Brian Bolick had his arms wrapped around his 7-year-old daughter, playfully hugging her captive.
“What’s the magic word?” he asked.
She wiggled a bit before yelling “please,” but he only hugged her closer.
“It’s peanut butter,” Bolick exclaimed, as he opened his arms and the giggling little girl went running.
From watching them, it’s unlikely anyone would guess they aren’t biologically related.
What not even the Bolicks would have guessed, though, is the path that brought the family together.
Brian Bolick and his wife, Vicki, had been hoping to adopt an older child for years but didn’t know where to start.
“It’s a weird chain of events that got us to where we are,” he said. “To me, it was kind of fated in a way.”
It began when Bolick signed up in 2009 for Leadership Forsyth, an educational program that helps community members learn how to get involved.
Each year’s class selects a service project, and Bolick recalled hearing from many nonprofits with suggestions.
He felt a personal call to help when listening to the executive director of a then-emerging organization called Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, or SAFFT.
“I remember Ashley [Anderson] up there making her presentation,” he said, “and just me thinking, well this is exactly what we’ve been talking about. There’s no excuses. Here’s a way.”
They had planned on having a child naturally, Vicki Bolick said, “but it just never happened.”
Feeling happy as a family, but not whole, the couple had floated the topic of adoption for years. It wasn’t until hearing Anderson speak that they really began the process.
Brian Bolick decided to get involved with SAFFT even if the group didn’t select that project, but apparently others were as moved as he was with the organization’s work.
The class voted to renovate a home to create a safe visitation center for families. When the project was complete, Brian Bolick continued his work with SAFFT by joining the nonprofit’s board.
The couple had learned a lot about adoption through volunteer work with SAFFT and the friendships they formed. But even so, they had little success at first working with a private agency.
“We had more resources at our disposal than I would say the average person, and yet it was still very difficult,” he said. “Months and months would go by, and we would never hear from them about any children. We couldn’t understand it.”
What they eventually learned was that the path to adopt a newborn baby and an older child isn’t the same.
Older children are in foster care, and are typically reunified with a biological family member or adopted by their foster parents.
“If you want to adopt an older child, you pretty much need to be a foster parent,” Brian Bolick said.
Anderson, SAFFT director, suggested they work through the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, instead of the private agency.
“Why don’t you guys just foster,” Anderson recalled saying, “and if a child is meant to be, it will happen.”
They started as a respite foster family, or one that is approved to care for a child when the primary foster parent cannot or needs a break.
In spring 2012, the Bolicks first began to spend time with the girl who would eventually become their daughter, whose identity they chose to keep private for this article.
They were about to leave for a cruise that April when they received a call from DFCS asking if they could take the girl for a week while her foster parent was out of town.
They canceled the trip.
“We knew that we were a possibility for her, and we loved her so much,” Brian Bolick said.
The couple got to spend more time with the girl. By June, they were approved as her foster parents.
Vicki Bolick said the months afterward were an emotional wait, wondering if the adoption would happen or if someone would come forward for her.
“You just don’t know,” she said. “So we took a chance because we felt like even if it didn’t work out, at least we would have made an impact and otherwise we were always better because of her.”
In March, the wait was over. They became a family.
There’s no doubt in their minds that they were “just meant to be,” Vicki Bolick said.
The years of waiting and of confusion hadn’t been without reason.
“It never felt right until we met her, and then I just knew,” she said. “I remember the first time I saw her. It was at the SAFFT Christmas event.
“We were just looking over at the playground and she was playing. I didn’t even really know much about her story, but I remember just looking over and I told Brian, ‘That’s going to be our child someday.’”
The Bolicks have continued their involvement with SAFFT — only there are three of them now.
The organization recently moved into its new, larger building on Castleberry Road, and Vicki Bolick lent her interior design talents — with the help of her daughter — to make the place a welcome one for children, the one their girl remembers.
The two are also willing to share their story, in hopes that others thinking of fostering or adopting can learn something about the difficult but rewarding journey.
Foster care, they found, still has a stigma. Some people would question why they were doing it.
Brian Bolick said he also thought people didn’t understand the true benefits of adoption and fostering.
“People say, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing you guys are doing,’” he said. “It’s really, we’ve gotten a lot more out of it.”
As Vicki Bolick recalled, Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson told them early on in the process that they didn’t need “a child,” but “the child.”
And they found her, she said.
“I always felt she was born in my heart.”