Written by: Tena Lee Hendersonville Star News
A Hendersonville woman who has spent the last decade promoting adoption was honored last week at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s annual Angels in Adoption gala in Washington, D.C.
Joi Wasill, whose nonprofit group Decisions, Choices and Options has provided classroom training and prevention education to more than 40,000 high school students on the topic of teen pregnancy and abstinence, was one of 140 national ‘angels’ recognized Sept. 12 by the nonpartisan group.
Three days of seminars and meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill culminated last Wednesday with a gala in which Wasill received her angel pin personally from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who nominated her for the award.
“She has given so much of her time and energy to advocating for children in each of her roles as a teacher, adoptive mother, and director of Decisions, Choices, and Options,” Black said in a written statement on Friday.
“Joi founded DCO with her own personal funds, because she felt strongly that there was an unmet need for our teens to know the truth. There is no telling how many lives she has touched and saved.”
Among those who attended the presentation were Wasill’s husband, Bill, son, Jacob, and parents, CoCo and A.G. Stepp.
Still, Wasill acknowledged one more person would’ve made the trip that much more special: Jacob’s birth mother who the family remains close to.
“To me, she’s the hero,” Wasill said. “She’s the real ‘angel in adoption.’”
The former Hendersonville High School teacher and adoption advocate met with various members of Congress to share what needs to be done in the areas of adoption education and awareness.
She said meeting with people from across the country who share common goals strengthened her commitment to encourage teens to make choices with long-term goals in mind.
“It re-energized my commitment to education,” she said.
Of particular concern to Wasill now is the number of children in the foster care system.
She said her attention to the foster care system started about a year and a half ago at the Preston-Taylor Boys and Girls Club in Nashville.
Wasill conducted weekly workshops June 7 through July 25 at the club on the topics of abstinence and teen pregnancy.
“These activities were a success with our teens because it was presented and conducted by facilitators who expressed a true commitment to the participants as well as the message,” wrote Jeff Darnell, the club’s teen director, in a recommendation letter for Wasill.
Many children of teen mothers end up in the foster care system, Wasill said.
According to the Center for American Progress, statistics from 2009 indicate there are more than 423,000 children in foster care in this country.
“We need to step up to the plate, as a community and as a church adopting kids in foster care,” she said.
For Wasill, the Sept. 12 gala at the Reagan Building motivated her as well.
She was moved by speaker R.J. Sloke Jr., a former foster child who is now an intern for Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Sloke told of how one teacher made a difference in his life. Then, his former teacher, Karen Parker, surprised him onstage.
“There wasn’t a dry eye,” Wasill said. “It was all about how one person can make a difference.”
In the keynote address, actress Kathryn Heigl and her husband, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, were recognized as Angels in Adoption for public advocacy in adopting their two young girls.
“She (Heigl) spoke about the beauty of adoption, that adoption creates a family just as strong and loving as a biological family,” Wasill added.
Reporter Tena Lee can be reached at (615) 575-7116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.