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. 

Adoption Support

We’re a community that understands you and your family. Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center provides birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees a supportive community and a connection to professionals who understand the unique aspects of adoption.

Services are provided through Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center.

Call or email our team to learn more: 646-539-2167 and info@modernfamilycenter.org!

Post-Adoption Support (www.spence-chapin.org/community-counseling) All of Spence-Chapin’s post-adopt support services are available to the entire adoption community! Our post adoption services include:

  • Parent Coaching helps parents build confidence in their parenting style. Common themes explored: navigating open adoption, understanding adoption & identity in your family, finding the right words for tough conversations, and navigating change. Read more
  • Community Events: meet other adoptive families at monthly playgroups (Bagels & Blox), cultural events, lifebook workshops, and community celebrations! Sign up on our events calendar
  • Our Mentorship Program for adopted middle and high school students empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. Mentors and mentees enjoy meaningful community, educational, and social outings throughout the school year. Join us next semester by downloading the free application online. Click to read FAQs
  • Mental Health Services from adoption-competent therapists. Our experienced staff of adult and child therapists help individuals, couples, and families navigate challenges, life transitions, relationships, parenting, anxiety, or depression. We specialize in adoption, anxiety, depression, ADHD, family and relationship problems, and stress. Email today to schedule a free intake call with a social worker! Financial assistance may be available to persons connected to adoption.
  • ADHD & Emotional Regulation Treatment Spence-Chapin is committed to supporting and advocating for children with ADHD and their families. Our licensed professionals use evidence based assessment tools to help children develop the skills and self-esteem necessary to manage ADHD with little to no medication. To provide the best treatment model possible, the therapists at Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center have developed a video to help parents better understand the signs and symptoms of ADHD in children. Read more
  • Birthland trips for adopted persons and their families to visit their birth country. Spence-Chapin provides emotional support for individuals and families preparing for a birthland trip.
  • Personal Adoption History for adoptees, birth parents, and siblings. Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children maintains thousands of adoption records from its 109-year history. Spence-Chapin, as an authorized agency, is also the custodian of the adoption records of Louise Wise Services and Talbot Perkins. Read more 
  • Community Education provides workshops for families, parent groups, and professionals including schools, religious organizations, PTAs, camps, and community groups. Topics include: Adoption in the Schools, Common Parenting FAQs, Understanding Open Adoption, and Finding the Right Words for Tough Conversations. Read more

 Pre-Adoption Support

Consultations are available for anyone before or during their adoption process. A pre-adoption consultation is an opportunity for you to speak one-on-one with one of our skilled social workers in our office, on the phone, or through video chat. Families come in to discuss a variety of topics, including preparing for an open adoption, adopting a child of a different race, emotional support during the wait for an adoption, helping spouses who aren’t on the same page about adoption decisions, and speaking with potential birth parents. Consultations are available at any point of an adoption journey. Professional service fee: $150/session

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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!

Meet our new 2015-2016 Mentors!

We’re excited to welcome five new mentors to our Mentorship Program.  This program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences.


Patricia
Patricia
This is my first year as a mentor and I am so excited to be a part of this program! I was born in Armenia, Colombia and was adopted at 1.5 years old. I was raised in Washington State with two older sisters and one younger sister. My younger sister is adopted as well, but from Guatemala. I grew up in a small town where most of my friends were adopted from different countries all over the world. It was very neat to grow up in a town where adoption was important to the community. I have a strong interest working with people and majored in Psychology in college. I worked as a nanny while going to school and knew I wanted to continue working with kids and teenagers once I moved to New York. My adopted parents and I visited Colombia several years ago. I was able to see where I was born and better understand the Colombian culture. This year, my husband and I are planning another trip to Colombia and we are very much looking forward to seeing the country. We hope to adopt from Colombia someday. Until then, I am excited for the time I will get to spend with the mentors, the mentees, and to get to know you all.

Michelle
Michelle
I was adopted in New York when I was a young child. Although I faced many struggles growing up and my parents were not open at all to discussing my adoption, I have thrived, becoming a philanthropic humanitarian who gives back to the world and honors the people who have helped to transform my life. At my graduation commence ceremony, I walked twice. Once for each undergraduate degree I’d earned. It was a defining moment. I’d defied every label and diagnosis ever placed on me and in front of me. Since then I’ve traveled the world, worked for the government, went to law school, completed graduate school, and become a minister.  I love to travel, cook, exercise, sing, write, read, and learn new things. I am passionate about public speaking, team building, American Sign Language, and learning from different cultures. As a mentor in this program I hope to share, shape, influence, and empower adoptees during one of the most impressionable seasons of their life-the journey in which they discover their identities.

Marielle
MarielleI was born in China and was adopted, at the age of 7, into a loving family.  My father was Sicilian and my mother is Irish and German.  Unfortunately my father passed when I was 10 years old.  I believe that has made me the strong and compassionate person I am today.  I am 24 years old and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo.  I knew I always wanted to help people; therefore, I am currently applying to physical therapy school and hope to be admitted next year.  Presently, I work in a physical therapy practice as a physical therapy aide.  In my spare time I love to work out at the gym, ride my bike and hang out with friends.  I am looking forward to becoming a mentor this year and hope to help the mentees feel more comfortable with any issues they may have regarding their adoptions.

Jon
JonMy name is Jon and I am pleased to be with you here at Spence-Chapin. My adoption background is fairly well known compared to most that I know and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences as well as promote my positive outlook on life.  Being adopted from Chile at a very young age from the most supportive parents and family unit has helped shaped who I am today when it comes to relationships.  I work for an internet marketing firm, Taboola, as an account manager, analyzing ad campaigns and helping foster ongoing relationships between client and company. While I am away from the media/internet scene, I enjoy parks, beaches, walking, seeing as many live shows and concerts as possible, or just relaxing with some Netflix after a long week.

Dana
DanaIt’s like being late to a movie.  You know the characters, location, mood and general plot – but the whole time, you can’t help but feel like you missed an integral part in the beginning that could affect every scene. I had always known I was adopted, but wasn’t aware of its meaning until age 7 when we learned about basic genetics in school.  I can remember the specific point in time when I realized that my brown eyes weren’t my mom’s or my dad’s.  I was different than the other kids. Between being a sensitive and emotional person to begin with, coupled with having been nurtured by incredibly loving, strong, supportive parents, I have grown into an adult who values emotional connectivity to self and others. Thirty years ago, I was privately adopted from North Carolina days after my birth.  I grew up in a happy home in suburban New York where my childhood was filled with piano and horseback riding lessons, summer camp, sports – everything a child needs and wants. My mid-twenties were difficult, naturally exploring my identity as maturity set in.  I discovered that my birth mom had died years prior and that I was part of a biological family that I had never known existed.  Before I was able to search, my birth sister found me through Facebook.  I met her soon after and learned so much about my birth story and more importantly about myself. I was part of my birth family, but had also never felt more connected to my parents. I love learning about new things and have a natural curiosity about people.  I work with children in orthopedic healthcare and love art, music, TV and sports, and anything science! I am excited to form meaningful, genuine relationships with mentees and hopefully I can learn from them as well!