Opelika family adopts siblings after fostering for 1,008 days
By Anna-Claire Terry
Three-year-old Gabby Oden put down her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, adjusted her big yellow hair bow and eagerly asked “Want to see my room?” Although it has been hers for almost three years, Gabby’s bubblegum pink bedroom in the Oden house is now officially home. Gabby’s brothers, Elijah, age 6 and Kentrell, age 5, are also new official members of the Oden family after their adoption was made final on Jan. 29. Richard and Brittany Oden had been their foster parents for 1,008 days. The Odens also have one biological child, one-year-old Anna Belle.
“We actually got Gabby and Kentrell first, but the first day we met Elijah, I told Brittany I wanted him,” Richard said. Richard said that with the signing of the official adoption papers, his life has come full circle. Richard grew up in nine different foster homes before he was permanently adopted. “People come up to me and say ‘what you have done is admirable’ and I tell them I am not doing anything that hasn’t been done for me,” he said. Richard said he has always wanted to be a foster parent and “pay it forward.” The Odens have set out to bring awareness to the need for more home for foster children. Elijah, Kentrell and Gabby have two other siblings in another foster home. The Odens moved out of their former home so they could rent it to the family who has their children’s siblings. They then moved into a home right across the street so all the siblings could be close to each other. “We wanted the kids to be close to one another. I’m not close to my biologicals, but I think that would have been a neat opportunity for that to happen,” Richard said.
According to the Odens, the process of becoming foster parents is tedious. There are classes to take, mounds of paper work and some hoops to jump through. After all of that, there is still a chance that the children could be taken from the foster family and returned to their parents. It is rare that foster parents have the opportunity to adopt the first children they foster. It is DHR’s mission to eventually reunite a family, so it is rare that parental rights are terminated and foster parents have the opportunity to officially adopt the children. “The potential is there for your heart to get broken. I want all future foster parents to understand that,” Richard said. Brittany added that she has heard many people say the reason they cannot foster children is because they do not want to deal with the heartbreak of having to return them to their homes. “DHR has called before looking for a place to send children at eight o’clock at night. The thought that there are children out there with no place to go home to at night trumps the thought of having my heart broken,” she said.
Upon the children’s initial arrival at the Oden home, Kentrell had never seen a Disney movie. He quickly fell in love with the movie “Cars.” “We probably watched it a thousand times that first week,” Brittany said. Richard recalls the look of amazement in Kentrell’s eyes when he saw other children with a small collection of toys. Gabby was extremely distrusting of men as a baby and took some time to warm up to Richard. “She didn’t like me at first. There is that daddy/daughter relationship now,” he said. “She just dug her claws into my heart, and she’s my daughter. I love my boys, but I don’t get to walk my boys down the aisle, and to know that I get to represent her as her father– that’s what really hit home when we signed those papers.” Richard said many foster children do not know what love is or who God is. “If we can teach them those two things, then, come what may, it would be worth it to us,” he said.
The Odens make it clear that they are “color blind.” “I do worry about what other kids are going to ask about them being black and us being white, but I want to teach our children to see how God sees. God is color blind,” Richard said. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. This family will see as God sees.”
Richard has a book about his life experience with foster care and the military to be released on Veteran’s Day, 2016. The Odens said this journey has been made much easier by friends and family, their church family at Tenth Street Church of Christ, DHR and Big House.
When the adoption was final, Judge English let the children seal their own paper work, and they enjoyed a celebration with friends. Gabby is excited to tell everyone her new last name, and Kentrell said he is happy to live there forever. “Adoption means family,” Elijah said with a smile stretched across his face.