Mentor Spotlight: Meet Gyulnara Barnett

Gyulnara Barnett has been connected to Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program for more than 10 years.  After a fantastic experience as a Mentee from 2007 to 2009, Gyulnara became a Mentor in 2017.  During a recent panel presentation at Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Fair, she shared her experience as an adoptee and a Mentor.   

What would you like to share about your background?

Although I was adopted from Russia, my entire birth family is Kazahk, so that’s my ethnic origin. I was raised in Nyack, NY and when I was 4 years old, my parents adopted a younger brother who is also from Kazakhstan. I reunited with my birth mother when I was in college. We had been writing letters back and forth to each other since I was 13, but during my junior year in college we both happened to be living in Turkey at the same time and were able to meet.

How did your family share your adoption story with you? 

My family was very open about adoption. There was never a time that I didn’t know I was adopted. Partially that was because my parents are white, and it was obvious that I didn’t look like them. We read lots of bedtime stories together about adoption when I was growing up. My parents came to do presentations to my class where I could get to talk about Russia. We also celebrated my Happy Adoption Day every year.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

There are a lot of myths about adoption, but luckily the conversation has changed a bit since I was growing up. People are now much more open to talking about adoption. One myth is that people think I should feel lucky to have been adopted. But I feel grateful that my parents are my parents just in the same way that a non-adoptive family would feel grateful to feel supported and loved. Adoption is a process that families go through, it’s not just my own process or my brother’s. Together we’re all grateful for each other.  It’s unique in a certain sense in that we’re a non-traditional family because we’re an adoptive family. But my parents are just my parents. My brother is just my brother. Sometimes people don’t understand that just because I’m adopted doesn’t mean I have any less of a connection to my parents and family.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?

When I was around 10 or 11, my parents heard about Spence’s Mentorship program through a family friend who was also an adoptive family and connected us to Spence. They thought the Program would be a terrific opportunity for me to meet and connect with other adoptees.

What did you gain from being in the Mentorship program as a young adoptee?

It was a chance for me to meet older adoptees in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.  When I was a young child, I knew some other adoptive families, but they were all adopted children. The conversation about adoption is often focused on children, but as an adopted child it was powerful to get to know and connect with older adoptees as well as younger adoptees from a broad range of experiences. The Mentors created a safe space where everyone could connect and learn from each other while participating in fun activities such as ice skating. I was able to share my experience with other adoptees my age and gained confidence sharing my adoption story with others.

What has been your experience as a Mentor? 

I became a Mentor because I was excited to pay it forward and support middle and high school adoptees explore their adoption identity with other adoptees who share similar experiences. This Program really helps everyone to build a strong adoption community and to enrich their lives through the support and openness at Spence-Chapin. I’m very proud to be adopted. I feel lucky to know a lot of adoptive families and to be part of a beautiful community of adoptees who come from all walks of life.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

It’s okay to feel like you want to search for your birth parent. It’s okay to feel like you don’t fully understand where you fit within your family. It’s okay to feel a little bit different sometimes. Just knowing that these feelings are okay and normal can be supportive. Often, people think of adoption as something that happens when you’re very young. You get adopted, you’re raised with a family and then you go off to be an adult. But adoption is a journey. When I was younger, I used to wonder why I wasn’t a normal kid just like anyone else. Why did people stare at me and my brother while we’re walking with our parents? I tell Mentees in the Program that adoption is a complex journey that changes throughout your entire life. Different ages come with different exciting adventures as well as challenges.

Hear Other Mentors Share Their Experience

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences.  To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact Katie Rogala at KRogala@spence-chapin.org or call 646-539-2167. 

Mentorship Program FAQs

Who are the Mentees?
Mentees are adopted middle or high school students in the tri-state who are open to receiving support and guidance from adopted adults and are able to be in a group setting and participate in structured activities. Our families join us from NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut!

Who are the Mentors?
Our mentors are volunteers who are adopted, live in the tri-state area, and are in their twenties, thirties, and forties. All of our mentors are screened and trained by our licensed social work staff. Mentors serve as role models who can share their adoption story and experiences while encouraging mentees to ask questions, feel comfortable with their identities, and develop healthy self-esteem.

Are mentors assigned to a child one-to-one? Do they meet individually?
Mentors and Mentees interact at scheduled events and go on community outings as a group. Whereas in some years we designate Mentors to individual Mentees, we have also interacted in group settings without a one-on-one assignment. The program structure varies and we will be developing the 2017-2018 program in the coming months.

How often does the Mentorship Program meet?
One Saturday a month, our Mentors and Mentees enjoy community, educational and social outings. We provide an inclusive and safe space to discuss birth families, identity, relationships, and more. There are two semesters for the Mentorship Program: Fall (September – January) and Spring (February – June). Families enrolled in the Mentorship Program will receive a schedule of events in advance of the semester. The time frame of events varies depending on the activity, but generally ranges from 2-4 hours, usually beginning around noon.

What types of programs/activities do participants of the Mentorship Program engage in?
Past outings have included going to the zoo, bowling, and a pasta making class. Some events take place at Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center office in Manhattan while others take place off-site throughout New York City. Two of each semester’s monthly meetings will be Adoption Days, where the agenda will be adoption-focused and encourage relevant discussion and reflection. Adoption Days also include programming for parents related to parenting adopted teens.

Hear from our current mentors to learn more:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KleTAaeSYR4&feature=youtu.be

Learn more about the Mentorship Program.

Questions?
Email Katie Rogala, LSW at krogala@spence-chapin.org to learn more!