Gladney Center in Fort Worth celebrates 125 years of connecting children with families

FORT WORTH - The trains departed from Philadelphia and New York, wound through the Midwest and ended where the West began.

In 1887, droves of orphans would hop off the trains in Fort Worth. When the Rev. Isaac Zachary Taylor Morris, a Methodist minister, and his wife, Belle, learned of the trains, they began searching for homes for the young children.

So began the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society, which eventually became known as the Gladney Center for Adoption, named after Edna Gladney, who later ran the center and campaigned for the rights of disadvantaged children.

On Saturday, the Gladney Center celebrated its 125th anniversary with a carnival and gala.

"For 125 years, Gladney has created families, provided loving homes for children and support services for birth parents," said Mark Melson, executive vice president and chief development officer.

Orphan trains stopped running in 1929, but the need for adoption did not.

Since 1887, the Fort Worth center has placed nearly 30,000 children in homes. And though international adoptions have begun to fall in the past couple of years because of political or social strife, many couples are opting to adopt in the U.S.

Ellen and Doug Hunt of Arlington have adopted three children -- Sam, 6, Joe, 4, and Vivien, 2 -- through Gladney. The Hunts wanted a transracial adoption, placing a child with adoptive parents of another race. All three children came from birth parents who lived in North Texas.

"We live in a diverse community, attend a diverse church and have diverse schools," Ellen Hunt said. "We felt like we could provide positive support and a loving atmosphere to our children."

The adoption process can be tumultuous, said Ashley Stern, a Southlake mother of two, and staying in touch with fellow adoptive parents can help families bond.

"Adoption is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but it can be a roller coaster and a long journey," Stern said. "The only people who can truly understand and relate are the other adoptive parents."

In recent years, adoptions have become increasingly open, partly because of social media, Gladney spokeswoman Jennifer Lanter said. More birth and adoptive parents are staying connected through Facebook, e-mail and other technology.

Janice Podell, Gladney's community education coordinator, placed her son for adoption 16 years ago through Gladney. Podell, who shares her story with other mothers considering adoption, stays in touch with her son and his adoptive parents through photos and e-mails.

"I was 16 and knew my son deserved more than I was able to provide," Podell said. "I wanted him to have the best the world could offer."

Podell urges birth mothers to attend post-adoption counseling offered by Gladney. Two years ago, the center began offering Next Steps, a program that offers education and skill training, such as budgeting and meal planning, to birth mothers.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw