ORLANDO, Fla. - A trip to Disney World is a big deal for any child, but it was extra special for Tampa siblings Raylen and Rania, who spent nearly three years in foster care.
Now they are being adopted, thanks in part to a non-profit called the Heart Gallery of Tampa. Their foster mom said the trip was the perfect way to send them off to their forever home, but she wouldn't have been able to do it without a little help.
That's where Leigh Ann Tuohy came in.
Tuohy and her family were the inspiration for the movie "The Blind Side." As an advocate for fostering herself, she came to Tampa and connected with the Heart Gallery of Tampa to make Raylen and Rania's dreams come true.
The Heart Gallery takes professional photos of foster children who are often passed over, like teenagers, those with medical or therapeutic needs, and siblings, like 5-year old Raylen and his big sister, 7-year-old Rania. The nonprofit puts the kids' personalities right out front, using photo exhibits in public spaces like malls and churches.
Their foster mom, 29-year-old Andrea Chideseter was thrilled the siblings were being adopted. Having a magical trip to Disney was the icing on the cake.
“I know I'm not meant to adopt them, but of course this is our final time together. I would love to have one last hurrah,” said Chidester. “I wanted to do Disney because the little one hadn't been yet. But financially it was just impossible.”
The Heart Gallery of Tampa and Tuohy made it all possible.
“To have the opportunity to take two of our kids to Disney World, that's what most kids look forward to,” said Amanda Page-Zwierko, the executive director of the Heart Gallery of Tampa. “I think that for the majority of the public, it's a surprise. They just don't know that these kids are here.
For foster moms like Chidester, making sure Raylen and Rania have a sense of a normal childhood, like their moments at Disney, means the most.
“Everybody can play a part in this. So even if you're not called to be a foster parent, you can absolutely play a role,” said Chidester.
The Heart Gallery of Tampa displayed Raylen and Rania’s photos in the spring on the organization’s website. The next exhibit is planned for Citrus Mall this fall. The photos helped 27 children get adopted last year of the 3,200 foster children in Hillsborough County.