In 2019, a California couple was getting ready for retirement after their grown children left the nest. However, their minds changed when they learned about seven siblings in need. The children had lost their parents in a car accident, but they found a new home with the couple who put their retirement on hold to raise them. Here is their inspiring story.
A California Couple Prepared To Be Empty-Nesters
In Menifee, California, a couple was preparing for retirement. They were Pam (49) and Gary Willis (52), the latter of whom was a U.S. Navy veteran. Some major landmarks in the couple’s life had already passed them by.
The two lived in a six-bedroom house that used to accommodate their five children: Matthew, Andrew, Alexa, Sophia, and Sam. All were adults and had already moved out. Now on their own, Pam and Gary worked on retiring.
But A Facebook Post Changed Their Minds
Although the couple didn’t know it, their lives were about to change from a single Facebook post. In 2019, Pam was scrolling through her feed when she came across a post about foster children. The seven children, four brothers, and three sisters needed a forever home.
Pam could not stop looking at their faces. “When I saw the news about the kids, it made me so sad,” she told The Sun. “I looked at them and could see they needed a forever home.”
The Kids’ Story Resonated With Pam
The seven children were unexpectedly orphaned in May 2018. Their parents had passed away in a fatal car crash, and although the kids survived, they had been wounded. They had to be treated in the hospital before they could enter the foster care system.
When Pam saw the Facebook post, the children were available for adoption and needed a home. “I can’t explain it,” she told TODAY Parents. “I just knew I was supposed to be their mom.”
Now, She Was Considering Adoption
Although adoption had not been a part of their retirement plan, Pam was seriously considering it. Her heart broke for those seven children who had, at that point, lived in foster care for over a year.
Pam tagged her husband in the post, hoping that he would get the hint. “I thought Gary was going to tell me I was wacko—we were getting ready to retire,” Pam admitted. Besides, isn’t it a huge risk to decide so quickly?
But Would Gary Want More Kids?
Pam worried that Gary would not agree to her spur-of-the-moment decision to adopt. But when Gary got home, she was in for a surprise. “He looked at me and said, ‘Yeah we should adopt those kids,'” Pam recalled.
Gary had no hesitation about adopting these children who had been through so much. “He kind of blew my mind when he said that,” Pam continued, “because I thought I was going to have to put up some convincing.”
Why They Didn’t Think Twice
Pam and Gary did not hesitate to start the adoption process. “It was one of those moments where we were both really feeling that that was what we were being called to do,” Pam said. “It was what God wanted us to do.”
Neither of them wanted to retire in an empty house. Pam said, “I hated the thought of having a big six-bed house that’s empty because my kids have grown up and moved out. I didn’t want to have all these rooms and no one to live in them.”
But They Weren’t The Only Ones Who Wanted To Adopt The Kids
That night, Pam and Gary called the number on the bottom of the Facebook post, expressing their interest in adoption. Apparently, they weren’t the only ones. “We were told they’d already received thousands of calls,” Pam told TODAY Parents.
But the couple was not ready to give up. “I called the adoption service every week to show them how much I wanted to help these children,” Pam continued. On top of that, the couple had plenty of experience with foster kids.
The Couple Had Years Of Fostering Experience
Pam and Gary had several years of fostering experience. Because of their large house, the couple could afford to house two or three foster children at one time. Their biological children also had experience with foster siblings.
In most cases, foster children eventually get adopted by a family member or close friend. But these seven children had nobody to turn to. They could only count on adoption, and Pam and Gary were willing to take them all in together.
Finally, They Met The Seven Children
After a few weeks, Pam and Gary finally received permission to meet the kids at the adoption center. They were Adelino (15), Ruby (13), Aleecia (nine), Anthony (eight), Aubriella (seven), Leo (five), and Xander (four).
“From the moment we first met them, it was instant love,” Pam recalled. “I looked at Gary, and we both could see they are really great kids and knew we were doing the right thing.” They felt more motivated than ever to adopt.
Hurray! Pam And Gary Were Selected!
After two months of screenings and interviews, Pam and Gary were finally approved to adopt the kids. Also, the kids could move in with them. “From the day we met them, they were ours,” Pam claimed. “This was a forever commitment.”
However, the couple knew that they had a lot of work ahead of them. Through the screening process, the Willises learned that these seven children had experienced a lot more trauma than just the car crash.
Before Adoption, The Kids Had A Difficult Life
As it turns out, the car accident was not the only thing the children had to struggle through. Their mother (31) and father (42) both struggled with addiction and poverty. Before the crash, the children lived in homeless encampments and often struggled to get food.
“We were just kind of open to whatever knowing that these kids had been through extra trauma,” Pam said.”They were actually in the accident with their parents, so they all had been injured. They all had been through hospitalizations… we knew they had been through a lot,”
All Of The Kids Struggled To Adjust
After the kids moved in with the Willises, they adjusted in different ways. The younger kids–Xander, Leo, Aubriella, Anthony, and Aleecia–all settled in fairly quickly. “It was easy to connect with the little ones. They were just desperately craving permanency,” Pam said.
But the older two kids, Adelino and Ruby, had a harder time. “I think they didn’t quite trust that we were real. Like maybe we were going to go away,” Pam told TODAY.
The Older Kids Wrestled With Parentification
Ruby and Adelino had experienced parentification. In psychology, parentification is when a child takes over a parent’s duties because the parents cannot or do not. It is a difficult way to grow up.
“I think it’s so hard to trust when so much has been taken from your life,” Pam described while talking about the older kids. “Ruby didn’t know how to be a kid. She had to be a mother figure at a very young age.”
For The First Six Months, Some Kids Had Frequent Nightmares
For the first six months, the kids struggled to adjust. They struggled to sleep and had a hard time settling in. During a TODAY Parents, Pam described one night that Aleecia woke up at night.
“One night, my then-7-year-old came into our room I asked her, ‘Did you have a bad dream?’ And she replied, ‘No, I just wanted to make sure that you were still here.’” It seemed that the kids could not believe that they found a forever home.
Now, The Seven Children Are Happy Where They Are
Although the adopted children took a while to adjust, they ended up feeling happy. They now call Pam and Gary “mom” and “dad.” On the other side, the parents call them “a joy” to be around.
“I have noticed how incredibly happy they are and that makes me so happy too, because that’s all we ask for,” Pam said. “The oldest of the seven, Adelino, said to me recently ‘thank you for giving us this life’ and there is no other feeling like that.”
Did The Older Siblings Like The Younger Siblings?
Pam and Gary’s older siblings immediately bonded with their younger ones, according to the parents. Having a lot of experience with foster siblings, the older children had no problem accepting a larger family. They even went on a trip to Disneyland Resort together.
“My older kids were very welcoming and treated the younger ones like their own,” Pam said. “It is pretty full-on looking after seven children, so my older two daughters do help out whenever I need a hand.”
Sharing Their Story On Instagram
Eventually, the Willises began documenting their lives on Instagram. Pam told the story of the seven children and their adoption journey. “‘We knew deep inside that this mission was being placed before us,” she wrote. “If not us, then who?
“Who would keep them all together? Who would have the space for them? Who would have time, and the love, and the patience for their trauma? The answer was clear… we would.” Their followers were inspired by their story.
Their Popularity (And Inspiration) Skyrocketed
The family’s Instagram account became much more popular when actress Kristen Bell caught wind of it. She saw a video called “Our life in 15 seconds!” It began with Pam and Gary first meeting as teens in 1988 and ended with the adoption.
After Kristen Bell shared the video, their followers skyrocketed; they now have over 100,000 followers and continue to grow. Occasionally, Pam will provide information on fostering and adopting for any followers who are interested in it.
The Adoption Was Finally Becoming Official
Fortunately, these hard times did not last forever. The kids eventually learned that Pam and Gary were not going anywhere. They had fun together, and then the legal adoption process concluded in 2020, all the kids felt like they belonged.
In June 2020, their adoption was approved. Pam and Gary scheduled to celebrate their official adoption with their friends and family. Most importantly, they wanted their five biological children to be present during that moment.
But Reuniting The Family Might Not Have Been Possible
Although the Willises wanted all of their children together, they were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the adoption became official, the adult children could not travel. Two of them lived out of state, and one had just had a baby!
But Pam and Gary didn’t give up. “It was SO important to me to make this day special, and SO important to me that all 12 of my children be together for the occasion,” Pam wrote on Instagram.
Their Solution: An Adoption Anniversary
Instead of celebrating on the court day, Pam and Gary decided to celebrate on the one-year anniversary of the adoption. This was in August, and by that point, restrictions had lifted enough for the biological kids to travel there.
The entire Willis family met at the Superior Court of the California County of San Diego, where the adoption was finalized. But they had more plans to involve all of their friends and family in the celebration.
They Livestreamed The Celebration For Their Friends And Family
To celebrate with their friends and family, the Willises set up a livestream. They visited the court building and then went to a local park for food, relaxation, and playtime.
“It was awesome,” Pam told TODAY Parents. “We brought a big TV screen out to the park so everybody could watch and cheer and be safe during COVID. There was so much love.” Although the celebration was not what they had pictured, it was joyous all the same.
Today, The Family Is Happy Together
The Willis’s story did not end at the official adoption. The seven children continue to grow up in a loving family. On Instagram, the parents provide occasional updates and continue to inspire people around the world. They seem happy together!
Pam hopes that their story will encourage people to adopt and foster. She claims that her social media is “just allowing people to open their hearts and theirs minds to the thought of helping those in need.”