Three weeks ago, Bryan and Bree Mills had no idea they were about to have a daughter.
July 27, the Cordova couple received an unexpected message notifying them that the birth mother of their 2-year-old adopted daughter Evangeline had given birth to a second girl, Emberlynn, who was available for adoption. The Millses knew immediately that they wanted to adopt baby Emberlynn — they just didn’t know how it would be possible.
“When we got that call, we did not have the money to make this adoption happen,” Bryan Mills said. “But we started the process anyway, and took a leap of faith.”
The Millses spent a year and a half filing paperwork, accommodating home visits and drawing up plans for Evangeline’s 2017 adoption. A series of fundraisers including a dunk tank, a hot-dog sale and a comedy show helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to cover the expenses of adoption. This time, the Millses didn’t have a year to plan, and the coronavirus pandemic made many forms of fundraising impossible. Additionally, the Millses were still in the process of paying off a personal loan taken out to cover the cost of Evangeline’s adoption.
However, when Bree Mills told her coworkers at Cordova Telecom Cooperative about their unexpected adoption, several pitched in with online fundraising ideas, starting an GoFundMe crowdfunding page or raising attention on Facebook. Bree Mills found herself receiving donations from former colleagues outside Alaska, and from elementary school friends whom she’d been out of touch with for decades.
Denise Olsen Eleshansky, a payroll technician for Chugach Government Solutions, started a fundraising auction on Facebook that quickly drew 80 items, ranging from cakes and hamburgers to paintings and a custom-forged carbon steel knife. By Monday, Aug. 10, the auction had raised around $7,800, Eleshansky said. The auction will be active until 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 15.
By Tuesday, Aug. 11, seemingly all costs associated with the adoption had been met with fundraising and private loans, Bryan Mills said. This time, online fundraisers proved more successful than face-to-face fundraisers, though possibly due to the unique urgency of the situation, Bree Mills said.
“We had no clue how it was going to happen,” Bree Mills said. “But the community stepped up in full force, and it was such a relief, with all the chaos of bringing home a new baby that you didn’t expect… I can’t explain how meaningful it is, and how touched and humbled we are by the love and support that this community has given us.”
Surprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic made the adoption process easier and more efficient. Before an adoption, the prospective adoptive couple must undergo a home study to determine whether they would be suitable parents. Normally, this would require a social worker to travel from Anchorage to visit the Millses’ Cordova household. However, in this case, a virtual home study was permitted — one of many pandemic-necessitated workarounds recently introduced to the adoption process.
Bryan Mills returned from Arizona with baby Emberlynn Saturday, Aug. 8. Nine-year-old Everleigh — birth daughter of the Millses — was thoroughly excited to find herself with a new sister, Bryan Mills said.
“I truly believe that I wouldn’t have two out of three of my daughters if it weren’t for Cordova,” Bree Mills said. “That is a debt of gratitude that I can never repay.”