With hopes of being adopted before graduating high school, Aridasee "Cece" Tisland met her family before her wish was even granted.
"I was really excited about it at first and then reality started to kick in," the Red Wing teen said. "I wasn't able to figure myself out yet. To have to know who I am and share that with my parents was kinda hard."
November is National Adoption Month and Minnesota Department of Human Services is doing its best to ensure that waiting children are quickly moved to a nurturing environment from the foster care system.
With 489 children waiting for adoption, many face challenges of being traumatized during critical developmental years. Forty-two percent of these children are ages 12 to 18 and 59 percent are children of color.
Adoption opportunities have been the key focus for National Adoption Month, with events like festivals, school activities and resource fairs and events.
"We've had a lot of interest," said Jim Koppel, assistant commissioner for Minnesota Department of Human Services. "Ultimately, what is always great, we continue to watch more children being adopted or being in the queue for adoption."
While adopting had always been in the back of her mind, Sheena Tisland, a Red Wing language arts ninth-grade teacher, decided one of her students would be the perfect addition to her family.
Scott Tisland helped remind his wife after she gave birth to their first child, Leila, that adoption was something they always wanted to do.
Cece became a part of their everyday life, from Sheena being her teacher to Scott and her working together at Welch Village. Without knowing, Cece was already building relationships before becoming a part of their family.
"It was one of those things that reminded us that this is what we wanted to do. This is what we were meant for," Sheena said.
Cece moved into the Tisland residence in April 2016, and by August it was made official.
Sheena was Cece's ninth-grade teacher. After knowing Sheena for a few years, Cece, now a senior in high school, started spending more and more time with the Tislands.
"It's been interesting, mostly because we already have one (child)," Sheena said. "Because of her, it's been up and down because we're bringing someone new into something already established. She's kind of that litmus test."
Leila, 4, now the youngest daughter, had her own say on Cece becoming a part of the family. "Well, sometimes I'm really mad about Cece. But sometimes, I'm really great about Cece."
Although the age difference has caused some challenges, family members think that it's just a matter of adjusting and giving this time.
"She's a really good kid, has a great head on her shoulders," Sheena said of Cece. "With Leila, things are very black and white right now. There's been such a gap that we haven't had the time to figure it out."
With a few months since settling in, Cece and her family have shared memories, found ways to have fun together and want to spread their success story for those considering adoption.
"This is the kind of risk that you will love," Sheena said.
"I would say, 'Do it.' Even if you think it's scary or too big of a risk, the person on the other end is thinking the exact same thing," Cece said. "In the end, you find two hearts that have never experienced it, you just become one. Both sides are just as scared as the other."
Minnesota DHS suggests those interested in adoption to get involved by visiting www.mnadopt.org or by calling statewide agency numbers that work with adoption, such as Children's Home Society at 800-952-9302.