A real home for Christmas
Sunday, December 23, 2007
BY ROBIN GABY FISHER
Master Moore held his pen over the paper and paused. His
mom had asked him to write a Christmas list. Ten things. No
guarantees he would get everything he wanted. But as the boy
pondered presents like a digital camera or an electronic keyboard,
he realized nothing would ever compare to the gift he already
had. A real home.
"I have everything I want now," he said last week,
sitting next to the red and white twinkling Christmas tree
in his cozy Newark home. With his parents on either side and
the aroma of dinner wafting through the room, Master smiled
with contentment. "I can finally be a kid," he said.
It wasn't long ago the 14-year-old was a foster child with
little hope of ever having a normal family life. Master was
only 4 when the state took him, his two older brothers and
several cousins away from their neglectful families. His brothers
were adopted by a couple from Pennsylvania, but that left
Master knocking around the foster care system on his own.
Then in early 2005 someone asked him to participate in The
Heart Gallery of New Jersey, a traveling photographic exhibit
of adoptable children in the state's care. Master was told
someone might see his photograph, read his story and want
to adopt him. He shrugged. "Sure, why not?" he said.
Master had heard people say miracles happen, but he had never
seen one himself. Still, he decided to tell his story -- if
not for himself, then for all of the kids just like him.
"Master, in particular, felt regardless of whether he
found a family it was important for people to know that even
teenagers want and deserve families," said Najlah Feanny,
a co-founder of the New Jersey Heart Gallery. "Maybe
it was a self-defense mechanism -- 'If I don't reveal I'm
desperate to be part of a family I won't be crushed when I
don't find one.' That kind of maturity from a child stuck
with me long after we photographed him."
Master had lived in a number of foster homes by the time
he was featured in the first Heart Gallery exhibition in 2005
at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. At the time,
he was sharing a bunk bed with another foster child in a tiny
space off the living room of a home in Bridgeton. It was his
12th placement. In a Star-Ledger story about the exhibit,
Master admitted he felt like a guest in the foster home, sometimes
an unwelcome one.
Taped to a wall was a pencil-drawn floor plan -- an arrow
pointed to his bed with the words: 'You are here." Friends
weren't allowed in the house, so Master spent most afternoons
alone in his room, practicing his chess moves. His foster
mother was unpredictable, sometimes nice, sometimes not, he
During the two years he lived there, she never kissed him
goodnight. "As you can see, what's missing in my life
is a real home," he said at the time.Master said he wished
the Heart Gallery would change his luck. Maybe someone would
see his picture and read his story. Maybe someone would want
him for their son. But he didn't believe in fairy tale endings.
"No foster kid does," he said. Then salvation arrived
in a 2004 GMC Envoy.
THE FINAL PLACEMENT
Master's story had caught the eye of a kindly Newark man
who coincidentally shared the same last name. Michael Moore
is a driving instructor. His wife, Tracy, is a telecommunications
analyst for Prudential. With both their children married and
living on their own, they were now empty nesters in their
40s. The couple had been talking about adopting a child from
the state's foster care system. One reason was that Michael
Moore had another thing in common with Master. He, too, had
been a foster child.
So in March 2006, the couple drove 125 miles to Bridgeton
in their Envoy to meet Master. They visited several more times,
then brought the boy back to Newark to meet their extended
family. By June, Master was living with the couple. Six months
later he was adopted. "And they lived happily ever after,"
Tracy said on the day the adoption was final. Except for one
other small detail: Master would not be the Moores' last adopted
Last year, they began thinking about taking in another child.
Master asked if they would consider his cousin, Rayshawn,
who was a year older. Both boys had been in foster care at
the same time, and occasionally Master would see his cousin
at a "match" party, where foster children are taken
to be observed by potential adoptive parents. Neither was
The Moores knew Rayshawn's name. Ironically, two years earlier
they had inquired about him after seeing his photograph in
the inaugural Heart Gallery exhibit. But the Moores were told
that Rayshawn already had been placed, so they continued their
search and ultimately found Master. However, Rayshawn's match
didn't work out and he again became available for adoption.
He started living with the Moores eight months ago, and on
Thursday, the couple signed his adoption papers.
"Now I have to call him my brother," Master said.
The boys act just like siblings, teasing each other and sometimes
bickering. But they also enjoy each other's company, even
though they have different interests. Master is studious and
was voted by his 8th-grade class as Most Likely to Succeed.
He's now a freshman at Newark Tech High School, where his
favorite subject is world history. Ray is athletic and plays
basketball for West Side High.
Both boys are thriving in their new life together. On the
living room wall hangs a red stocking with the name "Master"
embroidered on it. It is the first Christmas stocking he has
ever had. "When I was in foster homes, I never knew where
I would be going the next day," he said. "Here,
I know when I wake up that I'm here to stay. That this is
home. I'm going to live here the rest of my life."
Tracy, an affectionate woman who puts faith and family before
everything, clutched her chest and rolled her eyes. "The
rest of your life?" she cried. The whole family laughed.
"Life is great," said Tracy. 'Really great. We're
having fun." "We're really happy," Michael
Near the Moores' home, there is a Wendy's restaurant that
still has photographs of adoptable children from the original
Heart Gallery exhibit hanging on the wall. Master's picture
was among them. When Tracy saw it recently, she asked the
manager to please take it down. "Because Master is not
available," she said, wagging her finger. "Master
Robin Gaby Fisher may be reached at email@example.com
or (973) 392-4176
Heart Gallery Tampa Bay...
Two new Heart Gallery adoptions finalized in the past few
weeks and these families asked us to share their stories and
comments with you express their gratitude.
Kevin who entered the system of care when he was 9 years old.
After being viewed by his future parents in the Heart Gallery
Tampa Bay, Kevin now has a new family and a new-found hope
for his future. Last week, his adoption was finalized in front
of his extended family and friends. Now 17, country music-loving
Kevin wants to be a master carpenter.
Kevin's 2007 Heart Gallery photo, by Lasting Impressions
A note from Kevin's 2006 Heart Gallery photographer:
Thank you so very much for letting me know what happened
to Kevin. I have often thought & prayed about him. When
I photographed him, it was obvious that he was in a very
troubled state. I can see by the photo you sent from this
year, his life has taken a very positive turn. It means
so much to me to be a part of your organization, to be able
to give back to these children through our time and photography,
the gift of awareness. I would love to become more involved
with the Heart Gallery. Please let me know what I can do
to help and if you ever need support in any way.
Thank you again for sharing this wonderful news. This has
filled my heart with such peace.
Take care Jesse,