Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Meet Zionsville’s Mom of the Year, Michal Mellencamp. Though the title is auspicious, she says she doesn’t feel like she’s any different than any other mom out there. But for two little boys, she’s made all the difference in the world.
In her nomination letter, Paula Kiraly wrote about how Michal and her husband Phil, after raising two daughters of their own, took in two Hispanic boys who had been taken from their abusive home. The couple kept the boys and eventually adopted them.
“Their birth daughters were out of high school, going to college and Michal and Phil were in their 40’s,” Kiraly says. “Imagine, after raising two daughters successfully to adulthood and then taking on the responsibility of two toddlers! I don’t think too many people could do that.”
Not too many people indeed, but Michal and Phil were all the boys needed.
Michal explains that it all started with her small group at Zionsville Presbyterian Church, when she heard of a mother in need. The mother had been abused by the boys’ father, and he was out of the picture. She was facing surgery and needed help with the boys while she was in the hospital and during recovery. The group set out making calls to find someone who could care for the boys temporarily. They tried hard, but their search was unsuccessful. That’s when Michal spoke up and said their family would take the boys.
“I hadn’t even talked to Phil and the girls yet,” she recalls. “But I got home and talked to them and they all were extremely supportive.”
She said the only caveat her husband gave was that they had to be sure to get medical guardianship for the boys. So, with the guardianship in place, the boys came to stay. When their mom returned from the hospital, Michal took the boys to visit her occasionally.
After about a month, the Mellencamps returned the boys to the care of their mother full time. The boys had wormed their way into the Mellencamps’ hearts in that short amount of time, so they set up regular visits with them. Then one day, Michal’s phone rang. A social worker was on the line frantically explaining that there had been a domestic incident involving the boys and their mom.
The boys were being removed from the home immediately, and they needed a home once again.
“I explained we hadn’t even been approved for foster care yet and there was no way we’d be given guardianship over some other family member,” Michal says.
But in an emergency court hearing, that’s exactly what happened. The boys’ mother quickly agreed to give the Mellencamps guardianship. So, in a court of law, they took an oath, promising to care for the boys, and once again, they were back with the Mellencamps.
“In the beginning it was difficult,” Michal explains. “They lashed out in anger sometimes, but we loved them through all of it.”
The couple sought counseling for the boys to help them cope with their emotions. The stress of the new family dynamic took its toll on Michal and Phil also, and they sought counseling too.
The family certainly endured some stressful times, but after six years, the formal adoption was finalized, and Ari and AJ were officially theirs for good. Now, the boys are almost 11 years old, healthy, happy and thriving in school.
“They are the most beautiful, kind, gentle-souled children,” Michal says. “It’s like I gave birth to them and they’ve always been ours.”
Through the long journey, the Mellencamps have maintained contact with the boys’ birthmother and an older sister, Monica. They have regular, supervised visits with their birthmother and regular visits with Monica.
“It was difficult at first,” Michal says. “The boys sometimes got upset, so we stopped visits for a while. But, they’ve worked through their emotions and they’ve clearly forgiven their mother. It’s a true gift.”
Even though Michal put the wheels in motion to make this true gift happen, she says, “I couldn’t have done this without the support of my husband and daughters.”
Many more children like Ari and AJ are in need of a true gift like the Mellencamp family. Hundreds of children in Indiana are waiting for a home. For more information on fostering and adoption, visit childrensbureau.org, villages.org or in.gov/dcs/.