By Michelle Kommer
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to grow up without parents — to go to bed without a goodnight kiss from mom or dad — to not know if your parents will be there in the morning. These kids dream of having a forever family. And that’s exactly why the North Dakota Heart Gallery exists — to create “heart connections.” Heart connections mean a lot to me.
That’s why I’d like to invite you to see the North Dakota Heart Gallery traveling exhibit on display this week in the lobby of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota in Fargo. You’ll see portraits of children who are waiting for their future “forever family.” Waiting for someone to “meet them” through their portrait, to identify with their smile or the short story that accompanies their portrait and tells about their favorite thing to do, what gives them hope or what makes them laugh.
My family was lucky enough to make a heart connection many years ago. My husband, Toby, and I became foster parents in 1999. We had been considered “emergency” foster parents and were licensed to take care of up to two babies (ages 0-2), who were seriously endangered, for up to two weeks. We quickly learned that because of the high need for foster homes, there was “flexibility” in the licensing interpretation. It really meant we would be asked to care for up to three children ages 0-6 for as long as two years!
By 2002, we had fostered eight precious kiddos, and we had no intention of adopting. But something was different about the call on April 5 of that year. Unlike the others, I remember it word-for-word. I remember where I was standing as I answered the call, the weather and even what I was wearing. But mostly, I remember the voice in my head (not mine), that said: “It’s your daughter.” And so it was.
Eleven years later, I am thankful every day for the opportunity to be my daughter’s mother. When I decided to go to law school, my husband and I thought we would need to discontinue actively foster parenting. I was facing a 150-mile round trip and studying as well as caring for our 2- and 3-year-old daughters. While something had to give, the faces of the kids we wouldn’t be able to help kept waking us at night.
One evening we were watching the nightly news when we heard about the New Mexico Heart Gallery that featured portraits of children waiting to be adopted. We knew instantly that was it! The next day, I called our social worker and within a week after many calls and meetings, the North Dakota Heart Gallery’s first board of directors was formed. In 2008, we unveiled the first North Dakota Heart Gallery. Each year, it travels to churches, shopping malls and businesses throughout the state.
Since 2008, 56 kids have made “heart connections” and found their forever families thanks to the generous spirits of North Dakotans.
I’m so thankful to BCBSND for sharing its beautiful lobby with the portraits of these kids this week. I hope the gallery will inspire someone to ask if they are in the right place at the right time to entertain becoming a forever family, or to tell a friend about the gallery, because every child deserves a home. And it may be here, at BCBSND, where that connection is made.
(And by the way, Toby and I decided to continue to foster parent through law school and beyond…)
Michelle Kommer is Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Development at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.