Although Robert Knutsen ’09 and Holly (Smith ’10) Knutsen had talked about adopting early on in their married life, they never intentionally pursued adoption. Their second son, Brock, was born with a cleft lip and palate, requiring multiple surgeries in early childhood; as his medical needs became a priority, the desire to adopt fell to the back burner.
But a few years after their third child, Sadie, was born, they met someone from Olive Crest, a program that connects children who would otherwise be placed in foster care with a safe home while their parents maintain guardianship. Months later, through the Olive Crest program, the Knutsens were asked to care for a 3-month-old boy, AJ, with a cleft lip and palate. His biological mother had no steady housing and was struggling to provide for his special needs. “We agreed to a 30-day period where we would take him in while his mother worked on finding a job and a more stable living situation” explained Robert.
But it soon became apparent that AJ needed significant medical treatment and his mother wasn’t going to be ready to take on that challenge in the timeframe needed. “We couldn’t get the right medical attention because we were just babysitters,” explained Holly, “so we knew on our own that if he was going to make it, we had to adopt him and get him the right medical help.” Soon after, God made it possible for the Knutsens to adopt AJ with consent from his biological parents.
“AJ opened our eyes to all the needs that are right here in our own backyard,” said Holly. The couple signed up to become an emergency foster family, taking in children for just a few days before family members were able to get guardianship.
In 2021, they were asked to care for Bentley, who was a newborn at Fountain Valley Hospital. What was expected to be short-term arrangement turned into a much longer-term foster placement. “We brought him home and instantly fell in love,” said Holly.
In February of 2023, the couple legally adopted Bentley as their fifth child. They attended the court ceremony among their family and closest friends, then celebrated together at the park. Each year, the family plans to commemorate AJ’s and Bentley’s adoptions with special family celebration. “We know that, as they get older, how they process and talk about their own adoption story will be a personal decision that we want to support them in making. We hope to help them sort out their own feelings about it in a positive and healthy way,” said Holly.
Looking back, they can’t help but recognize God’s hand in their story. “There is nothing about either of our boys’ stories that happened because of us,” explained Holly. “God brought both boys to us in special ways that we are so grateful for.”
“God definitely orchestrated both of these [adoptions],” Robert added. “The main theme is that God grew our hearts. We thought we were done, at least for a time period. And it wasn’t like AJ’s story happened when our kids were getting older and we were kind of set in our careers—it just kind of happened in the middle of the chaos and God made it work,” he said.
Adopting two foster children has given the Knutsens a deeper perspective on how the Christian community cares for kids and families in need of support. As members of the Vanguard University President’s Circle and the Foundation Board, they are actively advocating for resources that remove financial barriers for students who would not otherwise be able to attend a university like Vanguard.
“Unless they find a way to get a scholarship, it’s unlikely that [a foster kid] would ever even come to a school like Vanguard, especially when the state schools are free,” Robert said. “But the opportunity for a kid who’s gone through the foster system and then gets the experience of Vanguard versus a state school—I think that could be that generational shift in trajectory. So that’s what I’m excited about, to help find ways to create programs that get kids in foster care through the Vanguard program at some point in the future.”