When she was in second grade, Amalie Bowling proudly declared to her entire class that she was adopted.
It was something she had known all her life, but the announcement took her classmates and teacher by surprise.
'My teacher had to go to my mom and was like, 'She told everyone she was adopted, is that true?' And my mom was like, 'Yes, I'll talk to her, I'll calm her down,'' Bowling recalled. 'We always looked so much alike, so it was hard to really tell the difference.'
While Bowling's announcement may have surprised her classmates, she herself was perfectly at ease with he reality.
Bowling, who came to adoptive mother Karen Schlindwein and her husband when she was a baby, explained that she has always had positive feelings about her adoption.
Her birth mother, Lois, already had two children when she decided to give her daughter up for adoption. Bowling called her a 'heroine.'
'She was just this huge person that I put on a shelf and always admired, and thought she was amazing for giving that selfless choice,' Bowling explained.
Schlindwein was in the room when Lois gave birth to Bowling and stayed in contact with her through letters detailing Bowling's childhood, part of an agreement she had made with Lois and her family.
In their situation, Schlindwein said that the entire adoption triad — the birth parent, the adoptive parent and the adopted child — had a positive experience.
'You don't hear about those stories. You hear about the ones where it was a bad situation with the birth parent, or a bad situation with the adoptive parent,' Schlindwein said. 'That's why we felt we had something to share that we wanted to get out there.'
Bowling's and Schlindwein's desire to tell their story and ensure a good experience for all adopted and foster children is what drove them to create the nonprofit organization Chosen, which was formalized in December 2015.
Chosen seeks to educate and engage community members surrounding issues of adoption and foster care.
'I grew up with people all around me that were adopted, so it was just a community aspect,' Bowling explained. 'It makes so much more sense to me to go through life in a challenging situation, like fostering and adopting, together.'
One of Chosen's main goals is to establish a home that would provide foster children with support and resources. Bowling, who is a foster parent herself, said they have targeted a location in Waukesha they hope to obtain, though they aren't ready to disclose where it is.
Although there is no concrete timeline, Bowling said she hopes to have the home open in about five years. She also said she would encourage other counties to designate homes for this purpose.
In addition to preparing for the home, Chosen also runs The Family Closet, which provides materials to those in foster care using donations from the community.
Bowling said The Family Closet, which is currently housed at her Waukesha residence, is a great way to connect with neighbors.
'You never realize the need that people have until you have something and you're like, 'Hey, I have this, do you need it?' and 10 people are like, 'Yes, I need that!'' Bowling said. 'It's exciting.'
Sharing their story
Bowling and Schlindwein also chronicled their unique situation in a book published last Mother's Day, titled 'Dear Lois.'
The idea sprung from the letters Schlindwein wrote to Bowling's birth mother, which they learned Lois had kept in an album for years.
'As I was thumbing through the album, the letters were tattered and torn, and they had tear stains on them, and you could tell that they were read and reread,' Schlindwein recalled. 'Amalie's biological sister shared with us that those letters were a lifeline for their mom. They were one of the reasons she knew she had made the right decision.'
Bowling went to see her birth mother for the first time shortly before Lois died.
After Lois' death, Bowling and Schlindwein began thinking of writing the book. They began pulling together a multitude of perspectives to tell their story, from Schlindwein's father to members of Bowling's birth family.
'It was a little unique in that there are a lot of views from it,' Schlindwein said. 'It wasn't just two of us saying we had a great journey. It was everybody telling their own side of that.'
Bowling and Schlindwein have done book signings for 'Dear Lois,' as well as educational opportunities for Chosen throughout the area, and they said they would really like to be able to speak at schools to spread their message about adoption and fostering.
Bowling's brother, who accompanied the pair to their latest outreach event in Waukesha, was also adopted and went through a similar process in which Schlindwein was writing letters to his birth mother to keep in touch.
'We were always told, we're chosen children and we're special,' Bowling said. 'We want kids to feel the way that we feel, special and loved and supported in everything that we're doing. '