Growing Together

A story recently published in The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, features one Holt adoptive father who helped advocate for older children in the Philippines during last year’s Philippines Ambassador Program.

Growing Together

Couple advocate adoption after enriching experiences

By Chris Donahue

TEWKSBURY, N.J. — Last fall, Holt, a Christian-based international organization that facilitates adoption of children from 11 countries, needed help. Tony Formica was one individual who decided to become an ambassador for Holt, which had helped him become a father. Thirteen years earlier, the member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Whitehouse Station, together with his wife, Caroline, had adopted his first child, Lia, through Holt. Then, through the organization, the Formicas adopted Joe, 11, Lucy, 7, and Anthony, 6 and on Jan. 18 they welcomed Maria.

All of the children were born in different cities or regions in China. The first three were adopted before their second birthday; Anthony was three and Maria, four.

Tony Formica and his wife, Caroline, sit with their children, from left, Anthony, Lia, Lucy and Joe in their home in Tewksbury, N.J. Another daughter was adopted by the family Jan. 18.



Continue reading “Growing Together”

Philippines Ambassador Update

 In October, seven Americans traveled to the Philippines for a week with Holt’s third annual Philippines Ambassador trip. Holt started this pilot adoption program in 2011 as a way to increase home-finding efforts for 13 older children and sibling groups living in Holt’s care. The ambassadors, chosen by Holt, spent a week bonding with the children, then returned to the U.S. to help the children find their forever families. Holt’s Jessica Palmer, Director of SE Asia Adoption Services, led the trip and reflects on the group’s experience here.

A group photo of the U.S. ambassadors with the 13 children in the 2014 program.

I was the first of the group to arrive in the Philippines. I waited up as long as I could for the rest of the ambassadors to arrive late at night, and when I didn’t think I could stay up any longer, there they were, arriving safely from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Our first day was supposed to be a fairly easy one — to catch up on rest and jetlag since we wouldn’t meet the children in the ambassador program until the following day. I should have known that making stops at two of Holt’s partner, Kaisahang Buhay Foundation’s, most powerful programs might not make for an easy day though!

The first stop was KBF’s Nazareth Home, a house where single, expectant mothers live with other women in similar situations, receive the prenatal care they need, and grapple with the decision of what to do with their unborn child. One of the girls, who seemed to be a sort of informal spokeswoman for the group, shared her story with us, unable to fight back tears. She explained how she had been going to college until she became pregnant and didn’t know what to do. She found KBF’s single mothers’ program. She has regained hope, happiness, her spirituality, and is planning to move in with her parents and her newborn child.

The ambassadors meet with scholars in the ILEA program.

Our second stop was the Independent Living and Educational Assistance program (ILEA), where a group of scholars receive assistance from KBF to help them finish high school and go on to college while they live independently. Continue reading “Philippines Ambassador Update”

Bryson Needs A Family!

Look at those big, brown eyes. Can you see the hope inside of them? It’s there, and it’s holding out for a family.

DOB: 10.17.2006, Africa

Bryson is 7 years old, and fairly new to Holt’s care. We are still getting to know him, so we don’t know a lot about his personality yet. However, a few of Bryson’s traits are easily observed. Every report about Bryson — whether from a doctor, caregiver or teacher — has the same comment: Bryson is very playful.

The word “playful” alone doesn’t mean much. How is he playful? Does he love to giggle at jokes? Does he turn basic activities into a fun game? Is he mischievous? Or, like many children his age, does he still see the magic and wonderment in simple things?

We have a few clues about what “playful” means to Bryson…

Continue reading “Bryson Needs A Family!”

Who is saving a lifetime of hugs for you?

It won’t happen. Not to you. Your camera is fully charged. You are fully prepared to capture the moment… You will not miss your child’s first steps.

But sometimes, things don’t go as planned.

You will miss some “firsts.” And that’s okay. You have so much more joy to experience!

In fact, if you are a family adopting an older child, you may never experience any firsts. But consider what you will experience, as described by Holt adoptive mom Becky Ketner

“Anyone considering adopting an older child needs to reflect on a few things. You will NOT get to cuddle a little bundle of joy in your arms, but you will get to experience something even greater when you feel the arms of a child around you who has been saving a lifetime of hugs just for you. You will NOT hear the tiny, sweet voice of a baby say ‘Mama’ or ‘Daddy’ for the first time, but you will hear the voice of a child that has longed for you and dreamed of the day when he or she can say, ‘I love you, Mom,’ or ‘I love you, Dad.’”

Wowie with his adoptive parents, the Ketners.

Earlier this year, Becky and her husband came home from the Philippines with an 11-year-old son named Wowie. As an older boy, Wowie has much in common with many of the children now waiting for loving families to adopt them – in the Philippines, and in many of the countries where we work.

As children get older, their chances of finding an adoptive family grow more and more slim. And for no real clear reason, boys always wait longer for families than girls.

Older children – boys and girls – are no less deserving of a family, yet many have waited 5, 10 or even 15 years for a mom and a dad.

Continue reading “Who is saving a lifetime of hugs for you?”

Urgent: Jane Needs a Loving Family

Jane urgently needs to find a loving, supportive adoptive family. Please share Jane’s story to help her find the family she deserves.

DOB: May 11, 1997

Jane* is a cheerful, confident and athletic almost 16-year-old girl from Southeast Asia. She has lived in the U.S. for almost two months.

Jane comes from what developmental psychologist Dr. Karyn Purvis calls a “hard place.” In early life, she experienced neglect and abuse from some members of her birth family. For a time, she stayed with caring relatives who showed her love and support. But these relatives lacked the means to support her for long, and at age 5 Jane landed in orphanage care. Here, caregivers described her as a sociable, sweet and talkative little girl who gave everyone hugs.

In this safe place, Jane continued to develop into an active and playful girl. She developed good relationships with other children and was especially helpful and kind to her roommates. She grew to love outdoor activities, especially running and playing hide and seek. She diligently completed her household chores, earned average grades and excelled at sports. Jane could also be quarrelsome, stubborn and defensive – especially when scolded or corrected.

As Jane entered high school, her childhood trauma began to trouble her and distract her from her studies. She started to attend counseling sessions, which helped her cope with her past. Today, Jane is excited to graduate high school and go to college.

Although Jane has lived with a family in the U.S. for about two months, she has struggled to adjust to her new life. She arrived without the skills typically developed in the context of a loving family, and has built up barriers to limit closeness – as is common among children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Jane needs a new family that has the time, skills and energy to help break through the behavioral walls she has developed to protect herself. Jane’s family should be willing and able to help her develop the effective coping strategies and relationship skills she needs to thrive in life.

Jane is fluent in English and adjusting to the U.S. school system. Her behavioral issues have only occurred in a family environment. She would like to stay in the U.S., in a family that loves and supports her unconditionally.

To adopt Jane, families must be experienced adoptive parents. Both parents also need to be under the age of 60, earn a family income of $40,000/year or more, and have a current domestic or international home study. Due to adoption requirements in Jane’s birth country, families also need to be of Christian faith.

For more information about adopting Jane, contact Abbie Smith at

*name changed

* To protect Jane’s identity and privacy, we have not shared any photos. Contact Abbie Smith to view photos and learn more information about Jane.

Jamison Must Find a Family Before His 16th Birthday!

Jamison turns 16 next year. Please share his story to help him find the family he so needs and deserves!

Jamison* is a charming young man who lives at a care center in the Philippines. He loves playing soccer and badminton, and watching cartoons with his friends. His caregivers say he plays “joyfully” with the other children, and at nearly 15, he also acts as an older brother to the younger boys in his dorm.

In October of last year, Jamison was one of 15 children on the 2012 Philippines Ambassador trip. For the past two years, Holt has sent a special team of ambassadors to meet older children like Jamison – children hoping to find loving adoptive families of their own. During a week full of fun activities, the ambassadors get to know the children and then advocate for their adoption once home in the U.S. This year’s ambassadors included two Holt adoptive parents, two adult adoptees and three Holt staff members.

The group of children on the 2012 Philippines Ambassador trip.

For the first few days of the trip, Jamison was fairly quiet and shy with the ambassadors. But by day 5, Jamison started to open up. His personality came bursting through during a late-night UNO tournament… And what a personality he has!

“That night, I saw a whole new side of Jamison come out.  It was awesome!” writes Kari Bargstadt-Wilson, one of the ambassadors on the trip. “He was sitting by me during our UNO game and was cracking jokes the entire time.  Kissing his cards with enthusiasm when a good one came his way.  Smiling and making others laugh.  He was hamming it up!”

Continue reading “Jamison Must Find a Family Before His 16th Birthday!”

A Family is All She Knows, and All She Wants

UPDATE: Our China team has identified potential families for Ada, and will no longer be sending out her file! Thank you to everyone who advocated for Ada.

DOB: August 25, 2003, China

Ada (bottom) with her good friend.

On a recent visit to an orphanage in southern China, Holt China staff member Sue Liu had the great fortune of meeting a young girl named Ada*.

Ada is 9. Ada is in fact 9 in every way. She loves dancing and singing and the colors purple and blue. She does her chores when told, but would far prefer to play with her two close friends. When they get together, Ada and her friends draw and laugh together, goofing around as 9-year-olds do. Ada enjoys art and Chinese classes, but is not so fond of math. When she grows up, she wants to teach English. Sue thinks she’ll be great at this, as she’s skilled at language and comfortable in conversation.

Ada is a great dancer – especially Latin dance – but is shy performing before others. During their visit, Sue asked Ada to show some of her dancing skills. “At the very beginning, she was a little bit shy but we encouraged her and then she started to dance very well!” Sue writes. She giggled and jokingly ran behind a chair when she confused her steps, and would only perform again when alone with Sue. But she did let Sue record her dance performance, which she managed to do without a hitch the second time around!

Unlike many older children waiting to find an adoptive family, Ada grew up in a family. Up until five months ago – in September 2012 – Ada lived with her father, who adopted her domestically at a younger age. When her father passed away, Ada came into orphanage care. Very quickly, the orphanage partnered with Holt to find Ada a foster family. Family life is all she has ever known – and all we hope for her to ever know.

Ada says her foster mom is very kind to her, and she has also grown fond of the director at the social welfare institute. She has many friends, and is outgoing and happy in their company. But still, she wants a family to love and support her forever. After Sue shared some photos of other children with their adoptive families, Ada made it clear that she wants the same.

She is also confident that she can overcome the challenges of joining a new culture and family. During their visit, Sue asked what Ada would do if she could not understand what her adoptive family said to her. To this, she responded, “I can draw to communicate with them if they can’t understand me!”

Ada‘s ideal family will be experienced with older child adoption, and also understand the impact of grief and trauma on neurodevelopment, emotional reactivity and social skills. Her family should support the need for older adoptees like Ada to maintain cultural connections throughout their lives.

Ada is in the Special Focus category and may be considered by families who have not yet sent a dossier to China.  To adopt this child, applicants must be 30-54 years old and meet an income requirement of $30,000 plus $10,000 per additional family member, with $80,000 net worth. More than 4 children in the home may be accepted. For complete requirements, click here to view China’s country criteria.

For more information about Ada, contact Marissa Leuallen at

Click below to see Ada as she chats with Sue and other social workers at the social welfare institute:

Continue reading “A Family is All She Knows, and All She Wants”

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Congrats to Jimmy!

Congrats to Jimmy on finding his family! And thank YOU for helping to advocate for his adoption! Jimmy reminds us of Kevin, a bright 9-year-old boy who loves playing soccer and climbing trees. Unlike Jimmy, Kevin is still waiting to find a loving family. The family that moves forward with Kevin’s adoption will receive a Holt “Special Blessings” grant to help bring him home. Click here to read and share Kevin’s story!

Where Are They Now: Natalie!

Ever thought about a waiting child you once saw featured on the Holt blog or in the Holt International magazine? Maybe you shared their story with your friends and family on Facebook, or helped advocate for them in some other way. And how exciting it was to hear the news that they finally found their family! At Holt, we are delighted to share updates with you about the children we featured, and you helped advocate for in your community. Remember Natalie, who we wrote about in 2011? Natalie found her family through the Holt blog. And here she is today, now home and thriving in the loving care of her family.

In May 2011, we posted a story about a 6-year-old girl in China waiting to find a loving family to adopt her. We called her “Natalie,” and shared what we knew about her based on staff visits and caregiver reports. We wrote that she likes to read books and draw pictures, and that she is quiet, timid and fairly introverted. We informed prospective families that Natalie has spina bifida, and explained how this affects her daily life. We also urged families to look closer at this beautiful little girl with big, soulful eyes, and see all the potential waiting there.

Natalie two years ago at an orphanage in China.

One family did look closer. That family, the Kazsuks of California, soon became Natalie’s family.

In June 2012, at 8 years old, Natalie finally came home. Recently, her mom, Tracy, wrote to share how Natalie is transitioning into her new family and life in the U.S. She also said we could share Natalie’s update with you!

(Natalie’s real Chinese name is Qiu Ni, which she has kept.)

“Since the day this child was picked up in China, she has been a dream,” writes Tracy. “She is smart, sensitive and considerate. She is artistic, and creative, and has a clever sense of humor… She eats everything nutritious under the sun and has grown 3” and gained 3 lbs. She has fit into our family so well; it is amazing to think she ever wasn’t there.”

The Kazsuks have three other children at home, their youngest adopted through Holt from Korea.When considering a placement for Qiu Ni, Holt’s social workers prepared the family for the potential challenges to sibling relationships when bringing an older child into the family.

Natalie, or Qiu Ni, now home in the U.S.

“I am happy to report that [Qiu Ni] is often seen giggling with her little sister, putting lotion on her sister’s hands, and trading dolls with

her,” writes Tracy. “When she thinks I’m not looking, she washes the little kids’ hands and trades her things with them to make them happy. I have to remind her that they don’t always get to win.”

“As for her medical needs,” she continues, “I am thrilled that we are controlling them… Please, PLEASE, don’t hesitate to send potential parents my way for questions about spina bifida… To think that she might still be waiting due to this ‘need’ is sad and very scary.”

Several months ago, Tracy did talk to a family considering adopting a child with spina bifida – and they were later matched with Donald, a boy we also featured in a Holt waiting child blog!

“Anyway, all this to say we just love, love, love her,” Tracy writes of Qiu Ni.

“Today when I went to the school… she ran to me laughing and hugging and said, ‘I need to go home now. I need to have my Mommy now,’” Tracy continues. “Every night before bed she tells me that I came to China to get her and she loves me. She is music to my ears!!!”

“We are,” Tracy concludes, “more blessed than you will ever know.”

Natalie found her family. But so many children are still waiting! Click here to read about Malachi, an older boy from China recently featured on the Holt blog.

Click here to read about more children from China still waiting to find loving families of their own.

* Tracy’s original letter has been edited to protect Qiu Ni’s privacy


These Brothers Just Want a Stable, Loving Family

Brothers Dylan and Jude are this week’s featured waiting children. Please help them find a loving family!

Dylan*, 11/24/03 and Jude*, 5/20/05

These handsome brothers live at a care center in East Africa, where they are waiting to find a loving family to adopt both of them. I met Dylan, the older of the two, while visiting children in Holt’s care last summer, in July 2012. At the time, his brother was in school.

I remember Dylan as gentle and sweet, with a charming smile and extraordinary hazel-colored eyes that exuded warmth and intelligence. Just a happy, healthy boy, Dylan gave no indication of the hardship he has endured already in his young life. Only later did I learn what brought Dylan and Jude into care, and on the track for adoption.

The brothers came into Holt’s care in May 2012, just a couple months before my visit. Their father is a former policeman whose struggle with alcoholism caused him to lose his job. His wife eventually left him as well, leaving Dylan and Jude without a mother. With little to eat and an unstable home environment, Dylan thought he could do better for himself and his brother. He fled to the streets, where he lived for a couple weeks until finding a local shelter. Jude came to live with him at the shelter, while their father tried to overcome his problems. But the cycle continued, and although the shelter tried to reunite the family, the father said he could not care for them. Wishing for them “to be well-educated and to have a better life,” he relinquished his sons for adoption.

Dylan during our visit in July 2012.

This is how they came to live at one of our partnering care centers – a lovely, well-tended home that cares for just a handful of children at a time.

Continue reading “These Brothers Just Want a Stable, Loving Family”