For Angel and Leonard, growing their family through adoption was never a matter of if, it was always a matter of when. After 16 years together, the Boston-based couple began to think more seriously about when. "We started saying there are so many kids who need love and caring," explained Angel, "that's what spurred us to start looking.”
In 2016, Angel and Leonard jumped head first into the process of becoming foster parents. Being a foster parent is an experience with many unknowns; you never know who the child will be, what their background is, or when they will be coming until they are in your home. With all these unknown variables in mind, the couple began to prepare for this new chapter.
In addition to attending MAPP classes, completing their home study, and fulfilling all other requirements, they began to do their own research. The couple read books, listened to podcasts, and actively worked to bolster their own relationship. "We went to therapy for a year [before] to prepare,” said Leonard. While this extensive preparation couldn't give them answers to all the unknowns, it did provide them with the tools to be effective parents and advocates.
Angel and Leonard opened their home to foster children in 2017. In just three months they fostered seven children. "We fell in love with a lot of children," stated Leonard. "It was hard, but it only confirmed that this was the route we were meant to take.”
In March 2017, the couple attended the Beanstalk Adoption Meet and Greet at Jordan's Furniture. It was here that they first met 6-year-old Jesse. "We had seen his profile at an adoption night at Park Street," said Angel. "I was talking to one of the social workers who had trained us at the MAPP classes and I looked down and there he was!"
With all the unknowns involved in fostering and adopting, meeting Jesse was a unique experience. As soon as they met the sweet 6-year-old, Angel and Leonard knew that he was going to be their son. Leonard, an experienced real estate agent, explained that he always tells his clients "you'll know it when you feel it." There are certain things in life that just feel right, and for the future fathers, meeting Jesse was one of them.
Jesse moved in the Maldonado-Norton home several months later, and they began to navigate life together as a family of three. While Jesse adjusted well to life in his new home, there was still a fear that this placement might only be temporary.
Luckily, Jesse’s placement wasn’t temporary. On March 28, 2018, Angel and Leonard adopted Jesse. Both fathers note that Jesse immediately felt a deeper sense of comfort knowing that he would be a part of this family forever. The stability of one home had immediate effects on Jesse's development.
"He has changed leaps and bounds," stated Leonard, "He came off his IEP and he is adapting well." Of course, life as a new family has not had its share of unique challenges.
One of the more surprising challenges, which they had to quickly address, was the fact that Jesse had been with his last foster mother for three and a half years. "DCF works hard to find good foster parents, and we realize that he loved his foster mom and you don't think about how that will affect them afterwards," Leonard explained. With patience, consistent support, and love, the couple has been able to help Jesse understand that he is surrounded by permanent love.
Despite challenges that may arise, the couple has been able to rely on the tools they developed through all the preparation, as well as a strong community to make sure Jesse feels supported. In fact, they have encouraged others in their community to foster and adopt. Leonard stated, "I would recommend going through the whole process of fostering and adoption to anyone." He added, "You have to be willing to do your homework on yourself though.”
As an update, a year after Jesse was adopted, Leonard and Angel applied to be re-licensed as foster parents in the hopes of finding Jesse a brother. It was then that they met Jaycob. The family had seen a profile for Jaycob as Boston Globe’s Sunday Child and attended a meet and greet to get to know him. They were fortunate to match and a few months later, Jaycob moved in. While they faced the challenges of adapting to a new family member at the start of Covid, they put a lot of effort to bond and make him feel at home, while finding all the resources they needed to help him achieve permanency. On February, 2021 they were able to finalize Jaycob’s adoption.
Today, Jesse and Jaycob love being outdoors with their fathers. They spend time together swimming, reading, and camping. They also regularly travel to see their family in Puerto Rico. Both fathers agree that one of the greatest parts of bringing these children into their family has been being able to look at the world through their eyes and have a new found appreciation of life.