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“Reel Hope” for Kids in Foster Care

Since 2016, Kaycee Stanley ’09 has been directing the Reel Hope Project, an organization that creates short videos to share the stories of Minnesota kids waiting to be adopted. In the process, she met a teenager who she and her husband later made a part of their family.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

February 24, 2020 | 3 p.m.

Bethel alumna Kaycee Stanley and her family

Pete and Kaycee Stanley, with their son Martez

For as long as Kaycee Stanley ’09 can remember, adoption had always been her “plan A.” When she and her husband, Pete, started sharing their dreams of adoption with others, they received enthusiastic support. But when they explained they planned to adopt from foster care, they were met with skepticism and discouraging comments. “That broke our hearts,” Stanley says. “So we started asking ourselves how we could help change the narrative surrounding adopting from foster care.” 

In 2016, the Reel Hope Project was born. Stanley and a small team started creating two-minute profile videos for kids in foster care waiting to be adopted. The videos are fun, meaningful, and attempt to capture the personality of each individual kid. They’re shared on the Reel Hope website, social media channels, and they’re also given to social workers to be shown to potential adoptive families.

“When you ask an agency about a kid that you’re interested in adopting, the first thing you get is a history of everything terrible that’s ever happened to them and how it manifests in their lives,” Stanley explains. “It’s a horrible way to meet somebody. Yes, those challenges are real, but also this is still a kid. They have a laugh and a smile. They’re goofy. Our videos accompany that harder information and are a tool to share the beautiful things with families.”

Reel Hope’s mission is to find a forever family for every child, so in addition to distributing the videos online, they also visit churches across Minnesota every week to share these kids’ stories, answer questions, and promote adoption among people of faith. “The church has such a beautiful heart for the orphan and widow,” Stanley says. “It’s not that we don’t care about kids in foster care—it’s just adopting from foster care typically is not the narrative we think of when we imagine adoption.”  

On any given day in Minnesota, there are around 10,000 kids in foster care, Stanley says. About 90% of those kids will eventually get to go back home to their families, but the other 10% become wards of the state. “There are 4,000 churches in Minnesota and 1,000 kids waiting for families,” Stanley says. “That means if just one family out of every four churches comes forward to adopt, every kid would have a home.”

“I think my passion for adoption really comes from my understanding that I am adopted as a child of God. Even when I brought nothing to the table, even with my challenges and issues, God still declared that I was worth it.”

— Kaycee Stanley '09, founder and executive director of the Reel Hope Project

At Reel Hope, the Bethel connections run deep. Three out of the five Reel Hope employees are Bethel graduates, and so are three of the organization’s founding board members. “The community that I have because of Bethel has been a huge part of the foundation of our organization, especially in the beginning,” Stanley says. “We were so new, but we knew enough people that doors kept opening.”

In its first months, the Reel Hope team worked hard to gain the trust of county offices and adoption agencies, both of which are important parties when it comes to connecting with kids and sharing their videos. After producing only three reels in its first year, the organization has only gained momentum. Since its inception, Reel Hope has made videos for 150 kids, 77 of which have been matched with families. Another number the team celebrates is how many families have connected with agencies to start the adoption process after seeing a kid’s video. To date, it’s nearly 300.   

Reel Hope has played a role in changing the lives of many kids and families—and it’s had a personal impact on Stanley’s family as well. She met her adopted son Martez for the first time when Reel Hope filmed his profile video in September 2018.  “I fell in love with him right there on the shoot,” she says.

When Martez’s video was finished, she showed it to her husband, and they started the adoption process soon after. They didn’t see Martez again until February 2019, but in the meantime, they created a video for his social worker to share with him, where they introduced themselves and showed him around the home they couldn’t wait to welcome him to.

Martez watched the video on February 5, met Stanley and her husband face to face on February 6, and moved home on March 8. “He’s doing great. He is the coolest kid,” Stanley says. Together, the family enjoys movies, games, and eating good food. “Martez is also all about the sports. I grew up in a very athletic family, so it’s been cool to watch my brothers—who are also Bethel grads—come around him and play football with him. My dad’s teaching him golfing. He’s surrounded by a pretty great crew.”

Alumna Kaycee Stanley with her family

Martez is 14 years old, and coming up on a year of being at home with Kaycee and Pete.

There are a number of myths surrounding adoption from foster care, Stanley says. One is that it’s too expensive. “Oversees adoption is expensive, and adopting an infant is expensive,” she says. “But adopting from foster care is free, and you get monthly financial support just as if you were fostering.”

Another reason people give for not wanting to consider adoption is that they’re too old to raise a child. “We try to encourage people to pray about it and not immediately close that door,” she says. “Especially because a lot of the kids are teenagers. They don’t need someone to raise them from infancy, just someone to help them get through high school and provide a place for them to come home to on the holidays for the rest of their life. Most people aren’t too old to provide that.”

In thinking of the future, Stanley plans to keep moving forward until Reel Hope has created a video for every kid. “I will feel like we’re done when there are more families waiting for kids than kids waiting for families, and that has happened in other states," she says. "When that happens—I don’t know what we’ll do. But until it does, we’re going to keep rolling.”

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