Meet Scottville’s newest family: Eric, Michelle and Owen

June 14, 2013

soneralsStory by Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON – Something really good happened Thursday at the Mason County Courthouse. Do you know how nice it is to write that? It seems that so often when I go to the courthouse all I witness are people who have done harm to society. It was such a joy to experience something different there today.

On Thursday, a young boy legally became part of a loving family, fulfilling many years of prayers by two really amazing people.

Scottville residents Eric and Michelle Soneral knew from the time they got married that they wanted children. “We both come from large families and whether or not we wanted children was never a question,” Michelle said. “What we didn’t know was that we were not going to be able to birth our own children.” Due to medical reasons, Michelle is not able to carry a pregnancy to term.20130614-020307.jpg

In 2005, the Sonerals started exploring different types of adoption. “We briefly discussed foreign and domestic infant adoption but my heart had always leaned towards children in the U.S. who were waiting for their ‘forever’ families.”

As they started looking into adoption, several other things happened in their lives: illness, family deaths and some negative experiences with the adoption agencies they had been contacting with. Adoption was put on the back burner. They continued on with their marriage and careers. Michelle is a loan officer at Grand Valley Co-op Credit Union and Eric is a corrections deputy at Mason County Sheriff’s Office.

Five years later, they decided to explore adoption again, this time contacting Bethany Christian Services, one of the world’s largest adoption agencies based in Grand Rapids. “We started the process to adopt a domestic ‘waiting’ child, someone who was in the foster care system,” Michelle said. “This time around everything was extremely positive and lined up perfectly. The time just seemed right and we were approved to adopt in June 2010; all we had to do was wait for a foster care license because an adoptive home must be approved for foster care license in order to take a placement.”

In January 2011 a set of brothers were placed with Eric and Michelle. “They were with us for 11 months and then returned back to their home. While seeing them leave our home was very painful, the time they spent with us reinforced that what we were doing was wonderful and what we wanted.

“Things were quiet in our home for most of the rest of that winter,” Michelle said. “Then, on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2012, we received a call that changed our lives forever. There was a little boy named Owen who was being removed from his family again after several previous removals over a 2 ½ year period. The judge in the case wanted a foster placement that was approved and ready to adopt and we were at the top of the list. Owen came to live with us and has been with us ever since.”

Now 5-years-old, Owen has done very well in the Soneral home, Michelle said. “At first he was a bit ‘wild’ but he adjusted to structure and rules very quickly. We get the impression he came from a home where he pretty much had to fend for himself, choosing when and what he ate, when he slept and basically taking care of his own needs.

“We got him into a routine immediately and he began to blossom. Today, he is still a very independent and busy boy but he is now confident, curious and very fun to be with. I believe he knows we will give him the space he needs to make his own choices but he also knows we are there for him to guide him and protect him. I feel it is the perfect balance for his individual and unique needs. God has seen fit to place Owen into a family that shares so many of his characteristics. He has bonded with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They have all accepted him as if he was born to us.”

Normally family court proceedings take place in a small room in the basement of the Mason County Courthouse. But, over 30 people showed up for this special young boy and his equally special parents. On this day, there was no sadness in the courtroom, only joy.

“This was truly a happy occasion,” Mason County probate and family court Judge Jeff Nellis told me. “It was just wonderful that these great families have stepped in to care for this boy and to provide a great life for him.”

Nellis said in his years of practicing law he has never seen so many people show up for an adoption.

“The adoption process requires a lot of patience, because there is a lot of legal work,” the judge said. “It is a sacrifice and it is rewarding to see the love Michelle and Eric and their families have for this boy. I was honored to be a small part of it.”

Sheriff Kim Cole, Eric’s boss, said he couldn’t agree more.

“Eric and Michelle are two people who just give,” Cole said. “It didn’t surprise me to know that these two would foster a child and then adopt him. That’s just the type of people they are. I have worked with Eric for many years and he just comes from a caring family that knows the value of taking care of others. He’s one of my best deputies and I know he and Michelle will be great parents.”

Michelle said she and Eric are very thankful for everything their families, friends and employers have done. “The support that we have received has been incredible. I think at first many wondered what we were thinking, especially after the first foster placements. You hear so many negative stories in the media about the foster care system. It just isn’t true. After falling in love with our precious boys and then seeing them return into their family, we knew we were on the right track.

Michelle said because of the nature of his removal from his birth family, Owen has had no contact with them since he was removed. When he becomes an adult he will have access to his case file and will be able to make his choice if he wants to have a relationship with his birth family and/or know his family history. “We will support him in any of those choices and we will always be honest with him,” Michelle said.

Eric and Michelle have been discussing adoption day with Owen for many months.

“We would talk to him about what it all meant and it was like he already knew,” Michelle said. “He had no questions other than if his name would be Soneral forever. When I asked him Thursday morning one more time if he had any questions about the hearing, his response was ‘No, because I love you.’ I think for him it is simple: He loves us, we love him and we’ll always be together. End of story.”



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