Another Sunglasses Day

A Gift Team participant’s emotional journey touring Holt facilities in Korea.

Blog excerpts from Kim Hanson,  adoptee and adoptive mother, and Korea Gift Team participant. In her blogs, Kim shares about her experiences at the Jeonju Baby home and Ilsan Center in Korea, as well as her time spent with Holt foster mothers. Read more about Kim’s time in Korea below, and experience these activities for yourself as part of the Korea gift team in December! Click here to learn more!

 

Tuesday, December 6 (Visiting the Jeonju Baby Home)

Today our team went to the Jeonju Baby Home. We went to the usual E- Mart to pick up snacks and treats for the kids. Then it was off to the toy store to buy extra fun things that all the kids will have to share. Each team member donated a certain amount of money that went towards specific presents for the kids. When I say presents, I really mean that each of the kids gets one gift, that’s it for Christmas.

Prior to Santa and Mrs. Claus handing out the gifts, the kids put on performances they have been working on all year long just for our visit. They are truly precious. It was such a blessing for me to see these kids put every emotion into their routines.

As I watched the kids, I also watched our tour group. A few were crying, so of course, I started crying. And I didn’t have my sunglasses! They were on the bus, so I couldn’t hide the tears.

I told the other ladies that these kids were in a loving home, and that this home was better than being on the streets. I know that’s a tough thing to consider when we think about how lucky we were to be adopted. The other ladies crying were also adoptees like myself. We saw ourselves in the eyes of these children; we truly are the lucky ones. But today, we needed to remember that we made the day of these precious babies just by being there with them, playing with them, holding them, laughing with them, loving them…even for just those few hours, we made a difference and touched their lives.

 

Thursday, December 11 (Foster Mother Visit)

Yesterday, a Holt foster mother spoke about her feelings regarding being a foster mother and caring for children. We were handed the translation of her speech and as she was speaking, I began to read it…well, needless to say, I couldn’t read past the first few lines before I had to get my sunglasses. I actually had to stop reading it.

I say these foster mothers have the hardest job in the world, for they give of themselves with their whole heart to care for our children until they are placed with their forever family. I always say the toughest part of raising a child is from an infant to six months, and then they ‘start’ being fun. Our foster mothers raise and love our kids during these months over and over again, child after child. They truly are our angels watching over our angels. We honored foster mothers for their service of 5-35 years and those that were retiring. Continue reading “Another Sunglasses Day”

Someone Who Gets It

Grant heads to preschool and meets a special friend.

by TJ Gorman

Grant met Becky, a fellow Holt adoptee, at his preschool's open house.

Our match with Grant did not happen in a traditional way. We had received an e-mail with three child profiles and inquired about one of the little boys for a variety of reasons. We decided not to proceed. However, in talking with a social worker in Oregon about our decision, she mentioned two new referrals that had come in, both were boys. She spoke with our local social worker, Celeste, who passed on the information to us. We were told Grant had a congenital leg disorder, but the details about his actual diagnosis were hazy. We fell in love with his picture and that was all it took. We were matched in June and traveled to Nanchang, China in November 2011.

Grant adjusted fairly quickly to our family. It became clear that he was well loved and quite spoiled in his orphanage. I had initially opted to take a longer amount of time off from work when we got back, but he was doing so well, I wanted to save vacation for when he would have his surgery. He had gone with his father or me several times to drop off his siblings at day care and also to pick them up. We felt that it was good to have him witness the repeated action of “drop off and pick up,” so he would see that we would, in fact, pick him up when his time came. This method paid off beautifully. He had no issues being dropped off at his new day care when I returned to work. The staff took to him as quickly as we all have, and loved him immensely.

It was a difficult decision to switch Grant from the day care he had come to know to a preschool. We felt that it would ultimately be best for him to be in the same school as his siblings. He would also be provided with physical therapy and any language assistance he may need, and remaining with his siblings would provide comfort in the transition.

Grant excitedly went to the open house. He loved seeing the school and taking his new supplies to his classroom. While meeting his teacher, we were introduced to the three other paraprofessionals in his classroom. We noticed that one of his teachers, Becky Smith, was Asian. We introduced Grant to Becky, and didn’t think anything of it really. After my mother-in-law spoke more with Becky, we learned that she too was a Holt adoptee. She let us know that she was originally from Korea and is incredibly grateful to Holt for the life that she has.

We briefly talked about the local Holt picnics and other events, but we had to move on to the next classroom to meet our other children’s teachers. It was incredibly comforting to meet an adult Holt adoptee that was happy and doing great. It gave us a lot of peace. It also provided us with comfort knowing that there is someone in that room who will understand. She could truly empathize with his silences when he’s reflecting on the changes in his life, understand the tears when he gets rejected over the simplest of things, and rejoice in the accomplishments and growth that he makes. In short, knowing that someone there gets it, and knows the struggles an adopted child can face, let alone an internationally adopted child… it’s awesome.

 

 

 

Holt Adoptee, Born Without Hands, Wins National Penmanship Award

On April 18th, Holt adoptee Annie Clark received the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellent Penmanship — one of two awards the Zaner-Bloser language arts and reading company offers for students who have disabilities.

Born without hands, Annie has learned to write with a pencil wedged between her arms. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Annie’s parents — Tom and Mary Ellen Clark — says this is also how their 7-year-old daughter feeds and dresses herself, cuts with scissors and even paints her toenails.

“Annie has always been very, very determined, very self-sufficient in dressing herself and feeding herself,” Mr. Clark told a Post-Gazette reporter. “She can ride a bike. She swims. She is just determined that there’s nothing she can’t do.”

Adopted from China in 2007, Annie is one of nine siblings in her family — six of whom her parents adopted through Holt. In addition to Annie, the Clarks adopted sons Travis and Talbot, 10, and Tyler, 18, all of whom are missing parts of their right forearm. They also have two other adopted daughters, Alyssa, 18, who also has Down syndrome, and Amelia, 4, who has an undiagnosed lesion on her leg. The Clarks have three biological children as well — Amanda, 29, Amy, 25 and Abbey, 21. Abbey was born with Down syndrome.

On Monday, the whole family will travel to Texas to appear on the Glenn Beck show!

For her great achievement, Annie received a trophy “nearly half her height,” $1,000 and prizes awarded during a surprise assembly at her school. Congratulations Annie!

To read the full article about Annie in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.

To Help Them Grow and Thrive

In 2007, Cindy Kaplan and Mishelle Rudzinski founded the SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are nourished. Here, Mishelle shares her story of adopting Bakha, who — along with Cindy’s son Jadyn — inspired the creation of this pioneering non-profit.

by Mishelle Rudzinski, MA CCC-SLP and co-founder of SPOON Foundation

Mishelle Rudzinski with Bakha and Cindy Kaplan with Jadyn.

Cindy Kaplan and I met in 2006, while both in process to adopt our first child from Kazakhstan. Although both looking to start a family, we never thought that these adoptions would also inspire the beginning of a groundbreaking nonprofit organization.

When Cindy and her husband, Tony, brought home their son, Jadyn, he was declared to be suffering from “failure to thrive” — an imprecise medical term used when a child’s weight or weight gain is “significantly” below that of children of the same gender and age.

At 8 months old, Jadyn weighed just 11 pounds and did not have the strength to lift his head.

Cindy took Jadyn to nutritionists and feeding experts who did not have experience with adoption, and she quickly became frustrated.  The standard approach for helping a malnourished infant is to feed a high-calorie formula, and continue it past the typical cut-off age of one year, if necessary. But Jadyn rejected bottle-feeding and most liquids. So, Kaplan turned to books and online adoption chat rooms and trained herself in the techniques and diet tricks that would nourish Jadyn beyond the danger zone.

My daughter, Bakha, was 5 years old when she came home. At the time, she was so severely handicapped by an undiagnosed — and fully preventable — case of rickets and anemia that the adoption agency made me sign papers stating I understood that Bakha might not live to age 18.  She barely walked and was the size of a small 2-year-old.

Within days of the adoption, Bakha was diagnosed with rickets and given high doses of Vitamin D.  Within weeks, she started walking and then running.

She grew eight inches in the first year home.

Although her nutritional status started to improve, she struggled mightily with adapting to her new diet of unfamiliar flavors and textures. A speech-language pathologist by training, I knew how to work with kids with feeding difficulties, but Bakha gave me a run for my money and challenged me to learn even more about the difficulties that previously under-nourished kids face.

As our kids began to heal, Cindy and I couldn’t help but think “what if,” and felt an intense responsibility to the children left behind. We sought ways to volunteer but couldn’t find any organizations working to systematically change the rampant problem of malnutrition in orphanages — in Kazakhstan or anywhere else in the world.

In 2007, a year after our families were formed through adoption, Cindy and I created SPOON Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the way orphaned, fostered and adopted children around the globe are being nourished.

Continue reading “To Help Them Grow and Thrive”

Rediscover Korea

 The mother to the youngest member of Holt’s Korea heritage tour last summer shares about their experience

by Lori Eurich

My husband Dane and I took our 8-year-old son, Ryan, on last summer’s Holt Korea Heritage Tour to give him the opportunity to visit and experience his birth culture. We also wanted him to meet and thank the two wonderful foster mothers who lovingly cared for him before he came home in 2003. I had a strong desire to express my appreciation and gratitude, in person, to his foster mothers as well. I felt this tour would be the best way for our families to visit for the first time as well as meet other adoptive families. All of the activities and itinerary were well planned with the adoptees in mind.

Ryan was excited to learn that we were taking him to Korea. We’ve been attending Korean culture events for many years, but we all wanted to actually experience it. Ryan loves to travel and has been interested in learning more about his birth culture. Each day he looked forward to the stops and activities, which included historical places, museums and lots of photos.

Meeting our son’s foster mothers was one of the most memorable events on the tour. Our first meeting at the Holt office was filled with hugs and tears as Mrs. Lee marveled over how much Ryan had grown. We’ve been sending photos and cards since he came home and it was great to finally meet her. She showed us a photo album, and we learned about some of the people and places that were part Ryan’s life when he was there. At lunch, she was pleased to see Ryan happily eating his beef wrapped in lettuce. We were amazed at how long both women have been caring for Holt babies, and how many they have cared for over the years. Our Seoul foster mom invited us to her home for a wonderful lunch of bulgogi, japchae, pajeon, kimbap and soup. The foster sister and her husband spoke English. The sister’s baby boy and Ryan played ball together, too. Mrs. Lee brought out some of the clothes Ryan wore and pillows he used. She even had his photo on display. Ryan thought it was fun to see some of the things he used during his stay and wanted to try on some pants that were much too small. I thanked both foster moms for taking such good care of Ryan and told them how much I appreciated their efforts. Continue reading “Rediscover Korea”

Holt Employee Testifies for Proposed Legislation on Cleft Lip and Palate Surgeries

An adoptive father and longtime Holt employee recently traveled to Oregon’s capital city to testify on behalf of a bill that would increase insurance coverage for cleft lip and palate surgeries in Oregon.  His story can be found on the front page of today’s Register Guard.

 

Lydia Hale, with parents Dean and Cindy

Dean Hale, Holt’s director of services for India, and his wife, Cindy, adopted their daughter, Lydia, from Korea in 1993. Born with a cleft palate, Lydia required many intensive surgeries after coming home to Eugene – surgeries that often involved orthodontic work and weren’t covered by insurance.

In January, Dean learned of House Bill 4128 – a proposed bill that would require health insurance policies to cover both reconstructive surgery and orthodontic treatment for individuals with cleft palate or cleft lip – a necessary combination of treatments says a majority of dentists and orthodontists. “Cleft lip and palate surgeries are much more effective and much less likely to fail when they are combined with orthodontic treatment, “says Dr. Judah Garfinkle, a Portland-based orthodontist.

Not only is orthodontic procedures a necessary step in craniofacial reconstruction, it’s also one that can greatly increase the psychological well-being of patients says Lydia Hale. “People who have had successful treatment are more confident and, maybe, less introverted,” says Lydia. “It’s really benefited them.”

Like Bertha Holt when she urged Congress to pass a special law allowing her and her husband, Harry, to bring home eight Korean-war orphans, Holt and its devoted employees continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of children, both overseas and here in the United States.

“Whatever happens to House Bill 4128 will be too late to benefit my family,” said Dean during his testimony. “I have no self interest in this, but this bill will be a godsend to many Oregon families.”

House Bill 4128 was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber earlier this month.

Click here to read the full story in the Register Guard

An Adventure to Remember

Join a Holt Heritage tour!

by Christopher Varacchi

Chris learns how to make kimchi

Last summer, I traveled to South Korea for the first time since being adopted at 3 months old. I traveled with the Holt Heritage Tour, which included a group of Korean-American adoptees and their families, and Paul Kim, director of programs for Holt. While in South Korea, we visited the country’s major cities, experienced Korean cuisine and visited Holt facilities. This once in a lifetime experience greatly exceeded my expectations.  It’s a trip that I will never forget.

I am a law student living in Brooklyn and was adopted by a loving family from the Mid-Atlantic region. I have a younger sister who was also adopted from South Korea. Since I can remember, my parents have encouraged me to travel to South Korea with Holt International to search for my birth parents. They raised me to understand that this was an important experience for my own growth, and something that I should do when still young. For most of my life, I wanted to travel to South Korea with my parents and sister, but a couple years before going, I decided to travel by myself. I wanted this to be a personal experience. However, as the departure date approached, I grew very nervous and wished that I had someone to go with.

I flew out of Philadelphia to Seattle, where I would stay the night and meet with the Holt group the next day. The minute I met the other adoptees traveling to South Korea, I felt an instant connection. This was the first time that I had interacted with a large group of Korean-American adoptees. As we waited for the plane to the Incheon Airport, we shared stories about our childhood and what our expectations were for our trip. I soon realized that even though we varied in age and came from very different places in America, we shared a similar perspective of South Korea and were all nervous about our upcoming visit. After quickly making friends, I felt more comfortable and excited about the adventure to come.

Being in South Korea

The Holt Heritage tour group at Harry and Bertha Holt's graves.
I was surprised by how much and how quickly I fell in love with the country. Although I had no recollection of Seoul, I immediately felt comfortable being there.  I looked like everyone around me, which I never experienced in America, and the urban atmosphere made me feel more even more at ease. Continue reading “An Adventure to Remember”

Why Holt Adoptee Camp is So Special….AND FUN!

A message from Michael Tessier, former youth services manager and camp director:

 Hey, everyone. I wanted to give you an opportunity to learn about camp straight from the mouths of our biggest participants. What follows is an interview I conducted — with an adoptee on camp leadership staff — that will hopefully help you learn more about the program.

 

Michael: Hey Tracy! You and I worked closely this summer, but the readers aren’t familiar with you yet. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

 Tracy: Well, my name is Tracy, and I grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts — a small suburban town with only 3-4 other Asian Americans in my school. I have a younger brother who is also adopted, Robbie. I am currently acting, and lived in LA after college. I am now living in Atlanta with my husband, and pursuing my acting career here.

M: Awesome! And you volunteered with camp this summer, too! What was your position and what did you do?

T: It was my first time at Holt camp! I originally applied to be a counselor, but then I became leadership [staff managing the counselors]. Being around that many adoptees was amazing — it was an amazing time in my life. As leadership, we were in charge of training and supervising the counselors. We helped design the overall curriculum of the camps and helped find new ways to support camper identity.  I found myself being a counselor, mentor and sister to the campers and counselors. I will remember the experience for the rest of my life. It has profoundly changed the person I am. It has given me strength and foundation.

 M: That’s really cool. What did you think of the experience?

 T: It was my first time with other adoptees, so it was overwhelming and life-changing. It made me feel like I was a part of a community — a community I had no idea existed up until that point.

M: What do you think the campers enjoyed the most? What did the counselors enjoy?

 T: I think the campers just loved being in a fun environment where they felt safe and loved. They were a part of a community that made them feel like they could be themselves, some for the first time. They could relax and look around, and see so many others who could understand what they were feeling — a bond unlike any other in their lives.

[Feeling like] a mentor to younger adoptees was a common feeling among counselors, who used their own life experiences to support campers. The counselors also found new friendships among the other counselors. I saw a lot of love among the counselors and great friendships being made, which, in turn, extended to the campers.

M: Would you recommend camp to young adoptees? Why or why not?

 T: Of course I would recommend camp to young adoptees. I only wish I knew about these camps when I was younger! It is an invaluable experience! Even if campers don’t want to talk about identity, racism or adoption [one component of camp], they can be around others who they can relate to.M: Lastly, any words of wisdom you’d like to impart to your young adoptee readers regarding adoption or camp?

T: Working with Holt this past summer has given me a family. I walked away with sisters, brothers and best friends, who will be a part of my life forever. I felt safe and loved around people that could relate to me. It’s indescribable, having this environment where you feel relaxed, comfortable, and supported. I don’t know what it is about these camps — and the time we share with other adoptees — that bonds us in a way I’ve never experienced before. I can only hope that every adoptee gets to experience these camps.

Just know that you are not alone! You are unique, beautiful and amazing. And there’s a community out there just waiting to embrace you. We are only a phone call, text, FB message away!

 

For more information on Holt adoptee camp, contact Michael Tessier at michaelt@holtinternational.org

Learn more about Holt Adoptee Camp

 

We Will Be Their Praying Family

A mother with two adopted siblings teaches her young daughter, Zion, about the joy of adoption and the importance of praying for the children who wait

by Lindsay Evers Carroll Babcock

 

I still remember the drive to Des Moines, IA to pick up my new baby brother, a 13-month-old from Korea who I had never met, but longed to hold for the first time. Or when I looked at the picture of a little girl — my sister — and wondered how much longer we would have to wait for her! I remember knowing right away that these children belonged with us, and that I was blessed to call them my family.

Zion (far left) with Uncle Mathew and Aunt Taylor. Zion's prayers at night help Holt's waiting children find families of their own! Thank you to Zion and her family for their prayers and support!
Because of the wonderful experiences with my brother and sister, the idea to raise my children to know and understand the great joy and blessing of adoption was only natural. I have felt very passionate about adoption and have even longed to make a child part of our family through this wonderful journey as well.

In March 2011, my husband and I decided to pursue two beautiful babies we had seen on Holt’s waiting child photolisting. As a family, we prayed constantly for them! We put their picture on our refrigerator and their beautiful faces even graced the screens of our computers. We petitioned God on their behalf that they would find their forever families, be it us or not. So when we got the news that we were not the family chosen for them, heartbreak would stand to reason. However, that was not what we felt. We felt joy that God had answered our prayers and that their heartbreak would soon end through the love of a family they could call their own! We still felt like God had given us that experience for a reason, and we knew that the love we felt for them was not in vain or without merit. We then considered another child on the photolisting, and started praying for him. Shortly after, we saw that he too had been adopted.

I thought, “Lord, why are you giving me this love for these children, but they are never meant to be my family?”  Whenever I am going through something hard, all I want is my family to pray for me. I felt like God was saying, “Who will be the family that prays and pleads for these children?” This is what adoption is all about is it not — to love someone despite relation and to long for something better for them? I remember thinking, “We will be that family for these children, Lord!”

We began showing our daughter Zion, who at the time was only 3 years old, the pictures of the children on the photolisting, and telling her about the needs of a child waiting for a family. My husband and I would explain to her that an orphan has no mommy or daddy to hold them and kiss them. We told her how thankful she should be that God had given her a family who loves her so much! We told her that God wants us to pray for those who don’t have that yet.

I remember when I showed her a picture of a child with a cleft palette.  She started to cry because she was afraid his nose was going to fall off. Continue reading “We Will Be Their Praying Family”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Winning the Lottery of Life

A message from Jane Ballback, post adoption guest blogger:  My daughter Stacee is guest blogging today! This post is a priceless gift to me from Stacee and was a complete surprise. Thank you for sharing this gift with me by reading on….

by Stacee Ballback

 

Whenever anybody asks me to explain how my last name is Ballback, why I can’t speak a word of Korean, or how I have two very Caucasian parents when I am very clearly Asian, my answer is always the same, “I was adopted.” The keyword here is “was.”

I never realized that I answered their questions in the past tense until I started noticing that other fellow adoptees answered the same questions, “I am adopted.” It made me realize that being adopted never felt like a state of being for me or like an all-encompassing aspect of my life. Instead, it felt like a single moment early in my life with a definite starting and ending point that happened and then was over. I don’t think that being an adopted child is so easy for everyone; I think some people are forever haunted by their adoption and it stays with them as a reminder throughout their lives that they were unwanted and unloved. I don’t see myself as unloved because I was given up; I see it as an ultimate act of sacrifice and love on my birth mother’s behalf because she wanted a better life for me then she could have provided me with.

A lot of people ask me how old I was and how I felt when my parents first told me that I was adopted, and in all honesty, I can’t remember where, when, what or how they told me. I think part of this lack of a traumatic “ah-ha” moment is due to the fact that I do not look anything like either of my parents. I think when I was young and before I could really understand adoption, I was searching for ways that my mother and I were alike. I remember walking through a parking lot with her on our usual In-n-Out and grocery shopping Sundays (a tradition I still enjoy to this day) and telling her that we looked alike because we both had dark hair. For me, finding out where I came from was more of a gradual discovery process that my parents eased me into, as opposed to a single shocking moment of realization that some adopted children may experience.

But I really think the main reason for this distress-free process is mostly a testament to the wonderful and natural job my parents did of raising me and communicating with me about where I came from. I never felt like I didn’t belong right where I was, and I hardly felt the need to search for my birth parents because I had already been planted in such a warm and loving family. When I was younger, I think my adoption troubled me. I wanted to know who my birth mother was, and I wanted to know why she had given me up.  As I got older and more capable of comprehending everything, I realized that being adopted was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I’m not trying to say that being adopted has not impacted me or that it is an insignificant aspect of my life in anyway, I’m only trying to emphasize that I do not see being adopted as who I am, but rather a part of who I am. I am very content and well assimilated into the American ‘cheeseburger and French fries’ way of life I grew up knowing, and I have my family to thank for this. Of course my adoption plays a large role in the person I am today and probably has a more significant role on a subconscious level, but I think that I am just very happy and grateful for the hand that I was dealt and the perfect childhood I was blessed with from my family. I don’t view my adoption as a dark cloud over my life or a taboo topic, because I grew up with parents that talked openly about it with me and constantly told me they were the luckiest parents in the world. In reality though, my brothers and I are the lucky ones, after all we basically won the lottery of life.

***I want to disclose that my mom didn’t ask me to write this. I wrote it because I’ve spent a lot of time at home this summer watching and listening to her passion and enthusiasm for telling our story.

I wrote it for her and my dad because I know how much they treasure my brothers and me. They both do so much for us that I wanted to do something meaningful for them and I know that writing this will mean more than any material gift I could ever give to them.

 

Visit Jane’s post adoption blog here