Annual Holt Camp Out

As an adoptee and member of Holt’s marketing and development team, Courtney Young has been connected with Holt for most of her life. After spending a week with Holt families at an annual campout in Florence, Oregon, Courtney reflects on Holt’s legacy — old and new.

More than 70 families attended a Holt families camp out at Honeyman State Park in Florence, Oregon in August. For adoptees, it is a great place to connect with other children who share the experience of adoption. Above, three children bike through the camping loop.

Every summer, people from all over the country head to the forests and coast to enjoy some of the finest camping in the Pacific Northwest.  Oregon is a beautiful state, a sea of greenery that spans 30 million acres, covered in Douglas fir, ponderosa pines, evergreens and forestry that almost seem magical.  It’s nature’s finest playground, and I grew up with it right in my backyard.  But, alas, I am one of those Oregonians who has failed to ­­­­­­enjoy all that this wonderful state has to offer.  I’ve never loved “the great outdoors” or anything short of “manicured nature.”

That was, until a group of Holt adoptive families who escape on a weeklong camping trip to Oregon every summer invited me to join them.  But first, a little Holt history:

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Holt has done in nearly 60 years and how many lives it has touched. It’s even harder to imagine when you add the mass ripple effect of families and adoptees preserving the mission of the agency for five decades. Portland Area Holt Families (PAHF) formed in 2008 with the purpose of providing parental support and cultural awareness for international adoptive families.  However, years before, the same group that started PAHF began hosting an annual family camp out at Honeyman State Park on Oregon’s central coast — a tradition they have continued since 1987.

On the first Saturday of August, families from Portland — and now all over the PNW and a few from across the country — travel to Florence, Oregon to join about 70 to 80 other adoptive families and children for a week of fun.  After taking a day trip to visit the campers last year as part of my role with Holt’s development team, I decided that actually camping this year would be a good way to spend some time with the wonderful families and adoptees that we work for every day. It was my first real camping experience!

As I observed the activities and campers, I could only think about how much this must mean to the kids and the parents. The kids get to spend a week with friends who share the commonality of adoption and it’s an opportunity for parents to be with other adults who can identify with the joys and struggles of parenting adopted children.

For me — a Holt adoptee and Holt employee — the camp out was, in some ways, like watching the ripples take place before my eyes.

From its inception, Holt International has been synonymous with adoption.  As an adoptee, I feel like I’m only one ripple away from Holt’s founders, Harry and Bertha Holt, and the early days of Holt that many adoptees and adoptive families remember. Now, as an employee, I’m creating new ripples, working with families and donors who are making many, many more ripples, carrying out Holt’s mission in the United States and abroad.

For many who consider themselves the Holt “old timers,” or families who remember the days when Grandma Holt was still alive, it’s very apparent that Holt and its traditions have changed over the last decade.

Although I was young, I grew up at the end of an era when Grandma Holt would attend picnics and other Holt events. At the time, Holt as an organization was also primarily an adoption agency focused on serving adoptees and adoptive families. Today, I see Holt as both an adoptee and an employee, and Holt is a very different organization. The majority of children and families we now serve are not adoptive families, and they do not live in the United States. As a child welfare organization, our focus has shifted to strengthening and preserving families overseas. While this shift is both important and amazing, I know that we struggle — not only as an organization — but as a larger body of adoptive families and friends who belong to the extended Holt family. As we get further and further from what Holt use to be, we wonder what that means for the future of adoptive families, and how traditions that were started by Harry and Bertha will be kept alive.

But does it really matter?

Of course, we will always honor our history and those who have carried the Holt legacy. But isn’t the real legacy in the children who have and who continue to come home to loving families? Or, in those children who are growing up happy and healthy in their birth families overseas?

People often ask why Holt is moving away from adoption, and if Holt will ever return to a focus on adoption.  At the camp out, it really became so clear to me.  Over the past four years as a Holt staff member, I’ve watched several children come home to permanent, loving families.  They’ve flourished and grown into beautiful individuals, each with their own identity and personality.  As an adoptee, I’ve watched Holt transition into an organization that not only places children who need families into loving adoptive homes, but that advocates for and serves thousands of children and families around the world.

At the family campout in July, I had the chance to see Holt’s living legacy. In a small scale, I also saw what makes Holt such a strong organization today. This extended family of people have, in one way or another, been touched by Holt, and today they continue the ripples by supporting children around the world.

I believe Holt’s legacy is ever evolving. Holt too has evolved, but our mission has never changed — providing loving, stable, safe and secure homes for children.

 By Courtney Young | Development Associate

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