By VICTORIA WARD
Two women take on the fight against child abandonment through their nonprofit the Hope Box. With the issue becoming more serious in metro-Atlanta, the Hope Box plans to provide a safe and anonymous alternative option and hope for desperate women.
KENNESAW, Ga. — A bicycle, a suitcase, one broken car seat and a grandmother were all that accompanied the 3-year-old boy that arrived on Sarah Koeppen’s doorstep one day. The child, Elijah, was the son of a scared young mother, unable to care for him, and Koeppen, the mother of four young children, was both capable and willing.
Immediately, Koeppen began to study the laws of abandonment and adoption to become familiar with her rights, and within a year she had full custody of Elijah. Elijah is now a safe and permanent part Koeppen’s family, but the process of getting him there has set her on a life-long journey with the issue of abandonment.
From hearing testimonies of others who have had the same experiences to seeing cases with her own eyes while working with social services, she became aware of the growing issue of abandoned children in Atlanta and decided to do something about it.
Koeppen and her partner, Tiffany Turolla, are co-founders of the Hope Box, a nonprofit that aims to provide a safe place where mothers can discretely and anonymously leave their babies to be quickly adopted into pre-approved families.
This organization stands to give hope to women who are incapable of caring for their newborn children, to the babies by providing them with a chance for a better life and to families who are frustrated with the current adoption process.
“We are doing this to bring hope to someone who is scared… we want to provide an extra option to abortion, to discarding your baby,” said Koeppen. “We are not here to say ‘Why would anyone give away their baby?’ We are here to say ‘Hey, let us give you hope, let us give you an option that is a safe option.’”
Koeppen said Elijah’s biological mother made a tough decision by giving her son away, but she made that sacrifice knowing it was what was best for him. Koeppen and Turolla want to make that option more available to women in Cobb County.
The vision and the need
The Hope Box facility is planned to have a drop box, not unlike a mailbox, connected to the side of the building with two openings, one on the inside and one on the outside. Their main goal is to provide a place where someone who is unwilling or unable to care for their baby can leave their child, no questions asked. A mother can place her newborn inside without any contact from Hope Box staff and maintain her anonymity.
Unlike an orphanage, the facility will more closely resemble a clinic where an around-the-clock medical team will be able to reach the baby within seconds and assess it. Once they are cleared by the medical team, the babies will be placed in the nursery and then into their pre-approved adoptive families in anywhere between 24 hours to seven days.
The need for the Hope Box seems to be growing in metro-Atlanta. Georgia is the number-one state in America for sex trafficking, and consequentially there has been a rise in women becoming pregnant and not knowing what to do with their babies, according to Turolla. The number of abandoned children has grown at such an exponential rate that social services has been housing children in hotel rooms, costing the state thousands of dollars, according to an April Channel 2 Action News article.
“We are not social services,” said Turolla. “They never hit social services with us. We are not an orphanage, and there is no financial burden on the state.”
The dream becomes reality
Turolla, a mother of three, has yet to adopt, but she is well acquainted with the subject of abandoned children. She comes from a family of foster children, with her grandparents being foster parents and her mother growing up in a house filled with up to 12 children at a time. Having an “adoptive spirit” has always been second nature to her.
Turolla first dreamed up the Hope Box with Koeppen a year ago during a casual conversation when they discovered that they shared the same heart for abandonment and the same vision for the nonprofit that would eventually become the Hope Box. They later labeled that conversation as “divine.”
The team appears to be a match made in heaven. Koeppen knows all about the laws regarding adoption and abandonment, and Turolla knows all about nonprofits with all the experience she has had with her family’s ministry, Kingdom Legacy.
In the course of a few months, different organizations and groups have come alongside these women to partner with the Hope Box. They have the adoption side set with Embracing Life Adoption Agency ready to run all of their adoptions.
The ball seems to be rolling quickly with the list of supporters and volunteers growing, and an online store with personalized gifts such as shirts, accessories and art. However, the need for more funding is significant if the Hope Box is to become fully operational by next year in Cobb County like they have planned according to Tasia Wright, fundraising and event coordinator for the Hope Box.
The Hope Box also needs funding to support the 24-hour medical team members they plan to have in the building as well as the security and extraction team they want on staff.
“If a mom calls us… if she can’t get to us in this facility or she’s in labor, maybe it’s a girl in prostitution and something went wrong, they can call us, no questions asked, and we can come asses the situation and get the baby and mom help,” said Koeppen. “We can even offer her a way out if she wants it. If not, thats ok. But we can get the baby safely to the Hope Box and adopted out.”
In order to raise the money to obtain all of the necessary components in making the Hope Box functional, the organization has set up some big fundraising events in the near future, according to Wright. A silent auction is planned for sometime in the fall, and a 5K race is being planned for the spring of 2016.
There is still a long way to go before their facilities are up and running, but the word on the problem of abandonment is spreading as the community begins to gather around the Hope Box.
“There is a lot of kids in foster care that have been in the system for years, and they have been through a lot,” said Wright. “But through the Hope Box, they get to be put into families immediately, that way they have a chance… From birth, these babies are going to be put in their forever home.”