Teresa grew up without much of the love and support which children so desperately desire and deserve. Following a failed suicide attempt, she decided to move out of her home following her 18th birthday. Over the next few months, she rented a room from a friend and tried to pick up the pieces of her life.
As a young girl, Teresa had met the Gillis family through her local church. Over time, Debbie Gillis and her husband Robert had developed a sincere connection with the lonely teen. After moving out, Teresa discussed her unsteady situation with the couple, who were then made aware of the harsh realities a young woman faces when truly alone in the world. As Debbie recalled, “We had known Teresa and her family since she was about three years old so we knew there was a need there. We just didn’t know how great it was.” Although they already had a fifteen-year-old son of their own, their hearts broke as they saw Teresa struggling with the requirements of adulthood while running from the wounds of her past. They were moved with an urgent desire to help her understand what it felt like to be loved unconditionally.
Robert and Debbie knew what they wanted to do. But before inviting Teresa into their home, they held a family meeting with their biological son, Andy. Since he was an only child, they were concerned he might feel hurt or replaced if they adopted Teresa into their hearts. As Andy remembered, “My parents said it had to be a family thing, so they included me in the decision… I knew they loved me more than enough for just one person. Besides, love isn’t one of those things you have to split. I believe God gives us love and it just grows.”
After Andy’s approval, Teresa came to live with their family. Over the course of the next two years, Andy gained an older sister, Robert and Debbie gained a daughter, and Teresa gained a new family and perspective on life. Andy’s brotherly friendship encouraged her and her new parents’ wisdom guided her.
At the age of 21, with the full support of her family, Teresa decided to move to another state. While her surroundings changed, the love from her family never diminished. She eventually attended college and now works at Family Services of Metro Orlando as a Wraparound Specialist.
“I feel like I have some understanding of where some of the kids we work with are at [in life]. I don’t believe there are any throwaway children.” said Teresa. “With my new family, no matter what I did or where I moved, they chose to stay connected to me because they love me. So, because of what they did for me, being involved here [at Family Services] is a way I give back to them. Every opportunity I have to touch the life of another, whether directly or indirectly is an extension of what has been given to me.”