Forever Family

West Omaha families share how their lives were changed through adoption

Jen Bartelt watches 8-month old Ava erupt into a huge belly laugh when older brother Carson, 3, enters the room. Ever since Ava came home, the children have been in love with each other, Bartelt said. Their family of four feels complete.

“The amount of love that I have for these two is just unmatched,” she said. “I had no idea how much love I truly had to give and how happy they would make our lives.”

Jen, her husband Duane, Ava and Carson are together today because of adoption. When Jen and Duane couldn’t get pregnant naturally, they explored the possibility of adoption through the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. The nonprofit organization supports biological parents, adoptive parents, and children as part of its statewide mission of serving children and families.

In 2012, about 412 children in Nebraska were adopted; another 907 were awaiting adoption, according to the federal Administration for Children and Families. The Nebraska Children’s Home Society helped arrange adoptions for 62 children in 2013, including 33 infants. The organization helps children and families with guidance and services about pregnancy, parenting, foster care, and early childhood development. NCHS has the distinction of being the only agency in the nation that has not charged fees for its adoption services for 121 years.

The organization also provides support to men and women facing an unplanned pregnancy. “We can give them the information and support that they need to make an informed decision, and develop a plan for what is going to be in the best interest of their child,” said Jennifer Fuller, NCHS marketing and public relations manager.

That support can include helping the future parents make a parenting plan. But in some cases, parenting may not be the best option and an adoption plan is made, Fuller said.

NCHS connected Jen and Duane with Carson’s biological parents before he was born. Through the NCHS adoption process, biological parents have the opportunity to choose a family they feel would be the best parents for their child. Jen and Duane met with the biological mother and father multiple times during the pregnancy, and Jen was in the delivery room when Carson was born. The family remains in contact with the birth parents, a process that NCHS supports.

“Research shows that the more individuals a child has to love them, the better,” Fuller said. “This includes an ongoing relationship with their birth parents.”

A few years after adopting Carson, the Bartelts began wondering if they were meant to welcome another child into their family. They started the adoption process again, and in Sept. 2013, they brought home Ava.

Like with Carson, adopting baby Ava just felt natural, Jen said. “It is such an open and beautiful process,” she said.

Brook and Don Hansen had been married about 11 years when fertility issues prompted them to look into adoption. They started the process with the Nebraska Children’s Home Society in 2008, and welcomed Ari, now 4, into their family in 2010.

“I’ll never forget the drive home,” Don Hansen said, remembering the day they took home Ari. “Thirteen years of sometimes waiting patiently, while other times it was very tough. It’s hard to describe in words how excited we were.”

Brook and Don said the two-year adoption process gave the couple a chance to become closer. The time it takes an adoption to take place can vary, Fuller said. Some families are matched with a child relatively quickly while other families wait longer, and some families do not get matched at all.

“As tough as that wait was, we are grateful for it in hindsight knowing we had the opportunity to grow together,” Don Hansen said.

Fatherhood inspired him to write a book, “By the Content of Your Character,” dedicated to Brook and Ari. He wrote the book to help young adults and men build the upmost character, he shared. “My focus was, ‘How do I raise this man the best way possible so he can be the best person he can possibly be?’” he said.

Ari’s birth mother is Sudanese, and the precocious 4-year-old is beginning to ask questions about his skin color. Brook and Don, who are both caucasian, use his questions as an opportunity to talk about Ari’s birth mother, his connection to Sudan, and how difference is beautiful. Ari also goes to a diverse Montessori school.

Fuller, of the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, said that finding the right match between biological parents, children, and adoptive parents is an extensive process. Prospective adoptive parents are asked to think carefully about the types of situations in which they would feel comfortable parenting, and they are given the opportunity to learn more about transracial parenting and parenting a child with special needs.

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure that when we have a match, it’s going to be a perfect fit,” said Fuller.

The Coulter family – Loralee, Don, and 15-year-old Mason – found their perfect fit with daughter Emerson, now 4. A complicated delivery with Mason left Loralee unable to have more children. In 2008, the couple began to explore the idea of growing their family through adoption.

In 2010, they met baby Emerson. Loralee said the experience of bringing Emerson into their family was euphoric. “Both my kids are miraculous, but in completely different ways,” she added.

For Mason, Emerson is the younger sibling he always wanted. As for Emerson, “she thinks that (Mason) hung the moon,” Loralee said. When a feral cat scared Emerson in the backyard, Mason was the first to grab her and rush her inside. Emerson called him her superhero.

The family encourages discussion about adoption. In fact, Loralee and her siblings were adopted by her stepfather. One of Emerson’s cousins is also adopted. Through the Nebraska Children’s Home Society, the family has connected with other families touched by adoption, including the Hansens and Bartelts. Emerson and Ari are “the best of friends,” Loralee said.

The children know adoption is one of the things that makes them special, she said.

Learn More:

To find out more about the Nebraska Children’s Home Society’s mission and adoption services, visit

Leave a Reply