7 YARDS shares the life-changing true story of Chris Norton and touches on several topics including adoption and foster care, paralysis, physical therapy, faith and sports. Just as Chris strives to encourage others, our 7 YARDS film team wants to continue to share inspiration and resources for these important subjects from the film. Over the next few months, we'll be featuring some standout nonprofits and organizations whose missions align with the message of our film. Today we're kicking off with President and CEO Rita Soronen to find out more about the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and its life-changing impact.
1. Who are we talking to today?
Rita Soronen, President & CEO
2. Tell us a bit about the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. What is its mission?
Created in 1992 by Wendy’s® founder Dave Thomas, who was adopted, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is the only public nonprofit charity in the United States focused exclusively on foster care adoption. Our mission is to dramatically increase the number of adoptions of children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. We believe that every child deserves a permanent home and a loving family.
3. What are some of your hallmark programs?
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids® began as a belief that we could ― and must ― do better for children lingering in foster care waiting for an adoptive family. Through this signature program, the Foundation funds adoption professionals, called recruiters, who use a model that has been proven to be up to 3x more effective at serving children in foster care who are often overlooked. This includes teenagers, children with special needs and siblings who have been in care for so long that they have given up hope. Our model is evidence-based, and it works! A rigorous, five-year evaluation by Child Trends revealed that children served by the program are up to three times more likely to be adopted.
In 2017, the Foundation launched an aggressive, multi-year plan to expand the reach of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. There are currently nearly 500 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters throughout the United States and Canada.
In January 2021, the Foundation celebrated 10,000 adoptions through this program. We have changed 10,000 lives in the most profound, lasting way. And yet, we wake each morning with the knowledge that more than 120,000 children in the United States and more than 30,000 children in Canada are still waiting for families. We have so much more to do.
Dave Thomas led an initiative advocating for better adoption benefits in the workplace, because to him, it was just “the right thing to do.” The Foundation carries that legacy forward through the Adoption-Friendly Workplace program and annual Best Adoption-Friendly Workplace survey, which identifies organizations that strive to make adoption a supported option for every working parent. Learn more at davethomasfoundation.org/afw
National Adoption Day
During this annual event, courts in more than 400 communities open their doors on or around the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize pending adoptions from foster care. National Adoption Day has celebrated more than 75,000 children in the United States as they moved from foster care to a forever family. Learn more at nationaladoptionday.org
4. What do you wish people knew about children in foster care?
Children enter foster care through no fault of their own because of abuse and neglect, and frequently experience countless layers of trauma. The unfortunate reality is that many will not return to their birth families because it is simply not safe. Each of us has the responsibility to find them the loving, forever families they deserve, no matter their age, how they identify themselves, what challenges they may have or what they have experienced in their journey through foster care. Every child – every child – needs a permanent home and thrives best with a family of their own.
5. Can you share a story that demonstrates the Foundation's impact?
Xavier was also in high school when he was adopted at age 18. He told us he was afraid he was going to graduate and not know how to be sufficient on his own. But after being adopted he said that his father taught him how to navigate life. Xavier is now a music producer with a family of his own. His father, Joe, had himself aged out of foster care and had devoted his life to adopting teenage boys before they age out of care. He has adopted eight sons and four of them were adopted through our program. Watch Xavier’s story:
Watch Joe’s story:
6. What is the most meaningful part of working for the Foundation?
I am moved and joyful every single time that we help a child find a family through adoption. This is not easy work, but we are gifted with the opportunity to be a part of a life-changing mission each and every day and on behalf of children and families who, too often, don’t have advocates on their behalf. I am truly grateful for the vision of our founder, Dave Thomas and the opportunity to fulfill his legacy of caring for our most vulnerable children, through the work of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and with an incredible team.
7. How can people get involved or support the work you are doing?
If you have ever been moved to help children in need, and have the ability, now is a great time to get involved. Become a mentor for a child in foster care, consider becoming an adoptive parent or make a donation to help ensure that there are enough Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters to serve the rising number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. Visit davethomasfoundation.org to explore ways to get involved.