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St. Jude employee’s journey inspires new adoption benefit

By Mike O'Kelly

Ashley and Brian Carr adopted Nora in 2017 with the help of the new St. Jude adoption assistance program.

Ashley and Brian Carr adopted Nora in 2017 with the help of the new St. Jude adoption assistance program.

Three-year-old Nora Carr saves her best lines for the car rides to and from daycare. Ranging from silly to thoughtful, her musings on the world entertain and amuse her mother, Ashley Carr, who often finds it hard to keep her focus on the road.

It’s a window of guaranteed time that features funny conversations, sing-alongs to favorite tunes and a barrage of preschooler questions: “Mommy, are you my best friend?” What about Daddy, is he my best friend?”

“I feel like kids save their good stuff for when they are in the car seat and you can’t turn around,” said Carr, who is a Child Life specialist in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at St. Jude. “I love our time in the car. It brings me a lot of peace knowing that I am about to get that time with her.”

Carr reflects on these sweet daily moments, knowing that the journey to parenthood was filled with unknown and unseen obstacles. Ashley and her husband, Brian, adopted Nora with support from family, friends and the newly [DT1] created St. Jude Adoption Assistance program.

Unable to have a biological child, the couple turned to adoption through the advice of close friends who were parents of adopted children. An agency in Missouri fit their needs, and they were familiar with the mounting expenses and legal fees involved in adoption. During an orientation event in 2015, Carr listened as a woman described the adoption benefits her workplace offered.

Carr wondered why St. Jude had no formal adoption benefit. With the encouragement of her supervisor, she wrote her thoughts in a letter to the hospital’s Human Resources Department.

“I wasn’t expecting something to be done differently for me. I just wanted to share my feedback, and I was thinking about other families who might be planning to adopt,” Carr said.

She was pleasantly surprised when Dana Bottenfield, vice president of St. Jude HR, contacted her to arrange a meeting. The two met for coffee in Kay Kafe to discuss the letter. Carr shared her story, and Bottenfield said HR would explore the adoption benefit. Carr left the meeting satisfied that the organization valued her voice.

Bottenfield shared the letter with hospital leaders, who realized the benefit would ease the financial burden involved with adoption.

“Employees have asked about adoption benefits before, and it’s something we were considering,” Bottenfield said. “When I showed them Ashley’s letter, they saw the need and the value of this program for our employees.”

In late 2015, the Carrs matched with a family whose baby would be born in January 2016. That great news was paired with the official announcement that St. Jude was launching its own adoption assistance program. Employees would be reimbursed up to $5,000 in eligible adoption expenses.

The Carrs would be one of the first families to use the benefit, but their journey took an unfortunate turn. The adoption fell through before they could be part of the new program, but the setback paved the way for the life-changing news that arrived in July 2016. The Carrs were matched with a family, and they were present in the delivery room when Nora was born in September 2016. Her adoption became official in March 2017.

Nora recently celebrated her third birthday with red cupcakes, a red-and-white polka-dot cake and music from one of her favorite movies, “Mary Poppins.” She commanded attention by wearing the nanny’s flower-covered hat.

“It was the first birthday party that I sat back and said, ‘She is going to remember some of these things one day. She will have memories of this,’” Carr said.

Making new memories and enjoying daily routines are some of the simple pleasures of parenthood. While the journey was bumpy, Carr finds joy in knowing that other St. Jude families will have an easier path when exploring adoption. In addition, St. Jude was recognized earlier this month as a 2019 Adoption Advocate by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

“Being a part of the hospital’s journey to becoming an adoption advocate is such an honor," Carr said. "However you choose to grow your family, it’s comforting to know that St. Jude has options and resources to support you along the way.”

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