adoption 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!

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!

10 Tips to Help Teens Explore Identity

Written by Katie Rogala, LSW

We all have an inner and outer self – whether you are adopted or not! This often looks like presenting as different version of yourself based on the people you are around. This is an especially relevant topic for teens and tweens, who are managing many different levels of identity at once: adoptee identity, identity related to sex and gender, physical appearance, etc.

  1. Start the Conversation

    As hard as it can be, it is important for parents to begin these conversations. Don’t wait for your teen to speak up first. Identity is a raw and emotional topic for many, and often your child may not know if it’s something they can discuss with their family.  Your child will be much more likely to explore this topic with you if you’ve already made it clear that you’re ready and willing to have this conversation.


  2. Normalize

    Everyone has an inner and outer self. Consider what this means for you: how are you different when you’re with family? At work? With friends? Even if the changes across environments are small, they are still there. Don’t be afraid to share these personal examples with your child! This will help communicate to them that having multiple facets to your identity is a universal experience, not one limited to adoptees.


  3. Validate

    Whatever your adolescent feels about their adoption and identity is okay and valid. This can be hard for a parent to sit with, especially when their child expresses more complicated or negative feelings.  Saying things like, “I hear you,” “You have every right to feel that way,” or, “I can see why that would make you feel _____” sends a powerful message to them that they are understood, and that you will be there to support them no matter what they may be feeling.


  4. Listen

    Don’t just hear your teen – listen. When they share something that you don’t quite understand, seek out the feeling behind that emotion. The goal is not to make complicated feelings go away, it’s to create a safe space to talk about them. Reflect back on what your child says, using phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” – this allows you to get clarification where needed, without shutting down what’s been disclosed. By using reflective language, you are also demonstrating that you are actively listening to them and seeking to understand. 


  5. Give Them Space

    Let’s be honest – sometimes teens and tweens just don’t want to talk to their parents! However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t still thinking about adoption and identity; rather, they may just need to explore it on their own terms. Start the conversation, but don’t force it. Think of creative ways for your child to explore their adoption on their own. As an example, you may consider creating an album or memory box for your child related to their adoption and keep it in their room or other accessible space.  In doing so, you retain control of the narrative, but give your child the space and freedom to access it when and how they choose.


  6. Manage Your Own Emotions

    Conversations about identity and adoption can be emotionally charged, for both parent and child. However, it is important that, as the parent, you keep your own emotions in check so you can fully support your child. I’ve heard from many adopted teens the frustration of trying to talk to their parent(s) about adoption, only to have that parent become tearful and emotional. Even though these are often happy tears, it discourages the teen from wanting to share again in the future. In that moment, they need their parent to be in control and to support them, not the other way around. Before you get started, utilize your own calming down skills and tools to be sure you’re in the right frame of mind. If you find yourself becoming emotional – don’t worry! You can always take a quick break and come back to the discussion when you’re ready.


  7. Be Willing to Share of Yourself

    Conversations related to identity and adoption are not about you, they are about your child. However, it can be difficult for a teen (or any child) to feel comfortable sharing so much of themselves if it’s not part of a reciprocal process. Even if you are not an adoptee, look for the universal experiences in what your child shares and use that to help support and validate your child. As an example, if they say, “It really bothers me when kids at school ask why I don’t look like my sister”, you could say, “When I was in school, sometimes kids would ask me insensitive questions, too. I remember feeling hurt, and even annoyed. How do you feel when that happens?” By posing a question back to your child, you are keeping the focus on them, but also sharing some of the more vulnerable parts of yourself, which will help your teen feel more comfortable doing so, too.


  8. Use Tools

    As previously mentioned, identity is a complex topic. It can therefore be intimidating and uncomfortable (for both parent and child) to have a conversation about it.  The good news is, there are tools that you can use to facilitate conversation without the intensity of a face-to-face discussion. Consider doing a mask-making craft together in which they can decorate to reflect their inner and outer self. This can be done through writing words, collaging magazines, drawing pictures, or even using color to represent themselves.  


  9. Books/Movies

    In addition to more therapeutic interventions, such as the mask-making exercise mentioned above, you can also use books and movies to spark identity conversations. They need not be directly adoption related – you’d be surprised how many books/movies include themes of family, adoption, and identity! Think, for example, of Harry Potter: an orphaned child raised by family members who learns that he is a celebrity in a world he never knew existed. There are many relevant themes in this story for adoptees, such as Harry’s longing to know his mother and father, and, more generally, seeking out his place in the world. As you watch movies or read books together, consider commenting aloud when you notice an adoption theme, or maybe bringing it up the following day. You don’t need to make it specific to your child’s adoption; instead, you can say something like, “I really liked the scene where Harry talked about his mother and father. It makes me sad that he never got to know them, but happy that he finds ways to stay connected to them. What did you think about that?” or, more simply, “What character do you relate most to? Why?”


  10. Adoptee Support or Social Groups

    Understand that your child may prefer to share their experiences with another adoptee: someone who truly “gets it.”  Look for ways to build an adoption community for your child. Some options include an Adoption Mentorship Program, support groups, adoptive family meet-ups, social media-based adoptee groups, etc. These types of groups will continue to normalize and validate the adoptee experience for your child, while providing a safe space for them to share their innermost thoughts about adoption and identity.

    The exploration of adoption and identity is a lifelong process. It will likely change as your child gets older and their worldview expands, which is all the more reason to build a solid support foundation now. Spence-Chapin offers parent coaching, counseling services and other community programs to support adoptees and their families.

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

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!