Reece’s Rainbow Report #7: Willis Family

As we are celebrating 15 years of helping families bring their children home, we will be revisiting some of these ordinary families who took this exceptional step and gave a child a family. With this new twice-monthly column, we will share stories and photos of those children who were previously advocated for and are now home. Feel free to share our Rainbow Reports on social media!

Our Miracle of Adoption Christmas Campaign runs until the 31st of December! Our Reece's Rainbow Report today is about one of our adoptive families who found their child as a result of the Christmas Campaign.
You can recognize someone you’ve never seen before.
“That’s my daughter. Where is she?”
Just ask Brandon Willis, an Oregonian who said, “That’s my daughter. Where is she?” upon first seeing a photo of an adorable Russian baby with her tongue sticking out.

He and his wife Jennifer, a teacher at the time, had recently lost an unborn baby to chromosomal abnormalities. They had often discussed the idea of adoption, even while dating, and Jennifer had some experience with the disability community in education. So when another Oregonian posted about Reece’s Rainbow on her blog, something just felt right. Maybe they were supposed to adopt a child with special needs internationally. 
In October 2011, Jennifer saw a photo of Emily (“Emilie”) on the Reece’s Rainbow website. Emily’s sparkling almond-shaped eyes seemed to leap off the screen, so Jennifer passed the photo on to her husband. Brandon’s response was the “yes” she was hoping for! 
But there were so many more children with Down Syndrome waiting…
So the Willises began looking at other kids listed in the same Russian region, hoping to bring home two. That’s when they saw Dasha (“Abigail”), another girl with Down Syndrome. But unlike Emily, six-year-old Dasha appeared “so solemn and sad-looking in her picture.” 
“My heart just longed for that little girl to know love,” Jennifer says. 

Both Emily and Dasha were chosen for the Miracle of Adoption Christmas Campaign (MACC) in 2011, then called Angel Tree. Brandon and Jennifer officially committed to both girls during MACC, excitedly watching each grant grow. 

The girls holding their MACC ornaments
The (at least) $1,000-per-kid fundraiser “gave us our kids!” Jennifer says. “While we were tiptoeing around RR and adoption, being able to commit during that time period and know that their grants were being grown to help with funding helped us take that next step!”

The couple traveled two days each way from Oregon to Siberia three times total, first in July 2012, then in October and finally in December. There were several unexpected obstacles, like changes in training requirements less than a month before the Willis’ court date. But Emily and Dasha became American citizens on 12/12/12, with the exhausted parents never dreaming that Russia would soon close to all American adoptions. 
“It’s still not lost on me to this day, that had we encountered any other delays, our daughters would still be in Russia.”
“It’s still not lost on me to this day, that had we encountered any other delays, our daughters would still be in Russia,” Jennifer marvels. “It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years, knowing that so many children still wait.” 

Dasha and Emily have made the most of their last-minute reprieve. Dasha is no longer a solemn preschooler, but instead an athletic 15-year-old who dreams of competing on American Ninja Warrior. Emily, meanwhile, is an imaginative social butterfly fifth grader who is often described as the life of the party. They were joined in 2018 by Catia, a now-17-year-old sister adopted from Colombia. 

Given their tight adoption timeline, Jennifer wonders if they would have made it out of Russia in time — if not for the MACC funds that quickly paved the way. She might not be the mother of Dasha (“She’s brave and a fierce protector of her sisters and herself”) and Emily (“She’s always making amazing costumes”). 

But Jennifer is, with a man she loves as part of a larger community that supports their perfect-patchwork family. It’s the same sort of heart-recognition Brandon felt when he first saw Emily: that of knowing when someone is meant to be a part of your life’s story. 
“We love our girls so much, and one of the most amazing things has been to watch our children's childhoods be redeemed — to see them experience ‘firsts’ even at an older age,” she says. “Our house is chaotic, loud, fun and sometimes a little crazy, but I can't imagine it any other way.”

“We truly are the lucky ones, that we get to experience this
life with these three amazing, brave girls.”
Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.