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 Celebration

DSC_0156With summer approaching, our Mentorship Program is winding down a successful eighth year! However, before school breaks for the summer, our mentors, mentees, and their families participated in our first ever year-end Mentorship Celebration. Over a delicious lunch, we enjoyed photos and videos from the years’ events, honored our four graduating seniors (Emily, Lillia, Elena, and Pooja, who have collectively been with the program for over 10 years!) and acknowledged the incredible efforts and commitment of our volunteer adult mentors!

At the end of the year, we like to look back and reflect on what we’ve accomplished. When we asked our teens “What is the best part of the mentorship program?” the themes we heard most often are:
• “Learning there are others like me and feeling connected, sharing stories and finding kindred spirits”
• “Meeting other adopted teens who don’t know me from school so I could talk about whatever I wanted”
• “Getting to meet other people who are adopted and being able to have fun and discuss adoption”
• “Meeting other people who know how it feels to be adopted”

One of our graduating seniors is Lilia, born in Bulgaria and adopted at the age of 2. She is preparing to head off to Johnson and Wales University in the fall to study Sports Management, and has been a dynamic, energetic, and positive addition to the program. Before she heads off on her next adventure, Lillia wanted to share her feelings about being in the Mentorship Program:

DSC_0163“I really loved being part of the mentorship group. It was great meeting so many kids and adults and sharing our adoption stories. It was important for me to make friends with other adoptees. We did a lot of fun activities-Chelsea Piers Sports Complex, a scavenger hunt, ice skating, and games in Central Park… I am also hoping to plan a trip to Bulgaria sometime in the future!”

When we hear these words and sentiments, we know we are providing a necessary and important program for the adoption community. Mentorship is a key support to many adoptees in forming healthy identity, having a safe and inclusive place to explore genuinely difficult feelings, and bringing all members of the adoption constellation together in support of our young people. This program continues to grow, and to be an inspiration to our staff, our mentors, and of course the young people themselves.

Interested in having your child join the 2015-2016 Mentorship Program? This program is open to adoptees who will be enrolled in middle school and high school this fall. Contact Dana Stallard, LMSW, Adoptee Services Coordinator at 212-360-0213 or dstallard@spence-chapin.org to learn more!