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UNO coach Mark Slessinger and wife endure foster child heartache

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Mark Slessinger dressed up like a crawfish to help promote a UNO campus outdoor event -- Photo courtesy of Clem Barbazon/UNO Athletics.Mark Slessinger dressed up like a crawfish to help promote a UNO campus outdoor event -- Photo courtesy of Clem Barbazon/UNO Athletics.

NEW ORLEANS -- These are bittersweet times for UNO men's basketball coach Mark Slessinger and his wife, Toni, whose hearts and souls are being twisted in knots by two very special foster children.

Baby J is 17 months old. She has been with them since July 5. Baby H is 14 months old. He has been with them since April 18.

On June 25, Baby J will return to her biological mother and father who have been deemed worthy by the courts to resume their parental responsibilities after completing a rehabilitation program under the direction of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Hopefully, this second time they will be more patient, nurturing and understanding.

Baby J deserves that and much more.

How long Baby H remains in the Slessinger's care is anyone's guess. Six months, nine months, a year. It all depends on the biological parents. Know this: The Slessingers are prepared to adopt Baby H if necessary.

"Today it looks promising that we could adopt (Baby H) but in six months things could change,'' Toni Slessinger said while dabbing at tears. "You never know. I'm crying right now because it's not easy losing (Baby J). But there have been a lot more good times than bad. I just hope we have helped her in some way become the awesome person we hope she'll become.''

A more in depth account of the Slessinger's inspirational story appeared in Sunday's print and online editions of The Advocate. The identities of Baby J and Baby H remain confidential and the reasons they have been placed in foster care have been withheld.

After months of wrestling with the idea, the Slessingers decided to share their very personal story to coincide with May being National Foster Care Awareness Month. It is their hope that their story will motivate others to get involved.

"We are common people,'' Slessinger said. "These special kids got to a tough spot in their lives because of nothing they did, right or wrong. They just happen to be there and they need somebody to care for them and love them.''

And the Slessingers picked up a phone and stepped to the plate.

"We could adopt a child through other means, even go outside the country to adopt a child,'' Slessinger said. "But why do that when there are so many children in need right here in New Orleans, right under our noses.

"When I took this job with UNO and we decided to come to live in New Orleans, we did so because we want to be part of this city. We believe philosophically in the city and we believe in helping rebuild the city. We felt this is where we wanted to be. The way people have opened up to these kids is unbelievable, and the number of random lives these kids have touched is unbelievable. We always felt God had a plan for us to be here and to be parents in Louisiana, whether it be through foster care, adoption or of our own doing.''


For more information on how to become foster parents, visit:
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