Sara Cozad and Stuart Shank weren’t even 20 when they fell for each other. What kept their relationship strong was the common goal of becoming foster parents. For years they harvested the dream of fostering and once they got married, the couple turned that dream into a reality. Upon getting their fostering license, they opened their doors to several children. However, there were two cases particularly that they wanted to take a step further and adopt. What should have been an easy case would end up in tears.
An Uncertain Start For Sara and Stuart
To begin with, the first date between Stuart Shank and Sara Cozad seemed nothing short of cliché. The two teens sat across from one another at a local cafe and Stuart proceeded to ask her a slew of questions about her career ambitions and where she’d want to travel in the future. After only about 10 minutes into the date, she’d answer a question and reveal one of her deepest desires.
At 19-years-old, Sara was uncertain about her future career. However, amid the many questions there was one that she could answer with absolute certainty: whether she’d want children. Sadly, her answer had often proven to be quite off putting to the men she’d go out with and she was extremely apprehensive of Stuart’s reaction.
Facing Sara’s Lifelong Dream
Even from a relatively young age, Sara was open minded about the type of family she hoped to eventually have. She knew that if it came to having kids, she wouldn’t necessarily want her own biological children. In fact, had more of a desire to become a foster parent. The neglect and abuse that foster kids suffer across the world was something that she could not turn a blind eye to. She dreamed of creating a safe space for foster kids to live until they could hopefully reunite with their biological families.
Despite her strong convictions, Sara tensed up before answering Stuart’s question concerning kids. She liked him a lot, yet she knew that if the idea didn’t sit well with him, she’d have to look for someone else. Some people were less sensitive than others when it came to her hopes to foster. In the case of Stuart, his reaction was something that caught her completely off guard.
An Unexpected Reaction And Deciding Factor
Much to Sara’s surprise, Stuart was very enthusiastic about the idea of being a foster parent. His ability to get on board with the notion really made him stand out as a quality guy in Sara’s mind. From that point forward their youthful romance bloomed from something simple and carefree to talks of a deeper future.
After a few years of dating, the two officially tied the knot in 2014. Once they got back from their honeymoon, Sara, now 23-years-old was ready to begin the long process of expanding their little family and becoming a foster parent. However, if they thought it’d be a simple task, they’d be far from the truth. The young couple would soon found themselves up against a long and grueling process.
Passing the Procedures
Becoming a foster parent is in no way as easy as going into a foster home, signing a paper and walking out with a child. Sara and Stuart had to undergo a slew of procedures that spanned several months. The procedures included orientations, background checks, fingerprinting, home visits and classes.
Sara and Stuart eventually found out that they’d met all the needed requirements to officially become foster parents and they didn’t want to waste time. Right away, they agreed to initially work exclusively on short term and emergency cases. It seemed like the perfect way to get the hang of the lifestyle. That said, Sara and Stuart’s desired path would take an unexpected turn within only a few days of being licensed.
Their First Shot At Fostering
Usually, after foster parents are licensed, they can expect to wait a couple weeks or months before bringing in their first child. However, this wasn’t the case of Sara and Stuart. Only hours after being licensed, the two were called and asked if they could take in a baby for a week. One can only imagine how exhilarating and unnerving it must have been.
In moments like these, one can only simultaneously worry obsessively and hope for the best. Sara and Stuart picked up the baby and their hearts immediately felt heavy with love. It was at that moment that they knew they had found their calling in life. Their week with the baby was a wonderful experience and afterward, they were more than ready for what life would throw at them next. However, they had no idea just how their lives were about to change with the next child to come into their home.
Sara and Stuart had enjoyed their first experience fostering a baby so much that they soon scrambled to find out if they could take in more kids. They made a call and to the foster agency, who this time didn’t assign them a baby, but a three-year-old little boy.
This three-year-old was named Michael and Sara and Stuart were immediately taken by his charms. What was initially supposed to be a weekend stay with the couple turned into weeks and then months. Approximately three months after Michael’s arrival, Sara and Stuart opened their doors to a supervised sibling visit with the little boy’s older brother. While it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary at the time, this visit would end up changing all of their lives forever.
Dayshawn Enters The Scene
Initially, Sara and Stuart had some concerns about the meeting due to the age difference between Michael and his brother Dayshawn. However, any doubts they had faded rather quickly. In a moment that brought Sara and Stuart to tears, Michael’s 10-year-old brother Dayshawn took him into his arms in a tight embrace that lasted several minutes. The love between them could immediately be felt by Sara.
The day was filled with excitement for both brothers and Sara couldn’t remember the last time she saw Michael in such a happy mood. Watching how well the two brothers interacted with one another, Sara felt like she had to do something. She had an idea, but the idea made her a little nervous.
Not Wanting To Say Goodbye, Again
Sara realized then and there that the brothers had to be together. She wouldn’t be able to live with the heartbreak that would come from the two having to say goodbye again. For both boys, the option of going back to their biological family wasn’t an option. That’s when Sara and Stuart were faced with the idea of fostering Dayshaw too. However, being only 23, Sara had concerns about fostering a pre-teen.
They had no idea what it would be like to foster an older child than they had before. Sara and Stuart had planned to just foster babies and toddlers at first. At the end of the day, Sara had to take into consideration that she was only 13 years older than Dayshawn. So the couple decided to have a sit down with Dayshawn to discuss it. As they started talking with Dayshawn, it immediately became apparent what they had to do.
Far From The Average Pre-Teen
Dayshawn was really far from what most people would describe as the average pre-teen. “Dayshawn breaks every single stereotype about teens in foster care. He is the most empathetic and compassionate person I’ve ever met,” Sara later wrote in an entry on the blog LoveWhatMatters.
Despite his young age, Dayshawn seemed to possess the work ethic of an adult with a vision. He was passing his classes at school with flying colors and had big dreams of one day being a doctor, basketball player or a social worker. Sadly, foster children typically have to work a lot harder than most kids. However, Dayshawn was in for some big news that would likely impact his chances of making those dreams come true.
Decisions Concerning Dayshawn
After their long conversation with Dayshawn, Sara and Stuart decided to take him under their wing as well. This would give him some much needed support and it would reunite him with his brother. All of Sara’s fears over the narrow age gap between her and her soon-to-be foster son quickly melted away, as it became quite apparent that Dayshawn only viewed her as a mother figure.
He was even great with all the other foster children who would eventually come through the home. “He is a social butterfly and makes it his personal mission to welcome every new child who comes to us,” Sara wrote on her blog post. While Michael and Dayshawn were just two of the many foster children who would find love and shelter in the home, their situation became increasingly distinct.
Entering New Territory
The bond that Sara and Stuart felt with Michael and Dayshawn was nothing like they had ever had with any of the other foster children. Sara realized that she had special feelings for these two boys and she didn’t quite know where to go from there. She used her blog as a forum to express her concerns for the future.
She needed to keep them together and be assured that they have some long term stability. Many foster kids live lives of many transitions from one home to another throughout their childhoods, and then find themselves as adults with no support system. Sara didn’t want Michael and Dayshawn to end up like this and she knew that she had to do something.
A Life-Changing Choice
Being a foster parent is no walk in the park. It can feel rewarding to provide a home to kids who come from oftentimes difficult backgrounds. However, there often comes a dreadful moment when foster kids have to move on and leave those connections behind. Sara was well aware that this could happen to her with Michael and Dayshawn.
With that in mind, Sara and Stuart decided to take a more permanent step, and adopt the boys. While some would be quick to say that she was doing it for the sake of her and Stuart’s own attachment to the kids, their decision to adopt came straight from the heart.
Doing It All For Michael And Dayshawn
Without the option of adoption, Michael and Dayshawn would have potentially faced the heartbreaking possibility of needing to leave the care of Sara and Stuart. That would pretty much guarantee the boys being separated from one another. Sara could not stomach the possibility of this reality falling upon them.
At the end of the day, Michael and Dayshawn were both still children going through the developmental stages of their lives. The siblings were benefiting greatly from being together with two stable parental figures to lead the way. Casting them into uncertainty was something that Sara refused to do. Joyously, they planned to start the adoption process. However, it would become apparent that the path was more turbulent than they’d expected.
Family Hanging In The Balance
Despite having spent a significant amount of time together, they couldn’t just drive down to the court and make everything official. Weeks turned to months, and months to years and it seemed that the process of adoption kept lingering in the distance before them. It was hard on everybody, but Sara took it especially hard.
“I think the hardest part was the flip-flop of emotions we went through throughout their very long case,” she later wrote “We would want to support the goal of reunification, and we would mentally prepare ourselves for that and then all of a sudden, the case plan would be switched to adoption. And then 6 months later, back to reunification.” The cutting tension saw her go through some very big changes.
Years In The Making
For three years, the four of them lived their lives with all their hopes and dreams hanging in the balance. In the back of their minds, they all knew they could be separated at any moment. Amid the years in limbo, the four of them got closer and felt more like a family. Sara detailed her feelings best on her blog.
She said, “I’ve always been a pretty Type-A person, and this process really made me realize that I needed to just sit back and enjoy every single moment with our boys, because I truly had no control over what the future held.” Then after three years, the family was called upon to face the answer. Would they remain a family or go down separate paths?
Adoption Hearing Day
Dressed in their finest clothes, the young family approached the court house. The car was filled with an array of boiling emotions. Among them were fear, excitement, hope, doubt and above all, love. They were a living testament to what it meant to be a family, and to see it all fall apart would break all of their hearts.
Sara was already near a breaking point when she saw how nicely the boys behaved toward one another outside the courthouse. They walked into the courtroom on August 13, 2018 and had no idea if it would dictate the rest of their young lives. The judge asked Michael and Dayshawn a few questions and deliberating the ruling that would ultimately seal their fates.
To Be a Family Or Not To Be a Family
A small group of family and friends packed into the courtroom for the big day as the adoption hearing started. During the course of the hearing, the judge asked Michael and Dayshawn how they felt about their foster parents. As the boys spoke, it wouldn’t take long for the judge to come to decision.
The judge couldn’t deny the petition for adoption, and gave the family the seal of approval. Sara and Stuart were now officially the adopted parents of Michael and Dayshawn. The room poured over with emotion as everyone around them clapped. It was a moment that the four of them would remember for the rest of their lives. It was then amid all the commotion that Dayshawn took the gavel and pounded it against the table. He was about to do something that would leave the whole courtroom speechless and in tears.
Dayshawn’s Touching Speech
As the judge was announcing her decision, Dayshawn interrupted her and made an already emotional moment about 10 times heavier. He said, “Yeah, they all love us.” This made everyone laugh and lightened the mood, but things quickly took a different turn as he poured out what was really in his heart.
Dayshawn said something that absolutely melted Sara’s heart and brought her to tears. “We love them. Our whole family is the best thing we ever had. I’m glad to have these people in my life. I’m glad to be their son. They’re the best thing I ever had,” he told the courtroom. But he didn’t stop there.
Dayshawn’s Dream Come True
If they didn’t see the benefits of fostering before, Sara and Stuart were certainly seeing them now. Not only did they save these kids from childhoods lodged in the fostering system, but they got unconditional love back in return. There are few things that are as priceless as unconditional love.
Dayshawn’s touching proclamation wasn’t done yet though as he further looked at his now-legal mother and father and said, “If I could wish for anything in the world, I would wish I could just love these people for the rest of my life.” Words can’t describe how Stuart and Sara must have felt in that moment, but she has went on record calling it the most emotional moment of her life. But their story didn’t end there.
A Courtroom In Tears
Not only was Sara crying, but many people in the crowd also gave into the emotional moment with rolling tears. A beaming Dayshawn couldn’t help but look back at the crowd gathered that day and smile. He and his brother Michael were no longer orphans belonging to system.
Sara’s eyes were opened by how grateful the boys were to now be part of their family. She would later go on Good Morning America and say, “No child should feel grateful to have a family love them,” she said. “It should be a given.” While the courtroom scene was breathtaking, there was another touching development that would follow.
The Ultimate Step In Becoming A Family
Even when the adoption was made official by the courts, there was still one piece of the puzzle that was missing for Michael and Dayshawn. That came down to not having the Cozad name as their own. That little fact still made them feel separated from Stuart and Sara.
However, they wouldn’t need to feel this way for long as their parents were quick in giving them their last names. With that, the boys were officially Michael and Dayshawn Cozad. To celebrate all that they’d been through, the family threw a ceremonious adoption party for them. While all seemed like a happy ending for the family, Stuart and Sara’s friends and family couldn’t help but ask them about their futures, but no one expected their answer.
Questioning Sara And Stuart’s Fostering Future
Now that Sara and Stuart had two kids of their own, many of those around them wondered if the young couple would continue fostering or give it up to go about living as a family of four. The questions made Sara and Stuart consider the direction of their family life and ultimately come to decision.
“At our adoption party, I was asked several times if we would continue to foster now that our boys are adopted,” Sara later recalled on her blog, adding that, “Stuart and I have decided that if we continue to foster, we’re going to become a specialized home.” However, what would be these specialty groups that they’d be helping?
Special Groups Come Into Focus
Sara and Stuart wanted to set their fostering future on teen mothers and LGBTQ youth. They clarified that they made the decision not because they thought they could parent such children better than anyone else, but more because fewer homes seem to be open to the demographics and the struggles they have to endure.
These teens can end up waiting in the offices of social workers or living in shelters for weeks and even months at a time. For those reasons, Sara and Stuart felt the need to swoop in and come to the rescue. But just how many children they’ve ended up foster so far, is extraordinary.
What Fostering Means To Sara
At the time of her blog post, 26-year-old Sara said she and her husband had fostered 14 children! Some stayed with the family for long term arrangement while some were emergency placements. “People always say, ‘Oh, I could never be a foster parent. I would get too attached and it would hurt when they go home.’ And that’s true. It is hard. And I cry every single time a child leaves. But reunification can be a beautiful thing,” she has explained of her experience fostering.
Sara further explained that: “We become foster parents because we wanted to help families in our community. We advocate for reunification whenever it’s possible. The best part about fostering is seeing parents work tremendously hard to get their children back.” It looks like the future goals of the Cozad family is pretty set, but how have Michael and Dayshawn adjusted?
Empathetic And Understanding
While one could imagine a child having jealousy issues at the sight of a new kid getting love and affection from his mother, Michael and Dayshaw have been extremely welcoming to the foster kids that stay with them, according to their parents.
According to his mom, Dayshawn is a social butterfly when it comes to new kids entering the home. He immediately tries to make them feel part of the family. When it comes to Michael and Dayshawn, Sara and Stuart couldn’t have found a better match for them. There is absolutely no limit to how far these four individuals can go together.
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