by Paula Redmann   | Photography: Photos by Jacy

Zoey, 12, was working on her homework at the kitchen table. Three-year-old whirlwind Ari wanted to run barefoot on the cool, lush grass in the front yard.  Carlie, age nine, was doing cartwheels. Seven-year-old Ava was taking tiny bites out of the teeny apples that her dad gently shook from a tree.

Danielle Wyatt, matriarch, and who Zoey says, “is definitely the boss,” attends to each child’s needs as patiently as a stream; flowing to each one with a radiant smile, a word of praise, a kiss on the cheek, a tuck of hair behind an ear, and like all wise mothers, the occasional promise of reward. “Ari, come sit with me and we’ll go for ice cream!”

There’s never a dull day in the Wyatt home. And what a home it is. The love is nearly palpable.

Danielle and her husband, Cameron, recently adopted four of their five foster children. A simple sign on the fridge proclaims July 10, 2018 with “Gotcha Forever – Zoey, Carlie, Ava, and Ari.” It was a process to get to Gotcha Day. Ava and Carlie arrived first at Thanksgiving in 2015. Ari came a few weeks later.

“We had to fight hard for Zoey. We wanted her with her biological siblings and with us. She moved in on June 2, 2016,” says Danielle. “We are a unit. We are one family.”

A connection to the kids who need just a little more runs deep in Danielle. This woman, wife, mother, foster mom, foster care advocate, North Dakota National Guard soldier, and daycare provider from Mandan just felt it in her bones.

Armed with associate degrees from Bismarck State College, Danielle worked at various daycare centers and preschools. Danielle’s parents were educators, so the classroom—a room full of children—was a natural place for Danielle. She became a paraprofessional in the Mandan and Bismarck Public School systems and found herself being naturally drawn to kids who needed extra help.

“I gravitated to the kids playing by themselves. These kids had extra emotions and they just didn’t know what to do with them. I loved working with children who needed me and it was so rewarding to see the growth that took place when I could teach them coping mechanisms.”

Danielle set out on a plan to lift children’s heads and their hearts. She became a daycare provider and loved—and still loves—caring for children in her home.  

“All the snuggles are amazing, but I sent all the kids home at the end of the day. I didn’t want to give them up,” says Danielle. She and Cameron started their own fertility journey and started the process of being foster parents.

Cameron, a University of Mary nursing student, says they got their first foster placement in 2014 and have had 12 placements thus far.

“Our first placement was for two weeks. The next one was for six months, and we’re still in touch with that family,” says Danielle. “We want to stay in touch as best as we can and as much as we’re allowed to. Foster parents know from the start that the goal is reunification; for the child to go back home and be able to stay.”

In the interim, the Wyatts provide the oceans of love and the stable foundation for those in their care. They are registered through PATH, an agency that provides foster care, adoption, and treatment services to children and families.

“Some kids have additional needs for therapy, be it emotional, occupational, physical, or speech therapies, so we help with that. The therapists help you find strategies, but we’re the ones in the trenches every day. I hold them while they are falling apart and get to help show them how to put themselves back together. We had a concurrent plan for these four children, meaning we had our foster plan for Zoey, Carlie, Ava, and Ari, and right beside that, an adoption plan,” explains Danielle.

There were two separate and very official dates that took place for the Wyatts in their adoption process. The first came early this spring, when all parental rights were terminated.

“Terminated. That’s just a sad word, isn’t it?” asks Danielle. “That happens first, because it’s the best thing for the child.”

The next step in the process is the joyful piece, the actual adoption day.

“It was more like a wedding,” says Cameron.

After the official court proceedings, the Wyatt’s celebrated with relatives and friends, complete with family vows that Cameron and Danielle wrote for each other, and for their four new gotcha family members.

And then there was the party crasher. North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp arrived at the celebration to present Cameron and Danielle with the 2018 Angels in Adoption award, an honor given to individuals, families, or organizations who have shown dedication to improving the lives of children in foster homes.

“We were so shocked, and so honored,” says Danielle.

Helping repair children comes easily to Danielle. Loving them unconditionally flows from her.  

“Ari, let’s get ice cream!”   

Click here to see more photos of the Wyatt family by Photos by Jacy.

Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She married her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.