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.

 

Farewell to Linda Wright

After 18 years at Spence-Chapin, Director of Development Linda Wright, retires. In a touching letter, she reflects on her time spent in the organization and gives thanks to those that were fundamental in the success of the development department.

646_LindaWrightWeeding through my piles and files these past few weeks has been a trek down memory lane!

Time and time again many of you have demonstrated your commitment to Spence-Chapin. You have supported the agency financially and phoned other families to enlist their support of our Annual Fund. You have served on committees – African-American Parents Advisory (AAPAC), International Parents Advisory (IPAC), and Long Island Families Together (LIFT); May’s Birth Parent Gathering; Annual Theatre and Adoptionship Benefits; 55th Anniversary of African-American Adoptions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, KOREA35 and CHINA20. You have shared ideas, time, energy and connections as we developed outreach strategies and planned program celebrations, family get-togethers, and fundraisers. And, so the list goes on and on and on.

Of course, as a Development professional, I usually measure achievements with numbers, and particularly those preceded with dollar-signs. Over the last 18 years we – you the star performers; me simply stage manager — have kept Spence-Chapin fiscally strong and ready to respond to new opportunities and changing needs with creativity and kindness. The total contributed during this period exceeds $35 million, a sum derived from several initiatives.

The Spirit of Spence-Chapin Annual Fund, launched in the fall of 1996, has raised nearly $10 million for general operating support. Events to fund Adoptionships for prospective families needing assistance with adoption costs produced almost $600,000. The annual Theatre Benefit, which began in the 1950s, continued to draw together new and old friends who contributed $2.2 million to enable more children to come home. Support for our Granny Program and other relief efforts overseas has reached $1.3 million and now 234 children in orphanages in Colombia, China, Moldova, and South Africa get daily one-on-one attention from 82 loving Grannies who were recruited from local communities. And, our historic Campaign for the Second Century garnered $14.5 million to secure Spence-Chapin’s work for another 100 years.

I am grateful to all of you for your generosity and conviction that Spence-Chapin deserves LJW_Retirement (SKasowitz-Director)your support. I believe we have given Mary Connolly, my successor, a solid foundation for advancing Spence-Chapin’s development program. The thread that binds the Spence-Chapin community together is the belief that every child deserves the unconditional love and nurturing that comes from a permanent family. It is a community willing to extend itself to ensure that Spence-Chapin is here to find and prepare the families eager to welcome a child into their homes and hearts.

This magic happened for 3,022 children during the past 18 years. The children traveled from China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia; from Russia, Bulgaria and Moldova; from Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Guatemala; from South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to become part of a family in the USA. Our local babies didn’t journey thousands of miles to reach their new homes but, as their birth parents struggled to plan for their futures, they received tender care from our interim volunteer families – another special group in our community.

Today at least 132 million children worldwide are homeless or live in institutions, many of them orphaned or abandoned. In the USA, nearly a half a million children are in foster care, and over a quarter of them are eligible for adoption. Spence-Chapin is their hope for a family, for a future that will allow them to thrive in a loving, safe home. Our challenge individually and as a community is to find the wherewithal for that to happen. During and before my arrival at Spence-Chapin, more than 20,000 have been touched by many of you – some very directly and very immediately. I have enjoyed watching your children grow up, and I have personally benefited from your generosity and friendship. I take a bit of each of you with me and for that – and so much more – I Thank You!

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Championing the Waiting Child

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does.

Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

Today is Giving Tuesday!

Giving TuesdayResearchers have shown that people who commit random acts of kindness are significantly happier than those who don’t, and spending money on others makes you happier than spending money on yourself. They also have discovered happier people help others more – a positive mood makes you nicer!  This makes a circle: giving makes you happy, and when you’re happy you give more, which makes you happier, which makes you give more.

Neuroscientists know that charitable giving releases dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter” that makes you feel good. The point is that charitable donations aren’t purely rational calculations. Instead, our decisions are deeply influenced by the quirky social machinery of the brain, which is influenced by variables like empathy (how close do we feel to the beneficiaries of the good cause?) and the ability to detect agency (does the charity make us think of other people?).

We bring this up this selfless circle of happiness now because today is #GivingTuesday, a national day of giving. How can you make the world a better place in some way, and live #GivingTuesday every day of the year?  You should take a moment to feel joy at the difference you make and if you want a place to increase your flow of dopamine today, we recommend our Granny program. Our Grannies in China, South Africa, Colombia and Moldova give their time every day…they’re getting their daily dose of dopamine!

 

South Africa Granny Program

This spring Spence-Chapin proudly started our first Granny Program in Africa with the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years. Othandweni is operated by Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), one of the oldest, largest and most respected organizations of its kind in the country.   In September JCW and Othandweni held a dedication event to introduce the program to the local Soweto community, which was attended by many community members and local media.

South Africa Granny Program

Every week, Monday through Friday, 20 children spend quality one-on-one time with their grannies.  JCW staff reports that they immediately began to see changes in the participating children, who now look for their grannies every day!

The introduction of a granny to a young child is literally life-changing; it gives that child the opportunity to live a healthy, confident and well-adjusted life. Orphanages are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of the children in their care and are asking for programs like this one to help them improve the lives of these little ones.

Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.

 

Visiting the Tula Granny Program

Linda Wright, director of development, comments on the visit she made at the end of March to an orphanage in Tula, Russia, where Spence-Chapin has sponsored a Granny Program to help those children most at risk, through daily, individual attention from women in the community.

For many years, I’ve listened to our social workers describe their experiences in orphanages and looked at thousands of pictures of the children living in them.  Last month I found myself standing outside the orphanage in Tula, Russia, where Spence-Chapin had just started to sponsor a Granny Program – our newest and first in Russia.  The Children’s Home and grounds were visually pleasing.  In fact, in 2005 Spence-Chapin helped the staff at this orphanage replace dirt patches with grassy fields, install secure fencing, curbs and sidewalks, and purchase child-friendly playground equipment with a grant from The W. O’Neil Foundation.  What a joy to see the results of the project in person!

Entering the Children’s Home I was struck by its bright walls, open spaces and cleanliness.  Five years ago, the director and her staff oversaw the renovation of the entire facility.  It is a model, both in its physical appearance and its operation.  The director, who was previously with a pediatric unit in a local hospital, and her staff are totally committed to “doing what’s best for the children.”  She is determined to “maximize each child’s ability to go to a family.”  It was immediately clear to me this attitude is exactly what we wanted for the successful implementation of Spence-Chapin’s Granny Program in an institution where dedicated staff care for 70 children (infants to age 4), all with special needs of varying seriousness.

After an intensive two-day training with Rita Taddonio, director of Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Resource Center and early child development specialist, the eight grannies and staff members were eager to begin addressing the children’s cognitive and emotional development.  The director announced at the end of the training that she now felt everyone more fully appreciated the importance of the one-on-one relationship and that she would be matching each granny with two of the children most in need.

After this two day visit to the Children’s Home, we can wholeheartedly assure The W. O’Neil Foundation that their underwriting of this start up of the Tula Granny Program is a wise and compassionate investment that will touch the lives of many children in a very wonderful and lasting way.

Spence-Chapin also sponsors granny programs in Bulgaria, Moldova, China and Colombia.