Bill and Jeanne Fuller chose him. They came to an orphanage in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 1996, and gazed at a blond toddler in a crib. “I picked him up and he started laughing,” said Jeanne Fuller.
And at that moment, Joseph Fuller won their hearts and found his forever family.
Joseph “Joe” Fuller, now 23, graduated from Saint Leo in April 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in management. He secured a position in youth development service at Youth and Family Alternatives Inc.’s RAP House in New Port Richey, FL, where he works with children ages 10 to 17, who may be homeless, have school-related or family problems, or face other issues.
For Fuller, his life has come full circle. The child who was helped is now helping others. “I can, without a doubt, say my life has been truly blessed,” he wrote in a blog.
Jeanne and Bill Fuller tried for 10 years to conceive a child. “We didn’t want to be childless,” Jeanne Fuller said. “So we started to look at domestic adoptions. But we didn’t want the parents to come back and claim the child.”
Jeanne Fuller attended a seminar on international adoptions and thought it was a good fit for the couple. They worked with a now-defunct agency in New Mexico that would send videos of children and provide as much history about the children as it could. At that point, Americans could still go to Russia to adopt, Jeanne said. “All of the sudden,” she said, “Joe came along. He was so cute! He was just a year old in the video, but he took control of the whole play area [of the Russian orphanage].”
At one point, the Fullers were afraid they were not going to able to adopt Joseph. “Luckily, things loosened up,” Jeanne Fuller said.
When they arrived at the orphanage, the inside was decorated with bright, primary colors. “They took us to a room with all the boys, and there he was,” she said of Joseph. “He was playing with dolls, which he denies! We got to play with him for a little while.”
After a rather informal adoption proceeding, Joe was theirs. “We brought him back to the hotel and stared at him,” Jeanne Fuller recalled. “Now what do we do? We gave him a bath! He spoke Russian to us. It was interesting to see him see a whole new world.”
At almost 2, Alexander “Sasha” Alexandrovich Foliniykh, became Joseph Paul Alexander Fuller, who grew up in a loving, Catholic family in Sidney, Ohio. March 19 is his “Gotcha Day,” a day the Fullers have traditionally celebrated throughout the years with a chocolate chip cookie cake. “I was one of 4,491 kids adopted that day,” Fuller said. “And of those, more than 60 percent were claimed by American families.”
The Fuller family became complete when they adopted daughter Sara from Russia, too. “I was holding her when I got out of the car,” Jeanne Fuller said of Sara. “Joe wouldn’t talk to me. I had to bribe him!”
Faith played a big role in the family with the Fuller children attending Catholic elementary and high school. “When he got to high school, his faith grew,” Jeanne said of Joseph. Now he attends St. Anne Byzantine Catholic Church in New Port Richey, an Eastern Catholic church. He is a third-degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus organization.
When it came time to choose a college, Joseph Fuller said he was looking at 40 schools. “I cut them down by class size, rural vs. city, Catholic or public,” he said. And he chose Saint Leo.
Fuller earned athletic scholarships and continued pursuing his passion of running, which he started in eighth-grade cross country. As a Lion, he qualified for the NCAA Cross Country National Championships three times and was a member of two Sunshine State Conference championship teams. With his teammates, he volunteered at the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa, which enjoys a good reputation statewide. Now, he serves on the organizational committee for the Gasparilla races as well as organizing the smaller Rattlesnake Run for Pasco County’s Rattlesnake Festival and the RAP River Run in New Port Richey.
When he turned 21, Fuller formed the I Play Track Foundation. The name comes from a Tweet in which someone asks, “What sport do you play?” The answer: I play track.
Fuller had been donating his cross country and track spikes to children in need. “There were a lot of kids who had shoes in disrepair,” Fuller said. “I thought it would be nice to give back to the running community that got me through college.
“On my 21st birthday, I grabbed my shoes and the shoes my sister had, and I kicked off the charity,” he said. Now, the I Play Track Foundation is awaiting 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity status.
“I usually just take gently used running shoes and track spikes,” Fuller said. “Some people give new ones. I collect at running events, road races, and other events.”
Coaches send Fuller an email or contact him through the I Play Track Facebook page and tell him what size shoes they need for their athletes. “I go through inventory, send the coach a list, and then they pick the shoe for that athlete. That’s important. I want them in the right shoe. That’s the benefit of me being an athlete. I know that there are different shoes for different athletes.”
Giving back to the community and those who have supported him is important to Fuller.
“I feel that every child, no matter who he or she is or where he or she comes from, deserves to be loved and valued.”
National Adoption Day
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Nearly 5,000 children were adopted during the National Adoption Day observance in 2017.
World Adoption Day
Friday, November 9, 2018
The overall number of adoptions to the United States in fiscal year 2017 was 4,714, a decline
of 658 from the previous year.
Source: U.S. Department of State