Mentorship

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Sydney

Sydney was born in Tongling, China and has lived in NYC all her life.  She has a younger sister who was also adopted from China.  Sydney has always loved singing and dancing, and as a result studied classics voice in high school.  As a teenager, Sydney was a Mentee in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program.   She became a Mentor in 2018 and is excited to continue forming lasting connections with the Mentees and supporting them on their adoption journey.

What would you like to share about your background?

I was adopted from Tongling, Anhui, China at 9 months old.  I grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn and have lived there since. Currently, I am working towards a Master of Social Work degree at Hunter College.

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

I always knew I was adopted, just based on the mere fact that my physical features contrast with those of my parents. I have tan skin, dark hair, and dark brown eyes, whilst my parents are quite fair and have blue and green eyes and blonde hair. When I was younger, I was curious about my adoption story, and when I was around 11 or 12, my parents showed me my adoption papers and documents. It was surreal seeing them because I was able to hold on to tangible artifacts of my past in addition to the memories I had stored in my mind for years.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?     

The most common question I have been asked as an adoptee is whether or not I miss my “real parents.” Because I am proud to call myself an advocate of my community, I always feel the need to clarify the difference between a biological and real parent. My real parents are those that have raised me, loved me, and provided a safe environment in which I could flourish. On the other hand, my biological parents created me, but I have no knowledge about them. I will always appreciate their value in my life, but do not see them as my real parents, and making that distinction is important to me.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?         

I got connected to Spence Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program as a Mentee back in 2013, when I was a junior in high school. I had previously been part of another community adoption organization and wanted to partake in more adoption-related activities. I was also adopted through Spence and felt like I wanted to get re-connected to my adoption agency. I had to take a break from the Program when I went to college in upstate New York but have since returned as a Mentor after I graduated and moved back to the city.

What did you gain from being in the Mentorship Program as a young adoptee?

I’ve always spoken about my love for this Program because it changed my life in so many ways. I became more connected to my own identity though sharing experiences and bonding with other Mentees and older Mentors. I felt at home in this program by being in a room saturated with adoptees, all of whose stories are unique but so similar in a myriad of ways. I also fostered a close connection to a Mentor whom I view as one of my most important role models today.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?         

I have greatly appreciated the shift in experience and the novelty that has come with being an adult Mentor. I was nervous about building connections with the Mentees, but I realized that they just want to be heard and appreciated for who they are. I enjoyed talking to them about their experiences of being teenagers and in some ways, I felt like I could still relate, because I was a teenager not too long ago. I also appreciated the Mentees’ kindness and acceptance of who I was and continue to be. I felt like I could be myself around them, just as they felt comfortable being who they were around me in return.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?     

When I see a Mentee struggling or feeling down about themselves, I tell them to be patient and that it is okay not to always know what is around the bend. I think as a young person, it can feel like the world is against you when things don’t go smoothly. I always like to remind the Mentees that things will get better, and that our perception of our own lives greatly impacts the way we live them.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or sign up for our FREE Mentorship Webinar!

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Andrew

Andrew was born in Seoul, South Korea and is currently employed as a Human Resources Manager.  This is his 8th year as a Mentor in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program.  Andrew looks forward to continually deepening his mentorship relationships with all of the returning teens, and to be a resource providing support for those struggling with their adoption identities.  He also enjoys just being a friendly voice and a supportive ear.

What would you like to share about your background?

My identical twin brother and I were adopted from South Korea together when we were children by the adoption agency Save the Children to a couple from Boston, MA.  My parents would then adopt a third child from South Korea, our sister. 

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

Not too much was known about our backstory from Korea since a lot of paperwork was lost when we first came over.  Speaking for myself, my adoption identity and story did not really resonate with me while growing up.  Being in a mixed-race family of three Korean children would obviously highlight that we were adopted since our parents are not Korean.  I do know that my parents held unto records that they were able to obtain and that both my brother and sister have looked at all of the adoption records we do have, but that has not been a choice that I have made yet.

What interesting stories did your parents share with you?        

When my parents decided to adopt two identical twin Korean boys, the logistics of having two brand new children brought into their lives that look exactly the same definitely caused some issues.  Since we did not speak any English, our new names did not exactly register when they were trying to address either boy.  This would be particularly challenging in the first bath that they gave us.  Two identical twin boys that did not respond to English names naked in a bathtub is pretty much a recipe for disaster.  So, my parents being practical medical professionals, decided to label us with a gigantic “A” or “M” on the back of our necks.  And I am pretty sure we were color coded for the first several months that we lived in Boston, with one boy always in Red and the other always wearing Blue.  To this day, they insist those were our favorite colors. 

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

I honestly did not face a lot of questions about being adopted.  More people were fascinated about me being an identical twin.  I guess the only heritage questions I receive in my professional life are when I meet people for the first time that I have corresponded with who are intrigued that a fast talking New Englander with a French last name and no accent turns out to be a Korean guy when we meet face to face.

When did you get connected to Spence-Chapin’s Mentorship Program?

I entered the Mentorship Program in 2013 with the high school program at that time.  In my years in the program, I have had the joy of seeing our young teenagers grow and blossom into young adults.  I mean several of our former mentees are now mentors in the program, and one of them highlighted adoption in a TED talk.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?

I have been able to not only connect and see our young teenagers grow up, I have also had the joy of seeing my fellow Mentors go through their own adoption journey. All of us adult adoptees were able to share our adoption identities with the teens, all of the parents and with each other.  The support and relationships I have built with the Mentors, teens, and parents over the years has truly impacted my own life positively. 

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

Don’t be intimidated by the title of the Spence-Chapin Adoption Mentorship Program.  We are really just here to get everyone to think about adoption identities and share all of our unique adoption journeys.  We have days in which we encourage people to listen and if comfortable to share experiences.  But we also just have fun activities (Karaoke, Painting, Zoo, Day at the Park) which we just get to be in an environment that all of us can relate to each other since all of us are adopted.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or sign up for our FREE Mentorship Webinar!

Community Building for Adopted Tweens and Teens

By Jessica Luciere   - Community Liaison, Adoption Mentorship Program

By Jessica Luciere
- Community Liaison, Adoption Mentorship Program

In everyone’s life, it is important to find the right community. That is no less true for people who were adopted. When we are older, we’re able to dig into our own identities with more of a worldly view of ourselves. When we are younger, sometimes this navigation needs more guidance. Adoptive parents know the value and power in meeting other adoptive parents, creating those safe spaces and finding ways to connect with one another. When parents search out these communities for their kids it is just as important and defining. The youngest years of a child’s life are formative, which is why giving them the space to connect with others who have such a common bond as adoption is so important.

Many people are touched and affected by adoption, which is why creating the right programming to facilitate safe spaces in the adoption community, is so important. As an adoptee myself, and someone who has benefitted from programs that allow me to interact with other adoptees, I know personally how powerful these programs can be. When adoptees have access to each other, they have access to stories that may or may not relate to their own, they meet people from similar and different backgrounds, but who all share this one common, deep-rooted experience.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program has been for running for 15 years continuously, I have been a Mentor in this program for those past 15 years. We have seen the lasting effects that creating a community has had on the many Mentors and Mentees who have participated in the program over the years. The bonds that are created when we give room to this topic have been incredible. For some, it may be their first time talking about their stories publicly, or even sharing a room with fellow adoptees. When adoptees are given the opportunity to share their stories, listen to each other, and get to know one another we are creating a space that adoptees may not necessarily find outside of these walls. Allowing adoptees to share a space helps eliminate a feeling of aloneness that can sometimes happen, especially for younger teens who have not yet learned how to manage their emotions, is so important. Adoptees who are older may also feel a sense of aloneness, so creating a Mentorship program where adults are Mentoring other younger adoptees creates a platform for everyone to work through these obstacles simultaneously. Often, we see that those who participate in the Mentorship program as youths, then come back as they get older to become Mentors to the new generation of adoptees. Adoptees finding themselves amongst peers, and finding their community is powerful.

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Much of adoption history has been covered in secrecy. Parents might be afraid to talk about certain adoption issues for fear of causing pain for their child or not knowing when or how to have these conversations. The Adoption Mentorship Program helps adolescents find their voices and build their growing understanding of their identity in a safe nurturing way with others who have gone thru what they might be going thru now. The challenge is incorporating your adoption identity and all that it means to you with pride as you move throughout life. It will always remain a continuous and ever-changing experience for all those who seek it. The Mentors who participate in this program will often say that they take away just as much from this program as the kids and parents do. The Mentors see themselves oftentimes, reflected back to them in the Mentees. Remembering what it was like to be their age, adopted, with questions and not always a clear path to the answers, gives them the chance to relive, but in present times, what the teen adoptee experience is, and was like. In the same respect, our Mentees can seek guidance from the adults who have lived through some of the experiences they may have had and could have in the future.

Adoptive parents know that giving their child a space to share this intimate part of their lives is important, and healthy. It is always encouraged and shared with parents that they start the conversation of adoption at home. Once the child knows that there is a safe space to share any feelings they may have, generally, it may open them up to find words to explain to their parents and friends what they are thinking and feeling about their adoptions. Parents are key players in adoptees growing into their adoption identities, trust starts at the home, so for kids to have a healthy space to share before they reach these programs allows for a more open experience. We also understand that giving a community to the parents is important, adoptive parents have stories of their own to share, questions that only other adoptive parents can answer and relate to. Creating a separate space for parents to connect with one another is paramount.

These are just some of the reasons why community services are so important in building an adoption community for you and your family. Our Adoption Mentorship Program provides a community for adolescent adoptees to explore their adoption identity while having fun with kids their age, and Mentors who are familiar with what they are going thru at this stage of their lives. Mentorship provides a fun and open, yet safe space for the teens to express themselves, and their parents understand how to support their teens as their child’s understanding of their own identity is ever changing.

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When programs are geared towards the specific needs of a community and have the right tools in place to ensure its success and participation, there is no limit to the good that can come from them. Adoption is a beautiful and complicated part of the lives that it touches, and it is important to give space to let that ever-changing, and personal relationship with adoption grow.

Learn more about programs and services that support your adopted tween or teen here or contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or 646-539-2167.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Liz Cook

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Liz Cook became a Mentor in 2017 and was excited to join the Program because she has always enjoyed hearing about other’s life experiences. Liz has also volunteered with many youth non-profits over the years.

What would you like to share about your background?

I was adopted as an infant. In fact, I was born on Thanksgiving! When I was 3 days old, I was welcomed into my home on the Upper East Side of NYC. Four and a half years later my brother was born. He was not adopted.

How did your family share your adoption story with you?

My parents used the word adoption from the time I was a toddler. Whenever I was curious, they had lengthy discussions and told me as much as they knew. They were proud and thrilled with my adoption and passed those feelings on to me. When I was twelve, my parents handed me my “adoption folder”—anything they had that pertained to my adoption. They gave me ownership of my interesting beginnings.

What myths or misconceptions did you encounter as an adoptee?

I thought that I was adopted because my birth mother was an old woman with a bunch of cats. I have no idea where I got this funny story from. Ironically, I’m highly allergic to cats! There’s a tendency in our society to sensationalize adoption. Sometimes people would ask me about my “real parents.” For the most part I learned at an early age to firmly but politely debunk the myths and misconceptions.

What has been your experience as a Mentor?

The Mentorship program has become a family to me. Everyone has a wonderful story although some stories are painful. I’ve looked at my life story and the subject of adoption differently than I did before my connection to Spence Chapin. I feel sad that some of our kids are bullied by others because they have been adopted. I think Spence-Chapin offers a safe haven for Mentees and Mentors.

What advice do you share with young adoptees in the Mentorship Program?

Being adopted is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be celebrated. I want the Mentees to feel pride in telling their stories and know that they are not alone in this journey. That’s what this Mentorship program allows.

Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship Program is for adopted middle and high school students. Our program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. To learn more about joining the Program as a Mentee or Mentor, contact us at mentorship@spence-chapin.org or sign up for our FREE Mentorship Webinar!

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Rachel Kara Pérez

Rachel was born in The Bronx and raised in a predominantly Puerto Rican household. During a visit to Spence-Chapin to get non-identifying information about her adoption, Rachel was told she would make a great Mentor. We're glad she agreed!

Mentorship Program FAQs

Who are the Mentees?

Mentees are adopted middle or high school students in the tri-state who are open to receiving support and guidance from adopted adults and are able to be in a group setting and participate in structured activities. Our families join us from NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut!

Who are the Mentors?

Our mentors are volunteers who are adopted, live in the tri-state area, and are in their twenties, thirties, and forties. All of our mentors are screened and trained by our licensed social work staff. Mentors serve as role models who can share their adoption story and experiences while encouraging mentees to ask questions, feel comfortable with their identities, and develop healthy self-esteem. Some of our mentors were mentees themselves as children.

Why would my child be interested in a Mentorship Program?

For many young adoptees, finding older adoptee role models can be challenging. While they may be surrounded by peers who were also adopted, interacting with an older adoptee might not be possible. Mentors can really provide insight and support for younger adoptees around issues of identity, navigating different types of conversations that might come up in high school or college, or just being a teenager in general. They are able to speak and listen to mentees from a place of understanding.

Are mentors assigned to a child one-to-one? Do they meet individually?

Mentors and Mentees interact at scheduled events and go on community outings as a group. Whereas in some years we designate Mentors to individual Mentees, we have also interacted in group settings without a one-on-one assignment. The program structure varies each year depending on enrollment.

What if my child doesn’t want to participate?

It’s OK for Mentees to feel a bit hesitant about participating at first. Many of our mentees who are unsure about joining the program at first end up really enjoying the experience after just a few outings. However, the children who are most successful in the program are enthusiastic and want to participate. They are ready to engage in these adoption conversations. We make sure that conversations take place in a number of ways so that each Mentee can feel comfortable.

How often does the Mentorship Program meet?

One Saturday a month, our Mentors and Mentees enjoy community, educational and social outings. We provide an inclusive and safe space to discuss birth families, identity, relationships, and more. There are two semesters for the Mentorship Program: Fall (September – January) and Spring (February – June). Families enrolled in the Mentorship Program will receive a schedule of events in advance of the semester. The time frame of events varies depending on the activity, but generally ranges from 2-4 hours, usually beginning around noon.

What types of programs/activities do participants of the Mentorship Program engage in?

Past outings have included trips to the zoo, bowling, classes on pasta making, fencing, painting, and more. Some events take place at Spence-Chapin’s office in Manhattan while others take place off-site throughout New York City. Two of each semester’s monthly meetings will be Adoption Days, where the agenda will be adoption-focused and encourage relevant discussion and reflection. Adoption Days also include programming for parents related to parenting adopted teens.

What does the $500 per semester fee cover?

The fee covers the cost of administering the program including lunches, admission or cost of the activity. Volunteer mentors do not pay a fee.

What is the time commitment for Mentors?

Mentors volunteer monthly from September to May for 4 hours each activity. An orientation event is also required during a weekend or evening prior to the start of the program (2-3 hours).

Hear from our current mentors to learn more:

 

Questions?
Email mentorship@spence-chapin.org or call 646-539-2167 to learn more!