Happy Ending for Mother & Son

“It is amazing how much United Way is embedded in the fabric of our lives.”

Pregnant and 18. Still in school. In denial. Afraid to tell her parents — who had already raised 6 children. Knowing she was too young to be the kind of mom she wanted to be, Juli Pennington and her parents turned to Catholic Social Services for help finding an adoptive home for her son, born March 2, 1978. Juli’s only request at the time: to keep the court records open in the event that she or Gino, as he came to be called, wanted to meet each other in the future. “The emotional process was compassionate, respectful and seamless.”

Fast-forward 18 years. Unable to reach anyone by phone, Juli paid a visit to Catholic Social Services to set up a formal search for the little boy — now an adult —she gave up for adoption years before. It was a Friday afternoon. On Monday, the phone rang. “They told me that Gino had been there two days before I had. He was looking for ME!” On July 2, 1996, the pair reunited, stories were exchanged and new relationships were built. Birth mom, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents — Gino’s immediate, and extended, family grew by leaps and bounds. In 2007, Gino served as a pallbearer at the funerals of both Juli’s mom and dad, his grandparents.

Today, Gino is 35 and the father of 3-year-old Isabella, born — curiously —on what would have been Juli’s parents’ 55th wedding anniversary. Another interesting twist, Isabella had been scheduled to be born on July 2, 2010 — exactly 12 years after Juli and Gino reconnected. Then, at the 2012 United Way Campaign kick off luncheon, Juli was surprised to see Gino helping cater the event! Some might call it fate.

But Juli’s story doesn’t end there. No, for the past 29 years, she has been paying it forward, contributing to Catholic Social Services through United Way of Washtenaw County's workplace campaign. She also serves as the University of Michigan Medical Center’s Radiology Department United Way contact. “I give, and will continue to give, because of Gino. And because of second chances.”