Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Introducing Jane

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children

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For the past three years, Holt adoptive parent Jane Ballback has shared her adoption stories with families waiting to bring their children home. An adoptive parent for 24 years, Jane speaks at parent training classes led by Holt Social Worker Mike Guinn. Mike offers the formal training. Jane presents the personal experiences relating to the issues being discussed.

“I provide the stories that bring the theories alive and help new parents figure out what they are about to face,” says Jane. “Everyone loves a good story, and mine are real, relatable and memorable. Adoption concepts are rather abstract and hard to explain until you understand how the theories play out in real life.”

Starting today, Jane will share her thoughts and stories on Holt’s blog once a week. The theories and issues discussed will be relevant to new adoptive families as well as families who have had their children home for some time. Our hope is that Jane’s blogs will serve as an educational tool for adoptive parents and also as a catalyst for candid, meaningful discussion.

Feel free to comment on Jane’s blog entries with your own suggestions, questions and personal stories as they relate to the topic being discussed.

Jane’s daughter, Stacee, will also occasionally be joining her mother as a guest blogger.

The following is a message from Jane:

Hello, my name is Jane and I am one of the luckiest women in the world. I have been married forty years to the “boy” I met in high school, I’ve had a fascinating and rewarding career as a Human Resource Consultant and Career Coach, and now that I’m retired I get to do volunteer work for non-profits whose missions are near and dear to my heart.

The best part of this story, though, is that along the way my husband and I adopted three children from Korea, who are now young adults. Being a parent was the hardest job I’ve ever done, and watching them grow and develop has been the experience of a lifetime.

I’ve always been an intensively curious woman and learning to be an adoptive parent was one of my greatest endeavors. Determined to be the best parent I could, I talked to adoption experts, read everything I could find about parenting adoptive children, and when I was “in over my head”, I worked with a gifted child psychologist, who is herself, adopted.

I was, by no means a “perfect” parent. Along the way I stumbled, survived, learned and laughed. The idea for this blog came out of the volunteer work I do for Holt International. For three years now I’ve been working with the Southern California social worker, helping to train parents who are waiting for their new arrival. He does the formal training and introduces the adoption theories and ideas – I provide the stories that bring the theories alive, and help new parents figure out what they are about to face. Everyone loves a good story, and mine are real, relatable and memorable.

I thought my first story would be about my daughter, Stacee who is now twenty years old and a junior in college. I want to introduce Stacee to you because she will periodically be blogging with me. I have often been asked how it is possible to love a child that is not your own. I understand the question — it’s just difficult to answer, so I often tell this story.

I actually did forget once, that I was not my daughter’s “real” mother. When Stacee was three she had a persistent fever and was turning bright red. After a few days of trying to figure this out, my pediatrician told me to drive directly to the Children’s Hospital and get her admitted. He suspected, rightfully so, that she had Kawasoki’s Disease. This is an unusual disease, common among Asians with just these symptoms. It’s a very treatable disease, but time was of the essence and the result of not treating it was the possibility of permanent damage to Stacee’s heart.

As I sat in the admitting department, with this hot, bright red child on my lap, I was distraught to say the least. The nurse began getting a history from me, Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Introducing Jane”

Where Your Paths Meet…

In honor of National Adoption Month, Holt adoptive mother of 2-year-old Zoey (shown in the video) and adoptee Kimberly Williams Shuck created a video of children who came home to their families through the journey of adoption! She hopes that it will inspire others to consider adoption as a wonderful way to build a family.

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I reached out to thirty or so of my friends from the adoption world and they provided me with a picture of their children and families brought together through adoption! I knew that anyone considering adoption had to see the faces of the children who had found their families, making one less orphan in the world.

I will do everything I can to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and spread the word about the miracle of adoption.

Adoption has its struggles, financially and emotionally for all involved, but just know that in the end God has a clear- cut plan for where each and every person’s path meets.

I hope that you will watch the video and pass it along, unknowing of who it may inspire and ultimately lead to new adoption journeys.

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Learn more about how you can spread the word about the wonderful journey of adoption…

Start your adoption journey today!…Click here to learn more.

An Angel in Adoption

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. Continue reading “An Angel in Adoption”

Sign Up for Next Summer’s Heritage Tours Today

Adoptees discovering their homeland and heritage

by Robin Munro, senior writer

For Shannon Landry – a 16-year-old Nebraskan girl adopted as a baby from China – life so far has mostly revolved around school and soccer, friends and family. Returning to China rarely crossed her mind, though she thought it would be cool, she says, to see where she was born.

But from the time she turned 10, her mother told her that one day, they would go.

That day arrived this past summer, when she embarked on a two-week tour of China. She expected a cool adventure – an adventure that has since become a lifelong journey.

“I just feel like there’s so much more I could learn about me. Before, I never really thought about it,” Shannon says, “but now that I’ve had the experience, I don’t want to lose it.”

Joining 21 other adoptees and their families, Shannon and her mom, Melanie, traveled to China on a Holt heritage tour. The adoptees – all girls from this country of the one-child policy – explored the land of their birth, together. They climbed the Great Wall and toured the Forbidden City. They learned to cook traditional Chinese dishes, studied calligraphy and honed their chopstick skills. On a cruise down the Li River, they saw cormorant fisherman and water buffalo. They traveled to a panda reserve, where some even held these squirmy, soft-furred vegetarians, subdued by honey on the paw. They biked and cruised and climbed through China, ending where they began their adoption journey – at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, the southern city home to the American Consulate, where all adoptive families secure their child’s visa.

But for many of the girls, the most meaningful part of the trip occurred on separate journeys – journeys to their finding places, their orphanages and foster families. Here, they found a connection to their past.

When Shannon visited her orphanage, she broke down in tears. “I got to meet the old [orphanage] director, which was really cool,” she says. “It kind of felt like I had a connection with her.” Shannon spent the morning at the orphanage, holding and playing with the children. She met children with special needs, a characteristic shared by many of those needing adoptive families in China. “That definitely impacted me the most,” she says. “That stood out for me and I think it did for a lot of the girls.”

Holt heritage tours are designed for adoptees and their families to experience the customs, culture and history of their birth country. Central to the tour philosophy is the adoptee’s personal story, and personal journey. To recreate this story, Holt strives to coordinate visits to adoptees’ orphanages and reunions with foster families, whenever possible. Continue reading “Sign Up for Next Summer’s Heritage Tours Today”

Holt Adoptee Camps

A mother’s perspective

When my nine-year-old declared there was “no way” he would go to Holt Adoptee camp for a whole week, I was disappointed. I was sure it would be a good experience, but he didn’t want to sleep away from home. I considered the usual parental options: persuasion, bribery and coercion! Fortunately, I soon discovered Holt’s day camp. Not only was this one-day camp much more acceptable to my eldest, but because the age range was from 5-16, his younger siblings could participate too. And parents were welcome!

The kids and I arrived at Camp Angelos promptly at 9 am, and Harry immediately spotted a friend from home on the basketball court. Before I could even apply sunscreen, he was off, disappearing into a crowd of black-haired, rough and tumble boys. Five-year-old Betty darted across the lawn to the playground. Theo, who is 8 and quite shy in new situations, walked with me to the registration table. Camp leaders Michael and Steve greeted us with friendly smiles and gathered the parents and kids into a big circle for some icebreakers. It was refreshing to be in a group of families similar to our own: kids of all complexions, with parents who resembled them very little, performing motherly and fatherly duties – encouraging, cuddling, slipping away for potty breaks as needed. Many of the kids were reserved at first, but the staff’s enthusiasm was contagious.

Steve invited the younger day campers to team up with a group of older, week-long campers – veterans now, with three days of Holt camp under their belts!  And all the day campers, except one, followed their new teenage mentors onto the lawn for games and icebreakers. Theo stuck to me like Velcro, and I was grateful that the staff and other parents were totally accepting. He participated gamely in the adoptive parent workshop, writing a list of words that described his parents and another that described him (“Mom? How do you spell ‘good climber’?”).  But when one of the camp counselors invited him personally to join in a game of freeze tag, this was too tempting, and I didn’t see him again until lunch!

While the kids played and participated in age-appropriate workshops about race and adoption, the parents were invited to consider adoption from our children’s point of view. We heard from teen and adult adoptees and had the chance to listen, ask questions, and share our own experiences with race and racism. I took home an uncomfortable truth: all of our minority kids, regardless of country of origin, experience racism on a regular basis. Both positive and negative stereotypes, as well as nosy and inappropriate questions about where our kids are from or “what” exactly they are, are upsetting to our children. Adoptive parents often want to minimize these encounters, but we need to acknowledge them. Continue reading “Holt Adoptee Camps”

What Faith Can Do

July 31st marked the 10th anniversary of Bertha Holt’s passing.

When asked how she would like to be remembered, Bertha Holt’s request was a simple one:

“[Remember me] as that lady who loved the Lord,” she humbly replied.

On the tenth anniversary of her passing, it’s fitting to reflect on Bertha “Grandma” Holt’s love for the Lord, her faith in Him, and how that faith has inspired many people around the world to carry on Holt’s mission of finding families for children.

Brian Campbell, Holt’s creative services director remembers Bertha Holt, and how she has inspired him:

I remember watching Bertha Holt at a Holt picnic, one year, as she sat and had her picture taken with hundreds of children of all ages.  I stood there, amazed, listening to her recall the names of the children and sharing a brief story about each one of them. Older adoptees also came up to her, giving her hugs and thanking her for the work of Holt International.  The younger children referred to her as “Grandma.”  She had prayed continually for all of these children while they were in Holt’s care and traveled all over the world to serve them; they were always her top priority.


During a quiet moment, between the visiting and photos, I caught Grandma by herself.  A look of peace and blessing was on her face.  Not a look of pride or pleasure in knowing that she was important to all these people, but rather a look of peace that comes from knowing that she was doing what God had called her to do.

Now, more than 20 years later, I recall that moment with Grandma Holt. I imagine her with me in places like Ethiopia, surrounded by children, listening to their giggling and crying, laughing with them, and cradling and comforting them without hesitation. I ask for the children’s names, take their pictures, touch their little hands and pray for them. Today, inspired by Bertha Holt, these children are also my priority.

After the death of Harry Holt, many thought Holt International would close its doors. But Bertha always had faith that the agency would carry on. “This has always been God’s work,” she said. “If He wants it to continue, it will.”

And it has. What followed, and what remains today, is a 55-year legacy of caring for and providing loving homes to the world’s orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children.

Evidence of Bertha Holt’s faith can be seen today through Holt employees, working diligently and joyfully for children all over the world, to the hundreds of adult adoptees who were touched by “Grandma’s” life and, most importantly, through the smiling faces of children now home with their loving families.

The mission of Holt International has carried on, and will continue, all because one woman had faith that it could.

The Answer is on the Way

“God placed an abandoned Korean baby in our home so that almost 40 years later she could minister and provide the help we needed most at this time in our lives”

by Mike Query

Matthew 6:7-8 “When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.” GNB

So, we have the above verses, but just how far before the need arises does God provide? In my case, try 35 plus years!

In August of 1970, Jeri and I were blessed by the birth of our third child, Andy. It had been eight years since our second child was born and we weren’t trying to have any more, but God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that in order for us to have a fourth child, we needed Andy. Excuse me, a fourth?

Well, now we had a dilemma. Do we raise Andy with kids that are eight and nine years older, do we have another, or do we adopt? Since Jeri had Rh factor problems with Andy, it was decided that I should man-up, do the right thing and make sure there were no more surprises. Easy for her to say!

After some serious prayer, we were led by the Holy Spirit to pursue adoption. We contacted Holt International in early 1971 and were told that it would take 12 to 24 months for our daughter to arrive. Long story short, six months to the day after our first contact with Holt, she was carried off of an airplane in Eugene, Oregon and placed in our arms. Lee Byung Hee was 26 months old, and we named her Lani Jean. Continue reading “The Answer is on the Way”

Don’t Miss Out — Holt Picnics Underway!

Communities build around shared experiences. Every year, adoptees and their families gather at Holt Annual Picnics to enjoy the company of those who share the unifying experience of adoption. Last year, over 2,100 people attended Holt’s picnics, from Oregon to New Jersey and several states between. We hope you can attend a Holt picnic this year.

For a current schedule, click here.

On July 17th, Holt’s Portland Area Picnic will take place at the site of Holt’s Adoptee Camp — Camp Angelos in Corbett, Oregon. Pack a lunch and come meet Holt’s adoptee camp counselors amid the rugged beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. All adult adoptees from various countries, the camp counselors are eager to share favorite camp memories, answer questions and get to know you and your children. And don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes! You might decide to hike Multnomah Falls or overlook the Gorge at Crown Point en route to or from the picnic.

The following weekend, Holt’s annual Midwest Picnic will take place in Omaha, Nebraska at Cooper Memorial Farm on July 24th. The Korean Presbyterian Church of Omaha will serve a delicious Korean BBQ lunch for all who RSVP. Join in the fun, including face painting, balloon twisting and an interactive Korean culture display.

Holt’s original Eugene picnic — the one that started the tradition — is scheduled for August 7th at Camp Harlow. Holt adoptive Dad, Daniel Freed, a.k.a. “The Amazing Spaghetti,” will once again host a magic and fun show — a wildly popular event last year. The Eugene Korean Presbyterian Church will serve a delicious Korean BBQ lunch for all who RSVP. Directly following the picnic, join hundreds of Holt adoptive families as they travel to Florence, Oregon for the annual Holt Family Campout at Honeyman Park. Contact Debbie Dunham for more information on the campout. We look forward to seeing you soon at a Holt picnic!

Holt Adoptee Camp

A week of self-discovery, friendship and fun

The Holt Adoptee Camps are about creating an adoptee community. International and transracial adoptees come together and get a chance to be around people who understand them,” said Holt Youth Services Coordinator Michael Tessier, a former camper and camp staff member.

Every summer Holt manages five camps around the country. Run by trained camp counselors, who are also adult adoptees, these camps give adoptees, age 9-16, the chance to learn more about themselves, discuss adoption, race, and identity issues and, most of all, have fun. “We don’t learn about our birth culture at camp,” said Michael. “The camps are about learning and creating the culture of adoption and the adoptee community.”

Michael began his relationship with the Holt Adoptee Camps as a camper when he was nine years old and now serves on the leadership staff, planning activities and providing support and encouragement to the campers.

“The most important thing I learned when I was a camper, was that there were role models for me to look up to,” said Michael. “You can’t see that in the media, you can’t see that in your neighborhood or community back home. But when I went to Adoptee Camp, I saw that there were successful, confident adult adoptees, and that made a big difference to me.”

Throughout the day the kids participate in typical camp activities like: archery, swimming and boating, and experience times of community with the other campers in small and large group discussions. Continue reading “Holt Adoptee Camp”