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Growing up as a young man plagued with drug abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse all before the age of 12 years old; I would have never thought I would be able to sit in an office helping youth in the foster care system become adopted. Some would say I lived a life of extreme hardship and they are impressed with how things have turned out for me. I would say that I was fortunate to have a family that was willing to help me comprehend life and a system that had a plan.

Growing up in a home with a father that struggled with his emotions and a mother that would now be diagnosed mentally retarded would not necessarily be thought of as an unsafe environment. However, when this is paired with emotional abuse of being cursed at and degraded by words that are unimaginable, the picture starts to become clearer.

The memories I have of my childhood are not full of warm beds, hugs and kisses from mom and dad, food on the table and clean clothes. My hardships started with my brother and I being molested by who was a so-called family friend. I was 4 or 5 and my brother was 7 or 8. These actions continued for almost 3 years when everything came to a head when my brother told an uncle what was happening. As young kids we thought this was normal interaction between adults and young children. Later investigations happened and the man was imprisoned for 15 years. I could look at this as one success, but my story continues with even more hardship. 

My parents went into debt and I started living in poverty. My parents made $12,000.00 a year to support a family of 6. My dad started to lose control and started throwing hot cups of coffee and anything else he could grab at my siblings and me. This behavior escalated and soon my brothers and I were being disciplined with twigs off of trees, belts and at one point 2x4 boards. My mother did not know how to control her emotions due to the emotional and physical actions from my father so she started yelling and cursing at him. With all the chaos around us (my siblings and me) we started to fight with each other. My parents’ home, which was a trailer, became riddled with holes and broken windows. My brothers and I would throw each other into walls, through windows and even over the banister onto concrete. Our lives were out of control and we eventually found peace, by starting to do drugs.

I was now in the 5th grade and remember going to school after smoking marijuana for several hours in a car. The peace I thought would take me away from the chaos of my parents, from not having food and living in a home full of holes and now cockroaches was short lived once I came down from “paradise” and had to face the real world alone. My troubles escalated and became worse. I stopped going to school and started seeking out sex, drugs, alcohol and food. I would find myself going into stores and stealing food and clothing to satisfy my hunger and to replace the rags I was wearing. I remember my issues getting so bad, I missed 97 days of school, worked under the table making money building pools, could drink almost a case of beer a night, would smoke cigarettes and marijuana, stole almost everything I had, and starting giving myself tattoos all before I was 12 years old.

It was at this time that the child welfare system stepped in asked for a court hearing and filed a petition for me to enter foster care. My perception was “this is the beginning to the end of my life.” Later looking back I realize this was the starting of the new life I longed for. I started living with a family who was willing for me to make mistakes in order for them to show me how to cope with the outcome. This family showed me what it meant to have unconditional love. They never scolded me or threw things at me when they were frustrated. They talked through situations and achieved an outcome in a positive manner. My resilience to my old way of life helped me to embrace the positive changes that were being shown to me. I entered the foster care system at 12 years old and aged out when I was 21 years old. Through the 9 years in foster care I learned how to make a complete change in my way of life. There were struggles along the way and tears of frustration and joy, but I learned what it meant to have a family that loved a person for who they were.

I was asked when I was 16 if I would like to be adopted and I said no. My father had signed off his parental rights and now custodianship was held by the state. My foster family vowed to keep me in their home and provide for me as long as I wanted to be part of their family. The laws at that time did not allow adoptive parents to have assistance or any benefits after they adopted. Due to this, my foster parents would be required to pay for everything for me including my dream to attend college and this was one of the reasons I was reluctant to be adopted by them. I did go to college, and realized that everything I learned within the foster care system prepared me for college and to now work in the child welfare system.

What I lack not being adopted is the permanent connection and the feeling that I belong to a family. This lack of connection does get overwhelming and sometimes make me angry or well up with tears. However, it does not damper the success that I have made in my life and has only increased the fire that I have to work with children in foster care and help them become adopted. The joy and passion I have with working in my job helps me to have a sense of completeness when a child is adopted. I live by a motto that I have passed on to several children I work with, and the motto is this “Dreams become goals and goals become a reality.” All my success and the dreams I succeeded in are credited to a family that saw beyond the eyes of a child and a system that had a plan and knew what can come from such a determined young man.

Tonight is the premiere of The Fosters, a show on ABC Family that tells the story of a lesbian couple and their diverse family. The comedy-drama is about two women raising a "21st-century" multi-ethnic mix of foster and biological children. The conservative group One Million Moms condemned the executive producer, Jennifer Lopez, and the show, encouraging audiences to boycott it. The group is against shows with lesbian themes, stating: "While foster care and adoption is a wonderful thing and the Bible does teach us to help orphans, this program is attempting to redefine marriage and family by having two moms raise these children together." They issued the following statement: "Obviously, ABC has lost their minds. They haven’t let up so neither will we. ABC’s Family Channel has several anti-family programs, and they are planning on adding to that growing list." In response, ABC subsequently backed the television show, saying The Fosters "perfectly merges with the network’s groundbreaking storytelling and iconic characters and will feature depth, heart, close relationships and authenticity." Will you be watching The Fosters

 
From Monday, May 13th through Wednesday, May 15th, I had the pleasure of attending the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Summit. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, an Ohio based organization whose goal is to implement proactive, child-focused recruitment programs targeted exclusively on moving America’s longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families (DTFA).
 
Attending the Summit is nothing new for me as I have been a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter for 4 years and 9 months. In the months leading up to the Summit, I was at my usual level of excitement. I wondered which recruiters from around the country and Canada I would see again, who had exciting adoption stories to tell, and who would our speakers and panelists be. About two weeks before the Summit, my DTFA Grant Manager sent an email out with the agenda. I quickly browsed through, but at the end of the agenda, something caught my eye.
                       

Keynote: Saved by adoptionShawn Hessee, Rolling Through Adversity – Confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, Shawn, considered unadoptable, was adopted by his preschool teacher.

 
 
This keynote topic spoke to me, so much that I immediately emailed my grant manager to thank her for including Shawn in the Summit. To provide some background on why I was so excited to hear from Shawn, I will share a little about the youth on my caseload.
 
I serve a caseload of 10 youth—8 boys and 2 girls. Of the 10, 5 are considered medically fragile, 2 have autism and 1 has Down syndrome. Most of them at one time or another has been considered unadoptable. Recruitment for them has not been easy, and despite feeling personally defeated on their behalf, I know that I must continue on in the search for their forever families.
 
Fast forward from the time my grant manager sent the email to May 15th. I have just experienced two days of powerful presenters—doctors, child welfare specialists, recruiters and youth who have aged out of care—all people who have been affected by foster care and/or adoption. Finally it was time to hear Shawn’s story. I already knew Shawn’s story would hit home with me, but I do not think I could have imagined the impact he would have on me, my kids, and my work in adoption recruitment.
 
Wearing a stylish suit and an award winning smile, Shawn commanded the audience from the start of his presentation. He shared his story from birth to present day. Sharing his ups and his downs, his victories and losses, he spoke about his families (biological, foster and adoptive), his passion for wrestling, his work history and his current profession. When Shawn was young, he wanted to wrestle, so the coach gave him a chance. Shawn was expected to work out and train just as the other wrestlers, despite having leg braces. He trained hard and prepared for his first match, which unfortunately he lost. He would actually go on to lose all of his matches, completing his high school career at 0-80. He remarked that as a society, we live in a world that tends to value wins over losses. Looking in from the outside, Shawn is by no means a loser. He is an inspiration.
 
He left the audience with the message that his mission is to help children embrace the challenges they face. As he wound down his speech, tears began to flow from my face. He provided us with an hour of inspirational words to last a lifetime. After his presentation, I stood in front of the entire audience and with tears flowing even harder now, thanked Shawn for sharing his story. He too makes me want to help children embrace their challenges and succeed in life.
 
After the presentation, I asked Shawn if I could give him a hug. He smiled, let me know that he loved hugs, and we embraced. Although I had just met him, I felt like I knew him forever. I quickly asked if I could remain in touch, as I knew I’d have my days where I felt as if I was failing, and could use his words of encouragement. Again he smiled, and let me know that I could reach out to him for support anytime. And I think he truly meant it, as we exchanged information and are now Facebook friends and follow each other on  Twitter.

Even as I write this, I can’t help but to tear up again. Not because I am sad, but because I know the potential that my children have and know that they have a “wonderful” role model in Shawn. He has truly made an impact on me.
 
 
 

 
 

We were pleased to have been selected as the beneficiary of proceeds realized from the 2nd Annual Charity Softball Tournament sponsored by Chubb Group of Insurance Companies - Philadelphia Branch. The event, held last Thursday at the Camden River Sharks Stadium, also included teams from the following agencies: Conner Strong & Buckelew; ECBM LP; Johnson, Kendall & Johnson; Altus Partners and NSM Insurance Group. CHUBB’s team won the day, congratulations to them!

 
 
We’d also like to thank Chubb for a $10,000 match challenge at our Celebration of Family Gala held in April. "Chubb has been a valued supporter of the Center," says Ken Mullner, the Center's executive director, " and has been a recipient of its Champion of Adoption award for its outstanding benefits program for employees. We especially appreciate the dedication and contributions of Bryce Graham, Chubb's vice president and marketing manager." Graham is a Center board member. Kelly O’Leary, the Pennsylvania Regional Branch Manager was also instrumental in making all of this happen.
 
Bryce Graham (left) and Ken Mullner
 
 

Last week, the United States Supreme Court Supreme Court considered the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s same-sex marriage statute. “If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples,” Justice Anton Scalia said, “you must permit adoption by same-sex couples. There’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not.” 

 
Actually, though there are some dissenters who say that research is not definitive — and some states block gay couples form jointly adopting children — there’s a broad consensus among major medical, psychological and child-welfare organizations that children raised by gay and lesbian parents fare just as well as those raised by straight parents. Scalia’s comments angered many gay-rights activists, including attorney Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, who called them “dishonest and disingenuous” for disregarding the consensus among child-welfare professionals. So exactly where is this so-called research Justice Scalia is referring to?

Voice for Adoption, of which the National Adoption Center is a founding member, is a membership advocacy organization that speaks out for our nation’s 104,000 waiting children in foster care, and the families that adopt children with special needs. VFA is committed to ensuring federal policies and funding match the ongoing needs of these children and their adoptive families. On February 27, VFA provided testimony to the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources and focused on four key areas:

1. The rate of adoption from foster care is increasing, but the adoption of older youth continues to be a struggle for States.

2. Youth who “age-out” are a vulnerable population and more must be done to secure permanency for these youth before exiting foster care.

3. Adoption experts—both professionals and families alike—identify post-adoption services as a critical need to support families, but a lack of resources to support these efforts is still a challenge.

4. State accountability for the use of federal adoption funding should be reviewed to ensure that reinvestment into supporting adopted children and their families’ is happening as required by law.

We will continue to be a vocal proponent to insure that our federal government addresses each of these concerns.

shared by Michelle, who's last day of interning with us is today...
 

I've known her since nearly the day I was born. She has remained a force in my life the years thereafter. Over the years, we had shared every aspect of our lives with each other. Well that’s what I thought.

I came to town to visit and we were spending a rainy night at the theater, as we have many times before. On the drive there we talked about our lives, as we have many times before. I told her about my experience working at the National Adoption Center and about some children living in foster care that I had the opportunity to meet. At that moment there was a silence in the car. I had no idea that what I said would turn into a conversation that would change the way I perceived her. 

She’s the daughter of a close relative. But when her parents could no longer take care of her, she was put into foster care, moving from house to house for six years. She cried on my shoulder as she was telling me. I wished my embrace could take those years away, take the pain away. She remembered everything like it was yesterday. She knew what it felt like to feel unwanted, craving nothing but stability. This was her life, until other relatives of mine took her in. They adopted her and gave her the home she had always wanted. 

I always thought that she was amazing. But after hearing her story and the triumph that she’s made, she’s so much stronger than she even realizes. I hope she remembers where she came from and looks at where she is now. Adoption changed her story. It makes me even more proud to say that I work for the National Adoption Center. To say that I may have had a hand in helping a child find a forever family. 

For years we have teamed up with KYW Newsradio to air a program called Wednesday’s Child, hosted by broadcast journalist Larry Kane. Larry, who has been a friend to NAC for more than 25 years, asks the children about themselves and why it is important to them to be adopted. These special interviews are featured on the radio every Wednesday, multiple times a day, with the goal of finding permanent loving homes for these children.

The children who now live in foster care, come to Philadelphia to be taped for the interview, many come from significant distances. NAC has been asking for donations from businesses in Old City Philadelphia, where KYW's studio is located, in an effort to make the day memorable for the children.

We met one of our most enthusiastic partners in this effort last month. Evan Sharps, owner of Old City T-Shirts , is a man who knows all about creating an experience to remember. When Evan heard about the different types of children we work with - the importance of finding them a family, and the joy it would bring to give them a day filled with fun memories, he was quick to hop on board.

Evan has graciously committed to offering every child involved in KYW Newsradio’s Wednesday’s Child program an opportunity to make a custom designed t-shirt in his souvenir shop. Evan’s charming shop is unlike any other. Customers get the chance to choose from a colorful selection of shirts, pick out their own design, and watch their t-shirt instantly come together.

We cannot thank business owners like Evan enough for helping us create a fun and exciting experience for the children who count on us to help find them families.

Spread the support and drop into Old City T-Shirts to see what the hype’s all about!

If you are interested in donating to the National Adoption Center’s Philly Fun Package, contact Beth at: bvogel@adopt.org 

Foster parents would be considered public employees allowed to form, join and participate in unions under a bill introduced in Oregon. State Senator Chip Shields introduced a similar bill in 2009 that failed to make it out of committee. According to Shields, “The impetus is How do we help foster parents to be seen as a vital part of the social services safety net?”. More than 8,000 Oregon children are in foster care. This begs the question: Is foster parenting a job, or a calling? 

 

On this day, dedicated to love, we want to thank you!

  • Thank you to the families who open up their loving homes to children living in foster care 
  • Thank you to the children who keep faith and hope alive that they will find a family to call their own 
  • Thank you to our donors for your vital financial support so we may continue expanding adoption opportunities for the more than 104,000 children who need to be adopted 

Thanks to all of you who inspire us to continue our work of finding forever families for children who only desire to be loved.

Happy Valentines day!

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