Meet Ana Maria!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are?

This month we talked to Ana Maria Leon Gomez, LMHC, about her work. 
A.M.LeonGomez

  1. Why did you choose to work at Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center?

I chose to work here because I really believe in Spence-Chapin’s mission. I really feel that children’s lives change when they are adopted into a forever family. I think it’s very important that children are loved and cared for and have a family they can rely on.

 

  1. When did you become interested in a career in adoption?

I started working in the area of psychology since I was very young after I graduated from Vassar College. I then carried out my Master’s degree at the University of Manchester in England. These studies led me to open my private practice, where I came across children who were adopted and helped them with the process. Three and a half years ago I moved to the U.S from my native Honduras. I started working at Spence-Chapin as a bilingual clinician working fully in adoption.

  1. What’s a typical workday?

My workdays are very varied. Somedays I see clients at our Brooklyn or Manhattan offices. I work with families, adoptees, birth parents and individuals with different mental health issues. Other days I work as a consultant with the foster care agencies we partner with. I provide guidance and training for their staff and foster parents particularly those that are Spanish-speaking. I also provide clinical services for some of their families. My job is really very exciting and never monotonous. It comes alive every day.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part is when I see children who have experienced trauma. Sometimes they’re so young, six or seven, and they’ve undergone trauma that an adult may not have had in their whole lifetime. It’s difficult to deal with but at the same time, when you do start working with the child and the family and their lives start changing, you know you’re doing something positive.

  1. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is when you see the family improve and deal with everyday life in a more positive way. In regards to the children it´s important for them to know their story, to be able to look at it and integrate it as part of who they are. In this way I help them be happier and be more productive in their lives.

  1. How would you describe your job in three words?

Important, rewarding, and compassionate.

  1. Has working at the Modern Family Center changed you in any way?

Working here has made me grow in many ways. It’s helped me understand that there are many communities we can work with, and all these communities require different kinds of help and therapeutic interventions. I have also appreciated more the value of teamwork and how together we can achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Want to learn more about how our clinic can help you and your family through parent coaching or counseling? Call us at 646-539-2167.

Meet Samantha!

Samantha

  1. Why did you choose to work at the Modern Family Center?
    Adoption has always been really close to my heart. My youngest brother, Nico, is adopted. We brought him home from Guatemala when he was seven months old, and I’ve always admired my mom for how much she’s advocated for in the adoption world. Thinking about how adoption changed my family for the better, I wanted to see what I could do as a social worker in adoption.
  1. What has been the most challenging part of your job so far?
    Transitioning from a student to a full-time employee has challenged me to grow in my confidence as a social worker, and luckily I’m surrounded by a lot of great people who have experience in the field and can support me in that transition. Another challenging part is speaking to clients and families on the phone about their stories, and feeling thankful that they’re so brave and so willing to open up to you on the phone. I try to focus in and listen because they really are giving you their whole story. I think that’s really brave and I admire that about them.
  1. What has been the most rewarding part?
    Working with the families. To see them have a community, and envisioning their community ten years from now, twenty years from now, and the fact that they have each other makes me so warm inside like, “Oh my gosh, they’re all best friends!” Just the fact that these kids can have another person who’s adopted and share that experience with them is wonderful. Especially for the parents too, seeing their kids build that community and have that support network within each other.
  1. Describe your job in three words.
    Joy, curiosity, family.
  1. Do you have funny or interesting stories you’d like to share?
    A highlight of this past summer has been going to Camp Clio, a camp for adopted kids. The funniest thing that happened there was the day we had to kayak to this sand bar to hang out with the kids. The camp people basically just handed Mark, Director of Mental Health Services at MFC, and me this kayak and he was like, “Yeah, we got this, we got this!” When we get in he tells me, “You know, I’ve never actually done this before” and I was just like, “Mark! Are you kidding me?!” It was four miles each way! It was really funny, we were laughing the whole way, the kids were singing songs, and it was just a really good way to bond with them.
  1. Has working at MFC changed you in any way?
    MFC has definitely helped me grow and continue that curiosity of learning. I’m surrounded by a really great team. They all care so much about what they do and they all care for each other; it’s an amazing support system. Working at MFC reminds me every day how I feel very grateful for every social worker and every lawyer and every agency and every entity that helped my family adopt my brother. This job has opened my eyes to what a journey adoption is for everyone involved.
  1. Has there been a particular family that has really made an impact on you?There’s a family I’ve done a couple of post-placement visits with, and the daughter receives every service she could possibly need, between physical therapy, occupational therapy, special help in school, speech and feeding. Her mom has had to fight for her daughter to get all the services she needs. To see how much she believes in her kid reminds me that there are people in this world who want to be phenomenal parents – and they absolutely can be! Adoption is such a beautiful way to build your family, and to see that bond is a beautiful thing.

Search & Reunion: Where to Begin

 

Pamela Slaton

Name: Pamela Slaton
Pamela Slaton is a Genealogist and Private Investigator in the State of New Jersey whose business mainly focuses on locating birth families. She is also a Spence-Chapin adoptee. Her area of expertise lies in having the ability to combine historical records with contemporary data.

 

 

 

Jessica

Name: Jessica Luciere

Jessica Luciere is an international adoptee who decided early in her life that she wanted to search for her birth family. She contacted a private investigator in Colombia when she was 23 years old after going through various avenues in New York, and he was able to find her birth mother with the information she had through her birth papers. Her family was found within a week. Jessica has visited her birth family many times in Colombia and maintains a very open relationship with them.

Mark Lacava

Name: Mark Lacava

Mark Lacava is the Director of Clinical Services in the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin. He works with all members of the adoption community and has experience working with individuals embarking on the search and reunion process. He received his Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Foundations of Family Therapy Certificate from the Post-Graduate Program at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. He has been a clinician working with children and families for over 20 years.

Adopting a Broader Perspective: Reflections of a Young Adult Adoptee

I found my way back to Spence-Chapin when I was 18-years-old after my birth mother contacted me for the first time. I was a freshman in college and at that time, Spence-Chapin was doing (and continues to do) a lot of outreach to the young adult adoptee community. I have always had an extremely open relationship with my adoptive parents and after much family discussion and processing, we decided it would be a rewarding and interesting experience to participate in a young adult adoptee panel. At this panel, we shared our stories and answered questions for a group of prospective and adoptive parents. It felt empowering to be able to answer questions for parents and it made me aware of how comfortable I was with my own adoption story. It also made me consider the role and decisions of my adoptive parents with a new, broadened perspective.

After speaking on the panel, I met a few of the social workers at Spence-Chapin and decided to switch my college major from International Relations to Sociology. I decided that after graduation I was going to pursue my Master of Social Work. After completing my first year at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, I am now interning at Spence-Chapin for the summer as part of the Outreach Team. My guidance counselors and supervisors, both at my undergraduate alma mater Bucknell and the University of Maryland, have all asked me if I am “sure” about pursuing a career in adoption social work due to my personal connection. I know that I am able to answer “yes” to this question without hesitation or uncertainty because of my relationship with my adoptive parents.

Jenny Rosen blog post 2My adoptive parents have always supported my decisions and been open to my questions about my story. When I was contacted by my birth mother, it was understandably hard for them but they allowed me to take the reins on where I wanted that correspondence and relationship to go. All the while, they reminded me that they were there for me and that they loved me without wanting to be intrusive.

Interning in the Outreach Department and just being a small part of such an amazing organization has allowed me the opportunity to gain a better understanding about parenting and the process adoptive parents undergo. The experience thus far has made me reflect on my relationship with my adoptive parents and solidified this as the direction in which I want to take my social work career. I know that I would not be the person I am today or ready for this chosen career path without the love, acceptance, and support I received from my adoptive parents. (It actually feels weird to label them as my “adoptive” parents because they are really just my parents… no classifier necessary).

If there is any advice I could possibly give to prospective adoptive parents, it would be that open discussion about adoption and constant offerings of support are key components to raising an adopted child. Throughout my life I have had various questions about adoption that my parents may have been caught-off guard by but were always willing to answer. The one question I’ve never had to ask either myself or them is if I was loved. I have always known that answer.

Jenny Rosen is currently an intern in the Adoption Outreach Department at Spence-Chapin. 

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.

 

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.