When Polly Officer was born, she was placed in temporary foster care to give her birth mother a chance to deal with drug and alcohol issues. But on a scheduled visit, her birth mother ran away with the infant, leaving foster parents Debbie and Barry Officer distraught over the fate of the child they had bonded with.
The baby girl had come to be with the Officers after Barry, who worked for the state as a driver taking biological mothers to visit their children in foster care, listened one day to a conversation in his van about a tiny African-American baby girl who was perhaps 3 weeks old and who had been seen at a drug house. The women speculated about the child’s chances of survival.
“My dad told the authorities what he heard, and they found me,” said Polly Officer, 18. “I became their foster child and then adopted by them when I was 2.”
Baby Polly was raised with 16 other Officer children, all but three of whom came to the family through the foster care system. “We range in age from 36 to 4 and all still get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Officer said.
The family moved from Moses Lake to a big fixer-upper house on 160 acres in Inchelium, Washington, where the children had plenty of room to play. Strong in their Seventh-Day Adventist faith, the Officers home-schooled their children and taught them values of faith, compassion and work.
When Polly Officer reached high school age, she began attending Upper Columbia Academy, the private Christian academy operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spangle. As a scholarship student she works two class periods daily to help defray costs of her education. As the chaplain’s assistant, she helps run Sabbath schools, music and outreach activities and more.
She especially loves music. “I’ve sung in trios with my sisters since I was small,” she said. She recounted a scare she experienced in her sophomore year when she lost her voice on the second day of a choral festival and learned she had vocal nodules. She had to stop singing for six months and had to relearn how to speak at a higher pitch, an experience that taught her a lot about desire and discipline.
“I’ve grown so much,” Officer said. “I am privileged to be at UCA; it’s made such a difference in helping me become a leader and taking charge of my own life.” With her 3.9 grade-point average she plans to attend either Walla Walla University or Eastern Washington University this fall and study business administration and music education.
She has not yet been in touch with her birth mother, though her parents are supportive of her reaching out if she wishes to. It’s a dilemma for her. On the one hand she wants to know her background and heritage, especially as she has grown up in a primarily white family. On the other hand, she knows that reunion stories don’t always have a happy outcome.
“I think I’ll wait until after high school to decide what to do,” Officer said. “My life is really a miracle, when I consider what could have been. We don’t have a lot of material things in my family, but I know absolutely that they are there for me. I know there is enough love for me in my family, that I am accepted for who I am. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
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