Growing up is hard enough as it is — throw in a lack of a stable home, and things become a thousand times more difficult. For 10-year-old Andrew, a life spent bouncing around the foster system was really no life at all, and as families passed on him time and time again, he couldn’t help but spiral further into despair. But after Dominique and Kevin Gill decided to take a chance on the troubled boy, they revealed a different side of Andrew that would soon change their lives forever.
In 2018, Dominque and Kevin decided they were interested in fostering Andrew. They lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and were empathetic to the poor kid’s struggle. Andrew had been in the foster system since he was just six years old, and for four years, he was shuffled between homes.
With his biological parents’ legal rights now terminated, the 10-year-old was facing another decade of fostering, though there was another sad factor that only made his situation more difficult. “Andrew has four siblings and they were all adopted right away,” Dominique revealed. This only made the Gills want to open their home to Andrew even more.
Yet once Andrew arrived, he had an incredibly difficult time adjusting. “During his first week with us, he sat in his room with the door closed and looked at old pictures,” Dominique shared. “He didn’t want to talk.” The 10-year-old had an extremely traumatic past and was carrying quite the emotional burden.
Though Andrew was now in a caring space, it wasn’t as if his past would magically disappear. He’d been hurt as his siblings were adopted. He’d been hurt by his biological parents. Having experienced so much abandonment, Andrew had a lengthy recovery ahead of him. Sadly, his situation wasn’t unique.
In Tennessee alone, there are more than 8,000 foster children longing for a permanent home. “They really want that stability in their lives,” said Molly Parker of Youth Villages, a nonprofit that supports families in need through rehabilitation programs. The COVID-19 pandemic also complicated the foster system for kids like Andrew.
“A lot of families were unsure if they wanted to open their homes to a placement because they didn’t know what the future held,” Molly explained. Even still, the Gills made the decision to foster Andrew — and they were in for a rough time ahead.
From the start, Andrew pushed the Gills away with tantrums. “He’d start shouting, ‘Just let me move out!’ But I refused to give up on him,” Dominique shared. “I was like, ‘We are going to get you together.'” Dominque and Kevin were determined to give Andrew a safe space to heal and be loved — after all, they’d already done it once before.
The couple already had a son named Joc, though he also had problems connecting with Andrew at first. They didn’t think they had anything in common — that is, until Joc asked Andrew to play a video game with him. Surprisingly, Andrew nodded. Gaming together led the boys to another important discovery.
Both Joc and Andrew loved Poptarts! That was enough to bring the two boys together. “They’ve been best friends ever since,” Dominique revealed. Kevin agreed: “As the years went on, they got pretty close. It’s good to see that bond they have grow over the years.” And with time, the boys grew even closer.
“We had a lot of stuff in common,” Andrew said. “Games, Minecraft,” Joc added. Minecraft, it seems, can bring all kinds of people together — there’s just something about those cubes that people find irresistible! The pre-teens also have enormous appetites. “They’ll eat all day if you let them!” Dominique joked.
With more time, Andrew began to trust his foster parents. He shared his troubled past with them, and the Gills showed Andrew that he was a person with value who deserved love. Dominique and Kevin were ecstatic over Andrew’s progress, and at this point, they felt it was time to find Andrew his perfect forever home.
Andrew had been with the Gills for a year now, and while they knew they’d be sad to see him go, this was all part of Dominique and Kevin’s mission. The couple wanted to foster as many needy children as possible, just as Dominique’s family had done while she was growing up. Yet all the while, there was one thing the Gills never considered during their fostering journey.
Adoption. But this sentiment waivered, however, when Andrew’s second chance at a permanent home fell through. “Our mindset was we’d help him until he found his forever home,” Dominique shared. “But after the second adoption didn’t work out, I realized God put Andrew in our lives for a reason. God made sure the adoption didn’t work out so he could come back to us.”
In June 2020, Andrew was surprised to meet Molly from Youth Villages, who invited him to a local park so they could talk. As they walked, Andrew recognized a group of people waiting there for him. “I just turned around the corner and saw everybody,” he shared.
Andrew saw the Gills standing with balloons and a big group of their friends. “They asked ‘Will you?’ and I said ‘yeah!'” Andrew beamed. The Gills realized Andrew had been with his forever family all along and decided to make it official. Joc even wore a shirt that read, “Will you be my brother?”
When Andrew agreed to be a Gill, the crowd erupted in celebration. “I just really love them,” Andrew said — and the feeling was mutual. “From the beginning, Andrew has always said, ‘Thank you for accepting me,’ ‘Thank you for not giving up on me,'” Dominique revealed. “People would read his file and get scared away.”
“But I knew he was a good child who had experienced a lot of trauma,” Dominique continued. And so, on July 16, 2020, Andrew got what every child deserves: a loving family. He’s been outburst-free for more than a year and continues to improve emotionally, though Andrew’s presence has also posed a unique challenge for the Gills.
The family does get stares in public, even though Andrew is well-behaved. “Because Andrew is white and we’re Black, people will stare at us,” Dominique explained. “They’re confused.” Fortunately, this doesn’t bother Andrew. When he was first getting paired with foster families, he said he didn’t care about their race.
“Love doesn’t have a color. [Andrew] is our son just like Joc is our son,” Dominique said. “He’s a part of us.” Joc and Andrew’s relationship has also continued to blossom. “When we see them together, we’re glad we decided to adopt Andrew,” Kevin shared. “It just seems like it was meant to be.”
In fact, the boys have become so inseparable they even chose to share a room, allowing them to game and talk as much as they want. They each have a TV, making it easy for both boys to play at the same time, and, of course, easy access to plenty of Pop Tarts for fuel. “This is my brother, Joc,” Andrew beamed. “This is my brother, Andrew,” Joc echoed.
Their sibling connection helped Andrew feel safe and accepted. And while hard days are impossible to avoid, Andrew found happiness with his adopted family in a way he’d never known before. The Gils pay attention to Andrew’s needs, knowing that adoption is a complicated and ongoing journey.
While the Gils adjusted to their family dynamic, they’d seen how important it was to listen to your adopted child when they tell you what they need. The family took a note from a similar young adoptee who went to her adoptive parents and asked to know more about her original family. The profound difference it made for her emotionally was what they hoped to provide for Andrew.
Only unlike Andrew, 10-year-old Audrey didn’t remember much of anything about her life prior to adoption. She knew living in Wausau, Wisconsin, with her new mom offered her a much happier life — but she still felt a driving urge to learn more about her past.
Desperate to find answers for her daughter, Jennifer started digging. She reached out to the orphanage, hoping someone had information on Audrey’s birth mother. Records could be so spotty.
To her relief, Jennifer tracked down her daughter’s “finding ad” (which had been initially placed in a Chinese newspaper). Upon discovering the paper work, something immediately sparked intense curiosity.
Jennifer realized at the time she saw the ad a decade earlier, she didn’t take much notice to the fact there was a second baby in the photo with Audrey’s birth mother. Did her daughter have a twin this whole time?
After Jennifer and her husband did some digging, they learned the second little girl shared the same birthday and the same congenital heart condition. So, Jennifer reached out to the Rainsberrys, the family who adopted the other baby.
Nicole Rainsberry, the mother, was blown away by the sudden discovery that her daughter Gracie was one half of a pair of identical twins separated at birth! The two moms talked and decided it was time to finally bridge the 1,500-mile gap between them!
This incredible realization caught the interest of the people at Good Morning America, who jumped at the chance to air the reunion between the two girls, live in the studio. The audience held their breath as Audrey and Gracie anxiously awaited their first meeting.
As expected, it was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone involved. Both girls instantly embraced each other with tears of joy streaming down their faces. After a decade apart, Audrey and Gracie were together at last — but people had questions.
Once the families sat down to chat with the host about the wild journey they were on, the sisters started uncovering a series of coincidences they just couldn’t ignore.
Gracie’s mom said, “It was amazing to me that math was both their favorite subject and despite both having heart conditions that they were amazing athletes.” But, those were far from the only similarities.
Even during the initial FaceTime meeting before the Good Morning America reunion, Audrey’s mom said, “When both girls came up on the screen it was an incredible moment. Both had their hair in ponytails to one side, and were wearing the same pair of glasses.”
“Even though we live in different parts of the country, they spoke in exactly the same way,” Jennifer continued. “Their mannerisms were exactly the same and they even cried the same way.” Questions about nature versus nurture soon arose.
According to the parents, both girls have a tendency to get nervous, and when that happens, they push their glasses up their noses the same way. They truly were cut from the same cloth.
They even had similar food preferences, with each girl listing macaroni and cheese and chicken alfredo as their favorite meals. A decade apart was clearly nothing compared to what fate eventually had in store.
Gracie said of Audrey, “I’m not sure how to explain it. Getting to have her is like having another part of me. Whenever we talk and get together, I just feel a connection.”
“I can talk to her about a lot of things and I know she will help me through it, and I feel I can do the same for her.” The two girls’ relationship only grew stronger when they started seeing each other at summer camp.
Audrey shared the same touching sentiment about Gracie: “I just love being together with her.” She continued, “When we’re not together I miss her a lot. We speak or text every day. We have this connection, it’s like she’s part of me.”
“The only way we’re different is I dress up more than Gracie,” Audrey continued. “I like wearing girly clothes and she wears more sporty clothes.” The smiles on the twin’s faces here tell you they’re more than okay being a little different.
The girls now travel to see each other several times a year, and they look forward to growing closer every day. Audrey and Gracie have since joined a community of people adopted from China and have heard all sorts of incredible stories like their own. But Denise’s story about why she was put up for adoption in the first place really struck a chord with them.
She was told her family left her behind at a hospital in South Korea because she was too sick to care for, but Denise let go of what could have been. That frustration and pain, coupled with the fact that she felt alone in Vermont, convinced her that she needed to find her own way.
Her adoptive parents were white, and they lived in an area where there were no other Asian people. It didn’t necessarily mean that Denise was unloved or always treated differently, but it was an everyday challenge to fit in. As she grew into adulthood, she realized that following her heart and discovering her native roots was something she had to do.
It was around the time she turned 40, in 2016, that Denise first traveled to South Korea, where she was born. She didn’t know what she would find there, but she hoped it would come with closure. It turned out to be more eventful than she could have hoped.
While in South Korea, Denise came across a government program that helped South Korean adoptees find their biological parents. All she had to do was send in a piece of her DNA, and hopefully, there would be a match. She wound up waiting for four years but found that the wait was worth it in the end.
Once she returned to the stateside, she more or less forgot about the DNA test. Then, one day in early October of 2020, she received a phone call from the South Korean program — they’d found a match! The problem, however, was that she couldn’t see them.
With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, people had to stay socially distant — so international travel wasn’t an option. When Denise heard about her biological family, she still couldn’t help but feel overjoyed, and she proposed an alternative.
They would meet over Zoom that month. Denise waited with bated breath in front of her laptop for the Zoom video meeting to begin. She wasn’t sure what to expect — what would her family be like? would they explain why they left her? — but she knew she’d have her answers. When the cameras began rolling, so did the tears.
The screen turned on. Denise’s mother, sister, and brother were virtually sitting right in front of her. Even with their face masks on, she could see the tears and emotions pouring out of them right away. They didn’t look like people who would deliberately abandon a helpless baby.
It turned out that they didn’t. Denise’s family shared the whole story, starting with Denise’s birth name. Her older brother, twin sister, and omma — which is the Korean word for mom — called her Sang-Ae and explained how she’d gone missing for a little over four decades.
It happened back in 1976, when Denise and her twin sister, Sang-Hee, were only about 2 years old. On one warm June day, their grandmother took the twins out to the market, which was dreadfully busy at the time. There were so many people that their grandmother lost sight of both of them at once. She didn’t waste any time trying to find them.
Their grandma looked high and low for both her granddaughters, and at last, she found Sang-Hee, but Sang-Ae — now Denise — was nowhere to be found. The family was broken up about the loss. Their father completely lost himself to alcoholism over the grief, but they never gave up hope in the end.
While the father struggled to hold himself together, eventually dying of liver disease about 20 years later, the family kept themselves together as best as they could. They never left the neighborhood, never stopped making flyers to find Denise, and even came up with a clever plan in hopes that they’d cross paths with her again.
The family set up a shop of their own in the very same market where Denise went missing as a toddler. They hoped she’d come back in search of her family, but there was no way that would happen right away, not with what Denise was led to believe, and where life had taken her.
The orphanage that took Denise in was unaware of what had happened. All they knew was that a baby was left in a hospital in bad condition. With no contact with the family, they allowed Denise to be adopted by the American couple that Denise would call mom and dad for the next 40 years.
Denise also learned that after she visited South Korea and entered her DNA in the government program, her mother did the same a year later in 2017. It seems like it was meant to be, as thousands of South Korean adoptees may never find a match for one reason or another.
All her life, Denise thought she was left behind, but there her family was, relieved to finally find her after so many decades of searching. She now knew that the only things that separated them were international borders, and none of them could wait to cross over.
The reunited family made plans to see each other in person following the end of the pandemic. They even have their sights on vacation time together in Hawaii. As tragic as the story has been, they’re just happy to be together again. Denise finally feels less alone, especially with a twin who’s just like her.
Denise shares that “she and her twin sister don’t just look alike, but they also have the same voice, like the same colors and foods, love traveling and have the same sense of humor.” As amazing as it was to meet with them, she was saddened by the absences of her grandmother and father. But the optimistic family looked at the loss in a happier light.
“I know he was there in spirit because I think that he just made this happen and I think that my maternal grandmother who lost us that day… I know she was there as well. I could just tell”, shared Denise. For her, finding them brings her a feeling of completeness, “To have that missing piece of what happened to me is just incredibly overwhelming and happy and it makes me feel whole.”