Boy gets Christmas wish: a forever home in Alaska

Like any 9-year-old boy, Isaiah wants all sorts of cool toys for Christmas — an Xbox, a go-cart, a motorcycle and a Nintendo. On Monday, the winter solstice, he got something a lot of kids take for granted: A home.

“I was so excited, I wanted to cry,” Isaiah said of arriving in Homer for the holidays. “That was one of my wishes.”

Stepping off the 3:15 p.m. Ravn flight from Anchorage, Isaiah ambled across the tarmac until he saw his grandmothers, Dawn and Stephanie Leadbetter-Thorp, standing by the window and holding signs that said “Welcome Home, Isaiah.” He then ran full tilt toward the terminal and into the arms of Nana, his name for his maternal grandmother, Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp, 52.

“This is the best Christmas present ever,” she said. “He’s going to have a stable, loving forever home.”

Isaiah’s journey to Homer took some tortured bureaucratic twists and turns. It began six months ago when Isaiah’s father dropped him off at a hospital in Billings, Mont., and told him he would no longer be his father. Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp’s daughter and Isaiah’s mother, Tashina, died when he was an infant. 

To protect Isaiah’s privacy, Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp asked that his legal last name not be published. He will eventually get a new legal name.

The Leadbetter-Thorps had been involved in Isaiah’s life in Montana, but when they moved to Alaska in 2012, Isaiah’s dad cut off contact with them. At first the Montana Division of Family Services didn’t know if Isaiah had any other family, but after two weeks got a tip and found the grandmothers. Isaiah has been in foster care for six months.

When Isaiah’s father officially relinquished paternal rights on Nov. 12, a Montana judge started expediting the adoption process so Isaiah could be in Alaska by Christmas. Case workers in Montana and Alaska were extremely helpful, Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp said.

“DFS and the Alaska Office of Children’s Services did a great job with what they had to work with,” she said.

The case got stalled when paperwork that needed to be signed languished for three weeks on a Montana judge’s desk. Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp said it took phone calls to the offices of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to make the adoption happen by Christmas. 

On Dec. 17, the paperwork came through.

“We knew he was going to be here and we got that call,” Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp said.

In a video Dawn Leadbetter-Thorp showed, Isaiah is seen getting the official word from his grandparents that he’ll be in Homer for Christmas. Isaiah jumped up and down cheering with excitement. “I am? I am?” he yells.

A Montana social worker traveled with Isaiah on his journey that started early Monday morning. She was part of a team from both states who worked with the Leadbetter-Thorps through paperwork, home inspections, interviews and the legal process to make an adoption real. 

With the assistance of Homer Thrift and Helping Hands in Anchor Point, Isaiah got a room set up complete with furniture, winter clothing and stars on the ceiling.

Isaiah still has some challenges, starting with some back surgery he faces in the near future. 

He starts school in January. The Leadbetter-Thorps have a farm in Anchor Point with about 60 animals — retired sled dogs, chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. In March, he’ll go with “Nonni” — Stephanie Leadbetter-Thorp, 49 — to Nome for the finish of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

“We’re going to be dog-sled doggers,” Isaiah said.

This is Isaiah’s first trip to Alaska. It’s not quite what he expected, he said.

“I thought we’re going to be like New York,” he said, “I like snow, but you get two hours of daylight.”

Isaiah said he’s looking forward to all sorts of Alaska adventures.

“I will be able to surf. I would like to learn to ski,” he said. “I would like to go skateboarding — on the ice.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at