mentor spotlight

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 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!