LOS ANGELES, May 10, 2018 -- Claudia Orange felt the need to save a child. However, she could not have foreseen that a child would, in some sense, wind up saving her.
Claudia and her husband met 12 years ago at the Frito Lay plant in the city of Rancho Cucamonga, California, where the couple currently lives. After they married, they bought a four bedroom home. The couple was unable to have children, and the place felt too big. Claudia began to think about becoming a resource parent (formerly known as foster parent). “Something was missing in my life,” she said.
Rudy, however, was cool on the concept. He worried that bringing a child into their world would intrude on his personal time and their marriage. Then the couple became friends with a woman who cared for six children in foster care. She introduced the Oranges to several other foster families. When Rudy saw how happy the families were, he decided to give Claudia’s idea a try.
The couple attended training and became licensed resource parents through Hillsides’ affiliate, Bienvenidos, which has offices in Pasadena and Montclair. Bienvenidos placed an infant girl, Victoria*, in their home. At 16 months old, she was developmentally seven months behind, unable to walk or talk. After a trial placement of one week, the social worker asked if the Oranges wanted to keep Victoria longer term. Their answer: an emphatic yes. “We were already in love with her,” said Rudy.
The couple hurried to buy Victoria everything she needed, from clothing to toys to hair accessories. Due to insurance issues, there was a delay in getting Victoria physical therapy to help her walk, so Claudia took it upon herself to give her therapy. “I googled leg strengthening exercises for babies and we did them every day,” said Claudia. Within a few months, Victoria was walking. She also began to talk, and when she did, it was in full sentences.
Today, a year later, Victoria has met all her developmental markers. “She is so smart,” said Rudy. “She knows her colors, her shapes, and can name almost anything.” She is enrolled in a local Head Start program and loves to sing, dance, eat strawberries, and watch Elmo on “Sesame Street.”
While Rudy was worried a child in the home would take away from his marriage, the opposite has happened. “It added to what we had,” he said. “The love between us, and now for Victoria, is amazing.”
Being a father has also changed his mindset. “I used to be selfish, but now every day I wake up thinking, what can I do today to make her life better,” he said. His biggest challenge is not spoiling his daughter --a battle he may be losing based on the dozens of dresses, sweaters, and pairs of shoes that fill Victoria's bedroom closet.
For Claudia, Victoria has provided her with the courage to overcome challenges. In December, she suffered from a recurrence of breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. “Victoria kept me going,” she said. During treatments, Claudia would distract herself by face-timing Victoria. When she shaved her head in anticipation of losing her hair, Victoria made her feel beautiful when she smiled and said, “I like your hair, momma.”
“Whatever I give her, she gives it back to me seven times over,” said Claudia. “She never lets me down.”
The couple are in the process of adopting Victoria, and are just waiting for Claudia to get a clean bill of health to take the final steps. Down the road, they hope to adopt another infant so Victoria will have a sibling. For now, the couple continues to find joy and strength in raising their daughter.
* Name changed for privacy reasons.
Hillsides, with its affiliate Bienvenidos, is dedicated to healing children and young adults, strengthening families, and transforming communities through quality comprehensive services and advocacy. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the agency serves 14,000 children and families in Southern California throughout more than 40 sites, including school-based mental health offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Baldwin Park. Foster care and adoptions services are offered in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. To learn more about Hillsides, please visit www.Hillsides.org. Visit Hillsides on Facebook @hillsideschildren, on Twitter @Hillsides, or on Instagram @HillsidesPasadena.