Janelle and Jasmine Newswanger command simple, contented stays in among Pennsylvania"s Mennonite communities.The 17-year-old twins drive a horse-drawn buggy, wear lengthy dresses and white head coverings, and also see their friends in ~ church top top Sundays.

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Autumn Stauffer with (from left) Rolando, Lanita, and also Malachi. She and also her white husband are elevating their five biological, one embraced and two foster children. (Michael S. Wirtz / staff Photographer)Read more

Janelle and Jasmine Newswanger lead simple, contented lives in among Pennsylvania"s Mennonite communities.

The 17-year-old twins drive a horse-drawn buggy, wear long dresses and white head coverings, and see their friends at church on Sundays.

Done with education at 14, after ~ finishing eighth grade, Jasmine functions as a teacher"s aide, and also Janelle helps her mother around the house, speak Pennsylvania Dutch and English.

The girls blend in through the world in your lives, set apart in only one way.

Janelle and Jasmine space African American.

They are among around 100 children, most of them black, born come women that were incarcerated at Pennsylvania prisons and sent by their mother to Mennonite foster family members in central Pennsylvania as part of casual caretaking program. About 29 remain in Mennonite homes.

The children navigate two civilizations as they prosper up in white insular cultures.

Some, favor Janelle and Jasmine, have actually been with Mennonite family members for years and also ultimately adopted. Others continue in a temporary status as your birth mothers struggle with addiction, the law, and also their nursing roles.

These young resides upend and bend notions the community, family, identity - and also what makes a happy, healthy and balanced childhood when birth parents room unavailable.


The popular image the Mennonites is that stoic, white followers in the countryside. However blacks, initially recruited through missionaries, have remained in the flock because that years, consisting of in Philadelphia and also other cities.

In 1897, the an initial African americans in the United states were baptized as Mennonites and joined a Juniata county church, said chronicler Tobin miller Shearer, a Mennonite and also assistant professor of background at the university of Montana who studies interactions between white and African American Mennonites.

Now, that said, "There seems to be a predilection, or at the very least a tendency, because that conservative white Mennonites to be engaged in the practice of adoption across race lines."

Good intentions fuel the caretaking, Shearer said, but, "Hosts space not fitted themselves to equip their children to live in ~ a racialism society."

Debate roils approximately transracial adoptions and fostering in general. Are youngsters much better served by going to a permanent house as quickly as possible, or by wait for a same-race household? that question also hovers end the children from the Philadelphia region who live in countryside Pennsylvania.

Ruth Newswanger and her husband room Old bespeak Mennonites that shun cars, TVs, computers, and cellphones at their Cumberland county home.

Jasmine and also Janelle"s birth mother, a Philadelphian, was in prison somewhere else in the state when the girls to be born and also the Newswangers gained a contact from a church friend connected in the prison ministry. Would certainly they care for the babies?

The Newswangers, who have actually four biological children, said yes, acting on their id that "you must share what you have," Ruth, 55, said.

The twins twice reverted briefly to their biological mother, the 2nd time for a year when they were around 21/2 year old. Family members sent them earlier both times.

When the Newswangers finally embraced them two years ago, the girls to be elated.

"We could write ours last surname Newswanger," Jasmine said.

Along with their name, they share a day-to-day routine.

"We milk cows every morning and also every evening. We also did some discing this year," Jasmine said, referring to farm tools that prepares soil for planting.

One evening, the twins and Ruth were preparing dinner. "Janelle, du wenig mei nei." placed in a little more, Ruth said, and Janelle added baked beans to the spaghetti soup.

Before dinner, the girls checked out a market owned by the household of some friends. The friends, two white sisters, and also the pair instantly smiled when they saw each other, and also all four began chattering and giggling.

Janelle and also Jasmine were the just black children at school, i beg your pardon didn"t bother them.

"We had each other," Janelle said.

"Everyone was provided to seeing us," stated Jasmine, so nobody treated lock differently.

"I seem favor everyone else. I don"t think around it," she said, "I simply think about having friends."

The Newswangers make the efforts to it is in race-sensitive together they elevated the two - they provided them black dolls and books with African american pictured in them. A black color woman who stayed in the area befriended the girls, Ruth said. Lock see various other African American children who live through Mennonite families at church and social gatherings, and also they keep in touch with their birth family.

The sisters defined one visit around seven year ago, once hair layouts entangled their two human beings during a visit with their grandmother, aunt, and two half-sisters.

Jasmine and Janelle normally wear their hair pulled ago in a bun, common among Mennonite women. Your Philadelphia aunt braided their hair right into tight cornrows.

"They believed it would certainly be fun," Janelle said.

It wasn"t fun. The hurt.

What"s most crucial to the twins" organic grandmother, Margaret Garris that West Philadelphia, is no their hair style.

"They space happy and also healthy," Garris said. "That"s the main thing."

Garris talks on regular basis over the phone with her granddaughters and also sees them once or double a year. The girl know around their african American society because they understand their bear family, she said, including that among their half-sisters talks to them around black history.

Still, Janelle and Jasmine know small about enslavement or the Rev. Dr. Young name Luther King Jr. His name is familiar, lock said, despite they know nothing about him.

The twins perform not check out black background as relevant.

"To our very own life?," Jasmine asked. "No, ns don"t think so."

They said they had not felt prejudice themselves, and they chuckled around how their young nephew asked whether their arms to be brown due to the fact that they to be left in the stove too long - a connection he made based upon what happens as soon as cookie dough is overbaked.

The girls" restricted grasp of african American history does no overly problem Richard Gelles, dean the the university of Pennsylvania"s school of social Policy and Practice: "There"s a general lack the knowledge about the civil rights motion whether you"re black, white, or green."

But their joy is a great sign. Research reflects it is developmentally healthy for children to it is in in permanent dwellings as shortly as possible, he said, no issue the race of the family.

"It is crucial for a child to have the ability to know the or she has actually someone that will be there for him or she in an unqualified relationship."

The girls feel that method about your Mennonite family.

Asked whether they loved their birth mother, castle hesitantly claimed they did, explaining, "We"re an alleged to like everyone."

Do they love Ruth? Immediately, the twins enthusiastically nodded yes.

A white Mennonite household can progressive a healthy and balanced black child, stated Toni Oliver, vice president of the nationwide Association of black color Social Workers. However race does matter in America.

"We do decisions about people"s value and also capabilities based on race."

If these youngsters are racially isolated, she said, they have no duty models come counter negative images and also stereotypes the blacks.

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Joseph Crumbley, an skilled in transracial adoptions and fostering, questioned the girls would always be roughly tolerant Mennonites.

"If they"re walk to stay in the bubble, climate fine," he said. "Once lock leave the bubble, they"re still looked at together African American children."