Meet the Wade Family
On any given Saturday morning, a small sea of black and red jerseys dart through local streets like a school of fish. The steady buzz of chains spinning on their cassettes accompanies the group as they make their synchronized trek along miles of pavement.
This is Team Anthem, and on the road, they are nothing less than resolute. They are all training for triathlons, duathlons and other races. They fundraise for a number of different causes, and they push themselves and each other to be their best both on and off the podium.
Listen closely to the banter that sometimes goes on between team members, and you’ll hear a British accent in the mix. Most likely, that voice is from Team Anthem president Billy Wade who, sure, is a driven athlete, but whose family life has more facets than his bike has spokes.
Billy, who owns and operates a home inspection service, and wife Jen, an occupational therapy assistant, met in Las Vegas and clicked right away. They were married within three months, and started their family in Jen’s home state of New Jersey. Cold weather led them to wander to Phoenix, and they’ve called the Valley home ever since.
Their household continued to grow, and it’s not small. Billy and Jen are the proud parents of six children. Each Wade progeny is unique, but what is noticeable from the offset is how they look as they walk down the street. The family is a miniature United Nations, representing four different countries of heritage and traditions: Billy is the Brit; Jen, Liam and Aidan the American-born; Molly was born in Thailand; and Mckenna, Hermela and Kaleb have Ethiopian heritage. They’re a beautiful family, and they are a living example that human beings across the planet have far more similarities than they do differences.
For starters, they’re so much more than a culturally blended family. Like any family, each child has his or her own interests, and like all parents, Billy and Jen try to encourage them to follow their own path.
Mckenna, 14, loves to play soccer and wants to become a physical therapist one day because she wants to help people. In school, she likes history and science, and she loves working with children. She also loves dogs, which is a good thing since the family fosters them for a local shelter.
Hermela, also 14, wants to help orphans when she grows up. She loves to draw, and also likes listening to music and playing soccer. She wants to be a biologist one day because, she says, she wants to find cures for diseases.
Liam is 13 years old. Like his dad, he is developing a love for triathlons. Steven Spielberg is his favorite role model, and even at his young age, he dreams of Hollywood and has a passion for writing scripts and directing films.
Aidan, 11, loves to read and wants to write and illustrate comic books one day. He’s all about diversity, though, because he also wants to own his own bakery and run a dog rescue too.
Molly is 10 years old. She loves dancing and singing and all things music-related. The youngest girl, she likes to be around her older sisters. Like the other girls, Molly is quiet at first but warms up over time. One day she hopes to be an architect and design houses.
The youngest of the Wades, Kaleb, is 8 years old. Like his brothers, he’s athletic and likes to play basketball and soccer, and also loves swimming. He’ll do just about anything to keep active, but in his down time, he likes watching superhero movies. When he grows up, he wants to be a firefighter so he can save people.
It’s only natural to wander into a conversation about international adoption with a family who came together that way. The adoption process varies from country to country, and controversies over ethical dilemmas are hard to ignore. The Wades are very conscientious about these issues, and are the first to say that some well-meaning people go into adoption with an attitude that creates an unhealthy situation.
“I’m a huge advocate for adoption, but if you’re going to get into adoption to save a child, don’t do it,” said Jen. “That whole ‘saving’ mentality will get you into trouble. A child is not coming to your home grateful. If that child could choose, their mother would not have died, and they would be in their home country with their friends and a familiar culture.”
She continued, “In our children’s cases, we had an opportunity to give them the love of a family. That’s where our heart was at the end of the day. We’ve had our challenges. We’re not perfect, and we don’t even pretend to be, but we love our children, and they love each other like any other brothers and sisters do.”
“There are eight of us in this house,” Billy adds. “We can’t ignore each other. We just figure it out like any family would.”
Every year in both domestic and international adoption circles, hopeful adoptive parents line up for babies and small children, sometimes unintentionally creating a lucrative market for little ones and opening the doors to corruption. In many countries, children as young as four or five years old are considered “older” children, and they often suffer from lack of educational opportunities and hunger while waiting in orphanages. In many orphanages, too, children are vulnerable to all types of abuse.
In the United States, it’s no secret that the foster system is broken in many ways. By the time parental rights are severed, children have suffered unfathomable abuse and neglect. More often, they are shuffled through the foster care system where they are often separated from siblings, moved from one house to the next, and at times abused or neglected for years without ever becoming eligible for adoption.
The Wades have been foster parents in the past, but for them, international adoption was a personal choice that fit. “Life is short,” Billy explained. “There are so many kids who need homes. We thought, ‘Why not?’”
It wasn’t that simple, of course. The Wades chose to adopt older, waiting children. Billy, whose concern was finances and supporting his growing brood, was hesitant to begin. “My first thoughts were that we were never going to be able to take vacations and things like that,” he said. “What I realized was that it’s not about me – it’s not about you. It’s not about what we want for ourselves; it’s about what we can provide for them.”
His eyes scan the full living room where his children are sitting. “I am so blessed to have them here now,” he adds sincerely.
Fourteen-year-old Hermela came home to the Wade family most recently. She has been in the United States for nearly exactly one year, although it’s difficult to tell given her command of English and her distinctly American-style choices. She was once in the same Ethiopian orphanage as her now-sister Mckenna, and she came to the United States through a cultural exchange program called Welcoming Angels.
Welcoming Angels brings children from the Philippines and Ethiopia to the United States for a period of weeks. It allows them to interact with American students and adults, and they become both the learners and the teachers. Sometimes, like in Hermela’s case, the children are adopted.
“People are so afraid to adopt older children,” Jen explained. “Once you meet the kids, all of that fear goes away.”
And although the family is not planning another adoption, they do plan to continue advocating through a similar program called Children’s Cultural Connection, which promotes cultural exchanges with children from Ukraine. This month, they will begin hosting a 10-year-old Ukrainian boy.
In the Ukraine, orphaned children are housed in orphanages until they are 16 years old. When they turn 16, they are forced out of the orphanage and left to fend for themselves on the streets. A disturbing percentage turn to sex trafficking and crime to survive, and the suicide rate, according to Jen, is somewhere around 15 percent within the first year. The Wades are hoping someone falls in love with the young man they are hosting and pursues adoption as well.
“If people have ever considered adopting an older child, if they are afraid or concerned, they should consider hosting,” Jen advised. “It will help them to see exactly what they are getting into, and it will show them that it’s not as scary as they may think.”
The family’s passion for helping others has spread to every one of the children. When asked if they wanted to adopt someday, six heads nodded in happy accord. “Definitely,” said Mckenna, speaking for them all.
The family’s atypical makeup does little to stifle the fact that kids are kids no matter where they are born. The only difference between the six faces in this Anthem home and children in other parts of the world are that they all have opportunities to follow their dreams that many children are denied.
Like the athletes of Team Anthem, the Wade family has learned that patience, persistence and trust are what make a difference in the long run. They aren’t in it for a training race; they’re in it for the marathon.
“If anything, I hope that this all creates children who want to make a difference in the world,” Jen said as she looked at the children who call her “Mom.” “We are here to teach them unconditional love, and if they learn that lesson, we’ve done our job.”