Passing the Torch: When an Adult Adoptee Adopts

By Lawrence Gordon Vallandigham, Mountain View, California

“Are you okay with adopting?” asked Judy.

Startled, I thought, ‘how could I not be?’  I was adopted. But this wasn’t about me.  This was about our commitment to become a family. With that question, adoption was no longer an abstract idea but our unambiguous decision to transform lives.

Like many of our friends, we married later in life, established our careers, traveled and lived well. But we also discovered that conceiving a family wasn’t easy, nor was it fun trying to conceive through procedures. Ultimately, it mattered less to us how we became a family, so long as we did.

And so, on a warm Sunday evening in June 2008, we sat at the kitchen island, completed our application with excitement and trepidation, and embarked upon our adoption journey. In our hearts, a baby boy was waiting for us, even though he had not yet been conceived.

Family and friends could not have been more genuinely excited and supportive. My mother cried joyfully while my father reflected upon their decision decades earlier. Judy’s mother smiled such that we knew she had long reserved room in her heart only to be filled by her new grandson.

Time has stood still twice in my life – watching the sunlit silhouette of Judy approach the wedding altar, and on an otherwise unremarkable July 2009 afternoon when my iPhone pinged, alerting me to an incoming photo and call from my wife. Our son was waiting for us in Seoul.

The vibrant colors of fall signal metamorphosis, and so it was fitting that in November 2009 we expectantly flew to Seoul. Taking no chances for delay, we made a subway trial-run to the nondescript Holt building a day before our appointment. (Then we enjoyed the city sights and sounds). The next afternoon, when escorted into the nursery room to meet our son and his foster mother, the entirety of Judy’s body ached to hold him.

Upon returning to the hotel with Gordon, our list of things to do was pretty basic: bottle, diaper, sleep and repeat. Later, in the small quiet hours of daybreak, like every parent before us, we exchanged unspoken glances — “Now what?”

Gordon is our miracle and it is unfathomable to imagine life without him. From first steps to first words, reading and beyond, his nature is one of eager discovery and engagement. One morning, he proudly declared “birds eat dirt” after watching finches in the yard. On a recent vacation, he gleefully marveled at brightly colored fish swimming around his feet while he collected hermit crabs and clam shells along the white sand beach. Without doubt, he is all boy — playful, inquisitive and joyful — and we truly are his parents as he is our son.

Before returning from Seoul, we spent an illuminating day with Molly Holt, the woman who signed my adoption papers 40 years earlier. She surprised us by producing documents from my file and described candidly the challenging future awaiting orphans, then and now. Unquestionably, I have been granted the gifts of family, education, marriage, profession and social mobility. My parents’ love transformed not just one little boy’s life, but now two. Serendipity? Divine providence? Who could have foreseen the impact of Harry and Bertha Holt’s ministry?

As an adult Holt adoptee, I occasionally wonder how it informs my approach to fatherhood. Will my experiences be relevant to Gordon? Should I be more intuitive about identity issues? Of this I am certain: just as I was lovingly raised, Gordon will always know of his beginnings – not as a reason for solicitous gratitude, but to understand the richness of family and the blessings of life.

For Judy and me, our hope and charge is that Gordon will grow in body, mind and spirit. If we do this right, he will grow in the security of family love, he will chart his own course in life, and he will be prepared to serve others. Perhaps, one day, he too will be okay with adoption.


Learn More about Holt’s 55th Anniversary Celebration in Washington D.C.!

Help Repair the Ilsan Center for the Children! –Join Us at the Omaha Event on March 19th

This morning on Omaha Morning Blend, a local talk show, Celeste Snodgrass, Holt’s Midwest branch director, discussed Holt International’s upcoming gala and dinner auction. Adoptive parent Juliet Brown and her son, Gavin, joined Celeste during the interview.

“This event is going to help renovate the buildings at the Ilsan center in Korea,” said Celeste. “They have fallen into disrepair…the children need a safe place to live.”

The Omaha event will commemorate Holt International’s 55th anniversary of serving homeless children — a legacy of love that began at the Ilsan center. Since Holt’s beginning, many children with special needs at the Ilsan center have gone home to wonderful, permanent families.

Molly Holt, director of the Ilsan Center and daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, will be the honored guest at this year’s auction in Omaha.

Click here to see a video of Celeste Snodgrass, Juliet Brown, and her son, Gavin, on Omaha Morning Blend….

Click here to RSVP to the Omaha event or contact Sandi Mehl at

Take a Look at Her Now! — From Loving Caretakers to Loving Family

How a simple idea changed the life of a child in Holt’s care

Remember this story? In the summer of 2009, Tony Nolan, special guest speaker for Winter Jam, visited Holt’s care centers in China while traveling to meet his daughter, Fei Fei. On his journey, he met another very special little girl named *Qui. Born without feet, Qui would experience great pain while walking. Observing Qui’s struggles, a caretaker took initiative and created a simple device that helped Qui walk with comfort and ease. Tony Nolan and the rest of the team were touched by the caretaker’s love and consideration for the little girl.

“I am amazed at how much passion Holt staff has for these children, and how they demonstrate that passion in little and big ways,” said Tony. “To have someone at Nanchang who would have the creativity, desire and motivation to do something above and beyond the call of duty is just awesome!” ….Read about Qui and her loving caretaker in the story, “Little Steps.”

Today, 2 years later, Qui, now Lilah, is home with her parents, Anne and Mike, and her big brother, Luke.

“Where Luke came quietly into our home,” says Anne and Mike, “Lilah came in like a hurricane! She is high energy, boisterous, and terribly funny…we’re not sure Lilah believes she has a disability. No feet. No problem.” ….read about Lilah’s journey home, click here

Tony Nolan is currently on tour with Winter Jam 2011.  Click here for a concert near you, and for ways to help!  Holt still needs volunteers to help at each concert!

Click here to learn more about Holt’s China Child of Promise option for children with manageable, treatable conditions….

*Name changed

As The Time Goes By: URGENT: Qiong Needs a Family!

From China.  Birthday:  September 30th, 1997

August 4th, 1999 – a 2-year-old girl sits along the roadside and waits for her parents….

The little girl tries to stand, but stumbles and falls. She has rickets, and her crooked legs make it difficult for her to walk, let alone stand.

Two locals happen upon the frightened child. They pick her up and scan the nearby marketplace for a clue, any trace of the person who has left her behind. They take her to the local police station. After an extensive search fails to locate the child’s parents, she is brought to the Social Welfare Institute. With no note left beside her on the roadside, she enters the orphanage with nothing but a pretty white coat wrapped around her, blue shorts and the petite red shoes on her feet. She is given the name *Qiong. And a birthdate: September 30th, 1997.

Two years later, at the age of four, Qiong begins preschool. She listens to directions well, and teachers describe her as “active and loving.” She can put her coat and shoes on all by herself and happily assists the other children. When the teachers say, “It’s time to go outside,” Qiong is the first one to line up at the door, an eager smile always on her face.

Caretakers dote on Qiong, and teachers enjoy her helpful and charming attitude. Qiong has a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in at night.

What Qiong doesn’t have is the warmth and love of a permanent family.

At age 5, Qiong can walk, run and jump with great ease, her rickets all but healed. She likes cooking meals with the help of her caregivers and enjoys reciting simple Chinese folk rhymes. Her favorite rhyme is, “Little Tadpole Looking for Mamma.” “Little tadpoles are looking for their mamma,” she delivers with great pride. “Little tadpoles are looking for their mamma.”

Qiong excels in school and is loved by all around her. Qiong has an education, and she has many friends to play with.

What Qiong doesn’t have is a brother, or a sister to laugh with forever.

Four years later, Qiong starts the 3rd grade. She thinks school is just “so-so,”  but studies hard anyway. She wants to be a painter someday. “Qiong has a good state of mind and is polite with other people,” her caregiver says.

By now, many of Qiong’s friends have gone home to families in the United States. But Qiong remains at her boarding school, waiting for the day when a loving family will come for her, and she will have a home forever.

“My daughter is very sad Qiong doesn’t have a family yet,” says Beth Flanders, who brought her daughter, Quinn, home this past summer. “Quinn and Qiong grew up together. I met her when I was in China. She’s very bright and friendly. We pray for her to find a family every day.”

Today, at 13 years old, Qiong prays for a family too. After all these years, she still carries so much hope with her. “It doesn’t matter if I have brothers or sisters,” she says. “A family to love me will be very nice.” A few moments later Qiong clarifies her statement slightly: “It would be nice to have a big brother and a father who will protect me.”

On September 30th, Qiong turns 14 and loses her international adoption eligibility. Six months from now, Qiong’s hope of having a family of her own will be lost forever.

“All I want is a family,” Qiong says. “Just a family.”

A 13-year-old girl sits on the steps of her school, waiting for a family……

Share this story on your Facebook page, blogs and other social networking sites.  Let’s find Qiong a family…before it’s too late!

*To be considered for Qiong, families must have a homestudy.

Click here for more information on China’s eligibility requirements…

For more information on Qiong, contact Erin Mower at

*Name changed

Be a Voice for Children!– Winter Jam Volunteers Share their Stories

As an adoptee, I felt like Winter Jam would be the perfect way to share my love for Holt, and my desire to help the agency I was adopted

Kim, a Holt adoptee, a her husband, Joe, volunteered at Winter Jam 2011 in Cleveland. Of her experience Kim says, "It was an amazing feeling to know that I was helping children in need."
from.  Anyone can volunteer; it’s so easy! My husband and I had such an uplifting experience.

Our best wishes go out to all the wonderful people who chose to sponsor a child.

We enjoyed a fantastic concert while making a difference in children’s lives! Joe and I were Winter Jam volunteer newbies. We met other volunteers and enjoyed their company, heard great music and listened to inspirational speakers. As we were leaving, the volunteers said to us: “See you next year!” We sure will! We will make volunteering at Winter Jam a family tradition! – Kim Domino, Winter Jam volunteer

“Last Saturday, we had the privilege of working at the Holt sponsorship table before, during and after the concert. Since this was only the second concert of 2011, there were a lot of children available for sponsorship. When I saw the children’s pictures on the table, I became overwhelmed thinking about the many little ones out there who were just waiting for someone to help them. Throughout the night, a lot of people came and picked up a child’s card. Some of them decided to sponsor a child, and some didn’t. Seeing vulnerable children’s cards being placed back down on the table was very difficult to watch. I would love to volunteer again, and I hope and pray that each concert brings people – and lots of them – who are willing to sponsor a child in desperate need of help.”Kathy Brown, volunteer at the Winter Jam concert in Charleston, West Virginia

Anastacia (right) volunteers at Winter Jam 2011 in DeKalb, Illinois. Find a concert near you! Go to

Holt, thank you so much for the opportunity to volunteer and be a voice for children! At Winter Jam 2010, I heard the sponsorship message and personally took caring for children in need to a whole new level by becoming a sponsor myself! This year, I was able to see others make that same transformation through hearing the message and taking to heart what each and every person can do to make a difference in the life of a child! Caring for orphans and widows in their distress is God’s plan for us. Through sponsorship, making a difference is so easy! Thank you to Holt and Winter Jam for an awesome evening of praise and excitement! Being a Holt volunteer was a blast, and I’m looking forward to signing up again next year! —Anastacia Singleton, Holt sponsor and Winter Jam volunteer

In 2010, over 10,000 Winter Jam concertgoers said “YES” to sponsoring a child! This year, we’ve set our sights higher…Help us reach 15,000 sponsors – 300 at each concert! It’s easy and fun! Check to see if Winter Jam is coming to your town and sign up online. Email for more information. Rock the House with Holt and NewSong at Winter Jam 2011 – Raise Your Voice for Children!

Click here for more information…

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: A Picture Really is Worth a Thousand Words

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you will know how much I love photography. I had my children photographed many times and their Aunt Bea is a talented photographer who captured many of our family events.

These two pictures tell the story of adoption.

This first picture of them standing holding the balloons and looking very anxious and apprehensive is often times how adopted children feel. While they may feel very lucky and grateful to be in a loving family, many children spend some time simply waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”

They do this because being relinquished is a defining moment in every adopted child’s life. Many researchers and adoption experts agree that every child knows when his or her birth mother has left.

As you can see from this picture however, when adopted children feel safe, secure and loved, they don’t spend every waking moment wondering what will happen next. Through normal and everyday family life experiences, adopted children do learn to relax and enjoy their new lives.

I hope you won’t get tired of me saying so much of this depends on the adoptive parents’ willingness to understand this experience from the point of view of their children — and not themselves.

Check out the Post-Adoption Services section of the Holt website for some useful resources, listed under Suggested Reading.

To hear more from Jane, visit her website:  “You’re My Second Mama, Aren’t You?”

Sam, Minnie and Me — Sam is This Week’s Waiting Child

UPDATE: As of December 2011, Sam has a family! Thank you to everyone who shared his story. And congratulations to Sam!

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

DOB: 7/5/2007

Sam discovers Minnie!

I met Sam* this past summer at an orphanage in northern China.  When I saw his face recently posted to the Waiting Child photolisting, I thought, I have to tell families about this boy!

On a tour of the facility, we moved from room to room, observing children at play, children in school, children in therapy, children napping.  In one room, we came upon a group of small children sitting in a corner.  Many of them just stared, wide-eyed and not quite sure what to make of us.

Not Sam.

Without hesitation, he frog-hopped over to us in his baby blue Crocs (the shoe of choice, it seems, at orphanages in China).  He seemed particularly intrigued with the stuff we brought – Sue’s backpack, my camera bag.  His little fingers immediately went rummaging through an open pocket, where to his delight, he came upon a Minnie Mouse keychain – a recognized character, and an obvious toy in his estimation.  Together, we sat and shared a moment of common understanding… over Minnie.

Sam is 3 and has some special needs, including paralysis of his upper left limb.  Abandoned within a month of his birth at a nearby hospital, Sam’s only known family are the caregivers and other children with whom he was raised at the social welfare institute.  His caregivers report that he is talkative and likes to sing, play games and clap his hands.  His favorite toy is a little car and he likes to eat bananas and oranges.  Although he can be stubborn and sometimes fights over toys, Sam generally gets along well with other children.

He is, his caregivers say, an extroverted child with a ready smile.  To this, I can adamantly attest!

* name changed

For more information about Sam, contact the Waiting Child department.

For information about adopting from China, click here.

Help Sam, the Waiting Child of the Week, go viral! Forward this to friends and family. Share every week at church or a community group. And repost to your own blog, Facebook page and company site. With the simple press of a button, you can change Sam’s life forever!

Mason’s Story — Spearfish, South Dakota Family Adopts from Ethiopia

After a mission trip to Zambia in 2008, Mariah Gill fell in love with Africa.  Her love of this country led the Gill family to another love….their son, Mason.  Mariah and her husband, Brian, brought Mason home from Ethiopia in January.

“I say go for it — God will work things out,” says Mariah of adoption. “If it’s in your heart and you have a desire to do it, go for it. There’s never a better time.”

Click here to read about the Gill Family’s Journey to Ethiopia and Mason….

Click here to learn more about Holt’s Ethiopia program

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Don’t Go it Alone

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

by Jane Ballback

The story of the woman who sent her newly adopted son back to Russia put a spotlight on how complicated international adoption can be. So much depends of course, on the way the adoption was handled, whether a legitimate and ethical agency was used, how old the child is, and how prepared the adoptive parent is. Many people, I’m sorry to say, really believe that love will be enough to solve all problems.

I had almost an ideal international adoption experience. I used Holt International Children’s Services, in my mind one of the most ethical and credible agencies in the world. I adopted from Korea where they have a well-established foster program so my children were not institutionalized, and they arrived when they were five months old. It doesn’t get much better than that and I still had many issues to deal with.

I’m reminded of the woman I met a few years ago who adopted a five-year-old from a county program that takes kids from foster care and works to find a permanent family. This woman was well-educated and well meaning. What she was not, was prepared for her new son. When she and I first met, her son had been in her home a year. It was Christmas time and she was telling me that the previous Christmas her newly adopted son tore open all of the packages, despite the fact that he was told he needed to wait. She also told me of several other behaviors that she found strange in a five-year-old boy. He seemed to her to be much younger than his chronological age. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Don’t Go it Alone”

Something Worth Fighting For

*Trent Needs a Family

by Ashli Keyser, managing editor

DOB: March 13, 2007, Africa

Two months after I started work at Holt International, I helped advocate for the adoption of “Melissa”, an almost 14-year-old girl from China who, in just four months, would lose her international adoption eligibility. It would be the first time that I really understood my purpose at Holt: to find this little girl a family, before it was too late. This was my calling.

Not just me, but the entire Holt staff rallied around Melissa. One staff member even wrote a touching story about her for Holt’s e-newsletter, summing up Holt’s mission in a single poignant line: “Melissa is excited to have a family of her own,” she wrote. “At Holt, we believe this dream is worth fighting for.”


Trent needs a family

A dream worth fighting for. I think about this line often, especially when describing Holt’s “Waiting Children.” Older children, like Melissa, and children with special needs will often wait longer to have families of their own. It takes a unique and tremendous amount of commitment and care to bring a Waiting Child into ones home. And it simply isn’t for everyone. But at Holt, we believe it’s something worth fighting for.

We fought for Melissa, and she is now home with a loving family. And we fought for Soo-hoon, “Sonny,” an older child with Down syndrome. In a week, Sonny will celebrate two years home with his family. Called by God to care for orphans in their distress, Holt presses on to find families for each and every child regardless of age or physical challenges.

Bertha Holt once said, “all children are beautiful when they are loved.” Her quote has since become a hallmark of this organization. It’s what keeps Holt going even when finding a family for a particular child becomes difficult, or seems impossible. We fight for the child — and all the children —  and never give up.

With that, I give you Trent.

I met Trent in Ethiopia last April. Bombarded with adorable children when I walked through the door of the Addis Ababa transitional center, I took time to

Holt board member, Dr. Becca Brandt greets Trent at the Addis Ababa transitional center in Ethiopia.

make sure each child felt special and acknowledged. It was different with Trent though. When I saw Trent, he made me feel special. His smile made me feel like he had waited all day for me to walk into the room. His high fives and soft hugs made me determined to find this little guy a permanent home.

I simply cannot wait for Trent’s future family, whoever they may be, to walk in the door, and have Trent greet them with the same charming smile, and the same gentle and enthusiastic embrace that he greeted me with.

Only this time, it will be different. It will be forever.

Abandoned as an infant and found wrapped in a cloth, it is suspected that Trent sustained a brain injury in his first months of life, which may have lead to a subdural hematoma and his subsequent developmental delays. He will need medical treatment in the United States and a special family open to dealing with some unknowns.

“[Trent] is doing so much better since the last time I saw him,” said Holt board member Dr. Becca Brandt, on a medical campaign to Ethiopia in November. “He now has many words. He knows all the nannies by name, uses phrases such as ‘give me please’ and is saying much more. Trent can walk with support, loves giving kisses and is very affectionate. He even blew me a kiss to say goodbye,” continued Brandt.

I have faith that one day Trent will have a family of his own. It may take a lot of advocating on his behalf. It will most certainly require prayer. It may not be easy, but remembering Trent’s smiling face, I know someday it will all be worth it. It’s something worth fighting for.

Trent is worth fighting for.

For more information about Trent, contact Kristen Henry at

*Name has been changed