experiences — moving from place to place and leaving friends behind — helped the 55-year-old Cuban-born advocate relate to the life of a foster child on a more personal level.

"I still had my family with me," she recalls. "But every time we moved, we had to find 'our place.' And even though it took time, we always found it."

Of the more than half million children in foster care — many are school-age or older, some have brothers and sisters, others have special needs, and more than 60 percent are from minority cultures — 120,000 of them are waiting to find their place, according to the National Adoption Center. Reason enough for Dorner's efforts, which include training seminars for professionals and people involved in adoption, during which she attempts to place participants in the child's shoes.

"Once everyone has introduced and grouped themselves, I walk around and change their identities by giving them name tags with different names. I tell them 'this is who you are now' and then I move them to another group," she explains, adding that some people, who perhaps joined a group with a sibling or close friend, don't react well to the exercise. "I want them to understand what a foster child goes through every day."

When asked if she believes in angels (her home office is wall-to-wall angel décor), Dorner says she is "guided" in her work as an adoption advocate.

"It's not just hard work. It's heart work," she explains. "Adoption has the potential to expand us in ways that we never imagined."