mentorship program

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. 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.

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!

10 Tips to Help Teens Explore Identity

Katie Rogala, an adoptee and Spence-Chapin employee, shares 10 helpful ways to support your adopted child’s exploration of inner and outer self.

Mentor Spotlight: Meet Gyulnara Barnett

Gyulnara was adopted from Russia and reunited with her birth mom when she was in college. A participant in Spence-Chapin’s Adoption Mentorship, Gyulnara shares what it’s like to be part of an adoption community.

Colombia Program Updates

Spence-Chapin’s fundamental belief is that Every Child Deserves a Family. We are a Hague accredited agency with over 40 years of experience in international adoption. Since 1994, we have been finding and preparing families to adopt children from Colombia, a Hague country. Our agency is approved by the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), the central authority for inter-country adoption.

Colombian Heritage Program

In July of 2017, we expanded our Colombia Adoption Program to find permanent, loving families of Colombian heritage for children in Colombia between the ages of 0-10 years old. According to Colombia’s eligibility parameters, families of Colombian heritage who are between 25-45 years old may apply to adopt a child as young as 0-4 years old. Children adopted through this program may have no pre-identified special needs.

How do you know if you are of Colombian heritage? This includes a person who was born in Colombia or a person with a parent born in Colombia. When submitting your application for the program, the adoptive parent would provide a Colombian birth certificate, passport, or Cedula to show this heritage. The estimated wait time for child referral after dossier submission by heritage families is 18-24 months.

Greatest Need of Adoption in Colombia –Children with Special Needs, Older Children and Sibling Groups

We continue to seek American families living anywhere in the United States who are drawn to Colombia as the country to build their families and who will embrace the process of incorporating Colombian culture into the life of their family going forward. Through our Colombia Waiting Child Program, our agency remains committed to finding families for children in the greatest need of adoption in Colombia, including toddlers and school-age children with significant special needs, such as Down syndrome, and developmental delays. There are also siblings in need of adoption in Colombia. Since this is a waiting child program and families will be recruited for specific waiting children, there is no wait time to be matched with a child. The entire process is estimated to take 12-18 months.

Support and Guidance for the Lifetime of Your Family

Many adoptive families are drawn to Colombia as it’s a country with beauty in its people, landscape and culture. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of school-age children, children with special needs and sibling groups discourage many prospective parents. Spence-Chapin offers myriad of services during the adoption process to encourage and support adoptive parents to overcome these barriers. Our social workers assist families in taking inventory of their individual, family and community strengths and determining various resources available to help their child and family thrive. We take great care in helping adoptive parents anticipate the needs of the child in order to develop a resource plan for parenting children in the areas of medical, school, mental health, parenting, attachment, sibling preparation, home, support system, stress reduction, self-care and budgeting.

Following placement of a child or sibling group from Colombia, Spence-Chapin is available for support and guidance for the lifetime of your family. Spence-Chapin offers counseling, parent coaching, post adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips.

Children in Colombia are waiting for you! We would love to tell you more about our program in Colombia. We welcome families living anywhere in the United States to call us at 212-400-8150 to speak with our international adoption staff. Or, visit our website to learn more about Colombia Adoption by clicking here!

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!

Meet our new 2015-2016 Mentors!

We're excited to welcome five new mentors to our Mentorship Program.  This program empowers adoptees through friendship, building self-confidence and challenging them to discover and understand their adoption identities and experiences. Patricia PatriciaThis is my first year as a mentor and I am so excited to be a part of this program! I was born in Armenia, Colombia and was adopted at 1.5 years old. I was raised in Washington State with two older sisters and one younger sister. My younger sister is adopted as well, but from Guatemala. I grew up in a small town where most of my friends were adopted from different countries all over the world. It was very neat to grow up in a town where adoption was important to the community. I have a strong interest working with people and majored in Psychology in college. I worked as a nanny while going to school and knew I wanted to continue working with kids and teenagers once I moved to New York. My adopted parents and I visited Colombia several years ago. I was able to see where I was born and better understand the Colombian culture. This year, my husband and I are planning another trip to Colombia and we are very much looking forward to seeing the country. We hope to adopt from Colombia someday. Until then, I am excited for the time I will get to spend with the mentors, the mentees, and to get to know you all.

Michelle MichelleI was adopted in New York when I was a young child. Although I faced many struggles growing up and my parents were not open at all to discussing my adoption, I have thrived, becoming a philanthropic humanitarian who gives back to the world and honors the people who have helped to transform my life. At my graduation commence ceremony, I walked twice. Once for each undergraduate degree I’d earned. It was a defining moment. I’d defied every label and diagnosis ever placed on me and in front of me. Since then I’ve traveled the world, worked for the government, went to law school, completed graduate school, and become a minister.  I love to travel, cook, exercise, sing, write, read, and learn new things. I am passionate about public speaking, team building, American Sign Language, and learning from different cultures. As a mentor in this program I hope to share, shape, influence, and empower adoptees during one of the most impressionable seasons of their life-the journey in which they discover their identities.

Marielle MarielleI was born in China and was adopted, at the age of 7, into a loving family.  My father was Sicilian and my mother is Irish and German.  Unfortunately my father passed when I was 10 years old.  I believe that has made me the strong and compassionate person I am today.  I am 24 years old and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo.  I knew I always wanted to help people; therefore, I am currently applying to physical therapy school and hope to be admitted next year.  Presently, I work in a physical therapy practice as a physical therapy aide.  In my spare time I love to work out at the gym, ride my bike and hang out with friends.  I am looking forward to becoming a mentor this year and hope to help the mentees feel more comfortable with any issues they may have regarding their adoptions.

Jon JonMy name is Jon and I am pleased to be with you here at Spence-Chapin. My adoption background is fairly well known compared to most that I know and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences as well as promote my positive outlook on life.  Being adopted from Chile at a very young age from the most supportive parents and family unit has helped shaped who I am today when it comes to relationships.  I work for an internet marketing firm, Taboola, as an account manager, analyzing ad campaigns and helping foster ongoing relationships between client and company. While I am away from the media/internet scene, I enjoy parks, beaches, walking, seeing as many live shows and concerts as possible, or just relaxing with some Netflix after a long week.

Dana DanaIt’s like being late to a movie.  You know the characters, location, mood and general plot – but the whole time, you can’t help but feel like you missed an integral part in the beginning that could affect every scene. I had always known I was adopted, but wasn’t aware of its meaning until age 7 when we learned about basic genetics in school.  I can remember the specific point in time when I realized that my brown eyes weren’t my mom’s or my dad’s.  I was different than the other kids. Between being a sensitive and emotional person to begin with, coupled with having been nurtured by incredibly loving, strong, supportive parents, I have grown into an adult who values emotional connectivity to self and others. Thirty years ago, I was privately adopted from North Carolina days after my birth.  I grew up in a happy home in suburban New York where my childhood was filled with piano and horseback riding lessons, summer camp, sports – everything a child needs and wants. My mid-twenties were difficult, naturally exploring my identity as maturity set in.  I discovered that my birth mom had died years prior and that I was part of a biological family that I had never known existed.  Before I was able to search, my birth sister found me through Facebook.  I met her soon after and learned so much about my birth story and more importantly about myself. I was part of my birth family, but had also never felt more connected to my parents. I love learning about new things and have a natural curiosity about people.  I work with children in orthopedic healthcare and love art, music, TV and sports, and anything science! I am excited to form meaningful, genuine relationships with mentees and hopefully I can learn from them as well!