It’s a snow day in Amherst, Nebraska, about 15 miles from Kearney, and the Schnacker household is a flurry of activity. Bentley, 6, is entertaining himself with an empty gift box, a remnant from sister Sereniti’s birthday morning. A brand-new 6, she’s eager to continue the celebration at a local restaurant later in the day. “She loves to be sung to,” says mother Amy Schnacker.
To her and husband Layne, these moments are what it’s all about.
“We just wanted children in our home,” Amy says. “We just wanted to parent.”
Making that happen proved incredibly frustrating for the two. They were unable to become pregnant, even with fertility treatments. Adoption, initially, didn’t work out either. Two placements failed.
But instead of giving up, Layne and Amy channeled their love of kids into a week of volunteering at Royal Family Kids Camp in Kearney, one in a nationwide network of camps for foster children.
That’s where they connected with staff from Compass.
“They’re like, ‘Come foster at Compass,’ ” Amy says.
The 12-year-old nonprofit is centered on children and youth in foster care in central and western Nebraska. Compass provides training, licensing, ongoing support and financial assistance to foster families. Through its Intensive Family Preservation program, families receive therapy, education and crisis management guidance. The organization’s work is funded, in part, by a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
“Compass is an amazing asset to Kearney and the surrounding communities. The staff is available 24/7, and they give 180 percent.” Amy says. “We’re honored to be a small part of it.”
Layne and Amy began fostering their kids through Compass when Bentley, now in kindergarten, was 2½ and Sereniti was 18 months old. The siblings came to them wounded – not physically but mentally and emotionally.
“They were exposed to some domestic abuse and neglect. It was a pretty scary situation, and the past still re-triggers at random times,” Amy says. “The kids had a lot of behaviors we weren’t totally prepared for at first.”
They also had some developmental delays. Rolling over and sitting up were tough. Amy’s training as an occupational therapist, coupled with counseling, has helped them heal. The kids are thriving now. Sereniti loves music, dance and gymnastics. Bentley is into wrestling and football.
Family Day – when Layne and Amy adopted Bentley and Sereniti – was July 20, 2016, less than two years after they arrived as foster children.
“The plan was always re-unification, but once that plan changed to potential adoption, we looked at each other and said, ‘They can’t go anywhere else,’” Amy says.
Her desire to elevate the lives of even more children expanded into 10 weeks of intensive training to become a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) practitioner. She now educates families on how to empower and connect with their at-risk children.
The team at Compass isn’t surprised. They say Amy and Layne “go above and beyond” whenever they commit their time.
The Schnackers, who still volunteer at Royal Family Kids Camp, say they couldn’t do it without the support of family, friends and neighbors. Their wish for the birthday girl and Bentley is that they will grow up happy and healthy, “be the best they can be and impact the world in any way they can.”
The siblings have solid role models in Mom and Dad.
“They’ve completed our life,” Layne says. “There was always a missing piece without them.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.