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Board of Pensions adoption assistance frees couple to focus on blending a new family


Last year, Assistance Program gave out $5.5 million

by Holly Baker, Board of Pensions | Special to Presbyterian News Service

An Adoption Assistance Grant from the Board of Pensions helped the Rev. Brian Gaeta-Symonds and his spouse, Gilbert, to focus on the three brothers they’d fostered since 2016. (Contributed photo)

PHILADELPHIA — No one who knows the Rev. Brian Gaeta-Symonds was surprised when, in early 2019, he and his spouse, Gilbert, adopted the three boys they’d fostered since 2016.

Gaeta-Symonds, associate pastor for outreach at Claremont Presbyterian Church in California is devoted to issues of justice, community, and inclusion, and the boys — Victor, 16, Nathan, 15, and Axel, 8 — are Gilbert’s nephews.

If anyone was surprised, it was Gaeta-Symonds — when he learned about the Adoption Assistance Grant the couple could receive from the Board of Pensions.

“I wouldn’t have known about the grant if it weren’t for Clayton Cobb,” he said, referring to the Church Consultant for his geographic region. “He told me to be sure to add the boys to my Medical Plan coverage through the Board once the adoptions were final. We are so grateful.”

Members with medical coverage through the Benefits Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may receive assistance for the adoption of a child under 21 if the child is enrolled in the Medical Plan.

“It was a very easy process,” said Gaeta-Symonds. He logged onto Benefits Connect, typed in the boys’ birth dates, and uploaded their adoption orders. “And that was it.”

The financial support allowed the couple to focus more on blending their new family and making the boys part of the community. “Who knew there would be a price tag to growing boys,” he said jokingly.

“A marriage between same-gender people wasn’t familiar to them,” Gaeta-Symonds said. The boys had been raised mostly by various family members, nearly all women. “The 8-year-old didn’t understand right away, and the eldest didn’t want to call us Dad.”

The brothers call their adoptive parents “tío,” which means “uncle” in Spanish. The two younger boys have taken their last name, showing “pride and a sense of belonging with us,” Gaeta-Symonds said.

Claremont Presbyterian Church — which has about 350 members, many of them retired professors, ministers, and other professionals ― is contributing to that sense of belonging. This is the boys’ first experience being part of a faith community.

Victor “was entrusted ― empowered ― by several deacons to set up for coffee and events,” Gaeta-Symonds said. “They are helping him grow.” Nathan is fascinated by church ritual, and a 3-year-old has become deeply attached to Axel, greeting him joyfully each Sunday: “Axel!”

All three boys took part in the Christmas pageant and the two older ones experienced camping for the first time at the church’s youth Tapestry Fall Camp, in Big Bear, California. Victor was able to connect right away with a couple of other boys who all needed to let loose and feel free. Nathan discovered his place in a faith community with teens his own age where he could be a kid, learn about Christ’s love and feel safe.

Gaeta-Symonds looks for ways to involve the boys in his youth ministry and outreach efforts. Nathan and Victor have been encouraged to find ways to serve in leadership roles at the church. And, he and Axel wondered about connecting with the kids passing the church on the way home from the nearby middle school. They decided to hang out on the front porch of the church and invite the passersby, many of them headed to an empty house, to join them for lemonade.

Little by little, their hospitality was accepted.

Now, on weekday afternoons, anywhere from eight to 25 kids and parents hang out on the porch, sipping lemonade, doing crafts or playing games, and experiencing caring and community.

Providing hospitality and caring, whether to unchurched youth, homeless people, or others in need comes naturally to Gaeta-Symonds. But being on the receiving end of support, as he was with the Assistance Program, was new to him.

“Gilbert and I felt cared for every step of the way,” he said. “Our family is deeply grateful to the Board of Pensions and the many contributors to the Assistance Program who made this grant possible.”

The Assistance Program provides a wide range of need-based grants to active and retired ministers, employees, and their families. Last year, the Assistance Program gave out 1,157 grants, for a total of $5.5 million. The Board’s careful stewardship of its resources makes possible grants like those that made a difference in the lives of the Gaeta-Symonds family.

Holly Baker is agency writer at the Board of Pensions, which supports wholeness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) community and care for Benefits Plan members. For information, contact

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