Kaycee Stanley would like 2 minutes of your time. That’s all she needs to play one of nearly 90 videos featuring Minnesota children waiting to be adopted. The videos, created by her Robbinsdale-based nonprofit the Reel Hope Project (thereelhopeproject.org), are funded largely by the faith community and given free to counties and agencies representing children in foster care. Have tissue handy. The work can be heartbreaking, such as when a child facing the camera says his perfect family is someone he can trust. “But underneath feeling like crying, there is this grit and determination,” said Executive Director Stanley, a former youth pastor. “OK, buddy. We are going to find that family for you.”
Q: How many reels have you made?
A: We’ve created 89 reels for 111 kids; many of the shoots have been for sibling groups. Our goal is to make 72 reels in 2019, about six per month. We’d like to get to a place where, whenever a new child is waiting for adoption, a reel is one of the assumed steps in finding a family for that child.
Q: What is the age range of children?
A: We’ve made reels for kids between 2 and 17. Most of the kids who get stuck in the system are 6 or older. It’s much harder to find adoptive homes for kids who are older than about 6 or 7. The average age of kids in the foster care system is 8. My husband, Pete, and I are in the process of adopting the coolest 13-year-old kid in the world.
Q: Does Reel Hope partner with county foster care agencies?
A: We’ve worked with almost half the counties in the state, as well as four to five private agencies and a great group called MNAdopt (mnadopt.org), the statewide adoption resource center.
Q: Have you placed any children through a Reel Hope connection?
A: Of the 89 reels we’ve created so far, we know of 40 to 45 kids who have been matched with adoptive families. We also know that we’ve connected 196 families to adoption agencies or counties to learn more or to start the adoption process.
Q: Where does funding come from?
A: We partner with a lot of churches and have many families and individuals who support us.
Q: What led you to Reel Hope?
A: My husband and I have always wanted to adopt from foster care. We noticed that when we told people we wanted to adopt, we would experience enthusiasm and excitement. But when we added the words “from foster care” we got concern and horror stories. Faith communities have a huge heart for kids who need families — sending missions trips to orphanages and doing child sponsorship programs. It’s not that people don’t care about these kids; it’s just that we don’t see them. So we dreamed and prayed about how to change the narrative. We were inspired by what we saw in Colorado with partnerships between the faith community and government to get kids into families, and we thought “Hey, we can do that!”
Q: Why video as your medium?
A: I think it’s powerful to see footage of a real kid in action, laughing, smiling, joking around. Video can do something that printed words just can’t. Reading a document about Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t quite be the same as seeing real footage of him in action. You can get such a better sense of people when you can see their personality and mannerisms with your own eyes.
Q: Your organization has a strong faith component. Do you work with children and potential forever families of all faiths or no faith?
A: Our faith is the “why” behind what we do. Adoption is a central part of the Christian message — the conviction that we are adopted as children of God, and that conviction fuels our passion for this mission. However, we are not affiliated with any specific church or denomination, and neither kids nor families need to share with our faith in order to access these videos or for us to connect them to an adoption agency or county.
Q: Do some kids decline taking part?
A: Yes. Even though virtually every child waiting to be adopted really does want to be adopted, sometimes vocalizing that can be hard. It can feel like saying “I want to be adopted” is somehow a betrayal of their birth family. We try to be super sensitive to the hard experiences kids have had around family, even in the way we ask questions.
Q: Do you get any pushback from people worried that these reels turn children into a product?
A: A little bit. We try to be really intentional about never making these videos feel like a commercial for a kid. We want each reel to be something the child would be really proud of. A lot of these kids don’t have a ton of photos or videos of themselves from their childhood, so in addition to it being a tool for their agency to use in finding them a family, we also hope that it’s a gift to the child.
Q: What are myths people might have about foster care?
A: We hear, “I’m too old to adopt,” all the time! But these kids don’t always need someone who is going to raise them from infancy. They need people who have raised teenagers and know what they are doing. Also, “It’s too expensive to adopt.” Nope! Adopting from foster care in Minnesota is free if you know the right avenues to take and we can help with that.
Q: Your vision for Reel Hope?
A: Right now, we’re super focused on taking care of home: Minnesota. But in the future, who knows? We’d love to serve our neighboring states someday, as well.