Neenah couple turns to Catholic Charities to build their family through adoption

Adoption services made possible through Bishop’s Appeal

NEENAH — Mark and Leah Kempen got married 10 years ago and they looked forward to the day they’d start their family. “We weren’t in a super hurry, but we both knew we wanted kids,” said Leah. “After a couple of years of marriage nothing was happening so we went in and found out most likely we won’t be able to have kids the natural way.”

Mark and Leah Kempen are pictured at St. Margaret Mary Church in Neenah with their adopted children Michael, 2, and Isabelle, 5. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

The couple decided to pursue adoption. “We didn’t care about sex or race, we weren’t picky about age either,” said Mark. They considered two different adoption agencies in the state but ended up working with Catholic Charities in Green Bay, which is supported in part by funding from the Bishop’s Appeal.

“Catholic Charities is grateful for the support of the Bishop’s Appeal,” said Chelsea Baucom-Young, adoption specialist for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. “The Bishop’s Appeal makes up 40 percent of Catholic Charities operating budget. So, for every dollar needed to provide services in our community, 40 cents comes from the Bishop’s Appeal, which allows us to turn no one away and to keep the fees we do have to charge at a rate that is affordable. The Bishop’s Appeal is instrumental in Catholic Charities’ ministry.”

“We both felt really good working with Catholic Charities. They were so wonderful,” said Leah. “We were matched in the third trimester with our daughter Isabelle, so we did doctor’s appointments with her birth mom and she was born at the hospital where I work. We brought her home straight from the hospital.”

Leah noted that Isabelle’s birth mom picked her and Mark as adoptive parents for a couple reasons. “She thought we were a good match — like our hobbies, where we lived and we had a place up north, because their family has a place up north and she wanted Isabelle to experience what she did growing up.”

It had taken a year of paperwork and home studies before Mark and Leah were qualified for their profile to be shown to birth moms. Once they were in, they were presented with various situations. “We could either have them throw our profile in or say we weren’t interested,” said Mark. “We chose to put our names in, but ultimately, the birth parents choose. They have the final say,” added Leah.

A year and a half after they started the process, Mark and Leah brought Isabelle home. Adoption doesn’t just take time; it takes money. “The average cost of adoption is $15,000. There’s quite a few tax credits, but you have to have some liquid cash up front to make it work,” said Mark. “But there are many resources out there for financial assistance if you qualify. Catholic Charities did a wonderful job providing information on these resources.”

When Mark, an industrial engineer at Plexus Corp. in Neenah, and Leah, a dietician at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, opted to adopt another child, they had a few more hurdles to cross the second time around.

“Our son Michael is out of Catholic Charities in Milwaukee through Catholic Charities in Green Bay,” explained Mark. “They were having a rush search for a match when he was born. His birth mom chose not to work with the adoption agency she was working with, so she got connected with Milwaukee Catholic Charities. They were searching anywhere for potential matches and chose us a week after he was born.”

The Kempens turned out to be the ideal parents. “Michael’s birth parents were looking for somebody that had a biracial child that was older because he biologically has an older sister and they wanted him to experience that. It was exactly our situation,” said Mark.

Michael was placed in foster care for 97 days as his case was being processed. The foster home was in   Oconomowoc, where Leah is from, and, by chance, she knew Michael’s foster mom. The woman had been Leah’s religion teacher when she was a junior in high school.

The adoption process is taxing emotionally, said Mark. “You put your name into a hat and you hear nothing or you hear you weren’t picked. Then when you’re finally matched, it’s nerve-wracking until the finalization six months after birth.”

Catholic Charities was invaluable for the Kempers during this process. “Even through the rough patches they were perfect,” said Leah. “They do this not because they get paid a ton of money to do it, but because they have a passion for it, they love what they do.”

Leah and Mark admire the families who gave them the chance to be parents to Isabelle, who’s now 5, and Michael, 2. “Being a parent is amazing but being a parent because someone else trusted you enough to raise their child, it’s such a blessing,” said Leah.

“There is a waiting list of parents who are more than qualified to be parents and these kids deserve that chance to have a stable home life. A birth mom loves her child enough to realize they can’t raise them,” said Mark. “I don’t think everyone knows that adoption is an option or they think giving a baby up for adoption is horrible from the stigma from decades ago. But there are some people that physically cannot have children, so you’re not only helping the child, you’re helping another couple. It’s a win-win.”