PHOENIX - When a self-motivated, outgoing fourth grader named Orlando began taking reading-intervention classes from Jodi Kacz in 2014, Jodi was impressed.
“I used to always tell my husband, 'There’s a kid at school and if I could adopt, I would adopt a kid just like him,'" Jodi said.
Jodi was a veteran teacher at Manuel Pena Jr. School in west Phoenix's Cartwright School District. A heart condition had prevented the 45-year-old from having children with her husband of 16 years and Jodi felt she would adopt a child someday.
As the semester progressed, Orlando’s best friend pulled Jodi aside during a lunch hour and told her Orlando was a foster child.
“I had no idea this beautiful child I fell in love with was up for adoption,” Jodi said. “Eventually I said, 'This is meant to be. This connection I feel is from above.'”
Orlando was born in Tucson but spent several years living in an orphanage in Mexico. He was eventually brought back to Arizona to live with a Phoenix-area foster family.
Over the course of the next two years, Jodi taught Orlando in the fifth grade as well. She and her husband Scott -- a computer-animation teacher at Shadow Ridge High School in Surprise -- began the process of adoption.
On Saturday, Nov. 19th – National Adoption Day – the couple officially adopted Orlando.
“He is so overjoyed he’s with my husband and I that he finally found his forever home,” Jodi said. “He tells me I’m the mom he always wished for.”
When asked to describe his mom, Orlando called her “an inspiration” and “very loving and kind.”
Jodi credits Orlando’s previous foster family for helping to shape Orlando’s character. Now 11 years old, Orlando likes to draw, dance and he recently won an Arizona state English Language Learning (ELL) honorable mention award.
“He’s got a lot of charisma. He’s got a lot of drive. And he doesn’t let anybody tell him he can’t do something,” Jodi said.
Orlando’s older sister has also been adopted by a local family.
Orlando will have his dad near when he enters high school in two years. Orlando is expected to attend Shadow Ridge High School in Surprise, where Scott teaches.