Meet the Mentors!

Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center Mentorship Program provides an opportunity for middle and high school youth to spend time with peers and adults who share the experience of adoption. These gatherings allow for deeper discussions about what adoption means. Our mentors – trained volunteers – are adoptees who know how to separate typical adolescent issues from adoption-related issues and are thrilled to be supporting young adoptees.

High School Mentors

Name: Catherine 
Adopted From: Wuhan, China
Lives in: Long Island

Catherine I was born in Wuhan, China and adopted into a loving Italian and Irish family at the age of four.  A few years later, my parents and I journeyed back to China and adopted my younger sister.  Growing up adopted and guiding Marielle, my adoptive younger sister, through life has been a rewarding experience. In 2012, I received a B.A. from SUNY Geneseo in Communication and Mass Media.  Shortly after, I attended New York Institute of Technology and graduated with an M.A. in Communication and Mass Media.  While I aspire to be a broadcast journalist, I also developed an interest in interpersonal communication between adoptees and adoptive families during my undergraduate studies.  I look forward to helping adoptive families experience life to the fullest from a positive perspective.

 

Name: Chelsea 
Adopted From: Columbus, Georgia
Lives in: Manhattan

Chelsea I am excited to begin my first year volunteering with the Modern Family Center as a mentor.  I was born in Columbus, GA and was adopted at the age of 1 1/2,  growing up in Decatur, GA.  I studied and received my Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology from Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.  I now live in New York City and am working as a certified Life Coach for young women in transition and part-time as a model.  I also volunteer for an organization called Stand Beside Them, which offers coaching and mentoring services for veterans of the US military who are newly transitioning to civilian life.  When I am not working or volunteering, I enjoy exercising, practicing yoga, cooking, writing, and hanging out with friends.  I am overjoyed to share my journey with others touched by adoption at the Modern Family Center.

 

Name: David 
Adopted From: Binghamton, NY
Lives in: Manhattan

David I was born in Buffalo, NY and adopted in Binghamton, NY at the age of 3 months, through the New York State Department of Children’s Services. I grew up near Binghamton with a younger sister who was also adopted. I have lived in Manhattan for over 20 years.  I am married, with a daughter who is a college freshman. I teach English language to adult immigrants. My students are almost all from China, and they have taught me how to speak a lot of Mandarin Chinese. Also, I can play a few musical instruments. I became a mentor because I would have liked something like this when I was in high school.

 

Name:  Doreen 
Adopted From: New York City
Lives in: Queens

DoreenI am in my second year volunteering for the Mentoring Program. I was born and raised in New York City and currently work in the insurance industry. In my spare time I enjoy crafting/decorating, reading, writing, socializing with friends or just curling up on the couch and watching a funny or romantic movie. I decided to volunteer at Spence-Chapin after reading a newsletter outlining the requirements necessary for the mentor position and feeling that it was a good fit for me. I have always encouraged the youth around me to strive for success no matter what their circumstances are. I believe that there is an entire world out there filled with opportunities and that we can all achieve our dreams if we believe in ourselves.

 

Name: Jessica  
Adopted From:  Bogota, Colombia
Lives in: Manhattan

JessicaI was born in Bogota, Colombia, and adopted when I was three months old. I was raised by my parents on Long Island as an only child.  I always knew about my adoption, my parents telling me from a young age that I was born in Colombia and had come here when I was a baby.  I had decided early in my life that I wanted to search for my birth family and my parents were always supportive of my desire to search. This is my 8th year as a mentor and I’m excited to be back!

 

Name: Andrew 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

AndrewI am a second year mentor and am very excited to be continuing with the Mentorship program.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and am currently employed as a Human Resources Manager for Hilton Hotels.  I have been actively looking to get more involved in volunteer opportunities, and the topic of adoption is something that I am very comfortable talking about and passionate about.  I look forward to actively participating with all of my fellow mentors and to be a resource providing support for the young adults who t are struggling with their adoption identities.

 

Name: Kimberly 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Brooklyn

KimberlyI was born in Seoul, South Korea and was placed with my adoptive family at 6 months through Spence-Chapin. I currently work in Manhattan as an analytics consultant and enjoy international travel, writing, trying out the latest fitness crazes, and going to the movies with my husband. This is my third year as a mentor and I enjoy being a positive role model for adoptees as well as just listening to what’s on the mentees’ minds. I remembered attending Spence-Chapin programs when I was young and they provided a positive outlook on adoption in my life.

 

Name: Sara 
Adopted From: South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

SaraI am a project engineer, designer, and leadership coach. I love live music, film, street art, and am more recently fascinated by co-housing as another way to create a greater sense of community. This will be my 6th year as a mentor. I have participated in the Middle School program and am now a mentor in the High School program. I was born in South Korea, and actually had the opportunity to travel there with my younger adoptive sister in 2008. It was an amazing experience to be connected with my birth place heritage through actual places and people and experiencing  tangible aspects of Korean culture. Ever since then, I have wanted to give back to Spence-Chapin and help create a safe space of relatedness and community for fellow adoptees. I look forward to seeing you in the Fall!

 

Name: Mee Jin 
Adopted From: Daegu, South Korea
Lives in: Queens

Mee JinI am entering my sixth year as a mentor. My first three years were with the middle school group and this is my third year with the teens. I was born in Daegu, South Korea and was adopted through Spence-Chapin when I was ten months old. I grew up in northern NJ with my parents and an older sister. Currently, I am adjusting to life as a new homeowner in Queens, where I live with my husband. I work for Fidelity Investments in public relations and in my free time I enjoy traveling and spending time with my family – especially my three nieces and nephew. I love being a mentor as I value the opportunity to be in a community with other adoptees, yet appreciate that everyone brings unique experiences and perspectives.

 

Middle School Mentors

Name: Lacey
Adopted From: Seoul, Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

LaceyI am looking forward to my second year as a mentor. I was born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted through Spence-Chapin at the age of three months. My parents say they knew I was meant to be theirs because my birthday falls on their wedding anniversary. From the moment I heard about this program, I knew I wanted to be a mentor because when I was a child growing up in a time and place where adoption was not commonplace, my parents started an organization called G.I.F.T. (Gathering International Families Together), and it meant a lot to me to meet other families who knew and understood how special it is to be adopted. I currently work as a Research Editor for All You magazine, a Time Inc. publication. I’m looking forward to the coming year, and can’t wait to meet everyone!

 

Name: Sarah 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

SarahI am about to serve in my 6th year as a mentor in the Spence-Chapin Mentorship Program. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted when I was 3 months old.  I am currently an attorney at an intellectual property law firm in NYC. I enjoy spending time with my cat and jogging around Central Park. I enjoy participating in the mentorship program because it provides everyone with the opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about adoption.

 

Name: Sophia 
Adopted From: La Ceiba, Honduras
Lives in: Queens

SophieI am about to participate in my second year of the Middle School Mentorship Program with Spence-Chapin! I was born in La Ceiba, Honduras and when I was just 10 months old I was adopted and brought to the United States. I grew up in the Midwest with a wonderful family and eventually moved to New York to attend college. I love to swim, read, dance, play my flute, sing, and eat good food! I’m excited to be a part of this program because growing up I never had a mentor of my own. I feel that it will be a very rewarding experience for me and the mentees!

 

Name: Daniel 
Adopted from: South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

DanI love life, and I love supporting others in how they love life. I’m an adoptee from South Korea who currently resides in Wayne, New Jersey, and I’m grateful for all the love and opportunities my mother and father have given me. I teach people from all over the world how to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling relationships, whether with friends, family, or even people they’ve just met. I’m also an AcroYoga enthusiast, a musician, and an overall fun-loving adventurous soul. Being an adoptee in my mid-twenties, it seems like I’m having some of my deepest realizations yet, so naturally, mentoring young people who share a similar experience feels like a new chapter in my life. I’m excited to connect with, support, and even learn from my mentees in whatever time we spend together.

 

Name: Jessi 
Adopted From: New York
Lives in: New Jersey

JessiThis is my first year at as a mentor at Spence-Chapin. I grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey and was adopted from New York. I want to be a mentor because I know first hand how hard it can be to grow up as an adopted child. I also know that talking with someone who is older than you and is also adopted can be very insightful and help you figure yourself out. After I went into reunion with my birth parents and biological siblings, I worked with a social worker who specialized in adoption. Through this I was able to find myself and become the person I am today. I plan to further my education in this area by attending graduate school for social work and specializing in adoption.

 

Please contact Dana Stallard at dstallard@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0213 if your child is interested in participating in our Mentorship program.

In Remembrance of Flicka Van Praagh

flicka 3Spence-Chapin offers its heartfelt remembrance of the life and spirit of Flicka Van Praagh.  Flicka had served as the agency’s Director of the International Adoption Department from 1992-2004, having first joined the organization in 1958.

With an early interest in adoption, Flicka chose to come to Spence-Chapin for her student placement, a requisite for her MSW from Columbia University, and was offered a position after graduation. She started as a case worker in foster care in 1958 and was department head from 1961 to 1964 when she left to become Director of Social Services at Woman’s Hospital, a division of St. Luke’s Hospital Center. There she met her husband and they became the parents of a daughter and two sons. She returned to the agency in the early 1970’s on a part-time basis doing intakes and home studies that could be completed while her children were in school. She eventually came back full-time working in the international department.

Flicka made the first of many trips around the world in 1975, traveling to Seoul, Korea to implement the founding of Spence-Chapin’s first international program. She traveled extensively in Latin America in the 1980’s, working to establish programs in Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala.

In 1992, Flicka became the director of the international department. She said, “In joining Spence-Chapin, I was able to see the world and visit so many wonderful places. I went to twelve countries trying to set up new programs; opening Russia, China, Moldova and Bulgaria. I found it thrilling to help waiting children from all around the world find their forever families.”

Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, Flicka had the vision to establish Spence-Chapin’s first Granny Program in Bulgaria in 1998. This program’s success saw its replication in China, Moldova, Colombia and South Africa.

Flicka was loved by the many families that she helped bring together. In the New York Times online Guestbook Marth Volcker wrote, “Flicka was a wonderful person, and I am forever grateful to her for the important role she played in the adoption of our daughter. We adopted our daughter from China in 1999, and Flicka was a wonderful guide through the complete adoption process. We saw Flicka about a year and a half ago at a Spence-Chapin function, and her ability to remember and her interest in all the children she had placed in forever families was amazing.”

“We, the parents of two of the ‘in excess of 500 children’ Flicka helped place in adoption while at Spence-Chapin, would like to express our condolences to her family as well as our thanks, once again, to Flicka for guiding us through the 14 months that led up to the arrival of our then six-month and now 32 year old twin daughters, Jessie and Corey. Her spirit lives on in all of us,” wrote Jon Silbert and Bonnie McHale.

The Meo family added, “We are forever grateful and blessed to be parents because of Flicka. We were part of her last group to China. She was an amazing woman. May she rest in peace knowing the love and joy she brought to so many.”

At her retirement party in 2004, Flicka said. “In all the years that I worked with Spence-Chapin, I always carried a case load in addition to my other responsibilities because of the great pleasure and joy in working with clients and seeing them turn into families.”

For Ann Hassan, our current Director of Adoption, Flicka was more than a humanitarian. Flicka“To me, Flicka was a mentor, advisor and friend. As a young worker I idolized her, and she in turn invested in me, encouraged me and molded me into the social worker I am today. She combined grace and confidence in a way that made her a superb leader and a truly unique and special woman. She had true affection and commitment for the hundreds of families she worked with over the years, stemming I think from the immense love and pride she had for her own family and a core belief that everyone deserves to experience that kind of love. Flicka guides me in my work, and in life, and will forever live on through me and my many colleagues who learned from her for so many years.”

As parents and child welfare professionals, many of us are inspired by her work and her legacy.  As we reflect on her achievements, we struggle to find the balance of a tribute and a call to action – not to just mourn Flicka, but to learn from Flicka and continue her work. In doing so, we could elevate our focus of our common goal – that every child deserves a family.

If you would like to make a donation to continue Flicka’s work, we would welcome a tribute gift in her honor or call Mary Connolly, 212-360-0204.

 

You can read our remembrance to Flicka online at the NY Times.

 

Adopting International Special-Needs Children

Traditional adoptions from foreign countries, including China, can take many years, but the wait time for a referral through this program is dependent on a families openness and the current children waiting. It is expected that wait for a referral is significantly less than the current wait for referral in the traditional China adoption program.

There are thousands of children with special needs waiting for a family to love them. The China Waiting program has both boys and girls looking for forever families. Many of the children available through this program have minor or correctable issues such as cleft palate or vision issues while others’ needs are more complicated.

 

Learn more by visiting our China Waiting page.

 

 

CHINA20

Since 1992, Spence-Chapin has found loving adoptive families for over 600 children from China.

This milestone is remarkable given the changing landscape of adoption over the recent 4-5 years. In 2011, the number of foreign children adopted by Americans fell by 15%, reaching the lowest level since 1994. Our CHINA20 fundraising event celebrated Spence-Chapin’s milestone of 20 years of adoption in China, with all proceeds from ticket sales going to fund our programs and services in China, like our outstanding Granny program.

Our CHINA20 event began at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), a wonderful space located in the heart of Chinatown. Families took the time to explore exhibits and enjoy activities like calligraphy and face painting. Everyone was excited to meet and greet with our honorees Flicka Van Praagh, Xiao Hua, and Xiong Yan. Walking around the MOCA, you could hear so many of our parents fondly reminiscing about their adoption process, travel experiences, and how much their families have grown.

Emily Forhman, David Nish, and Flicka Van Praagh

As the day lingered on, we moved the celebration from the MOCA to the Golden Unicorn. But on our way there, we hunted down the hidden treasures of Chinatown on a scavenger hunt. Do you have photos of your Chinatown discoveries? Post them to our Flickr and share the memories!

Once we settled in to the Golden Unicorn, we enjoyed some delicious food and incredible entertainment. The Chinatown Community Young Lions put on a spectacular show with their crowd-pleasing Lion Dance, and our young dancers from the New York Chinese Cultural Center enchanted everyone with their traditional Chinese Ribbon dance, which they performed for their teacher and our honoree, Bei Bei Gu.

Bei Bei Gu and dancers from the NYCCC

At dinner, we awarded our Honorees and reflected on all the amazing work they did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and our wonderful families. Flicka Van Praagh, our former Director of International Programs who spearheaded our China program in 1992, moved us all as she encouraged everyone to continue working to find homes for children who need them.

The night ended, and families said heartfelt goodbyes to our honorees. But, the connections made and stories shared were truly inspiring, and we are so glad to have brought our families together for an excellent event like CHINA20.

The proceeds from CHINA20 will sponsor more grannies for our Granny Programs in China, and give our robust China program a chance to thrive in new and exciting ways, like expanding our school-aged and special needs adoption programs in China. For more information on our programs in China, visit our website.

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy – Adoption Documentary

On Tuesday, August 31, POV premiered on national PBS Stephanie Wang-Breal’s documentary Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy. It is the story of Fang Sui Yong, an 8-year-old orphan, and the Long Island Jewish family who travels to China to adopt her. Through her eyes, we witness Fang Sui Yong struggle during her first year and a half in the United States with a new identity and a new family.

First of all, I would like to recognize the courage and generosity of the family that allowed the process of their older child transitioning into their family to be filmed so that others might learn from their journey. This film is an honest portrayal of the challenges, hopes, losses and joys each member of the family experiences. It is of particular use to the adoption community because it provides some insight to the mixed emotions and the different types of loss a child who is older when adopted experiences. There are so many lessons to learn from this film. However, the ones I hope that waiting parents will learn are:

That children adopted above toddler age:

  1. Will take time to attach, that just because a caretaker tells them to call her “Mommy,” it is meaningless until the relationship has time to build.
  2. Will be incredibly frightened and sometimes resentful of the new life.
  3. Will clearly grieve relationships with other children and caretakers in the orphanage or foster family, the loss of language, the loss of some aspects of one’s identity.
  4. Need more time playing and interacting than being given English lessons in the first month.
  5. Need parents committed to them in the face of initial rejection and difficult behavior because this eventually enables the children to change and move beyond their fears and sadness.

I applaud this film for giving us insight into the hearts and minds of children adopted at an older age.

Rita Taddonio, LCSW
Director, Spence-Chapin Adoption Resource Center (ARC)

Most Adoptions From China Now Special-Needs Cases

Most Adoptions From China Now Special-Needs Cases, an AP feature on the changing adoption scene in China written by David Crary, has just been released.  It looks at how couples are soul-searching and embracing the idea of adopting a special-needs child.  Kevin and Bethany Durkin, who adopted two girls through Spence-Chapin’s China Waiting Children Program, are quoted.  The article has been picked up by many websites and papers across the country and is currently posted on the New York Times website.

Spence-Chapin is approved by CCAA to place Waiting Children and is currently looking for families who are open to children with identified needs or conditions.  The children available through this program have a wide range of issues and challenges and will all benefit from the kinds of treatment available in the United States and the love of an adoptive family.  For more information, visit our Waiting Children page.