In 1995, former President Bill Clinton proclaimed November as National Adoption Month to increase awareness of adoption issues, bring attention to the need for adoptive families for teens in the U.S. foster care system, and emphasize the value of youth engagement. Of course, the Walt Disney Company brings families together through their entertainment, storytelling, and theme park experiences. So it’s no surprise that Disney also supports their cast members and their growing families.
In 2019, Disney expanded its employee adoption benefits to the Family Building Program, providing $75,000 lifetime maximum benefit that can be used for adoption services as well as other family building activities such as fertility treatments and surrogacy. Rene and Robert Villa of Orlando, Fla. are one cast member family who recently shared their story of how Disney helped them build their family.
Rene and Robert have been part of the Disney family for 17 years working at the Walt Disney World Resort, and now they are also officially “Disney Dads” to their adopted child Lukas. Their world has changed dramatically from when they first met nine years ago. “Adoption certainly was not on the radar,” Rene explained, “we weren’t sure we were able to get married, much less have a kid.” As the world evolved, Rene and Robert married in 2017 and started considering children and all the planning that entails.
They started researching adoptions, and had some close friends that went through the process that made it more real. The Villas set a goal to adopt in 2021, and learned that at the end of 2019 Disney had greatly expanded its adoption benefits. With the $75,000 benefit meaning that most of adoption expenses were covered. Starting in 2020, Robert and Rene gave themselves a year to prepare for their adoption. Of course, babies don’t always happen according to plan.
As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Walt Disney World, they learned of Baby Lukas, who was due in mid-2020. While the Villas did not plan to adopt until 2021, knowing they had the assistance of Disney’s Family Building Program benefits allowed them to adopt a little ahead of schedule. On July 11, Rene was part of the re-opening team for the Magic Kingdom, and the next day he and Robert were on a plane to Arizona to await Lukas’ arrival. Lukas was born on July 23, and they instantly fell in love with their baby boy. Rene said, “we were reimbursed for all of it, and becoming a family was just meant to be.”
Adoption has always been part of the Disney story, as Walt and Lillian Disney themselves adopted their second daughter Sharon. The Walt Disney Company has offered some sort of adoption benefit for almost 30 years. Disney spokesperson Eli Levin added, “over the years more than 2,000 cast members have used the adoption benefit.”
In addition to the Family Building Program, Disney offers 12 weeks of child-bonding time for new parents. As families change over time, the adoption benefit has changed as well to its current version of the Family Building Program. “There’s not one size fits all for a family,” Levin explained, “this benefit is another way that Disney supports all different types of families.”