South Africa Adoption Story: Kerri and Nathan

Kerri and her daughter, Elsa

“The way our family came to be is outside of what I ever thought, or envisioned, for myself. Adoption was never something that I had thought much about, especially when it came with growing my own family. But, when I reflect, I am so thankful that my family has been built in this way. It has been built perfectly and beautifully- better than I could have ever anticipated or dreamed of for myself.

Adoption came into my and my husband’s life after struggling with infertility for several years after the birth of our son. It led us to adopt a 3-year-old girl from Ethiopia, our daughter Elsa.

After seeing the immense need of so many children who did not have a family, we knew we would one day adopt again. After a few years, we brought our son, Asher, home from South Africa. He was 2.5 years old. Soon after, we learned we were pregnant! Our children are now ages 10, 8, 4, and 1.

Kerri and Nathan’s four children

As a parent to two biological children, and two internationally adopted children, I have to say that it feels completely normal to me. I often forget that our family unit may be very different from those around us.

Adopting our children has brought me the exact same feelings as having my biological children has. Feelings of immense love, joy, protection, hope for their future, and worry (of course) about if I am doing this parenting thing right. Being a parent is a roller coaster ride – with so many emotions and ups and downs. Any child, no matter what their origin, brings the same parenting concerns.

One thing that being an adoptive mom has taught me, is that I need to be well-versed in trauma informed parenting. No matter what the circumstance, or special need, or what age a child is when they are adopted, they all have experienced great trauma in being separated from their family of origin. Having adopted children means disciplining differently. Parenting two children who have had very difficult beginnings is not easy, by any means. I feel that educating myself, and implementing a different approach to disciplining and parenting, is something every adoptive parent needs to commit to. Plus, I believe that learning these amazing parenting techniques has helped me to be a better mom to all my kids.

Having a biological child after adopting has brought up some big conversations with my kids about first families, what we call “tummy mommies and tummy daddies” – and what it means to have a parent. It has been an incredible experience to walk alongside my children as they each process their own story.

Having two African children brings a completely new perspective to our family. My entire world view has changed because of knowing my adopted children. The course of my life, the course of my husband’s life, of our biological kids’ lives, and of our extended family’s lives, have been opened to a new viewpoint through our adoptive children. We are all blessed to know Elsa and Asher and have changed for the better because of them.

Kerri, Nathan, and their four children

Because of Elsa and Asher, my life is rich and full in ways I never would have experienced. My family is Ethiopian and South African. I have gained two beautiful and diverse cultures. My family includes their heritage in each of our lives through music, food, and most amazingly, through the incredible African community we have met here, who are now like family.

We have traveled to Africa several times since starting the adoption process, and we even had a month-long stay together as a family in South Africa. The memories we made there will be cherished forever, and the kids talk about our experiences there often.

Being a mother to both biological and adoptive children is an incredible experience that I wish more people might consider. For me, it has formed the most beautiful family I could ever imagine.”

Full of Gratitude: National Adoption Month 2018

Every Thursday in November, in honor of Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month, we featured quotes and stories from families, friends and colleagues who have been touched by adoption to ask them the question: “What are you thankful for?”

Check out some of the answers we received this year:

Thank you to our Spence-Chapin family for celebrating with us all month long. We are so thankful for each of you.

Adopting LGBTQ Youth

Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are currently over-represented in the foster care system in the United States. These tweens and teens need unconditional love and permanent homes, just like all youth. Executive Director of Creating a Family, Dawn Davenport, spends some time with Mark Lacava, Spence-Chapin’s Executive Vice President, Director of Modern Family Center, discussing fostering, adopting, and raising children who identify as LGBTQ.

Listen to the expert advice and tips in the full podcast below.

Download

 

Mark Lacava has over 20 years of experience as a therapist, and has worked extensively with LGBTQ families and individuals in his career. To learn more about Mark and the counseling and support provided by Spence-Chapin, visit our Modern Family Center.

Want to hear more? Listen to Spence-Chapin’s Beth Friedberg discuss sleep issues for adopted children and many more podcasts from Creating a Family – The National Infertility & Adoption Education & Support Nonprofit.

Domestic Adoption Story: Mary and Sal

Mary McCabe is a social worker at Spence-Chapin and a new mom through domestic adoption. With Thanksgiving and National Adoption Month on the brain, we asked her the question: What are you thankful for?
“Having a child was always a dream of ours. After unsuccessful fertility treatments, we decided to adopt. My sister was adopted, and I was an adoption counselor, so it was a natural progression. I thought I knew all about adoption, but it was more than just paperwork, home studies, and clearances, it was an emotional experience. [We were] waiting for the phone call, the email, or any sign that our prayers were answered.

In September of 2017, a girl named Delia selected my husband and I to parent her unborn child. Delia asked to meet us and shared that she was due in November of 2017. The call was exciting, overwhelming and included a lot of butterflies!

We met with Delia and her mother on a beautiful sunny day at a small café. We were immediately taken back by Delia’s kindness, maturity and her way of making US feel at ease. Delia and I had an immediate connection, as if we had already known each other. My husband sat quietly, afraid to say anything ’wrong’. Delia asked him if he was ‘nervous about being a father’ and he answered, ’yes.’ Delia assured him that he would be a great father. She then turned to both of us and said: “I truly feel this child was never meant for me, and after I saw your profile I knew that the baby I am carrying was always meant for you”. We all cried and hugged each other.

Two weeks later, we found out Delia was having a boy. Her due date was November 22, 2017. Then, we waited. November 22nd passed and there was no word from anyone, the 23rd and 24th passed and still nothing. We were prepared for Delia to parent, and if she did, it would have been ok with us as she was a wonderful person.

On November 25, at 10:15pm, I received a text from Delia saying, ‘I’m in labor, headed to the hospital.’ I sat staring at the text in disbelief. Was it real? Is this really happening? Am I going to be a mom? Within minutes her next text read ‘Your son was just born!’ I ran upstairs to my sleeping husband saying, “our son is born!” In shock, he jumped out of bed and began packing. Delia then texted again to say that she would see us in the morning because it was late, and our drive would be long.

The next morning, with no sleep, we drove to meet our son. It felt like forever, but when we arrived, this perfect little boy was in a crib in Delia’s room. I asked Delia if I could hold him, she said, ‘of course… he is your son. I gently picked him up, telling him how perfect he was, as my husband sat quietly in a chair. I faced our son toward him and said, “this is your son” and he began to cry. I handed our son to him and we all began to cry.

We spent two days with Delia and her family. Delia asked what we would be naming him, and we told her Michael. She said she loved the name. We headed home with Michael on November 27, 2017. We keep in touch withDelia and we look forward to seeing her in a few months.

Michael is now almost 11 months old and he is the love of our lives. We love being parents and cherish everyday with him. The list is endless of the things we love about Michael; his eyes, his smile when he laughs…He loves to snuggle and hearing him say “mama” and “dada” melts our hearts. Our lives have changed forever. He makes us better people; kinder, patient and loving people.

So, what are we thankful for?
Delia, for making our dream come true.”

To read more from Spence-Chapin families, friends and colleagues touched by adoption, search #ThankfulThursday on our Facebook and Instagram accounts every Thursday throughout National Adoption Month.

Bulgaria Adoption Story: Lee-Ann and William

Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome

Cotner-family-image

“Hi! We are the Cotner family! We are a big, fun, loud, loving, rocking family. We have six beautiful kiddos. Four were homegrown and two grew in our hearts via international adoption and they both just happen to be rocking an extra chromosome a.k.a. they have Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.

Our first son, Harvey, came home from Eastern Europe and completely stole our hearts. Soon after our first adoption, we knew that we wanted to adopt again, and specifically another kiddo with Down Syndrome. We knew financially that it might be easier for our family to wait a few years, but when I saw the profile of this waiting kiddo, my heart skipped a beat. I requested his file and I read it over and over. I was looking at it, yet again, when my youngest daughter Quinn said, “Oh, there he is… there’s my brother. I’ve been looking for him!” I knew he was our son and another adventure was beginning!

harrison-image

Harrison joined our family thanks to help from Spence-Chapin and our fabulous in-country team. In a beautiful coincidence, Harrison came home in October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Parenting a child with Down Syndrome is truly a blessing. Our sons who have Down Syndrome have overcome so many obstacles that most people take for granted. Seeing them overcome and succeed has given us a new insight on life and we truly appreciate all the little and big things. They are our shining lights. There are the hard days when the struggles of Down Syndrome and prior institutional trauma can hurt your mama heart, because we want to take all their pain and struggle away. But it just makes us love them more and remember that with love and patience we can all do hard things.

Our older four children are incredible with their little brothers. They are so loving and protective, and they are the boys’ biggest cheerleaders. They loved them before they even met them, and their admiration for their brothers only grows. I always say the greatest gift we’ve ever given them was each other.

My husband, William, is active duty Army and that can add some additional hiccups, but Spence-Chapin handled it with such grace and ease. Our process was smooth, and we truly fell in love with Harrison’s birth country. The Army is incredibly supportive of adoption and we are so grateful for this. They let my husband take a substantial leave and even reimbursed some of our adoption expenses.

Every child deserves a family…. every child has worth, and we are forever thankful to be a part of the lucky few that get to have some rocking kiddos with Down Syndrome in their family thanks to adoption and Spence-Chapin!”

To learn more about adoption from Bulgaria and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/bulgaria

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

(Part I)

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then. 

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
ALTHOUGH SHE’S STILL ROCKING THE SAME PINK SNEAKERS, WE’VE GONE UP TWO SHOES SIZES!

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm. 

I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

An Open Adoption Story

By Lucy Shaw, LMSW and Birth Parent Outreach worker for Spence-Chapin

Dax (third from left) with three of his biological siblings and adoptive Dad, Jochen

For National Adoption Month, I’m excited to share my personal story of open adoption with you all. As an adoptive mom in an open adoption and as a social worker focused on Birth Parent outreach at Spence-Chapin, I have a unique perspective on adoption that I think is important to share. Adoption is such an integral part of my life and something for which I am so grateful and proud.

My husband and I adopted our son Daxton (Dax) in 2014. He’s now four years old! When we decided to adopt, we began working with an adoption attorney, and within six months of completing our home study, we had connected with Erin, Dax’s birth mom when she was about two months pregnant.

From that moment on, we truly never looked back. It seemed like things were destined to be as soon as we started talking to Erin. We drove Pennsylvania from NYC to meet Erin for the first time in January 2014. She even invited us to meet her and go with her to get her first ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby! What do you know, the day we started driving was the day Snowstorm Hercules pummeled the east coast! We had to pull over on the side of the road several times due to heavy snowfall, but we kept trudging along because we were so insistent that we were going to make it to this appointment, no matter what. And I’m so glad we did! I still have the ultrasound photo today saved!

I’m so thankful for having this chance to visit Erin while she was pregnant because it set the stage for a genuine and trusting relationship going forward. Throughout this journey of getting to know each other, Erin has been an open book. We could see right away that she had the best intentions and was an incredibly brave, honest, strong and trusting woman. She shared her story of why she was considering adoption with us and we could see firsthand what a kind and loving mother she was to her four other children. We could also see how hard it was to be a single mom raising children, while trying to work full-time and complete her education so she could make a better life for her family.

As Erin’s due date began to approach, she kept us involved every step of the way. She included us in her birth plan and introduced us to her other children and her best friend. She also allowed us to be by her side in the hospital when she gave birth! She was amazing at the hospital – she let me cut the umbilical cord and let us hold Daxton for skin to skin contact while she also bonded with him and breastfed him throughout the time we were in the hospital. We just followed her lead.

Daxton was born on May 6, 2014 and that weekend we celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Erin, Dax’s birth siblings and Erin’s best friend in Pennsylvania – as we were hanging out, barbecuing and watching Daxton sleeping happily in his car seat, I continued to be in awe of Erin’s grace and generosity in sharing this event with us.

Since Dax’s birth, Erin continues to show her kindness, resilience and strength in so many ways. And I often see these qualities in Daxton too, like the way he interacts with everyone he meets in such a friendly and confident way. From the moment he could smile and wave, he’s been making friends with almost everyone he meets.

Lucy with Dax’s birth mom, Erin

We stay in touch with Erin in many ways – we keep each other updated on Facebook and Erin’s always one of the first to like any of the posts I have about Daxton or parenting. I know she’s always thinking of us and we’re always thinking of her as well. We also visit each other about once or twice a year. For Dax’s 4th birthday, she came to NYC with all the kids and baked three gorgeous cakes for our party. She always goes above and beyond our expectations during these visits.

Overall, I feel so lucky to have this relationship with Erin and am happy that Dax will grow up knowing his birth mother and his birth siblings and be able to answer all the questions he may have about his identity as he gets older.

Parenting may be one of the hardest jobs on earth, but for me being in an open adoption is one of the easiest things about being a parent. I know there are going to continue to be challenges, tough conversations, and ups and downs in the years to come, but I’m not worried about answering questions about adoption with Dax or anyone else. In that area, I know without a doubt, with Erin’s help, we have honesty, love and resiliency to guide us.

Family Story: Chris and Mary

Davila family

Photo by Jess Rotenberg Photography – www.jessrotenberg.com

Chris and Mary share their story of adopting their daughter from South Africa.

The Davila family knew they wanted to grow their family through adoption after a mission trip to Liberia brought them face to face with the children who were in need of family. They wasted little time after their realization that adoption was right for them. Two years later were able to adopt their daughter Arri from Ethiopia. Another two years flew by, and they knew they were ready to adopt again.

After years of searching for the right program, Chris and Mary finally decided that the South Africa program at Spence-Chapin was a perfect fit for their family. According to Mary, they came to this conclusion because they were encouraged by the answers that they got about the South Africa program. They liked that the children placed internationally tend to fall into a more vulnerable category of having special needs, being older, or being part of a sibling group. And also “we were encouraged by Spence-Chapin’s enthusiasm about the program and their honesty about the adoption process.”

One of Chris and Mary’s most memorable moments in the adoption process was when they received “the call”. They had been matched with a 20 month old little girl! A few months later they travelled to South Africa with their four year old daughter on what they describe as a transformative trip for their family.

“We are so grateful that our whole family was able to be in South Africa together. We were welcomed with open arms and made so many friends there. We met our daughter, Etta, on our first full day in country and it was love at first sight. Etta took to our older daughter, Arri, in a heartbeat, and one of our most cherished memories is the sight of Arri taking Etta by the hand, walking her out of her care center for the last time, and into the arms of our forever family.”

The Davila family was struck by the commitment of the staff to the children in their care at Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW), Spence-Chapin’s partner agency in South Africa. Mary says that their social worker was “a saint who advocates tirelessly for the children and also manages to be 100% on top of all of the paperwork involved in an adoption.” They took comfort in knowing that their social worker would be by their side in every meeting in South Africa and that she knew their daughter: her personality, likes, and dislikes. She was available to answer questions at any hour of the day and clearly loved the children.

Chris and Mary have been home with Etta for about eight months. They describe Etta as “playful, hilariously funny, and sweet, sweet, sweet. “ According to Mary, their family transition has been very smooth.

“We are so grateful to Spence Chapin for helping us grow our family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa, please visit our South Africa program page or contact us at info@spence-chapin.org.

My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.

Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

Photo Jun 05, 6 38 54 AM

The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

Tribute Giving: Maria

donation, tribute gift

Maria Gacovino, a Spence-Chapin adoptee of Colombian heritage, celebrated her Quinceanera this year. Along with her parents, Steve and Christine, Maria wanted to do something special to mark the occasion , and decided to use the celebration to raise funds and awareness about international adoption.

Maria, along with brother Michael, were adopted from Colombia, while their brother Luke was adopted domestically, each through Spence-Chapin. Maria’s goal was to ensure that more waiting children in Colombia had the opportunity to be matched with loving, permanent families.

The Gacovinos’ along with their family and friends, eventually raised over $10,000.00 in support of Spence-Chapin’s International Adoption programs and our humanitarian “Granny” program. This funding will go primarily to ensuring that older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs living in international child care centers in Colombia, Bulgaria, and South Africa are placed with waiting families. We are proud to be a part of Maria’s Quinceanera and to have the Gacovinos as a part of the Spence-Chapin Community.

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December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt – but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Adopting a Broader Perspective: Reflections of a Young Adult Adoptee

I found my way back to Spence-Chapin when I was 18-years-old after my birth mother contacted me for the first time. I was a freshman in college and at that time, Spence-Chapin was doing (and continues to do) a lot of outreach to the young adult adoptee community. I have always had an extremely open relationship with my adoptive parents and after much family discussion and processing, we decided it would be a rewarding and interesting experience to participate in a young adult adoptee panel. At this panel, we shared our stories and answered questions for a group of prospective and adoptive parents. It felt empowering to be able to answer questions for parents and it made me aware of how comfortable I was with my own adoption story. It also made me consider the role and decisions of my adoptive parents with a new, broadened perspective.

After speaking on the panel, I met a few of the social workers at Spence-Chapin and decided to switch my college major from International Relations to Sociology. I decided that after graduation I was going to pursue my Master of Social Work. After completing my first year at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, I am now interning at Spence-Chapin for the summer as part of the Outreach Team. My guidance counselors and supervisors, both at my undergraduate alma mater Bucknell and the University of Maryland, have all asked me if I am “sure” about pursuing a career in adoption social work due to my personal connection. I know that I am able to answer “yes” to this question without hesitation or uncertainty because of my relationship with my adoptive parents.

Jenny Rosen blog post 2My adoptive parents have always supported my decisions and been open to my questions about my story. When I was contacted by my birth mother, it was understandably hard for them but they allowed me to take the reins on where I wanted that correspondence and relationship to go. All the while, they reminded me that they were there for me and that they loved me without wanting to be intrusive.

Interning in the Outreach Department and just being a small part of such an amazing organization has allowed me the opportunity to gain a better understanding about parenting and the process adoptive parents undergo. The experience thus far has made me reflect on my relationship with my adoptive parents and solidified this as the direction in which I want to take my social work career. I know that I would not be the person I am today or ready for this chosen career path without the love, acceptance, and support I received from my adoptive parents. (It actually feels weird to label them as my “adoptive” parents because they are really just my parents… no classifier necessary).

If there is any advice I could possibly give to prospective adoptive parents, it would be that open discussion about adoption and constant offerings of support are key components to raising an adopted child. Throughout my life I have had various questions about adoption that my parents may have been caught-off guard by but were always willing to answer. The one question I’ve never had to ask either myself or them is if I was loved. I have always known that answer.

Jenny Rosen is currently an intern in the Adoption Outreach Department at Spence-Chapin. 

Family Profile: The Hoffmans

Bobby, Lucy and GehrigBobby Hoffman learned the value of family at an early age. “My father left when I was 15, but he was gone long before he actually announced his departure,” Bobby explains. As the third oldest of nine children, Bobby was tasked with the enormous responsibility of helping his mother raise his siblings.

Bobby went on to marry Lynn and have a son named Ryan. Lynn unfortunately succumbed to breast cancer when Ryan was just 12 years old. After some time had passed, Bobby later remarried and settled into a life with Kelly, who never had any children and was now the step-mother to his almost adult son.

Just when Bobby thought he was finished rearing children, he realized his best moments had been with children and he wanted to raise another child, specifically a child born in New York City in need of a home. Bobby explains, “I wanted my wife and I to share all the love that we had within our hearts and to give a child a caring, stable home”. With that in mind, the couple turned to Spence-Chapin and a short while later, we able to adopt baby Gehrig.

Linda, the social worker on the case, reflects, “Bobby and Kelly immediately fell in love with Gehrig upon meeting him. It was a profoundly emotional moment and was very, very sweet.” Linda recalls the Hoffmans being on cloud nine about the newest addition to their family, catering fully to Gehrig’s every need.

Tragically, the high unexpectedly became a low when Kelly passed away from a heart attack just before Gehrig’s 2nd birthday. Facing single parenthood for the second time, Bobby drew upon the strength he learned from his mother so early in life and hunkered down to raise his son.

Oftentimes out of tragedy, comes resiliency. The Hoffman FamilyGehrig is now seven and is flourishing due to the love and support of his blended family unit – Bobby, step mom Lucy, Kelly’s mother, and Lucy’s mother. Gehrig is aware of the deep courage his birth mother had in placing him for adoption and is constantly reminded of the boundless love and devotion Kelly had for him. “He knows life is good, even if it is sometimes short with many obstacles,” Bobby says.

The Hoffman family stays connected to Spence-Chapin by attending annual events such as Global Gathering and the Family Picnic. Bobby is also able to give back in a special way – through tribute giving. Instead of gifts on Gehrig’s birthdays, he encourages family and friends to donate to Spence-Chapin in honor of Gehrig. He also takes his commitment a step further by giving to the organization in honor of Gehrig’s friends’ birthdays. Bobby’s generous gifts and championing of Spence-Chapin’s mission help to provide children with a loving, permanent home such as the one he has been able to give Gehrig.

 

The Mongillos Home Makeover

Spence-Chapin parents Bob and Barbara Mongillo are truly one of a kind! Bob and Barbara have six biological children and have selflessly opened their home and hearts to 13 special needs children, many of them coming from our ASAP program. In this episode of the home makeover show ‘George to the Rescue’, George surprises the Mongillos with a bathroom renovation and a few more surprises. We can’t think of a more deserving family!

A Sister’s Gift

There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family:

Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.

In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith’s daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.

maya lender and famFinally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it’s hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I’ve ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother’s adoption had on her.

It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.

 

December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt – but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Family Profile: Scott and Tari

Scott and Tari knew shortly after they were married that they wanted to build their family through adoption. After giving birth to two girls, they began the process of adding to their family. They are now the parents to 12 amazing children; 4 biological and 8 through adoption!

Some of their children have learning challenges and require extra help, but for the most part, they had never thought of parenting a child with special needs. However, in the summer of 2012, they learned about a baby that was to be born with severe disabilities. They knew in their hearts that he was meant to join their family. A day after their family was selected by the birth/first mother, they were told that their baby boy had been born.

Their sweet baby boy would only live 3 months before he passed away. During his short life, he endured many surgeries and medical procedures. Caring for this baby instilled in Scott and Tari’s hearts a desire to adopt another child that may have special needs. As their broken hearts began to mend, they once again began the process of adoption.

Tari came across Spence-Chapin’s website and saw our program for special needs adoption. On the waiting child page was Olivia, a baby girl with severe medical disabilities that was in need of a family who could care for her properly. After discussing it with Scott, they started the application process, and this past winter they brought Olivia home. Today, Olivia is thriving in her new home surrounded by her loving parents and brothers and sisters.

“Working with Spence-Chapin has been the best experience,” Tari says. “We have worked with many different agencies and the staff at Spence-Chapin have been the most compassionate and caring that we have ever worked with. We could tell they truly love what they do…helping children!”

Adopting a Child with HIV

Last year we were thrilled to announce the opening of our South Africa adoption program.  Since then, we have learned more about the process, the children and the needs of the South African child welfare community.  We have learned that in South Africa, the number of children in need of families continues to grow and that these children are AIDS orphans who need families that can care for them properly.  In all, there are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa: children who are no longer babies, children with special needs and children who are part of sibling groups often remain in orphanages for years, waiting for a loving family to change their lives.

Soon after opening this program we met Megan and Cameron.adoptive family Already experienced parents (2 sons adopted from Ethiopia and Uganda), Megan and Cameron felt their family was still not quite complete.  As the couple started to look into their options, one theme kept rising above the rest; in blogs and forums and from their own hearts came the idea of adopting a child with HIV.  As Megan put it, “We did not know much about HIV – I knew that Magic Johnson had HIV. That’s about it.”  But soon they learned more – a great deal more.  They learned that with the right medication, children can have happy lives with a normal life expectancy.  They even learned that, despite the stigma the disease still carries, the CDC (Center For Disease Control) has actually removed HIV from its list of communicable diseases. Knowing this, the couple approached Spence-Chapin to adopt a child from South Africa diagnosed with HIV.  They are now in the process of completing the paperwork and hope for a child match soon.

Megan and Cameron know that in the future, their choice to parent a child with HIV HIV Quotewill be questioned.  They know they have a journey ahead to educate their community and to line up the resources their child will need to live a full life.  When asked what it is about their family that led them to this choice, when so many others tend to overlook these children, the couple seemed surprised by the question.  Says Megan, “I don’t think our family is any different; I just think we have been given the proper education.  We have the information, so we do not fear the HIV stigma. This is something all families can learn!”

As with many of the other international programs in which we work, we see children who are waiting for a family longer than any child should have to.  Children born with the HIV virus have the opportunity to lead long, full and healthy lives, but only if the child welfare and medical communities join forces to provide the care and permanency that every child deserves.  As we grow our South Africa program, our commitment to these children is stronger than ever.  With education, advocacy and adoption, we hope to provide every child with what Megan and Cameron hope for their future child: “We want people to love our child as a person first.  We want them to see that our child is in no way diminished or stigmatized and with no asterisk beside his or her name.”

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Adoption from South Africa

Megan and Cameron now… 2 sons from Ethiopia and Uganda, and a daughter from South Africa.

 

A Tribute to Fatima Kelly and Her Family

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Our family (Velda, Joel, Mom and Camille).

When Fatima Kelly passed away last winter, her children wanted to do something special to honor their mother’s memory. “It was a no-brainer. When all was said and done, our mom was a wonderful mother, first and always. I went online to try to contact Louise Wise [who placed me with my parents], and was surprised to learn that they had dissolved a few years ago. Which is how I found Spence-Chapin,” says son Joel. “We asked friends and family to consider making a donation in lieu of flowers. We were thrilled with the response.”

Joel shares a snapshot of their family life:

“My mom and dad (adoptive parents) are African American. They were raised in North Carolina and moved to New York City right before WWII. Mom and dad married in 1946. After moving to New York, dad worked for the NYC subway and later the NYC Department of Corrections. Mom was an assembly worker at a camera factory in Queens until I was 6 years old or so, then became a full-time stay-at-home mother. Our dad had the build and coloring of Dr. Martin Luther King; mom was about 5’2” and fair skinned and, if I must say so myself, a real ‘looker’ in her day.

“I was born in Brooklyn in 1954. As I understand from information I received from Louise Wise Services, my birth mother was Jewish and blonde; my birth father was African American. I have never met them, and I’m not sure he ever knew she was pregnant as they were not married. I was adopted by mom and dad in 1956 or so. I have two sisters, Velda and Camille, also adopted, who are multi-racial like me. Louise Wise was involved in Camille’s placement: first as a foster child, then years later when she was adopted. Louise Wise also placed four other foster kids with the family – two brothers, and later a brother and sister. They each stayed with us for a few years before moving back with their families.

“Velda and I grew up in Queens, then later on Long Island. Our parents consistently stressed the importance of education, and battled with local school boards in the 60’s to ensure that we had quality teachers and the opportunity to attend the best schools. Despite her petite stature, mom’s energy was boundless and she spent weeks during many

summers camping alone in the woods with us (and often with many of our friends, too), just to keep us active and out of trouble. Our family moved to Uniondale, NY in 1964. Mom and dad continued to be very active in everything we did at school: they attended our plays, concerts and basketball games and (unfortunately) every PTA conference, too. Dad was typically busy with work, working shifts around the clock. Mom helped us with homework and, once she couldn’t, found tutors for us. She worked at our schools from time to time until Velda and I graduated from high school. They moved back to North Carolina in 1973 after dad retired.

Our parents’ focus on education paid off, I guess. Velda is a concert violinist with the Detroit Symphony. Camille has been a manager at Bank of America for many years. I received my law degree from Georgetown and now am a partner at Jackson Lewis, one of the premier employment law firms in the country. My wife and I live in Studio City outside Los Angeles.

Our dad passed in 1980. Mom was active well into her 80s and took great pride in later years in all of our accomplishments and successes. Mom passed on February 5 at age 89. She is buried in NYC.”