As an intern with NAC, I was afforded the exciting opportunity to participate in the agency’s Adoption Café. This Adoption Café was designed to showcase a specific type of child within our network.  The potential adopters that we invite is carefully chosen by NAC professionals along with the input of a team of New Jersey’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency workers. It was collectively decided that a Café dedicated to highlighting the process as well as the joys of adopting medically fragile children would be greatly beneficial! The event took place this past Saturday, April 12, 2014 and the forum for our café was The Burlington County Public Library in Westampton, New Jersey. 

Unfortunately, many families are unaware of the diversity of challenges, espeicially medical, that face children in the Tri-state area that are living without their forever family.  To this end, our event provided this type of information and more in a series of workshops offered throughout the afternoon.  Many parents were surprised to learn that there are  outside supports available to families during and after the finalization of an adoption. The families learned and understand that they are not “in this alone”.  These supportive services are readily available for all.  For example, DCPP workers discussed the ways that they provide ongoing supports and assistance to adoptive parents. In addition, we sponsored a workshop in which current adoptive families of special needs children shared their feelings, experiences and advice to those considering embarking on a similar journey.  The exchange of ideas and information was very enlightening to all of the participants.

Many of these children are medically fragile due to abuse and neglect at the time of their birth or shortly after.  These adorable youngsters simply long for that unconditional love and support that so many of us take for granted.

I feel very privileged to have been a part of this very special day. It is so rewarding to be involved in the process that results in the improvement of the lives of children who need loving homes.  I admire the families that open their hearts to eagerly love and support our kiddos. A truly rewarding and amazing experience!!

contributed by Elly Gerhardt, Program Intern 

April 10 is the National Adoption Center’s largest fundraiser – our Celebration of Family Gala. Each year we recognize an individual(s) whose commitment to vulnerable children encompasses our belief that “There are no unwanted children…just unfound families”.

Jay Devine says he will always remember when he first learned about the National Adoption Center. He heard the Center’s founder describe a six-year-old boy who had been severely abused by his birth parents and needed to be adopted.  “Hearing that was so shocking and so foreign from our personal experience that from that moment on, I knew this was an organization that Bridget and I would want to support.” 

“We are both products of large, supportive families with loving, hard-working parents. This foundation makes us want to work as hard as we can to provide that same opportunity for our children and the thousands of children in foster care who are free for adoption.  There can be nothing more important than making a positive difference in the life of a child.”

Bridget and Jay, over the years, have demonstrated their commitment to children growing up in families.  They want for all children what their 15-year-old son, J.P, and their 13-year-old daughter, Meg, are fortunate enough to have—a family that gives them a lifetime of love.

contributed by Elly Gerhardt, Program Intern

I am pleased to announce that I have officially made it through my first two match events!  A "match event" is designed to provide the vehicle for our network of social workers, perspective adoptive families and our youths to meet and greet! Shortly after becoming NAC’s intern, I was met with a few obstacles while navigating through the match event planning season. Not only were there hundreds of envelopes to be labeled and stuffed, but workers and families had to be contacted in other ways too. Nonetheless I wouldn’t trade the experience, I’ve learned so much. I have been afforded the opportunity to become familiar with the case management network in the Tri-state area as well as learn all about our youth and their current situations. It has been particularly interesting to learn about SWAN (Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network) and its function within the foster care system of Pennsylvania.  I am proud to have played an integral part in developing systematic and computerized ways of sharing information and keeping it all up-to-date.  It amazes me to realize that so much actually goes into planning a match event. It’s almost equivalent to planning a Bat-Mitzvah twice a year! Not only do you have to set the venue, find a caterer, and plan activities. You have to trust (and reminders help) that people  will show up to the event your team has put so much effort planning day! Luckily we had an unbelievable turn out; some would call this a record-breaking event. We had twenty families and sixteen youth registered. 

NAC and SWAN work so hard together to make this event absolutely flawless.  Match events have been happening for over twenty years, many matches have been successfully made and many placements have resulted. So this year we wanted to have the event at The National Helicopter Museum in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  I went into the match event season thinking that matches and finalization were the ultimate goals; however, I learned that it’s not only about that, but it’s the day full of connections with people that really make a difference. Our team did a lot to make those connections happen. We were fortunate enough to have a pilot from a local flying school give the youth (and staff) a once in a lifetime chance to be co-pilots in a helicopter. Riding high above the city was a thrilling adventure for all. In addition, to challenge our sharpest guests, we played rousing game of trivia. I was surprised that not everyone knows Mr. Spock’s famous words, “live long and prosper.” Thanks to Kathleen, our facilitator, the youth and families loved searching for hidden treasure in our creatively designed Scavenger Hunt.

It goes without saying that the most touching moment of the day was our “Everyone has a Voice” programming. “Everyone has a Voice” encourages the youth to discuss how it feels to be in the system. Each youth got to share his or her own personal thoughts and feelings about this time in his/her young lives. This activity gives the teens an opportunity to discuss topics that are on their mind in a small, intimate group, with acceptance and no pressure. It is impossible to not feel a pull on your heartstrings when our youth shared their mutual hopes and dreams for a forever family! The entire event was spectacular as well as scrumptious, as we all enjoyed a feast of favorites including chicken fingers, salads, pasta and other delicious treats. NAC along with SWAN again delivered an amazing day for our youth and families. I want to thank the National Adoption Center for allowing me to “help” with such an amazing event. Though, majority of the time I was making intern-ishly silly mistakes. My mentors allowed me to learn from my mistakes and continue on in our important mission to make an unforgettable match event for the youth and families!

photos by Chris Jacobs, Program Director

Today we join in celebration the 119th birthday of Philadelphia’s Civic Flag. Our very own Wednesday’s Child host Vai Sikahema was honored with the Philadelphia Maneto Award as one of four recipients of bringing brotherly love to the city of Philadelphia with his contribution to Wednesday’s Child. Wednesday’s Child partners include the National Adoption Center, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and NBC 10. 

The day was beautiful and the event was very well attended!  Other honorees included Linda Cliatt-Waymann for her passionate and admirable work as Principal at Strawberry Mansion High School, Wei Chen for his dedication to social justice, safe and peaceful educational environments and overall understanding among youth and Dr. Ala Stanford-Frey, for her organization "It Takes Philly!" whose goal is to improve the lives of Philly youth, by providing them with critical exposure to career opportunities and a brighter future.

On Saturday, March 8th we hosted our Art of Adoption Match Event in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency. A match event is an event that brings youth in foster care together with adults who have been approved to adopt for a day of getting to know one another. Match events are a rare opportunity for the youth and adults to interact one-on-one, get to know each other and decide if they wish to get to know each other better. Of course, we know some of these connections eventually lead to adoption.

Saturday’s match event included a fun day of art activities that focused on the youth. Artists from the Center for the Arts in Southern New Jersey, where the event was held, guided the youth in projects while prospective families were there to assist. Youth were asked to use art to define aspects of themselves. Different techniques such as collage, watercolors, crayons and calligraphy helped the youth express themselves. The overall atmosphere was relaxed and provided ample oppourtunity for youth and families to get to know one another.

This life-changing work wouldn’t be possible without our supporters, so we want to send out a huge thank you to the Center for the Arts in Southern New Jersey for their incredible support in making this a fun and exciting day. 

Recently, our daughter turned 25. Adopted as an infant, she has been and evermore will be the joy of this here-to-fore childless couple’s life.

It was rather surreal to see her—the pictures of her as an infant, as a toddler, young child, teenager flooded my mind—and to look at her now, as a grown (young) woman, called my heart to yield more than a couple of silent tears, revering my title as parent.

Although she was going to perform songs she had written over five-plus years at an open mic night and hoped many of her friends would celebrate with her, she exercised an amazing muscle in her heart:  she invited my husband and me to come!  (And what’s more, she and her friends made her birthday dinner to which we were also invited.)  When it was her turn on stage, the announcer told everyone that it was her birthday and with her first smile and guitar strum she took us all for an amazing ride of her passion to be a part of this world. She was, to very unbiased me, the star of the night. Even though she was to be surrounded by a number of her friends, and accompanied by a few, she, without blinking an eye made it a point of saying that her parents (as if it were a special thing she was proud of!) were “in the house.” And, I think I even heard her say, “Thank you, guys!” (Of course that could have been a universal shout out to everyone who came, but I think I’ll just keep it as directed toward us.)

Her oldest childhood friend was at that gathering to celebrate this landmark quarter-century birthday. Seeing the two of them together, I was reminded of something that happened on our daughter’s fifth birthday. When I recounted the story they both giggled and nodded that they, too, remembered…

When our daughter was five (her friend was six and a half), she announced to this friend she had known since she was two, “I am adopted.”  Although I was in the room when she said it, I was surprised that she blurted it out, and then reveal her understanding about what she had thus far gleaned about being adopted--which, to her, was something special.

I watched her friend’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. This declaration immediately prompted her friend to waltz over to me, hands on hips and vehemently announce, “She’s lying!  She told a lie.” 

“Oh?” I answered. “What was a lie?” 

“She said that she’s adopted. There’s no way. She said you didn’t give birth to her. So she has to be lying. You’ve always been her mother. She is your child,” and with confused eyes and knitted brow, “isn’t she?” 

How does one tell a child about the wonders and the miracle of adoption?  Can it make sense to such young children?  From the time we started talking to our daughter, we always used the word “adoption” and would say it regularly, not as a defense, not as an excuse, but as a term that she could come to understand was something completely normal and natural. We wanted that word to be something she didn’t struggle over, but instead accept as part of life and the special way we became a family.

I told this young friend (I’m sure I am paraphrasing, but to the best of my recollection I said something like this):   “Well, actually, she did not lie. She is adopted. It means that she didn’t come out of my tummy, but we were lucky enough to have her come into our lives. Adoption is a special way that some children join families. We are all lucky because we three became a family. She will always be our daughter. She will always be adopted. And she will always be loved.” 

Our daughter, after placing her hands on her hips, sauntered in front of her friend and with just the slightest upturned face mustering all the righteousness a five year old can, “See. Told you so. I did not come from her tummy. I am adopted.”

Her friend, puzzled and thoughtful for a minute then proclaimed, “Oh, I think that’s something like my mom and dad are planning.”

Knowing her parents well and never having heard this since they had four birth children, I was truly curious, “Are you sure?  Your mom or dad never mentioned that to me!” 

“Oh, I think it costs $12 a month. I heard them talking about it. Our friends do that. They have a picture of the girl on their refrigerator. So my mom and dad are thinking about doing it, too. I think you order a kid through the TV. Do you pay $12 a month, too?” She was referring to a Save the Children Foundation campaign to sponsor children living in another country.

I couldn’t help but smile at this child’s rather sweet life-view. This quite innocent perception of how things work. I am not disparaging that it is a wonderful and noble gesture to sponsor a child in a foreign country who might just have a greater edge in life from financial support and the hands-on gift of letters or gifts.

But, of course, a far deeper passion to impact the life of a child can happen through adopting. Parenting a child in the day-to-day is incomparable. As with any parenting, one will experience indescribable joy. And one will experience heartache of how to guide, to teach, to love their children through crises. The overwhelming measure of life worth, though, can come in the smallest moments—seeing them performing songs they wrote about life, about being raised, about becoming a good person from the influences of their whole life.

Giving a child a unique part of that whole life is an honor and a privilege. Loving someone fiercely enough to share your life with them—from the moments of high drama to the tenderness of good-night prayers, whether nursing them through a strep throats and fevers, driving lessons and packing lunches for school, this role might even be considered a “calling.”   

Hear anything? 

What do you get when you mix 13 energetic youth with 8 equally energetic performers…give up? You get a trip to NYC to see a performance of STOMP!

On Saturday, February 8, 2014 the National Adoption Center in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Child Permanency and Protection took 13 youth in foster care to see a performance of STOMP.  Matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters and more fill the stage with energizing beats at STOMP, the inventive and invigorating stage show that's dance, music and theatrical performance blended together in one electrifying rhythm (STOMP, 2014). Youth and their workers had the chance to witness first hand this amazing show that has been delighted audiences for over twenty years. 

Throughout the show were heard “oohs” and “awws” and even a couple of “that was awesome (s)”!. Following the show, the 8 member ensemble and production crew took time to answer questions, take pictures and sign autographs for our youth. What was amazing and generous is that although they were tired from their 90 minute performance and had a short dinner break before the evening's performance, the cast really took the time to talk with our young people.  And our youth had plenty of questions for them! We learned about what it takes to prepare for a show, the backgrounds of the performers and even where the production crew finds some of the props (you’d be surprised!). This was a first time trip to NYC for the youth and they loved their time in the Big Apple!

After the show, we ended our day with dinner at Maggiano’s! This was a real treat for our youth (and the workers)! Even while at dinner, we still could not talking about how exciting the show was! 

We would like to especially thank Wawa for their donation of lunches for the bus trip, the Orpheum Theatre and the cast and crew of STOMP for their hospitality, Maggiano’s for the delicious dinner and US Coachways for making sure that we traveled safely. This was a trip that none of us will soon forget! 

I just had an opportunity to read a new policy brief from the National Center for Policy Analysis entitled Adoptions from Foster Care. In it were the same frustrating barriers to adoption we see all the time: Untrained and Overburdened Caseworkers, Lack of Outreach to Potential Adoptive Parents (including very poor customer service), Difficulties of Interstate Adoptions and Lack of Subsidies for Adoption and Foster Care. One thing that NCPA did cite was the potential of reinstating institutional child care, otherwise known as Orphanages. A 2003 survey of over 800 orphanage alumni indicated that “nine out of ten respondents say that they would have preferred to have grown up in an orphanage rather than in foster care”. What do you think of this very controversial idea?

While watching the news last week, I saw a story that caught my attention.  It was about the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, and millions of people in China were streaming home to be with family. The news called it the largest migration on the planet as millions of people are traveling. For some, who are migrant workers in cities such as Beijing, it is the only time that they get to be with their families. They have endured separation for a year or more as they work to better the lives of the family members they left behind.

The trains are so crowded with people that some go into a lottery just to get a ticket for home.  Home can sometimes be more than ten hours away by train. There is a Chinese saying, “Rich or poor, get home for the holiday.”  The travelers know that when they reach home they will see their loved ones, share meals with their family, and enjoy the firework celebrations. They endure the hardships of cramped, difficult travel and are elated that they are going home.

I thought about how much it means to me to see my family and be surrounded by them. Then I thought of the children in foster care for whom we work at the National Adoption Center.  Those who, through no fault of their own, no longer have their families and are still waiting for that luxury of having a place they can call home.  It made me proud of the work that we do every day to find just one more child in foster care what they each deserve; a secure home and a loving family.