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Fostering 29 children is no simple feat, but for a lawyer in Kansas, providing a home for more than two dozen kids over the years was the relatively easy part.
He's also helped more than 1,000 kids find permanent homes by using his legal knowledge to help foster parents adopt — for free.
When Kansas City attorney Gene Balloun and his wife, Sheila Wombles, fostered their first child, David, they knew they were hooked. They eventually adopted David and the last child they fostered, Hannah. In between, they welcomed 27 other children into their home.
But the process of adopting David wasn't easy, and the couple joined a foster parent support group, where Balloun would often be asked for legal advice. That's when he realized there was a need that he could fulfill.
"My real joy in the law practice is not in winning some big case, but completing a final adoption," Balloun said. For that reason, he's represented foster parents in 1,035 adoption cases — pro bono.
His next goal, at the age of 86, is to reach 2,000 famillies helped, he says, because he and his wife know the joys of adoption firsthand — and he credits his 16-year-old daughter Hannah with keeping him energized. "It certainly makes me feel younger," he said.
"It’s keeping him young, it’s making me old," Wombles countered. But she said she couldn't imagine life without her daughter or the years the couple spent fostering.
"Once you get started I think it’s sort of addictive because you see what need you’re filling and how important it is to the kids," said Wombles.
Some 100,000 of the nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system are eligible for adoption, but about a third of those children will have to wait more than three years before they are actually adopted, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.
Johnson County District Judge Kathleen Sloan, who has overseen some of the cases, said the country could use more Gene Ballouns.
"He's remarkable ... If we could clone him, I think we would all benefit," she said.
Fortunately, Balloun has figured out a way to help the children he couldn't bring into his home or help get adopted. Instead of accepting the $500 the state of Kansas offers to lawyers for pro bono adoptions, he and Wombles created a scholarship fund to help foster children and former foster children pay for college, according to the American Bar Association Journal.
Balloun said the Kansas Foster and Adoptive Children Scholarship Fund has allowed the couple to award scholarships to more than 500 kids.
For those keeping count, that means Balloun and his wife have helped nearly 1,600 foster children and counting.
"I ordered him not to stop," said Sloan. "That's a court order."