We Celebrate Clara Spence

“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy.”

In 2009, Martha Ulman, Clara Spence’s grand-daughter, wrote an article for the New York State Historical Association chronicling the history of her grandmother’s achievements as a pioneer in adoption in New York. We can think of no better way to acknowledge the women who shaped social justice than to honor our own founder and adoption advocate Clara Spence. This is an excerpt from Martha Ulman’s article:

Clara_Spence resizedClara Spence achieved her work during the pivotal decades 1900-1920, when there were many people with socially progressive ideas. Some approached the problem of the discrepancy between the rich and the poor from the bottom up. They personally went into the slums and worked with the problem firsthand. Clara Spence chose to approach the problem from the top by preaching to the children of the richest New Yorkers the moral and ethical virtue of service so that they, in their adult life, would make a difference in improving the conditions of those less fortunate. Although many of her students went own to serve in their communities, the area for which they are best known is that of adoption and the creation of their nursery, which merged with that of Henry and Alice Chapin in 1943. Known today as Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, the organization continues to serve the needs of children of all creeds, colors, and nationalities.

Born in Albany, New York, in 1859, Clara Spence was a member of the middle class. She graduated from Boston University’s School of Oratory in 1879, after which she attended London University where she honed her acting skills. She came to New York City originally aspiring to be an actress but, upon the death of her mother in 1883, she shifted her talents to teaching at private schools for girls. In 1892, she founded her own school in a brownstone at 6 West Forty-Eighth Street. It was in this school that Clara Spence began a nursery for abandoned babies.

The treatment of orphans before the 1890’s followed a dreary route from institutional care to indentured service or, in the case of thousands of children in Charles Loring Brace’s orphan trains, relocation to families hundreds of miles from their homes. There, as Marilyn Holt notes in her book, “The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America”, they were often valued for their labor potential rather than accepted as members of the family. Clara Spence offered adoption as an alternative to institutionalization or relocation. Adoption, which we now take for granted, was an anomaly at a time when to adopt a non-relative was consider a brave and bizarre act, because of genetic uncertainty and social stigma. Clara Spence dedicated herself to the cause of abandoned infants and introduced her students to adoption as a new and fulfilling form of social work.

In January 1909, the White House Conference on Dependent Children adopted fourteen resolutions all aimed at replacing the institutional method of child care with home care. The next month Clara Spence personally adopted a one-year-old girl from the Children’s Aid Society. The judge had no objection to her application even though she was a single parent nearing the age of fifty. Six years later in 1915, Clara Spence adopted a little boy. Her partner, Charlotte Baker, adopted a girl in 1911 and a boy in 1914, completing what was one of the first single-sex adoption families.
Clara Spence - Central Park, February 1911

It was Ms. Spence’s personal involvement that inspired her students, who witnessed the transformation of babies who came from institutions and were “built up” for adoption on the top floor of her school. As a result, in 1915, the alumnae of the school opened the Spence Alumnae Society nursery through which several hundred babies were placed in adoptive homes. In 1921, Clara Spence brought thirteen children from Great Britain to the United States to be adopted into American families, anticipating what has today become a vast network of international adoption. By her willingness to defy public opinion and risk social ostracism, Clara Spence not only managed to make adoption an accepted practice, but one that became the method of choice for hundreds of families. It was largely because of her work and influence that New York became recognized as a leader in child welfare and adoption in particular.

Spence-Chapin has spent over 100 years finding innovative ways to fulfill Clara Spence’s legacy. Our expertise has consistently expanded the benefits of adoption to more children and the prospective parents who want to love them.

Just as Clara Spence responded to the need in her time, our work is focused on serving women and families who need help planning and building strong, loving families. We are driven by the simple and fundamental belief: every child deserves a family. Through our Modern Family Center, we provide counseling and community services that help these new families succeed. We can create more permanent, loving families just as we’ve always done.

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.

Family Profile: The Hoffmans

Bobby, Lucy and GehrigBobby Hoffman learned the value of family at an early age. “My father left when I was 15, but he was gone long before he actually announced his departure,” Bobby explains. As the third oldest of nine children, Bobby was tasked with the enormous responsibility of helping his mother raise his siblings.

Bobby went on to marry Lynn and have a son named Ryan. Lynn unfortunately succumbed to breast cancer when Ryan was just 12 years old. After some time had passed, Bobby later remarried and settled into a life with Kelly, who never had any children and was now the step-mother to his almost adult son.

Just when Bobby thought he was finished rearing children, he realized his best moments had been with children and he wanted to raise another child, specifically a child born in New York City in need of a home. Bobby explains, “I wanted my wife and I to share all the love that we had within our hearts and to give a child a caring, stable home”. With that in mind, the couple turned to Spence-Chapin and a short while later, we able to adopt baby Gehrig.

Linda, the social worker on the case, reflects, “Bobby and Kelly immediately fell in love with Gehrig upon meeting him. It was a profoundly emotional moment and was very, very sweet.” Linda recalls the Hoffmans being on cloud nine about the newest addition to their family, catering fully to Gehrig’s every need.

Tragically, the high unexpectedly became a low when Kelly passed away from a heart attack just before Gehrig’s 2nd birthday. Facing single parenthood for the second time, Bobby drew upon the strength he learned from his mother so early in life and hunkered down to raise his son.

Oftentimes out of tragedy, comes resiliency. The Hoffman FamilyGehrig is now seven and is flourishing due to the love and support of his blended family unit – Bobby, step mom Lucy, Kelly’s mother, and Lucy’s mother. Gehrig is aware of the deep courage his birth mother had in placing him for adoption and is constantly reminded of the boundless love and devotion Kelly had for him. “He knows life is good, even if it is sometimes short with many obstacles,” Bobby says.

The Hoffman family stays connected to Spence-Chapin by attending annual events such as Global Gathering and the Family Picnic. Bobby is also able to give back in a special way – through tribute giving. Instead of gifts on Gehrig’s birthdays, he encourages family and friends to donate to Spence-Chapin in honor of Gehrig. He also takes his commitment a step further by giving to the organization in honor of Gehrig’s friends’ birthdays. Bobby’s generous gifts and championing of Spence-Chapin’s mission help to provide children with a loving, permanent home such as the one he has been able to give Gehrig.

 

What is an Adoption Subsidy?

The New York State Adoption Subsidy is designed to help adoptive families parent and finalize the adoption of children with special needs that include medical issues, as well as children who are the most vulnerable (e.g. sibling groups).

New York provides this assistance in the form of basic, special or exceptional monthly stipends that vary based on the special needs of a child.  Some counties in New York State determine a child’s rate of pay based upon the family’s income, while other counties do not. This assistance is only available for children born in the United States.

SpecialNeeds_istockphotoChildren placed through the Spence-Chapin ASAP program may be eligible for subsidy assistance. Families in our ASAP program will have the assistance of our staff in applying for SSI for a child prior to adoption finalization. If the child is approved, they will be Title IV-E eligible. After the Social Security Administration makes their determination, our staff will work with the adoptive family to apply for the adoption subsidy. This includes working with the family to gather medical and specialist reports supporting a working diagnosis of the child, as well as creating a social history report which gives the subsidy worker a narrative of the child’s life and how their medical special needs affect their day-to-day activities. Our staff will help families apply for a basic rate of subsidy if a child is hard-to-place and has no medical issues.

After adoption finalization of a child that has been approved for subsidy, our staff will work with the family to submit a non-recurring expense reimbursement up to the amount of $2,000. This expense reimbursement is meant to curb the costs related to finalizing an adoption and includes attorney fee and post-placement supervisory reports.

Most children placed through our pilot Adoption from Foster Care (AAFC) program are also eligible to receive an adoption subsidy.  Children who were formerly in foster care receive their subsidy rate based on the level of care they were in prior to be adopted. Families who adopt through the pilot AFFC will have Spence-Chapin staff assistance in applying for adoption subsidy prior to finalization. All children previously in foster care are Title IV-E (Medicaid) eligible.

An adoption subsidy makes it possible for many families to consider adopting the children who have been waiting the longest for adoptive parents. Because of our commitment to finding permanent families for the world’s most vulnerable children, and the many costs associated with adoption, Spence-Chapin has reduced the financial barriers to adoption in an effort to support families who open their lives and hearts to a school-age child, a sibling group, or a child with special needs.

 

The Mongillos Home Makeover

Spence-Chapin parents Bob and Barbara Mongillo are truly one of a kind! Bob and Barbara have six biological children and have selflessly opened their home and hearts to 13 special needs children, many of them coming from our ASAP program. In this episode of the home makeover show ‘George to the Rescue’, George surprises the Mongillos with a bathroom renovation and a few more surprises. We can’t think of a more deserving family!