When describing her life before children, Wrightsville author Elizabeth Courtright readily admits that she and her husband lived an existence many would envy. “We had fun,” she laughs. “We didn’t really have any responsibilities other than work. We took a lot of vacations, we traveled all over the place; we bought anything we wanted. We had a really comfortable, nice life… I guess you could say a spoiled life.”
In 2009, however, Elizabeth lost her job. She decided to use the couple’s savings to take a few months off to relax before beginning another job search. However, in her free time, she read the newspaper daily and kept noticing classified ads about foster parenting. Something in the ads struck a nerve, and Elizabeth eventually asked her husband what he thought about the idea of taking in foster children. “One day I said to Brian, ‘We have this big house, most of which we don’t even use, and we’re never going to have children of our own. We could give a home to a kid who needs one,’” Elizabeth recalls. The couple connected with an agency and began taking the classes required to become foster parents. Both the Courtrights and the agency agreed that one or two teenagers would be the best fit for their lifestyle. Fate, however, had other plans.
“One day, out of the blue, we got an e-mail from one of the folks at the foster care agency,” Elizabeth says. “They had a sibling group of four who were nine, seven, six and four years old. Brian and I were like, ‘Uh, what happened to two teenagers?’” Yet something inside Elizabeth said that these children were the ones they had been called to help. They arranged a trial week of fostering, which Elizabeth now affectionately refers to as “Hell Week.”
“They were horrible!” she muses. “They came in and just went tearing through the house. The next thing I knew, they were on top of the dogs trying to ride them like horses, and I was like, ‘Whoa, little people! Slow down!’” It was an eye opening experience for the couple, and Elizabeth admits many tears were shed as the children continued to knock down chairs, throw food, jump on furniture, and disregard any attempts the Courtrights made at discipline.
Her perspective changed, however, after learning about her children’s background. “At the time they came to us,” she says, “we didn’t know about any of the things that had happened to them. But they weren’t silent. We played this game every night at dinner, called ‘Mad, Sad, Glad.’ We would sit at the table and everybody had to say something that made them mad, sad, or glad. As their stories started coming out, our hearts were breaking; it was just story after story of horrific things that no child should ever have to endure. We really couldn’t give up at that point.” They didn’t give up, and three years after “Hell Week,” with perseverance and perspective helping the family to adapt to its new normal, the Courtrights officially adopted Christian, now 17, Kristiana, 15, Eugene, 14, and Orin, 12.
One of the main coping skills that Elizabeth used during the first tumultuous years was writing. Having always dabbled in storytelling but never completing anything seriously, she used her free time while her children were at school to finish several incomplete stories and turn them into full-length novels. She has now self-published eight books which she insists never would have happened without her children coming into her life.
As a way to give back to families like hers, Elizabeth started the Third Chance Foundation in 2015, which helps provide scholarships to both foster children and children who have been adopted out of the foster system. All of the proceeds from Elizabeth’s book sales go directly to the organization. In addition, people who make monetary donations to the organization may choose one of her books as a gift.
Elizabeth hopes to grow the Third Chance Foundation into a multi-author organization that provides opportunities for bright futures to children just like her own—children who have given her a life she never imagined, but wouldn’t change for anything.