Men’s basketball head coach Charlie Ernst and his wife, Belinda, have two biological children: a 15-year old daughter, Allison, and a 13-year old son, Sam. But recently they added another family member when they adopted a boy from Africa.
Ernst said his family had discussed adoption for a long time, but it was never acted on. However, when Belinda became more involved with Mission Possible, a missions-based organization in Findlay, it was something that seemed a little more realistic to the Ernst family.
“She’s a physician’s assistant and is now on the medical board of Mission Possible,” said Ernst. “She has been to Haiti seven times in the last three years, and I went with her once myself and hope to go back.”
Originally the couple wanted to adopt from Haiti but due to certain restrictions and the length of time it takes to complete that process, they didn’t think it was a good fit for their family. They were then put in touch with a program on the West Coast called All God’s Children. This program pointed them in the direction of Burundi, a third-world country in Africa.
“About six months ago back in February, we received word that we had been matched with a little boy from Burundi,” said Ernst. “He was six or seven and his name was Roger.”
Coach Ernst said that many of the challenging days were completing all the paperwork while keeping up with his own kid’s sports and academics that made them question how bad they wanted to do this.
“When we had days like that we would just think of Roger and think ‘we can’t stop now.’ He deserves a better life and we’re very fortunate and blessed,” said Ernst.
“My wife and I are both college grads, we have good jobs, and we have the means to welcome another child into our life.”
With it being a third world country, it was hard for the family to communicate with Roger, but they were able to send him information about their family including pictures and toys to show him he had a family coming to get him.
“The process itself has been ongoing for over two years, but the process of actually getting him and him being in our family is extremely recent,” said Ernst. “It required a two-week trip to go get him, so we left on the 14th of October and we returned on the 25th.”
As the men’s basketball team is preparing for its season, this time of year is a very busy time for Coach Ernst and a challenging time to be away. He said his staff had a lot of time to plan for him to be gone and he was still able to view practice videos and talk to his staff while he was traveling.
“I always talked about this to our team, that we are more than one person and that includes the head coach,” said Ernst. “So, if we truly are a championship team, we can overcome the loss of one player for a couple [of] weeks and also one coach including the head coach for a couple [of] weeks.”
It was hard for Ernst to leave his team for two weeks but also for him and his wife to leave their own children behind.
“It wasn’t easy to leave our own kids for two weeks, but we have great families, and everyone stepped up,” said Ernst. “We’re just excited that trip is behind us and Roger is in our family now.”
Ernst said there have been some aspects that his family is still adjusting to since Roger has been here. Roger doesn’t know any English, so the family is trying to teach him that while keeping his life as normal as possible. Ernst’s wife was lucky enough to receive a three-month maternity leave and can stay home with Roger to help teach him and get him acquainted with his new life.
“We never wanted to disrupt our family unit and the way we do things. We’ve wanted to make it better and I think sometimes it’s hard to see when we’re having struggles with Roger,” said Ernst. “But it’s hard to believe that our family and our kids aren’t growing into better people because of this.”
The University of Findlay is a big part of the Ernst family and has become a home away from home for their kids and they predict it will be no different for Roger who has already been on campus.
“He’s got a big smile, he’s got a great spirit around him but he’s learning a new way of life,” said Ernst. “There’s some struggles along the way buts he’s been a real blessing for us.”