Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are?
This month we talked to Stella Gilgur-Cook, LCSW, Director of Modern Family Center, about her work.
When I was asked to launch the Modern Family Center, I has already been with Spence-Chapin for over a decade, working in various departments with a diverse array of clients. I understood the crucial role that good mental health and emotional well-being has on families, and was thrilled at the the opportunity to bring those services not only to our adoption community, but to a broader range of families who have consistently faced barriers and bias to those services. Interracial/transracial families, blended families, and LGBTQ headed-households are a few examples of the types of families who have a really hard time finding therapists and a community to connect with. I am so proud to be a part of providing that.
What has been the most challenging part of your job so far?
When working with human beings and trying to bring positive change to their lives, there are always challenges. Personally, transitioning from a direct service social worker to a managerial role is a constant struggle…I always prefer to see a client over writing a grant, but in reality my priorities now are much broader; I have to help seek funding to support our incredible programs, I have to support the extremely busy and skilled MFC team, and I have to create a vision for what the Modern Family Center will be 5, 10, 15 years from now. It’s a juicy challenge that I fully embrace.
What has been the most rewarding part?
Prior to entering the world of private adoption, I had worked in foster care settings. Over the years, I have been amazed at how different the social work practices are in regard to adoption planning, and have frequently thought there must be a way to align best practices from both fields to work together. Over the past year, we have been working with two of the premier foster care agencies in New York City, Catholic Guardian Services and the New York Foundling, to do just that. We are working together towards permanency and the emotional well-being of every child in care, and I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that!
Describe your job in three words.
Hectic, exciting, and inspirational
Do you have funny or interesting stories you’d like to share?
This past summer, the Modern Family Center was a sponsor of Family Equality Council’s Family Week – this is an incredible event for LGBTQ and gender non-conforming parents, their children, and extended families and friends. Since I was there all week to do workshops and presentations, I brought my husband and daughter along. A funny (but also enlightening) moment came at the registration desk to check in. The woman asked for my name and who was in my party, and I suddenly became very self-conscious about being a straight lady with my husband and biological child at an event meant to celebrate non-traditional families. I stammered through the next few minutes, finally settling on saying I was here with my “spouse”. It was a real moment of insight into what it feels like to be “other”, but it was also funny because of course everyone was welcoming of our family and were not going to judge me on my sexual orientation!
Has working at MFC changed you in any way?
MFC, and Spence-Chapin as a whole, has changed me in almost every way. Over the past 14 years, I have learned about what makes the core of a family (and it is most certainly not simply biology), I’ve learned to truly pay attention to the losses we all endure in our lives and learn resiliency from those moments. This organization has inspired me to think bigger and with an open heart; It’s not an exaggeration to say I would not be who I am if it were not for Spence-Chapin.
Has there been a particular family that has really made an impact on you?
Every single family I have worked with has made an impact on me. As an adoption social worker, I’ve worked with an incredibly diverse population of families, and they have all taught me something new about the work and about myself. That being said, I do have a soft spot for what I think of as my “first families” – the families who adopted their children earlier on in my career. Those kids are in high school and college now, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to catch up with those families every now and then. I am so proud of these kids, and yet cannot believe I’ve been at this long enough that they went and turned into teenagers!!!