When Holt adoptive mom Angie Ledbetter decided to sign up new sponsors for children as a volunteer at Winter Jam, she knew it would be a wonderful way to honor Judy Young — her family’s adoption social worker and Holt’s Arkansas/Kansas/Missouri branch director who recently passed away. She never expected the beautiful confirmation of her decision that came next.
Our family feels Winter Jam is such an amazing event and is very proud to be a part of the Holt International family that sponsors it. It’s a night spent worshiping the Lord along with ten of the best Christian bands who are sharing the word through music, promoting adoption and getting sponsors for children. We first volunteered at Winter Jam several years ago while we were waiting for our daughter, Lauren, to come home. We were at the point in our adoption where we had all the paperwork finished for the time being and were waiting to be matched with our daughter. Everyone who has adopted knows that is one of the hardest times… to wait. We felt volunteering would be something we could do to feel productive while we were sitting idle in the adoption process.
I admit, the first time we volunteered, it was partly for selfish reasons. I wanted to have the opportunity to see all the faces of the children who needed sponsors, hoping that somehow I would see my daughter’s face. I suppose I had hoped for some divine intervention, considering I didn’t even know who our daughter would be at the time. I had hoped to see a precious baby girl and just know that she was my daughter. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but we were able to sign people up to sponsor some of the children who were in need and enjoyed an amazing concert.
Eventually, the wheels finally turned for us and we were able to bring our daughter, Lauren, home. Lauren, like many adopted children, didn’t have the easiest transition, so we stuck close to home for quite a long while. We weren’t able to volunteer for the time being because we felt Lauren was too young to go with us and she wasn’t ready to stay with anyone long enough for us to attend the concert. Today, she is adjusted and doing amazing, but times were tough for a while. I don’t know how we would have navigated the first few months home without our social worker, Judy Young. We knew Judy was battling cancer and when we heard of her passing in December, we were heartbroken. We were privileged to be able to work with Judy throughout our entire adoption. She was a ball of energy that always had a smile on her face and a positive attitude. No matter when or where she was, if I called her cell phone, she always answered. I can’t imagine going through the adoption process without her by our side. I felt she was not only our case worker, but our friend and even at times, our counselor.
Judy helped us navigate life while we waited for Lauren to come home. She was interested when we built our house, she gave us good advice when my husband was thinking about quitting a job he had been at for 13 years to buy a business and become self-employed. Judy invested herself into every aspect of our lives. During our adoption process, she helped me with paperwork, connected us with other families and calmed my anxious heart during the long wait. One day that sticks out in my mind was one of the darkest days for me during our wait. We were at the stage in the process where families wait to receive “first approval” of a child match. I found out that the majority of our referral group had received first approval — except us. I was happy for the other families, but felt devastated.
It was a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of summer, so I’m sure Judy was at the lake, but she answered when I called and she listened to me cry. I cried my heart out to Judy that day and she sat patiently on the phone with me, validating my feelings, encouraging me and telling me to pray. I will never forget what she did for me that day. She could have been enjoying her day with her family that she so dearly loved, but she took time for me. I know that all the families she worked with felt the same way about Judy. She made time for all of us. While at her memorial, we heard countless stories of how she touched families’ lives in the very same way as ours. She left her mark on the world and made it a better place not only for the children she cared so much for, but for the families that will forever be touched and completed through her tireless efforts.
When we received the email asking for volunteers for Winter Jam this year, we knew right away we needed to do it in honor of Judy. There is no better way to honor her memory than by helping the very children she devoted her life to. During her time at Holt International, she helped place over 400 children! We also felt that it was time to include Lauren, now 4, and take her with us. We want Lauren to know how important adoption is to our family. I went to the Holt International website to sign our family up to volunteer, already feeling that volunteering this year in honor of Judy and it being Lauren’s first year to participate was going to be special. But when I got to the last confirmation page, there was a precious photo of Lauren and her best friend, Ty. The photo made it feel so much more personal and special for us. Judy kept a framed photo of Lauren on her desk, so when I saw the photo on the Holt website, I felt in some way Judy knew we were doing it to honor her.
On March 10, we were able to volunteer at Winter Jam for the first time as a family of four. We worked a sponsorship/adoption table with a fellow adoptive family. All together, we had four tables full of pictures of children in need of sponsors. Our tables were right by the red carpet area so we had a front row seat to see interviews with Matthew West, NewSong and For King and Country. Matthew West noticed Lauren playing and stopped to talk about how cute she was and we were able to take pictures with him. At the beginning of the night, we had some interest and success with sponsors, but Lauren didn’t think it was enough so she stood on a chair, waving her arms above her head to try to get people to stop at our table. When someone would stop to look, Lauren would ask them, “How may I help you?” Lauren also took interest in the pictures of the children. She picked one up and said, “This little girl looks like me” and held the picture up next to her face. I believe Lauren understood what our goal was and she was excited to help.
Stephanie Fast gave her testimony, right before intermission, about being abandoned at 4 years old in South Korea. She shared how she was eventually taken to an orphanage and was then adopted by an American couple through Holt International. It was an amazing testimony that I know inspired many people to sponsor a child. We were really busy during intermission and one thing we noticed when people decided to sponsor a child is that they get very serious; you could tell by the look on their face and how they took their time looking at all the photos to choose just the right one. One man told me he chose a little girl because she reminded him of his granddaughter. Making the choice to sponsor a child becomes very personal. We also had several people stop to ask questions about adoption, which was exciting! I could talk about adoption all day! To be on the other side of the table, having already traveled the road of adoption, it was easy to spot the families whose hearts God was tugging to take the steps to adopt. I wanted to tell them to just go ahead and do it because once God places it on your heart, there is no running or hiding.
As I reflect on the amazing night we experienced, I think about the new friendships that Lauren created, the singers we were able to meet along with Stephanie Fast, and the meaningful conversations we had about adoption that will hopefully result in a family giving a child a forever home — wishing we could somehow share it all with Judy. I wish I could help all the faces that were laid on those tables last night, but it takes all of God’s people to help. God calls us to help the least of these, so we will continue to volunteer at Winter Jam and encourage adoption any chance we get. At the end of the day, it’s Lauren’s words that will stick in my mind. As the concert closed, she looked across the tables of pictures and said, “Mommy, there’s still too many left.”
Angie Ledbetter | Lebanon, Missouri