A hope deferred: One family's winding journey to adoption

by Carla Adair Hendricks

Saline County couple Yerik and Leah Henderson caught the vision of adoption even before their wedding day on June 7, 1997. They had no idea, however, that their vision would be realized several years later, or that the child they would adopt would be much older than they’d expected.

“Harold and Dina Nash did our premarital counseling,” said Leah, speaking of Pastor Harold Nash of Fellowship North Church in North Little Rock, and his wife, Dina. “We observed them and knew their adopted daughters. And that kind of got us thinking that [adoption] was something we could see ourselves doing.”

After marrying, Yerik and Leah faced multiple setbacks to their adoption plans. “The time was never right,” said Leah, a case manager at the Methodist Behavioral Hospital in Maumelle. “We thought we’d adopt first and then have [biological] children, but then I got pregnant with Ellis.”

While enjoying their first year of parenthood, the Henderson family faced major adversity. Before Ellis’ first birthday, Leah received a diagnosis that would further postpone their hopes to adopt someday.

“When Ellis was 1 year old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Leah said. “So after that, everything was on the back-burner.”

After a year and a half of chemotherapy treatments, Leah overcame her cancer and continued with her life as a new mom. As the years rolled by, she’d one day discover that God hadn’t forgotten her heart for adoption.

In 2009 she began working for Second Chance Youth Ranch in Saline County, which provides abused, neglected and at-risk youth, ages 10 to 18, a caring home while working to resolve crises in the youth’s life. Leah and Yerik began developing relationships with several of the young people there. Out of an unusual arrangement they became particularly bonded with the African American boys from the ranch.

“Yerik and I mentored a lot of kids from there. They couldn’t find anyone to keep the black boys’ hair cut, so we were volunteering to take the African American boys to get their hair cut every other week.”

Little did they know, those barbershop trips would introduce them to an unassuming young man that would forever change their lives.

“In 2012 Davonta moved to the Ranch. And that is how we first started getting to know Davonta. We really liked him. He was really quiet. Really likable.”

The Hendersons had assumed that Davonta would eventually return home to his family, like most of the Ranch residents. After all, one of the Ranch’s goals is to re-unify their residents’ families. Yet one day in 2012, Leah heard the Ranch director discussing plans to find an adoptive family for Davonta.

Two of his sisters had already been adopted, but he and another sister were in need of a forever family. Leah immediately considered if this was the fulfillment of their hopes to adopt.

“Within a couple of days, I sent Yerik a text message saying, ‘So what do you think about Davonta?’”

Yerik, the newly appointed youth pastor of Agape Church in Little Rock, was on board right away. “I was in agreement with it. He was just a joy to be around. The thought of adopting him had already crossed my mind.”

Through their mentorship relationship, Yerik and Davonta had already begun to bond. “Some of the guys come [to the ranch] and they have a lot of anger in them. They try to play hard with you. Davonta was different. He was just a sincere young man. He’s open. You can read him.”

Unwilling to waste any time pursuing the adoption process, the Hendersons began foster care/adoption training in April 2013 with The CALL (thecallinarkansas.org), a nonprofit that recruits and trains foster and adoptive families from churches throughout Arkansas. At the same time, Davonta regularly spent weekends in their home. This afforded them the opportunity to get to know him better.

Once the adoption process began, Leah said they weren’t sure if Davonta was excited about it, but that didn’t stop them from moving forward. “It didn’t matter to us. We wanted him to have some place to call home. We couldn’t stand the fact that when he went to college, when he went off to work, when he got married, he didn’t have any support and anyone to come home to. Now I don’t have those concerns anymore.”

Leah said they discovered that Davonta had already been disappointed over the prospect of adoption. “He’d already had one adoption fall through. A past foster family was going through the classes and the adoption process, but stopped the process at some point.”

Davonta, a rising senior at Bryant High School, admits to his reservations over the adoption. “I didn’t want to [be adopted] at first. I was supposed to stay at the Ranch and go to college. I didn’t want to start over. But then getting to know them, I like them. They fit my personality. I wanted to go forward with it.”

Yerik says they’ve experienced much confirmation over their decision to adopt. “To see his mind open, his heart open. When we first met him, it was closed. Just to see progress — see him changing. See him thinking about things differently than he was before. It’s nice to see him develop into the young man that God wants him to be. That’s what I enjoy seeing. It’s nice to see him have a normal teenage life. To see him coming out of those things that he could not do, to things that he can do.”

According to Leah, there have been challenges raising Davonta — who she affectionately calls “D” — especially after having raised 12-year-old Ellis, a rising seventh-grader at Arkansas Christian Academy.

“It’s a lot. Like when we’re disciplining. D didn’t have that security and assurance. We had to be careful about how we talk to him and discipline. Ellis knows it doesn’t change our love for him.
It doesn’t matter what you did. We’re not sending you away. I know for D, there was a lot of uncertainty.

“I couldn’t fault him for the things he hasn’t been taught. A lot of things that a 16-year-old boy would have been taught by men in his life, he just doesn’t know. We wouldn’t change anything, but it’s not always the easiest transition. It’s not always pretty. There’s that other side of adoption.”

Yerik agrees that some days haven’t been easy. “For me it’s for him to believe in himself. Since Ellis has been young, I’ve said, ‘You can do anything. And if you need help, Daddy’s going to help you.’ In his earlier years Davonta didn’t have anybody to push him to step out of his comfort zone and get him to take some more responsibility.”

Through it all, the Henderson family was thrilled to finalize their adoption on April 21, exactly six months from the day that Davonta came to live with them. With a host of family members surrounding them, Davonta officially became Davonta Va-Shon Henderson, taking his father’s middle name.

“It was a joyous time to hear them call his name,” Yerik said. “He was about to break his jaw bone, he was smiling so hard.”

“It was very exciting,” Leah said. “Yerik and I were saying, ‘We’re excited. It’s finally going to be official.’ We asked D if he was excited about the finalization. He said, ‘No, because it’s been real for me since I came. Now the judge is going to say it’s real.’”

“It feels awesome,” Davonta said. “I like it. I don’t have to worry about anything because they’ve got me.”