It’s both a week of fun, and a week of important work. As seven Americans packed their bags for a seven-day trip to the Philippines, a group of 13 children from the Southeast Asian country — children overdue for permanent, loving families — buzzed with growing excitement. This is the third annual Philippines Ambassador trip, a pilot adoption program Holt started in 2011 for older children in the Philippines. American ambassadors, chosen by Holt, travel together for a week of activities, field trips and fun with the group of 5-14 year olds waiting for adoptive families. Then, the ambassadors return to the U.S. to help the children find their forever homes.
The ambassadors will blog about the kids, the experience, and the Philippines. Through the ambassadors’ words, we will learn more about each child’s background, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and his or her dreams for the future. In turn, we will share the children’s stories with our friends, families and communities to help every child in the program have a forever family. However, before we meet the kids, Holt would like to introduce the seven compassionate Americans preparing to embark as ambassadors.
Jessica Palmer is one of three Holt staff members heading to the Philippines, and she is leading the trip. She has worked for Holt for six years, and currently serves as director of adoption services for Southeast Asia. Jessica has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston, and she is devoted to finding adoptive families for children, especially older children and children with special needs.
The second Holt staff member taking part in the trip is Lisa Morra, Holt’s branch director in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Morra has been a part of the Holt team since 2001. She has a master’s degree in social work from Kean University, with an emphasis in both education and experience working with at-risk teens.
Kay Bambach is a 23-year veteran staff member of Holt, dedicating her time to social work at the New Jersey and Pennsylvania branch. Prior to joining the Holt team, Kay spent more than 14 years working in child welfare in Virginia. She and her husband have four grown children who now live across the U.S. and in Singapore.
As an adoptive parent of an older child, Anthony Canna has both the passion and experience to be a great Philippines ambassador. In March 2013, Anthony and his family adopted an 8-year-old boy from China. A few months after arriving home, Anthony’s son had surgery to correct his cleft palate, and Anthony said the surgery has helped his son grow more confident and talkative. Now, Anthony can’t imagine his family without his son. All three of his children get along great, and Anthony said he is amazed at the progress his son has made.
Elizabeth Occhipinti is the co-founder and president of Miriam’s Heart, an organization that seeks to create a culture of adoption within the church. Elizabeth started the adoption and foster care resource ministry in her home. Today, Elizabeth works as the organization’s community liaison between adoptive and foster families, adult adoptees and prospective adoptive and foster families, and with agencies and orphan care organizations. Elizabeth and her husband are also adoptive parents, and they live with their five children in New Jersey.
Nadine Water’s life changed after visiting orphaned and abandoned children during a 2006 mission trip to China. When Nadine returned to the U.S., she started OrphanCare, a ministry at her church, which works to advocate, pray for and improve the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children. She also serves as co-director for the Orphan Alliance of Southwest Pennsylvania — a regional alliance that enables area churches to work together with the common goal of caring for vulnerable children and orphans. She and her husband have two pre-teen children.
Finally, there is Tony Formica, the father of four children adopted through Holt’s China program. His children range in age from 5 to 12 years old. Tony is a self-employed consultant and army veteran. He said he’s excited to advocate for Holt and children, since he believes strongly in adoption.
The ambassadors’ blogs will be published on a password-protected website, which helps ensure the safety and privacy of the children. If you are interested in reading the ambassadors’ blogs, please request a password for the protected site by visiting the Philippines page on Holt’s website. Some posts and updates will be published on Holt’s blog, which you can access without a password by clicking here.