May 13, 2019

Unique Benefit Knits Families Together Through Adoption

Bell Bank employee Karla Winandy didn’t know if it would even be possible to adopt her daughter, Amiina. But since Bell added its adoption benefit, Karla now has hope.

Back in 2015, EVP/chief culture officer Julie Peterson Klein pitched the idea to add this policy to Bell’s ever-growing list of benefits. Almost instantly, CEO and president Michael Solberg was sold, having adopted his own daughter, Rose.

“I know firsthand how complicated and expensive it is – and not only the emotional investment you have to make but also financial,” Michael says.

In addition to a $10,000 reimbursement benefit, Bell provides maternity or paternity leave to employees who choose to adopt.

“There are literally millions of children around the world who need a home, a family,” Michael remarks. “What I’ve learned is God knits families together in different ways and there’s zero difference between how you love an adopted child vs. a biological child.”

A New Home for an Abandoned Child

Deposit services manager Karla Winandy and her husband, Ryan, were going through the process of becoming foster parents when their lives changed forever.

With two biological daughters of their own, Karla’s brother-in-law and his wife adopted a young girl from Uganda named Amiina. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t working out,” Karla explained. "They were getting ready to put Amiina into foster care because they didn't know what to do."

Amiina’s mother was still in Uganda and had chosen to keep Amiina’s siblings but put her in an orphanage. "My husband and I just couldn't let her go to strangers," Karla explains. "She'd had enough trauma, enough abandonment, enough of everything for somebody at the age of 8."

But their road to adoption wouldn’t be easy. The Winandys brought Amiina into their home in July 2017 and had to assume guardianship for a year before starting the adoption process.

"I was so fortunate that the bank not only gave the reimbursement benefit but allowed me to take a month off – with a type of maternity leave – to get her adjusted to our home,” Karla explains. "We suddenly had to figure out daycare and get her enrolled in school and after-school programs. We didn't have children, so to suddenly be parents to an 8-year-old was challenging.”

Even though the couple had completed background checks, psychological exams and home inspections for foster care, they would have to repeat the process two more times for guardianship and adoption. Luckily, they were able to use Bell’s $10,000 adoption benefit to help pay for their legal fees.

"It's just so unexpected – and not required – but such a great benefit for us to be able to access those funds to help pay for everything we've gone through,” Karla says. “Without it, there's no way we could have kept Amiina in our family."

Expanding Their Family

Lee

After having two children of their own, Todd Lee and his wife, Jennie, felt their family wasn’t yet complete. But following complicated pregnancies, extensive bed rest and pre-term labor, their doctor advised the Lees against having more biological children.

A short while later, they decided to become foster parents. When their foster child, Lexie, became a ward of the state in 2007, the Lee family couldn’t resist adopting her, already considering her one of their own.

Then in January of 2015, Jennie’s step-brother, a single father, died unexpectedly, leaving behind his 7-year-old son, Kiernan, whom the Lees adopted in 2016.

“It’s an unusual story – with a very happy ending! – about how we ended up with two boys, two girls – two adopted, two biological. It was just God’s plan for our family,” says Todd, EVP of banking and lending administration.

While you can’t put a price on the value of family, financial costs – including legal fees, administrative expenses and court costs – can make the adoption process that much more difficult.

Thankfully, Todd was able to take advantage of Bell’s adoption benefit the second time around.

“It’s a wonderful benefit Bell provides, helping promote our family atmosphere,” Todd remarks. “If it can help one family – and encourage them to consider adoption, if that’s right for them – it’s money well spent.”

A Roller Coaster of Emotions

Rodriquez

Senior accountant Kristine Rodriguez and her husband, Ivan, started looking into adoption in 2014. But only time would unveil the rollercoaster of emotions they would look back on five years later. Partnering with an adoption agency, the couple was matched in September 2016.

"My world just kind of stopped right there," Kristine says, recalling her excitement.

Working hard to prepare and decorate their soon-to-be daughter’s nursery, the couple was grief-stricken in April 2017 when they found out the agency had lost contact with the birth mom (meaning the mother had decided to parent after all).

"We took that pretty hard,” Kristine says. “We were expecting to have this little girl enter our world and, when that didn’t happen, it was pretty devastating."

Two months later, the couple decided to continue with the process once again. "On October 27, we got a call out of the blue from the agency asking if we would like to be considered to parent a little boy who was born that morning," Kristine recalls.

Kristine relayed the couples’ interest but tried not to get her hopes up … until the phone rang again, letting her know they had been chosen. "Of course I just lost it,” she says. “I called my husband and let him know he was going to be a dad!”

Flying to Las Vegas last-minute, the couple arrived at the NICU to see a big mound of black hair and a beautiful little face. “The nurse handed him over to me, and it was so surreal – and still kind of is," Kristine remarks. "He's just this incredible light – this unbelievable joy in our lives.”

On March 22, 2018, Ian officially became their son.

From agency fees (starting at about $35,000) to home-study fees and expenses paid on behalf of the birth mother, adoption costs can be astounding.

“When you look at wading into adoption, and you’re faced with this $50,000 number, you just think, 'This is impossible.' The gift from Bell Bank made all of that that much easier,” Kristine says. "Bell invests in not only their employees but also their employees’ families."