"It's almost too good to be true," 17-year-old Akyra Holstein says after being adopted in September by foster mom Katie Holstein

By Joelle Goldstein
November 16, 2020 05:05 PM
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Katie Holstein with daughter Akyra and son Thomas "Tiny"
| Credit: courtesy katie holstein

When Katie Holstein decided to become a foster mom in 2017, she assumed she'd only take in younger children.

But three years later, the Kentucky resident's perspective has changed — all thanks to a teenage girl who opened Holstein's heart and changed her life.

"I limited myself so much by only wanting younger kids," Holstein, 28, tells PEOPLE after officially adopting 17-year-old Akyra on Sept. 25.

"I was scared, nervous, or just hesitant about taking in teenagers because you do hear a lot of horror stories," she says. "But there are some great stories too, and these kids really do deserve a chance and a family, regardless of their age."

Adds Akyra of her new life: "It's almost too good to be true... with all the other foster parents, I had to meet up to their expectations and with Katie, I can just be myself."

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Katie Holstein (left) and Akyra Holstein
| Credit: courtesy katie holstein

Prior to becoming a foster mom, Holstein was finishing college at Morehead State University and still living at home with her parents and sisters.

Fed up with waiting for "Mr. Right" and knowing she was ready to be a mother, Holstein decided to move out and become a registered foster parent.

"I was tired of waiting for the right circumstances," she explains. "I was just like, 'There's never going to be a perfect time. I'm never going to be financially stable or have the perfect house, so I might as well just go ahead and get started.'"

Holstein's first placement in August 2017 consisted of a set of three siblings under the age of 2. She has since fostered more than 13 additional children, helped other foster parents with respite care, and even had one reunification with two sisters right before Christmas 2018.

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Katie Holstein (left) with daughter Akyra
| Credit: courtesy katie holstein

In January 2019, the foster mom received a call about a boy named Thomas, whom she affectionately refers to as "Tiny."

Because his birth mother had a "very long history with the foster care system," Holstein says state officials knew Tiny would need a forever home and asked her to consider adopting him, despite the fact that she was already fostering three young boys.

"That was a really big decision because up until then, I had just fostered," explains Holstein, who brought Tiny home on Jan. 4 before beginning the lengthy adoption process. "I knew eventually I was going to adopt, but I didn't expect those circumstances."

A few months later, Holstein's life took another twist when she received a call from a social worker asking her to take in Akyra for the weekend.

Despite having her plate full with four boys at home and never fostering a teen before, Holstein agreed — and quickly found herself impressed by Akyra.

"She got along really well with the kids, which, considering how many I had in that tiny little house, that was a big deal," Holstein says.

katie holstein
Katie Holstein with son Thomas "Tiny"
| Credit: courtesy katie holstein

Akyra ended up staying with Holstein a few more times that year, but never permanently lived there — that is, until March 2020, when she returned for another respite that turned into a long-term placement.

"It was a big adjustment for both of us," Holstein says of taking in Akyra while also fostering six kids under 6. "But it probably only took a few weeks before we really got comfortable with each other."

Though their initial plan was for Akyra to stay with Holstein until she aged out and then have her enter the Independent Living Program — a state-run program for 18-year-olds that helps with their transition into adulthood — the pair eventually started thinking about the possibility of adoption.

"My little sister joked, 'We should just adopt her and be done with it. She's already a part of the family,'" Holstein recalls. "Later that night, we got to talking and that's when Akyra said, 'Would you consider that?' That was pretty awesome."

Adds Akyra: "It was a major step for both of us... because she never had a teenager before."

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Katie Holstein with daughter Akyra
| Credit: courtesy katie holstein

Months after that day, Holstein finally made things official with both Tiny and Akyra on Sept. 25, right before Akyra's 17th birthday. The new family celebrated with a photoshoot, alongside a board that indicated how long each had been in foster care.

"It took both of us a little while for everything to sink in," Holstein shares. "With foster care, there's just so much uncertainty, and you live in that for so long... and then it's like, 'This is it. This is forever. No one can ever take them away.'"

"I never thought I would have that," admits Akyra, who had been in the foster care system for nearly 11 years. "It felt so great."

With a new mom who has inspired her to also foster teens one day, Akyra hopes her story will encourage kids like her that anything is possible.

"No matter what you went through... never give up," she says. "Even at 18 [when you're close to aging out of the system], there's always going to be hope."

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"I just think everybody needs to change their perspective on [adopting teens] because not all are bad," she continues. "It's going to be a lot harder than raising your own child but everyone deserves a chance, and I've always wanted to prove that to other people."

As for Holstein, who plans to foster another teen once Akyra goes to college, she's thrilled to finally live a normal life with her kids.

"I'm looking forward to saying on a Friday afternoon, 'Let's go to the next state over and go to an attraction, and not have to ask permission for it,'" she says. "Or not having to worry if I have the proper paperwork when I have to take them to the doctor."

"Just knowing after three years of uncertainty, that they're mine and no one's going anywhere and our family dynamic isn't going to change... that's pretty exciting," she adds. "These kids make it worth it. They've given as much to me as I've given to them."