Not As You Imagined :: Alec Mapa's Family Will Change Change Your Idea of Foster Parents
Alec Mapa has delighted people for years with his singular comedy and acting skills. But when he's not performing, Alec finds joy in the laughter and love of the family he's created with his husband, producer Jamie Hebert and Zion, the son they adopted through foster care.
Alec, Jamie and Zion are proud participants in the "Reimagine Foster Parents™" campaign designed by RaiseAChild, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to building loving families for foster children.
Debuting Monday, May 1 during National Foster Care Awareness Month, the campaign seeks to update the public perception of foster parents. The
Hebert-Mapa trio will be one of twelve families featured on banners displayed throughout Los Angeles illustrating the beautiful diversity of today's foster family. "This is what America is becoming," said Jamie Hebert. "Family is not defined by whose DNA you have or what color your skin is and which box you belong to. A family is how you build it."
Together for 15 years and married since 2006, Alec and Jamie knew early
on becoming fathers was in their future. When they were ready, going through foster care was their first choice. "We both wanted kids all our lives," said Jamie. "We immediately knew where to go because a friend of ours had gone through the same agency to adopt. We felt a pull to give a loving family to someone who is already here that doesn't have that." Alec added, "And, there were so many kids in the foster care system who needed permanent placement."
Zion was initially to be placed with the couple in 2009, but ended up in the care of a relative. "We were on the verge of actually meeting him when a family member stepped forward," said Jamie. "We had seen a photo and he was adorable. You could see in his eyes the vibrant life he longed for." Alec agreed, "You could see that he had a really powerful life spirit. He is to this day very charismatic and the life of the party. We saw that in him at that time and were really drawn to him."
When their social worker eventually offered them another placement, the men confessed they weren't as drawn to that child as they'd been to Zion. "She said, 'Let me check on Zion's situation. I'll call you back in ten minutes,'" said Alec. "She called back and said, 'The placement with Zion's relative has been a disaster. If you want him, you've got to come pick him up tonight at 6 p.m.' He was an emergency placement. So many coincidences lined up. If we hadn't called the social worker on that day and said 'No' to the case she had presented us, we would not have met Zion." Jamie paused. "If we hadn't had those feelings, or been true to ourselves about those feelings, Zion would not be living with us right now. It felt very... The way the universe wanted it."
Five years old when he was placed with them in early 2010, they officially adopted Zion that October. The process moved quickly, in part because of his age and race, factors often making some children harder to place. "A Caucasian baby girl is seven times more likely to be placed than an African-American boy over the age of three," Alec shared. "Those are hard statistics. As much as we wanted to be parents, he needed parents desperately. We were his fifth placement and he'd been in the system since he was three and a half years old.
"He bonded with us immediately. He became our kid instantly," Alec concluded.
Their involvement with RaiseAChild began a few years ago after meeting founder and CEO Rich Valenza and his foster adopted family through
a friend on the board. "Rich is such a passionate advocate," said Alec. "The thing he always talks about is as a gay man he's used to discrimination, but when you hear children in the system are being discriminated against, that's an injustice he won't stand for, and we feel the same way. We became strong advocates, because there are kids in the system who get passed over, because people have a prejudice against them. Like they're flawed or damaged goods, when the truth is they're just kids."
Added Jamie, "And, oftentimes come with better toolkits because they've had to deal with things that kids in birth families don't."
As a multiracial family, they are excited to contribute to educating and inspiring others through the "Reimagine Foster Parents™" campaign. "I think those banners are very powerful. People see them and go, 'That's a family,'" explained Jamie. "And, if they are someone who could picture themselves in that situation, whether straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, single parent... Whatever it is, they can go 'Oh, I could be that.' We're with RaiseAChild because they're doing great work. If we can do anything to help them, we will be there. I think just by us being a family and walking out the front door together is a statement about the future of family and what a family truly is."
"We've received mostly positive responses," continued Alec. "I think it's because when you see us in person, we undeniably belong together. None of us look like each other, but we all make the same faces, we all have the same sense of humor and we all have the same passionate outlook. One of the foster kid traits, is they're very compassionate. My son is very aware of when an injustice is taking place or somebody's being treated unfairly. He's an extraordinary person."
With over 425,000 children in the nation's foster care system and more than 108,000 waiting to be adopted, the need for foster and adoptive parents has never been greater. "This is a solvable problem," stressed Alec. "If everybody in the United States knew about the kids in the system and knew this was an option to start a family, we could potentially solve the foster care crisis."
RaiseAChild offers free informational sessions in May for anyone wanting to learn about becoming foster parents:
The Garland in North Hollywood at 6:30 p.m.
La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Downtown Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m.
Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station Santa Monica, 6:30 p.m.
The Saguaro in Palm Springs at 11:00 a.m.
All Saints Church in Pasadena at 12:30 p.m.
Alec Mapa will be on hand to share his wit and wisdom on Tuesday, May 16, Thursday, May 18, and Saturday, May 20. Beverages and hors d'oeuvres will be served.
Walden Family Services is the exclusive sponsor of The Palm Springs free RaiseAChild event. For more information, go to waldenfamily.org
For more information, or to RSVP for an event, call 323.417.1440 go to raiseachild.org