Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Note: The Fr. Dennis Mullen Adoption Initiative was covered in the Oct. 13 issue of the Catholic Herald. The following is a story of one family who received financial help from the fund. For privacy, some names have been changed.

Evelyn Zopp lives with her two grandchildren near Hayward on land that has been in her family for six generations, but her commitment to family goes beyond giving land to the next generation. She is giving them her life.

The grandmother is raising two teens – a boy and a girl, cousins – without any of their parents, supported by her siblings and extended family who live close to each other on the family land. Granddaughter Crystal has been in Zopp’s care since she was 2-1/2 years old.

Crystal’s mother left when the girl was only 18 months old. When her father, Zopp’s son, went to prison, the grandmother became her guardian. Over the years, the girl’s parents have attempted to reconnect, but not for very long. Zopp shared that in some ways she is grateful her grandchildren have seen just how drugs can destroy a family, but she also knew a more permanent solution to the uncertainties of the future.

Waiting until Crystal herself was able to be involved in the decision, Zopp saved money and then began the formal adoption process when her granddaughter was 12. Initially told it should take about three months, various unforeseen elements complicated the process. As it dragged on month after month, the money was running out. She seriously considered halting the process, unsure she could afford the mounting legal bills.

The process wasn’t only taking a toll on Zopp. Crystal, a naturally social and active girl, was struggling with controlling her emotions and social anxiety. She struggled with fears that one of her parents could show up again and want to attempt the relationship without her being able to have any say. She wanted to stay home all the time, and while she still had friends at school, she didn’t feel comfortable spending free time with them.

Through her sister’s husband, a Knight of Columbus, a grant was applied for with the Father Dennis Mullens Adoption Initiative and then granted.

Fr. Mullen went to meet Zopp and personally maintained contact with her throughout the proceedings.

“Every time I was about ready to give up,” Zopp recalled, “It was like Fr. Mullen knew, he just knew.”

She said somehow he always called just at the right moment, providing much more than financial support – much needed emotional and mental support as well.

Zopp would be told, just one more hearing, one more set of bills, but then another would follow. When she would relay this information to Fr. Mullens his answer was always, “Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.”

When, earlier this year, the adoption was finalized there was more than the feeling of relief. That night at home, Crystal called to her grandmother, “Nana.”

“What, honey?” Zopp responded.

“You’re my mom now, aren’t you?” Crystal asked, to which Zopp gave a confirming, “Yup!”

The very next week, Zopp said her granddaughter’s natural personality had returned, all anxiety gone and was right back to visiting with friends outside of school and enjoying extracurricular activities.

“It was like an amazing confirmation,” Zopp told the Catholic Herald, one that she says would not have been possible without the help from Fr. Mullen and the Knights of Columbus.

She knows it was the right thing to let Crystal’s life and relationship with her parents run its course, but it had been some time that the girl felt strongly her grandmother was her “real mom.”

“Now she has the stability that this will always be her home,” Zopp confided.

As a mother, she has had to do a lot of letting go – her first son, born very premature, to death, her marriage to an abusive alcoholic, and her other two sons to their addiction.

As a grandmother now, although she admits at times wishing she was done raising kids, she is glad to be holding on tightly to Crystal. She hopes the difference she can make for both her grandchildren will last well into their adult years.

“You do the best you can with your kids,” she said. “You teach them morals and good heart,” but as they get older, they have to make their own choices, even though you never stop loving them, she added.

“I am where I am, and it’s a beautiful thing. We’re getting along, and apparently God had another plan for me.”