With three daughters grown and long gone from the house, Joseph and Tonya Sanchez had adjusted nicely to their empty nest. Spontaneous by nature, Joseph especially enjoyed taking off on a quick adventure without a moment’s notice. Life, however, tends to rewrite our storylines just as spontaneously. Sometimes, lives are redirected through unexpected sorrow, or even tragedy.

“It started with my sister’s passing,” said Joseph, “and I knew they were going to be in need of care. Because of circumstances from the past, I knew we had to step in.”

Joseph’s younger sister, Vanessa, passed away four days after giving birth in December 2018. At her death, her two daughters from a previous relationship went to live with their birth father’s family. Four days after her mother passed, Alexis turned 10 years old. Her sister, Angela, was just three. Troubled, Joseph and Tonya suspected the girls were living in unsafe conditions, and notified the Kansas Department for Children and Families. Following an investigation, the girls entered foster care in January 2018, and in April, they came to live with Joseph and Tonya as a kinship placement. None of their lives would be the same – and yet, they were all the better for it.

For the Winfield, Kansas, couple, there was never a question.

“It was on both our minds,” said Joseph. “It was almost an unspoken thing between us, and there never was a doubt about what was going to have to happen.”

As far as they saw it, the girls needed them. It was time to step up. The rest of their family knew it, too.

“My daughters were very supportive,” said Tonya. “We told them we were going to fight tooth and nail for the girls, and they said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to do what you’ve got do.’ He (Joseph) has an older and a younger brother, and they knew we were the right ones to do this, too. They have their own families, so everybody knew we would be the ones to step up because they knew they couldn’t.”

“Everybody knew that what we were doing was for the benefit of the girls,” said Joseph. “That’s what it’s always been about, to give them a better chance, a better opportunity to exceed and excel. I want them to know – just like anyone would want their kids to know – that there’s nothing holding them back.”

The girls are learning that now. At one time, Alexis rarely went to school, and both sisters have experienced trauma. Now, they’re flourishing and learning as they grow. The small achievements please Joseph and Tonya the most, watching the girls succeed in their efforts.

“Alexis struggles every day, but her tenacity and motivation keep pushing her forward,” said Joseph. “That’s my reward, seeing her face light up when she brings home her report card, and her lowest grade is one C and she has perfect attendance. She’s really grown.”

Their Saint Francis case worker broached the subject of adoption first, but that’s not to say the idea hadn’t been nesting in the back of their minds – almost as if they’d already silently agreed to it.

“We knew we were not going to let the girls spend their lives in foster care,” said Tonya.

“I don’t know much about the inner workings of the foster care system,” added Joseph, “but I knew if we just stayed foster parents, there was no guarantee they would stay here. I knew that if we adopted them, they’d be our responsibility, and we’re going to get them what they need. That was the way I looked at it.”

So, that’s what they did. Last month, just before National Adoption Day, Joseph and Tonya finalized the adoption of their two new daughters. Throughout the long legal process, they kept the girls informed and involved them as much as possible.

“When it came time to fill out the birth certificates, we called them both in and said, ‘Look, this is going to be your new birth certificate. This is it, we’re coming into the home stretch.’ They were excited. We all were.”

Besides growing their family, it’s made their marriage stronger, said Tonya.

“We’re here for these girls,” she added, fighting back tears.

“We are a family, but we wanted to be that official family,” said Joseph. “Still, I want the focus (of this story) to be on these two little girls. Alexis is kind of shy, but not once you get to know her. And Angie is just this 5-year-old ball of fire. She’ll have conversations with me and use words that make me ask, ‘What did you just say? You’re five. Do you even know what that word means?’ And she’ll tell me the gist of it. It’s pretty impressive. I just want people to know how special these girls are … they are special to me.”

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