The ultimate Christmas gift: A family


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — It’s been about 12 years since Chesapeake resident Melanie Cuffee first welcomed Lanaya, a foster child, into her home.

Cuffee said the funniest thing that happened during the adoption process happened on the July 4th weekend. She spent that weekend with her then foster child, 6-year-old Lanaya, about 12 years ago. They were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a storm rolled in.

“The thunder and lightning started and the firecrackers were going off. And Lanaya jumped up, and she was, like, ‘Put your hands up in the air!'” she recalled.

The laughter comes easy now as mother and daughter sit side-by-side for this interview. Cuffee was a single mother of a son back in 2009.

“He had everything he wanted but the sibling,” she said.

“For me, adoption has been a wonderful experience. My son just died in August, in a car accident. So, if I didn’t have Lanaya, I would be by myself,” she said.

Becoming a family has been challenging.

“She [Lanaya] had some challenges, some behavioral problems,” Cuffee said. But, like any loving, committed family, Cuffee says they worked through them. “Once she knew that I wasn’t going to give up on her, and she knew that she was somewhere safe, the behaviors disappeared. And she’s been a joy to our family.”

Lanaya looks like she and Cuffee are blood relatives.

“I mostly call her my twin,” said Lanaya. “We take pictures, and post them and people say ‘Y’all look alike, y’all twins.'”

And now, after 12 years, Cuffee and Lanaya want to encourage other families to reach out to a child in foster care.

Cassandra Calender-Ray, of the adoption agency, Virginia One Church, One Child, says more than 700 children are in temporary homes in the state and waiting to be placed with their forever family.

“We ask churches of all faiths and denominations to help us, connect with us, to identify families to foster children and to adopt children,” she said.

Cuffee hopes single women and men will at least inquire about the process, adding it could be the answer to a prayer about having your own family one day. She says she is an example that you don’t have to be the perfect two-parent family to qualify to adopt a child.

“If you have the desire in your heart to be a parent, that you should contact an agency,” she said.

To find out more about the adoption process, contact Cassandra Calender-Ray at Virginia One Church, One Child.

Visit their website:

Call them by phone: 804-329-3420

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