If Margaret Fleming could adopt every child who needed a home, she probably would.
Now 76, the Oak Park mother of 12, nine of whom are adopted, hasn’t slowed down in her efforts to help as many children as possible.
But the local organization she founded 20 years ago, Adoption-Link, needs some help of its own to continue the mission of finding loving homes for kids.
The year was 1992, and Fleming had already adopted several African-American children, which she said wasn’t easy as a white, single mother. Her biological children were grown, and she was looking for another venture in her life. At a crossroads, it came down to two options: get her Ph.D. or help more children.
Fleming took the second option.
She investigated how to start an adoption agency from nothing, and used low-interest credit cards to get her grassroots organization off the ground. She started as a nonprofit that guided prospective parents through the process, but Fleming knew the agency needed to get to the next level.
“I’m so glad I chose [this path],” she said. “I not only started the rest of my family but also inspired this mission.”
At the four-year mark, the organization turned a new page and the once all-volunteer agency earned its license and began to grow. Now the office has 10 employees who keep things running.
“It was no small feat for a small agency,” said Fleming, who was 56 when she started.
Adoption Link was fairly radical at the time of its inception, she recalled, because some of the babies had special needs, severe health problems or came from drug-exposed families. Her own three youngest are HIV positive.
“I’ve always had a heart for special needs children,” Fleming said. “We have always found a family for every baby that’s come our way.”
She recalls one extreme case when a boy was born without arms and legs. One phone call and 24 hours later, that child had a home. He is now a healthy teenager.
“It’s such a point of pride for us when we do it quickly,” she explained. Altogether, they’ve placed and helped roughly 1,000 children. She herself has adopted kids from the U.S., Ethiopia and Vietnam.
Adoption-Link has a waiting list to place children from around the world in U.S. homes. The agency works with any qualified family, couple or parent — regardless of race or sexual orientation.
“We evaluate everyone,” she said. “And don’t just make sweeping statements.”
The agency also works with an active HIV program in Haiti called Chances by Choice to educate and promote health and wellness. Fleming said it’s important to form relationships and create ongoing trust so people don’t feel children are simply being taken from their countries. In Uganda, by law, children cannot be adopted if they have a living relative, so all the agency can do is assist with programs.
Adoption-Link provides advocacy, education and humanitarian aid in the U.S., Haiti and Uganda, and is currently supporting 14 young Ugandan children who were abandoned or tortured who cannot be adopted. Through its contracts, the group has provided such items as a car, appliances, medical machines, food and toiletries and created sustainable agriculture systems.
They also helped rebuild the administration office of its adoption agency partner in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. This year alone, Adoption-Link has assisted in placing 12 children from Haiti with U.S. families.
“Every child deserves a family,” Fleming said. “I didn’t want to just start another agency. I wanted to work in an area no one else was interested in working in.”
She has even “passed on the torch” to her eldest son, who has adopted his own children.
Fleming hopes her mission will last as long as possible, which is why Adoption-Link started its Campaign Sustain 2012, taking a multifaceted approach to hitting its goal of raising $300,000 by Oct. 1. Those interested in learning more about the campaign or donating can call 708-524-1433 or visit adoption-link.org. “We want to continue another 20 years,” Fleming said. “Who is going to help our kids, our families? We’re ready to make a mark here.”
Hitting that goal won’t be easy, Fleming knows, but seeing kids’ faces makes all the long days, countless hours and bundles of checks and bills worthwhile.
“You get very emotional. You get the highest highs and the lowest lows in this work,” Fleming said. “You want to do something. These helpless kids strike you.”