Holt adoptee Michelle Sherwood receives special recognition for her advocacy of children in need of families
by Robin Munro, Senior Writer
He flips. He cartwheels. He can even do “the worm.” Jayson hams it up for the camera as KSPR News, a station in Springfield, Missouri, films his acrobatic dance moves. “Blood rushes to my head and I like the way it feels,” he says, smiling and trying to catch his breath, his arms casually dangling over the gymnastics bars.
KSPR News has chosen to feature Jayson in a Wednesday’s Child segment, a weekly program designed to help children in foster care find homes. KSPR News anchor – and Holt adoptee – Michelle Sherwood introduces and narrates the segment. She also interviews Jayson during filming.
“If you could have three wishes, what would you wish for?” she asks him.
“To find a family, for me to see my sisters every day, and for me to go to heaven,” he says, before bouncing back to gymnastics practice.
Michelle and her team tailor segments to the children’s interests – they take them to interactive museums, to farms, to the zoo. One baseball-enthusiast received a lesson from the local team. Another got an art lesson. As well as behind-the-scenes work, Michelle participates in many of the segments, shooting hoops or baking cakes, engaging every child.
“We try to bring out the best in these kids,” she says.
Since the program appeared in May, many of the kids featured on Wednesday’s Child have found families. Michelle’s efforts to show children at their best also caught her local representative’s attention. In October, Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt presented her with an Angel in Adoption award for her advocacy on behalf of children who need homes.
On this, Michelle is quite humble. “Although I am thrilled and honored to be accepting a congressional award for my volunteerism,” she wrote on her blog, “it does not even compare to the daily contributions our social workers make.”
Michelle’s efforts, however, are anything but modest. She began lobbying for Wednesday’s Child at KSPR News over a year ago, after learning a disturbing statistic about the community her station serves. Greene County has the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the state of Missouri, a statistic correlated with the high number of children in the foster care system.
“Why,” she thought, “are we not doing something for these kids to help find them homes?”
As a broadcast journalist, Michelle found a tremendous resource at her fingertips. She discovered Wednesday’s Child, a common vehicle used by news stations across the country to promote adoption, and initiated partnership with The Adoption Exchange – a national child welfare organization that recruits adoptive families for foster children. The segments were an instant success.
“Every time the story airs, they get a lot of calls,” she says. Since Wednesday’s Child first appeared six months ago, six kids have been adopted.
“It makes me want to come to work every day,” she says.
Born in South Korea, but raised in rural Missouri, Michelle’s passion for promoting adoption began at a young age. She attended heritage camps as a kid and annual Holt dinners during her teen years. When she turned 18, she traveled to Korea for the first time and visited Holt offices to view her records. After meeting her birth family, she returned on two more adoptee tours.
“There were so many lost adoptees who had never had any contact with other adoptees, no exposure to Korean culture, and suddenly we’re in Korea,” she says. “I felt really horrible for them.” Michelle felt compelled to help her fellow adult adoptees by advocating for better post-adoption services. “This is how it started,” she says.
First, she became an area rep for Dillon International, an Oklahoma-based adoption agency whose functions Michelle attended as a child. She participated in forums and became a source of support and guidance for fellow adoptees. At the urging of a Dillon social worker, she once drove to St. Louis to counsel someone who, after meeting his birth family, was planning to quit his job and move to Korea. “This is a big decision and you might not find the answers you want,” she told him. “So many people try to find answers by going home and end up disappointed.” For Michelle, this instance demonstrated the need for a better network of adult adoptees.
“Advocacy, in my opinion, needs more post-adoption programs – some sort of alliance to help families,” she says. Holt has also recognized this growing need, expanding post-adoption services over the years from assistance with birth searches to counseling and referral services, as well as opportunities for adoptees to connect through adoptee camps and heritage tours.
Today, Michelle continues to be a staunch advocate for adoption and post-adoption services. She serves on local adoption boards and often speaks before organizations in her community. As an adoptee and a public figure, Michelle attracts significant attention to the cause she’s championed. But she also takes a hands-on approach. “I’ve done a lot of speaking events on how I came to the U.S., on adoption in general,” she says. “Or parents will call me to talk to their Korean adoptee daughter who’s getting picked on at school.”
Through volunteer work with International Adoptive Families of Southwest Missouri, she began mentoring three girls adopted from China. “We go shopping and talk about stuff that happens at school. They’re teenagers, so sometimes we just talk about boys,” she says. “I feel like sometimes, it’s just about knowing people.” People with similar backgrounds, who’ve shared similar experiences.
Michelle also keeps a blog where she writes about her life and her passion for adoption advocacy, and reposts Wednesday’s Child segments. “I would probably leave TV news if I thought I could work with Korean adoptees or for an international adoption agency,” she writes in one post. But as an adoptee working in broadcast news, Michelle provides an invaluable service to the adoption community. Not only by spearheading Wednesday’s Child, but also by educating the public – and fellow anchors – on how to talk about adoption.
“I have tried to educate our newsroom,” she says. She works to eradicate inadvertently hurtful words and phrases from adoption stories – phrases like “real mom.”
By changing the way the media talks about adoption, she hopes to change public perceptions of adoption as well. “People need to be educated on how special adoption is,” she says. “I have a job that allows me to do it in a nice way, and people will listen.” Michelle’s efforts with Wednesday’s Child also counter many of the negative stories cycling through the media. “Russia is still causing an impact,” she says of the recent scandal about a U.S. woman who sent her adopted son back to Russia. “But the good [stories] can definitely outweigh the bad ones.”
Adoption is particularly special to Michelle. And that adds perhaps the greatest weight to her advocacy efforts. “I always share my story,” she says.
The Angel in Adoption event in D.C. left Michelle a bit star-struck. She sat two tables away from Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, who also received an award. But swapping stories and advocacy ideas with fellow adoptees, adoptive parents and professionals in the field – “us little people” – left her most inspired. “I just met a lot of amazing adoptive families,” she says.
While broadcasting a cause through TV news reaches a broad audience, everyday efforts by regular people can be just as powerful, if not more. Michelle is hoping for more community involvement in Wednesday’s Child. “I would just like to see them share the word about these kids,” she says. By posting child segments on Facebook pages, company websites or adoption agency sites, they have the potential to “go viral” – reaching many more people than viewed the original news segment.
By going viral, and continually advocating for kids who need homes, Michelle hopes to not only raise awareness – but change hearts and minds too. “I would just like to see more people open their homes to adoption,” she says. She hopes for others to see adoption less as a fallback plan to giving birth, and more as a wonderful way to become parents. “I hate it that adoption is a second choice,” she says. “I want to change that. I feel like adoption is a first choice, and I think it is changing.”
* Holt’s upcoming November e-newsletter will introduce our own weekly Waiting Child segment, featuring a Waiting Child in Holt’s care. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to learn more about this segment and how you can join with Holt in finding families for children.