#ADOPTIVE
Sarah DeGarmo

June 29, 2018

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photos by Lura Landis Photography, Kelly Starr, and Karen Hinde

CHARACTER TRAIT: Adoptive

DEFINITION: Accepting responsibility for; including in a larger whole.

On Abundance, Inspiration and Adoption

“My hope is that adoption is not seen as uncommon but as common. I pray that we grow into a community that is not bound by blood, but bound by love.” –Sarah DeGarmo

Sarah DeGarmo’s story is one of life echoing art. And vice versa.

As the founder and CEO of Rise by Design, a design and brand creation company based in St. Joseph, Mo., DeGarmo turns business ideas into professional brands. In essence, she and her team turn the hopes and visions companies have for their identities into something alive. She turns them into something familiar, yet surprising and memorable, and builds them to last.

“I love being creative and I enjoy that every day brings a new challenge to my doorstep. I get to wake up each day and make things beautiful and I lead a small, but mighty team of people who love to do the same,” says DeGarmo.  

DeGarmo says the Midwestern location of St. Joseph and the surrounding area lends opportunities for honest and hard work, strong faith and a family feeling across business owners. As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, with roots in agriculture and manual labor, DeGarmo says this is a community where people believe in doing the “hard stuff” right alongside their employees. She credits an environment of creativity that’s grounded in generosity – yet also globally-minded – for her own business growth and that of fellow entrepreneurs. A graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in Fine Arts/Graphic Design, DeGarmo sought to enter the workforce during a serious recession and a time when creatives were viewed as “unnecessary,” she explains. Reflecting her grit and determination, DeGarmo instead began her own company. It was a decision that has led to many open doors and corporate clients across the Midwest.

But that’s just the start of the story.

These attributes are creatively woven across DeGarmo’s surprising and quite “uncommon” childhood as one with 12 siblings – 11 of whom were adopted from the Philippines. “I can’t imagine life without adoption,” she says. “The process blessed me with so many wonderful memories and so many more to come.”

DeGarmo and her husband, who have two sons at home, are on their own adoption journey. More than a year ago, they began the process of adopting from the Philippines. They are excited to welcome home their little girl in a few short months.

Growing up with so many adopted siblings, and now adopting themselves, DeGarmo answers questions almost daily about adoption. The questions are absolutely welcome and encouraged. But the language many people use, she says, shows that there’s space for conversation, honesty, awareness and education. It’s the child’s perspective, she adds, that is most often missing from the conversation.

While there are many paths to adoption, such as fostering to adopt, domestic adoption and  international adoption, each story involves loss. “Every child coming from adoption has experienced tremendous loss that led to their present circumstances. No matter how joyful adding to your family can be, there’s also a very present reality of mourning and grief for the child. It’s difficult for me to think about what my own siblings endured on their journey to our home.”

Talking about adoption – often, and honestly – is one way DeGarmo hopes the community can open more doors for families. As new conversations begin about adoption and foster care, DeGarmo is encouraging a fresh look at the language used to help maintain positive communication.

“Consider the audience. A child brought home through adoption may have trouble hearing and understanding the questions you ask. If kids are around, set up some time to grab coffee with the friend you have questions for to better safeguard children,” she says.

The questions themselves can also be a careful point of consideration. Intimate questions about a specific child’s adoptive/foster story may not be appropriate. An adopted child’s story is theirs to tell when they are ready. Keep your questions general,” says DeGarmo.

Another common misconception DeGarmo notes pertains to giving adoptive parents a different kind of praise than birth parents. “People often say ‘you’re such great people for adopting those kids.’ This is the hardest because it is so well-meaning, but it’s hurtful. Put yourself in the shoes of an adopted child … you’re listening to your parents being praised for taking care of you. In essence, you’re hearing that you are a charity case. Since we don’t praise people for raising their birth children, let’s start to replace that language with something like, ‘I love that you’ve added to your family through adoption.’” Phrasing it this way, she adds, helps change the expectation to reflect that all parents – whether they’re birth or adoptive – are striving to raise their children in loving, caring environments.

DeGarmo explains that area churches, such as her own, Wellspring Community Church in St. Joseph, offer support systems for foster and adoptive parents and families. “Overall, we have found St. Joseph to be a community that continues to embrace foster care and adoption. We are creating a new normal for the next generation. It is normal for me to listen to the voices of my children pray for foster babies each night. It is normal for the kids to receive letters from classmates at school who are excited to hear they have a new big sister. It is normal that my children are surrounded by bilingual, multicultural aunts and uncles. It’s the normal I love and it’s the normal I celebrate each day.

“My hope is that adoption is not seen as uncommon but as common. I am fortunate that my children have grown up around adoption and have been blessed immeasurably by it. I pray that we continue to grow into a community that is not bound by blood, but bound by love,” she says.

Like the branches of a beautiful family tree, DeGarmo’s work toward changing perceptions about adoption and her own passion toward design continue to flourish into something truly unique and impactful. But she says it like this: “Look around. God created a beautiful, magnificent earth and there is an abundance to be inspired by. If I am needing inspiration, I like to get outside and study each element. A blade of grass, the way gravity moves water, the petals of a delicate flower … all of these things are inspiring to me. It’s all part of one larger, more beautiful story.”

#BRIGHT

Full of hope and promise; intelligent.

#ADOPTIVE

Accepting responsibility for; including in a larger whole.

#EXPRESSIVE

Showing a particular feeling, thought, mood; conveying a story

#GUMPTIOUS

Takes initiative with attention, common sense, spunk and resourcefulness.

#ANCHORED

To keep hold or be firmly fixed; can be relied on for support, stability, or security; mainstay.