Commitment to Adoption Joins Two Lexington Families

Elaine and Ed Stone of Lexington

Elaine and Ed Stone of Lexington

By Laurie Atwater

When tragedy strikes a family it is hard to make sense of the enormous loss suffered by all involved.

The Stone family of Lexington was faced with a staggering loss last year when their son Andrew was killed in an automobile accident and his brother Alex was seriously injured. Andrew was a senior at Lexington High School at the time and his brother Alex was a junior. The family was devastated by this sudden and unexpected crisis.

How to make sense of it? How to move on? How to heal?

These were the questions that Ed and Elaine Stone struggled with in the aftermath of the tragedy. As friends and community reached out to comfort them, they reflected on another time in their lives-a happier time-when they reached out beyond themselves to welcome a child into their family and were rewarded with great joy. That child was Andrew who is no longer with them, but whose spirit has inspired them to once again reach out to others and to channel their grief into the very thing that brought them such joy-adoption.

“When Elaine and I first started to try to have children we went through years of failed pregnancies and miscarriages,” says Ed Stone. “As we began to feel hopeless in our attempts to conceive a child, we decided to explore the world of adoption, which we knew nothing about. After doing some research and talking to as many people we could, we decided to go forward with the adoption process.” That process brought them together with their son Andrew.

After Andrew’s tragic death, the Stones decided that they would create a charitable fund that to help prospective adoptive parents offset the often overwhelming costs of adoption. “The strength to begin the adoption fund and turn the idea into a reality came from our desire to commemorate Andrew’s life and spirit. It enables our entire family and a large group of caring friends and supporters to keep his memory alive and provide meaning to his life,” says Ed Stone.

Ed explains that the family had discussed the concept of doing something charitable together before Andrew’s death and Andrew liked the idea of doing something adoption related because of his personal experience.

“We wanted to do this in his memory,” Stone says. “Andrew would have felt rewarded by the prospect of helping families come together.” Andrew loved kids and worked part time teaching young children in an after school program. Ed says it was his “most satisfying” endeavor. “He took pride in helping each child and cared about them individually,” Stone reflects.

“The reality is that many loving parents and deserving children can not be brought together due to costs that are out of reach,” says Ed Stone. It is precisely this reality that motivated Ed and Elaine Stone to start the Stone Family Adoption Assistance Fund (SFAAF). SFAAF is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is an IRS approved Non-Profit organization with 501(c) (3) status. The fund has committed that 100% of all contributions raised will be used to benefit adoptive families in Andrew’s memory. To date the fund has received over three hundred donations mostly from Lexington contributors. The fund is overseen by a Board of Trustees-John and Sharon Beals, Peter G. Brown, John R. Elicone, Peter A. Hunter, Donald C. Main, Kieran B. Meagher, Nancy Regan, Matthew P. Stone, Philip C. Stone and Elaine and Edmund H. Stone, Jr.

The Stones and the Katz Family with the fund trustees. Back row, left to right – Jack Elicone, Peter Brown, Peter Hunter, Ed Stone, Dawit Katz, Matt Stone, Phil Stone

The Stones and the Katz Family with the fund trustees. Back row, left to right – Jack Elicone, Peter Brown, Peter Hunter, Ed Stone, Dawit Katz, Matt Stone, Phil Stone

“Adoption is so costly. This is one way we can help,” says Stone. “We will be able to think of Andrew as the reason that many families will be brought together that otherwise would not have had that opportunity.”

Costs for adoption vary widely, but can range from as little as $7K to over $30K according to national Child Welfare statistics. Whether using an agency or attorney, costs can make adoption almost impossible for an average family to adopt. International adoptions are even more difficult because of travel costs and extra legal fees for dealing with international laws.

Still most prospective adoptive parents will go to great lengths to put the money together because they are committed to adopt.

“Our niche is to assist in filling this unmet need of adoptive parents needing financial support. We do this by awarding grants to qualified adoptive parents that have demonstrated their financial need to the fund,” Stone says.

The grants are designed to be the final piece of the adoptive families funding after they have exhausted their personal means. Recently, the Stones awarded their inaugural grant to Lexington resident, Jo Hannah Katz.


Jo Hannah’s Story

Jo Hannah’s story is inspirational. In 2004 she found herself looking ahead to an empty nest. Her daughter by birth, Stanzie, was twenty and headed off for college. At a time when many are planning their world travels and looking forward to re-found freedom, Jo Hannah felt that she had “a heart that was ready to mother more children.” She’d been doing some temporary mothering hosting foreign exchange students which was rewarding but “heartbreaking” each time her student left her to go back home.

On may 25th of that year she went to a birthday party and ran into an old friend who was adopting a child from Ethiopia. This proved to be her moment of clarity. “Within minutes” she arranged for a meeting at the adoption agency. There was something about Ethiopia that spoke to her. Jo Hannah has always collected African fabrics for her quilts and had done some anti-racism work.

“I realized this was my calling,” she says.

One year later she was the proud new mom of sisters Hebrom and Semhal, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both girls adapted to American life remarkably well according to Katz. Within months of their arrival they were “swimming like fish,” according to mom. The two sisters were young enough to adjust well to almost everything-school, language and life in America, but it soon became clear to Jo Hannah that something was missing.

After their arrival, Hebrom and Semhal continued to maintain contact with their family back in Ethiopia. The children lost both parents, but they were cared for by extended family. This family included aunts and uncles and cousins, but most importantly, their older siblings Dawit and Yordanos who remained in Addis Ababa. The younger children missed them deeply.

Each month the girls would call a neighbor’s cell phone and speak with Dawit and Yordanos. “Within months,” Jo Hannah says, “I realized how hard it was becoming to hear the longing and increasing despair in their voices.”

Once again, Jo Hannah decided to imagine life outside traditional boundaries and began planning a reunion for the family. “I could not bring back their parents, but I could reunite them with their siblings, give them a second chance at family life, and hope of a future.”

Dawit Katz with Ed Stone

Dawit Katz with Ed Stone

Turning this hope into reality was more difficult the second time around. “When I adopted Hebrom and Semhal in 2005, it took all of my financial resources to cover the adoption and travel expenses,” she says. “I live on a modest income.” But she just kept moving forward. “I don’t know why so many things that should have been obstacles just weren’t,” she says. She owes a debt of gratitude to TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Katz says the stories inspired her and one particular sentiment from a man suffering with cancer really stuck. He said, “There’s a lot to think about, but nothing to worry about.” It’s become Jo Hannah’s mantra.

What did it take to pull it off for the second time? “I had to rely on the generosity of others,” Katz says. Starting with her family. Last year her family helped Jo Hannah purchase a small house with enough bedrooms to hold her expanding family. At the same time she started the process of adopting the older siblings. Her Dad, Arthur Katz described her perseverance by saying to her, “everybody was just getting out of your way!”

Two years later the family was reunited and began their lives as a Lexington family.

While it’s true that older adoptees can often have more difficulty attaching to a new family, Jo Hannah Katz feels that the children have had a unique advantage. They have had each other all along, have maintained continuity in their family life and have come from a country with a strong sense of community. The Katz children are remarkably outgoing and self-possessed. Katz feels that they must have had incredible parents. “If kids have been loved,” she says, “they can be loving.”

The Katz children are very social. They are used to sharing resources and space and they are used to lots of commotion around them Katz says. “The kids find it uncomfortable if the house is too quiet.”

In fact, the siblings don’t understand why American brothers and sisters don’t speak to each other and aren’t friends. The children often find the suburban streets quiet and lonely compared to the thronging streets of their native city. Katz says that they are getting used to the quiet, but “they would never choose to be alone.”

One thing that has allowed them to connect to community is their religion. Jo Hannah was surprised by how religious the children are. “Dawit was going to church three times a day at home,” she says. Now, they attend an Ethiopian Orthodox church in Roxbury and the three older children sing in the chorus. Katz has learned a lot about the culture through the church. “I wasn’t going to be a parent who denied them their past,” she says. They have also connected with an Ethiopian family from Billerica and that has been a great support.

Last June, friends and colleagues held a fund-raiser Katz says and the proceeds helped her to defray some of the expenses-but not all. She was so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and she says she “burst into tears.” Most recently Jo Hannah has been faced with unexpected dental costs for each of the children to add to the adoption expenses she is still paying and the everyday expenses of bringing up four children while paying tuition for daughter Stanzie who will graduate this year. So, as the children settle in to the relative comfort and ease of life in Lexington, Katz still struggles with the expenses she has amassed through the process.

Connecting With the Stone Family

Jo Hannah Katz read about the Stone fund and decided to write to Ed and Elaine.

“It was a hard thing to do,” Katz says, “knowing the grief that they were going through.” But she went ahead and contacted the Stones with her story.

Elaine Stone shares family pictures with Hebrom, Yordanos and Dawit Katz

Elaine Stone shares family pictures with Hebrom, Yordanos and Dawit Katz

Ed and Elaine were extremely moved by Jo Hannah’s story. So moved, that they chose her to be their first grant recipient. “The Katz adoption story is compelling and worthy of an adoption assistance grant from our fund,” says Ed Stone. “In addition to the grant we have arranged with a group of dentists to evaluate and treat the dental problems that the four children have on a pro bono basis. We couldn’t be more confident about the future prospects of the children.”

Ed and Elaine have also assembled a group of local dentists: Dr. Kenneth McPartland, Dr. William Lewis, Dr. Gary Demetriou and Dr. Steve Demetriou who are donating their services to help Jo Hannah with the dental work facing the children.

“In search of funding most adoptive parents use a combination of resources, however, after exhausting their own savings, gifts from family and taking out loans, they still find themselves with inadequate resources,” says Ed Stone. “Also, after completing an adoption, some families have increased expenses like those that Jo Hannah is experiencing, that can produce economic hardship,” he says.

Jo Hannah Katz acknowledges the bittersweet connection between her family and the Stone family. That connection is Andrew. “They’ve lost a son and I’ve gained a son,” she says. The Katz children have experienced tremendous losses in their short lives also. Watching Elaine Stone sit with Dawit, Semhal, Hebrom and Yordanos and share pictures of her family’s vacations – memories of Andrew – you sense something special is happening, something generous and good.