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Royal Oak — A traveling photo exhibit to increase public awareness about older youth up for adoption kicked off at the Emagine Theatre on Saturday, the first stop of more than 20 planned across Michigan in coming months.

The Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange unveiled its 2015 Heart Gallery display featuring pictures of 140 children in the foster care system who are hoping to find a family.

Sixty-three photographers donated their time to the gallery, MARE program manager Heidi Raubenolt said.

"The 2015 Heart Gallery grand opening strives to raise awareness for adoption," Raubenolt said of the program, now in is fifth year. "This year, we are particularly interested in raising awareness of the need for adoptive homes for teens. There are approximately 265 youth currently waiting to find their forever family, and 66 percent of those youth are 14 years of age or older."

Saturday's event was to include a showing of a 16-minute video "Never Too Old" and remarks from Judson Center CEO Cameron Hosner, Michigan Department of Human Services Adoption Manager Catherine Hoover, Heart Gallery photographer Deborah Gillespie and foster youth looking for a family.

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Raubenolt said there are about 3,000 youths in temporary foster placement throughout Michigan.

Karen Bertram of Waterford Township has volunteered her services as a photographer for the event for five years.

"I photographed four boys for this year's gallery," Bertram said. "It's important to help find homes for kids in the community and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Bertram became involved with MARE and the Michigan Heart Gallery while employed at the nonprofit Judson Center, which provides services for children, adults and families affected by abuse, neglect and other problems. She now works with the Volunteers of America.

Bertram said most people who adopt are looking for babies or young children and are not interested in teenagers. Some of those in foster care have special needs which also makes them a difficult demographic for adoption.

"The first year I did this I was walking along a hallway with this boy who turned to me and said 'It's just really hard waiting for a family'," Bertram said. "My eyes welled up with tears I felt so bad for him. It's surprising they don't get discouraged or shy away from the process.

"They all just want the same thing — a family. I have had to photograph a few of them more than once and in multiple settings, foster homes and residential units. I think one of them aged out (became too old for the program) before ever finding a family."

The Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange is a program of the Judson Center and is funded by the Michigan Department of Human Services. The resource exchange is a statewide information and referral service for families interested in adopting children from foster care and for adoption workers looking for homes for these children. The program's web site lists children waiting and families interested in adopting children with special needs.

Raubenolt noted that unlike expensive private and international adoption programs, adopting through the foster system is low cost "usually around $300 in court fees."

All adoption applicants must be at least 18 years old and undergo background checks, including visits with a social worker to study the prospective housing environment and background of all the people living in the house.

To register and learn more about adoption, visit www.mare.org or call (800) 589-6273.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

On the road

The Michigan Heart Gallery display will travel to the following locations until November. There are also six smaller stands that will be displayed at unconfirmed locations. For information, go to www.miheart.org.

April 30 to May 2: Michigan Association of Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Conference, Great Wolf Lodge, Traverse City

May 10: Foster Care Awareness Event, Central Wesleyan Church, Holland

May 19: Faith Based Summit on Foster Care and Adoption, Lansing

May 30: Foster Care Awareness Event, New Life Church, Petersburg

May 31: Community of Caring Event, Judson Center, Royal Oak

June 3: Charity Shoot-Out, Lake Orion

June 26: East Jordan Freedom Festival, East Jordan

July 20: Fore the Kids Judson Center Annual Golf Outing, Franklin Hills Country Club, Franklin

July 27 to Sept. 19: U.P. Kids Tour, Various locations across the Upper Peninsula

Sept. 27: Kinship Adoption Festival, Belle Isle, Detroit

Nov. 13: House of Providence Wishes Gala, Royal Park Hotel, Rochester

Nov. 21: Nurturing Kids With Your Heart and Soul Event, D.A. Blodgett-St. John's, Grand Rapids

Source: Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange

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