Adopted by his foster parents, a soldier ships out

first_imgAdopted by his foster parents, a soldier ships out Adopted by his foster parents, a soldier ships out Associate EditorLettered in blue frosting, the cake proclaimed: “Congratulations! It’s a boy! Luis Robert Torres, 5-foot 10, 180 pounds.”The new boy joining the family of Yvonne and Bobby Torres is their 18-year-old foster child, Luis Urbina, officially adopted in a Miami courtroom April 8—just days before he shipped out for Fort Bragg in North Carolina, destined for the battlefields of Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.After Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maynard “Skip” Gross officially declared Luis their legal son, the Torres couple happily added to their family and turned their home into one big party.This is a refreshing story about a foster child with a happy ending, of a troubled teen who learns to become a responsible man thanks to a family’s unconditional love, and of a lawyer who set the wheels in motion to make sure the adoption happened on a tight deadline.“It’s like a gift from God,” said Yvonne Torres. “We’re proud of the man he’s turned into.”Says Bobby Torres with a laugh: “My first reaction was this is the wrong way. We’re supposed to ask you. You adopted us!”Yes, it was Luis’ idea to ask his foster parents if they would adopt him before shipping out, so he would have a real family to pray for him and pull for him, a mother who will bake him cookies, and send care packages halfway around the world. And just before he jumps out of a plane, as Luis says, he will think about Mom and Dad back home.Even some judges didn’t realize adults can be legally adopted, but Fran Allegra, general counsel for the CHARLEE Program homes for children in Coral Gables, seized the opportunity to do some quick pro bono work. She found a judge willing to move the Torres adoption high on the court’s calendar before Luis left for Fort Bragg in North Carolina on April 15.“Bobby and Yvonne gave him a gift to see what the future can be,” Allegra said. “They have always showed Luis unconditional love, and their door was always open. Luis learned that families can work and be functional and positive.”So there was Bobby Torres, taking the oath in court by raising a white cast that held his right arm, broken during an attack from another tough foster kid.And there was Luis standing at attention before Judge Gross, sporting a military buzz cut and dress green uniform, his “Urbina” name badge soon to become out of date.“It just felt right in my heart,” Luis explained. “They’ve always treated me like part of the family. I feel happy. I feel excited. But I don’t really feel different. They were always my parents.”But Luis was not always the disciplined, polite young man he is today.When he first came to the Torres family at 13, he was another troubled teen in their therapeutic foster home run by CHARLEE.To use Luis’ own words, “I was out of control, completely out of control.” He was a street-tough runaway, hanging out with gang members and drug dealers.Born in Nicaragua, he was three when he emigrated to the United States with his mother. Two years later, his mom died. His father, working two and three jobs, had little time to raise him, and occasionally beat him. The wrong crowd became his substitute family. When he ran away to Maryland, where relatives lived, he was soon returned to Miami and placed in foster care, where he ended up in the Torres’ group home.“He came to us when he was 13,” recalled Yvonne Torres. “I had taken him shopping at Wal-Mart, and he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I have never been shopping with a mom.’”Bobby Torres admits: “He sort of reminded me of myself. I went through the same thing,” referring to his own childhood of being a foster child, sent to a Catholic boy’s group home at age 12, where he said he was so angry he didn’t talk to anyone for a whole year, schooled by the strict Jesuit Brothers in upstate New York.“I had a lot of anger. And I saw it in Luis. Just by watching him, I knew I had to be strict with him, the way the brothers had to be with me. He was angry, impatient, he was never wrong, he set his sights too high, like he wanted to be a professional basketball player,” Bobby Torres recalled.Of the total of 50 foster children in his care, Bobby Torres said, “I was the strictest with Luis. I was sitting down one day, just looking at him doing his homework. I said, ‘You got me. I love this kid.’”They loved him so much that when his natural father was dying of cancer, they agreed to let Luis go live with him.“His father chose not to tell him he was dying,” Yvonne said. “We respected his wishes. We let Luis go back so they could mend fences and get their relationship back together so his dad could die happy and Luis wouldn’t have to feel guilty that he wasn’t there.” When Luis “started to go a little crazy” at his father’s house, Yvonne and Bobby were on call with advice and kept the communication flowing. When his father died in April 2002, they welcomed Luis back to their home full-time.After the adoption, Yvonne said: “I felt that his dad was looking down on us and happy that we are officially Luis’ parents.”As Luis says of his new adoptive parents: “They taught me discipline, like getting up on time. Being punctual, picking up after myself. And they also taught me respect—respect my elders and respect anybody appointed above me.”In high school, Luis was in ROTC, and listened to the advice of Bobby, who had served in the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles, that a career in the military would be a good chance to learn a lot, see the world, and retire early.“I feel a little anxious,” Luis said, less than a week before he reports to Fort Bragg as a private first class, knowing he is destined to replace soldiers killed or wounded in action in Iraq.“But I want to go. This is something I want to do; I really want to serve my country. I feel like it’s something I have to do.”Now the business of having a legal family is taken care of, thanks to Allegra.“Fran is on top, No. 1!” declared Bobby Torres, of the fast-action, red-tape snipping adoption accomplished within a week of the asking. “The mayor would have taken longer.”At the adoption celebration, Allegra gave Luis this framed letter from the folks at the CHARLEE Program:“To Luis Urbina, now Luis Robert Torres:“Perhaps the greatest compliment we can give you is that you have grown up to become a wonderful young man and a genuinely good person. On your journey to adulthood, you overcame many obstacles: fear, loss, grief, sorrow, anger, and doubt. You wisely turned those obstacles into opportunities to excel. And you have excelled and succeeded in the face of very tough circumstances.“We want you to know that Bobby and Yvonne are your parents, but the entire CHARLEE Program is your family. And just as CHARLEE will always be a part of you, you will always be a part of CHARLEE.“Your whole CHARLEE family is extremely proud of you. Keep fighting the good fight. And know that your CHARLEE family loves you very much.” April 30, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular Newslast_img

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