March 2014

Drifting balloon, completing 700-mile trek, sparks friendship

An illustration of the balloon that linked a Luther Crest resident with friends of a fallen police officer 700 miles away.

It was the day after Christmas and a cold front was moving through Allentown, Pa., bringing snow squalls to the area. Kermit Roth watched from his window as the ground quickly became blanketed in white.

“Within minutes, there was a quarter-inch of snow on the ground, then it quickly stopped,” remembers the resident of Luther Crest, a Diakon Lutheran Senior Living Community in Allentown. “All of a sudden I see this blue balloon sauntering to the ground. My wife was getting ready for lunch, so I went and retrieved it.”

“He thought it was a gift from God—that my finding the balloon helped him get over the death.”

Imprinted on the balloon were the words: “Jason Ellis, #139, Merry Christmas in heaven Ellis.” Also included were the names Kirsten and Raelyn. With his curiosity piqued, Roth quickly opened his computer and searched for the name Jason Ellis.

“I found out that a Kentucky policeman had been killed six months earlier on May 25, 2013, in Bardstown,” he says. “I wrote a letter to the police department saying I found this balloon and asked them for more information.”

The response was more than Roth expected.

Kermit Roth, a resident of Luther Crest, Allentown, Pa., found a balloon that traveled 700 miles, linking him with police officers mourning a loss.

Captain Tom Roby of the Bardstown police department responded to the letter and began to correspond with Roth through email. Two days after Roth found the balloon, a reporter from the Kentucky Standard called to interview him. Roth also heard from a reporter with Allentown's local newspaper, The Morning Call. The police department sent him a memorial calendar, a wrist bracelet, lapel pin, and a medallion, all honoring the fallen police officer.

“This thing kept going on and on,” Roth says, adding that Captain Roby continued to email him. “I noticed he was struggling [with Jason’s death]. My response really picked him up. He thought it was a gift from God, to the extent my finding the balloon helped him get over the death.”

Roth also spoke with the Kirsten named on the balloon. Her father was a Bardstown police officer who helped release the balloon.

“She was a close friend of Jason’s,” Roth says. “What touched me was Jason was just 33 years old and he left behind a wife and two small children, one who has special needs.”

Kirsten and her father had released the balloon Christmas evening, not knowing it would travel some 700 miles to land in Roth’s yard.

“I think about how many places between Bardstown, Kentucky, and here that the balloon could have landed and nobody could have found it,” Roth says. “I thought it was a simple thing, but it turned into a great thing for many people.”


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For adoptive family, there is always room for one more

The David and Allison Bryce family before their ninth child joined them.

As a visitor surveyed the nine framed photographs adorning the living-room wall of David and Allison Bryce's Allentown, Pa., home, she couldn't help but say: "You would never imagine those smiling faces came from such dire circumstances."

"Well," responded Allison, "our kids are amazing examples of nature versus nurture. They are sweet, happy, and well-adjusted kids." The situation, she added, "begs for more siblings for them!"


In fact, even before Allison was married, she knew she wanted a large family of her own someday, one of at least eight or nine children—and possibly more. "I had never known a specific number, but having grown up with 11 siblings, I knew I wanted a large family!"

When she married David, she found someone also willing to help children in need and they turned to adoption and foster care to achieve their goal. Yet that goal was to remain elusive for a time.

The couple began certification classes required to foster and adopt children in their home state of Arizona. "It took a long time to be certified, which was frustrating," says Allison, "because we knew there were so many kids out there needing homes. But through the process, we kept reminding ourselves that the wait was occurring so that when we were ready, the children we were to adopt would be ready. And they were!"

Weeks after their certification, two foster boys, 2 and 10 months, were placed with them; just three weeks later they were able to participate in a private-infant adoption. "We were an instant family of five," says Allison, "and at the time I didn't think life could get any better. Little did I know!"

“After spending time with the family, we knew what a wonderful resource they would be to a child.”

The family moved to DesMoines, Iowa, so that David could attend medical school. "We were certified there right away and six months later had three children placed with us, 3, 15 months, and 6 months. The number of kids in our home had suddenly doubled. We had six children from 4 to 6 months."

And so when the Bryces moved to Allentown, where David would do his medical residency, they arrived with six children under the age of 7. Shortly after settling in, Allison contacted Diakon Adoption & Foster Care to inquire about additional children.

Her request, however, came with crossed fingers because the couple already had been turned down by a number of other local agencies, whose staff members' reply always was, "You have too many children now."

But Diakon had a different response. Even without Allison’s comment that “we can do this. I’m a mom and that’s all I ever wanted to be,” Diakon staff members listened.

"I wanted to cry inside when Diakon called back and said they would be willing to work with our family!"

The Bryce children pose for a 2014 photograph.

Kathleen Roach, director of the Diakon Adoption & Foster Care office in Topton, Pa., explains why staff considered the Bryces’ request. “We didn’t just look at the fact they had six children. Instead, we looked at the entire family and how they functioned as a unit,” says Roach. “After getting to know the family and spending time with them, we knew what a wonderful resource they would be to a child needing a home.”

Of all the agencies with which they have dealt, the Bryces say, their experience with Diakon Adoption & Foster Care has been the best. “They are the only agency that has regular home visits,” says Allison. “And they care when we talk about the interactions between the kids and their biological parents.

"In fact," she continues, "Diakon has become a part of our family. Every time I look at our three new additions, I think of how much they took a chance on our family—we owe a great deal of our happiness to them. We just love them!"  

Now, with nine children between the ages of 7 months and 10 years and preparing for a return to Arizona, where David will practice emergency medicine, the Bryces think eventually they may add to their brood. They note that fostering children can be challenging, especially if there is the possibility a child might return to biological parents. But they have dealt well with the uncertainty and their home is a model of love and stability.

“We take one day at a time,” says Allison. “Nothing in life is guaranteed, but at least the kids know they're loved within a family while they are in our home. Every child deserves a chance to thrive in home full of love."

In late 2013, the Bryces participated as guest chefs in Dining with Diakon - Eastern Pennsylvania, a chef-challenge fundraiser benefiting Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

"At first, we weren't going to do it because we have never thought of ourselves as fund-raising people and were not sure we would have the time, but because it was for Diakon and a cause we truly believed in, we said yes!" says Allision.

"I printed out these cards with my kids' picture and wrote, 'Please help our mom and dad raise money for Diakon Foster Care & Adoption to help kids JUST LIKE US find a loving home!' I sent them with David to give to all his co-workers and was amazed at how many people donated to the cause. I guess you can't say no to such cute and happy little faces!"

Beyond raising funds, their goal for the event was to spread the word about children who need families and people to care about them. “If we get one family to foster, our work is done,” said Allison before the event.

Happily, the Bryces not only raised funds for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, but also met their second goal. A co-worker remembered photos of the children David had shared at work and inquired about the family’s experiences with foster care and adoption. The co-worker and her spouse attended Dining with Diakon, were convinced that adoption was for them, and began training class two weeks later. Following training, an infant girl was placed with them and they are working toward adoption, Allison Bryce says.

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