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Extreme Connections

- By Iris Culp, Lotus Travel

Editorial Comment:  We at Lotus Travel are aware of the challenges faced by many  Families with  Children from Asia groups as young children grow past a willingness to participate in their local chapter’s Lunar New Year lion dance festivities, or their interest in cultural events wane and parents find themselves in the unenviable position of deciding whether to force children along, or let “cultural activities” go by the wayside while children get more connected to their wider circle of peers and may develop closer friendships with non-adopted peers and loosen the connection with adopted friends of the family. 
This interview and future series of article will attempt to share examples of chapters that have risen to this current challenge.  And, in doing so, it is our hope to encourage and share ideas and resources on keeping organizations vibrant and supportive to all adoptive families, many of whom have families with children across a spectrum of age ranges.

Many of you may have watched “Extreme Makeover” in May of 2009, when the George and Barbara Kadzis family of Tallahassee Florida, was featured on the two hour special. In addition to their biological son, they have adopted six children from China born with special needs. Their family’s story was heartbreaking and heartwarming, as we saw them experience their father’s death at the same time as their home project was brought to completion. Certainly the love and devotion seen in this episode was powerful.  There is another story here, in that the Kadzis family is also connected to a warm and wonderful caring support network of Families with Children from Asia in their hometown of Tallahassee, Florida.  Many of the chapter members were actively working and volunteering to help complete their home. I was privileged to sit down with several families in the Tallahassee group and learn more about this group.

Janice Foley, who serves as president of the group, reflects the enthusiasm and positive “vibes” of the group.  With other members, Julie Golding, Ramona Trescott, spouses, as well as 6 of our youngsters at an adjoining table, it was definitely a lively bunch.  As I interviewed them on their efforts to keep their chapter “growing up” as children mature and interests splinter in new directions, conversation was punctuated by interruptions from the “kid table” and lots of fun and laughter.  They understood my mission of the evening, to discuss and explore how groups help families stay connected as children grow into adolescence and beyond. Following are summarized highlights of the discussion.

IC:  What is something that keeps your group connected and active?

JG:  Well, we really formed strong bonds as we supported each other during the “waiting families” stages.  We’d come together and have showers and support each other through the wait. We became each other’s support network during the wait. 
JF:  Now most of our kids are older—a lot in the 10-13 year old age range. We’ve changed from playgroup involvement to following their interests. Now instead of playgroup, there is dance, gymnastics and several are on the same soccer team.  So, really there is a core group here that continues to grow up as an extended family almost.  We support each other and stay connected that way. It’s not that they dread going to an FwCA group – these are just their closest friends. We’ve had some great Christmas potluck events too.
Q:  How large is your group, and what groups are represented under the umbrella of Asian families?
JF:  Not real certain of our total count, as the database has undergone changes.  But we do have families in our group who have families adopted from China, Vietnam, Korea and India.  TFwAC (Tallahassee Families with Asian Children) is a member of the Asian Coalition of Tallahassee and has many alliances with the local community from that.

IC:  Can you tell me more about the local community alliances and how that connects to your group? 

JF:  The Asian Coalition of Tallahassee is an umbrella organization for the various Asian organizations in Tallahassee.  This includes organizations that focus on Korea, India, the Philippines, China and Taiwan.  There is the Chinese Student Association at FSU and several families are involved in this organization.  As a result, our chapter has many links and networks into the Asian ethnic community; it is easy to get involved and stay connected here.  Our families are very welcomed in the Tallahassee Asian community. 

IC:  That’s wonderful, tell me more please. 

JF: We sometimes partner with local Asian businesses, such as the restaurant, Lucy Ho’s, for events. She puts together an awesome Lunar New Year event, which we attend.   We also have various members involved in the Chinese Association of Tallahassee (mainland) and Taiwanese American Association.  Both organizations sponsor language classes on Sunday afternoons on the Florida State University campus where several parents take classes alongside their children.  There are a good number of families that attend Chinese Christian churches and build relationships there. We also have the opportunity to help international students by becoming a friend through the International Friends program at FSU and bring college age students into our homes. 

IC:  Wow, it sounds like there are a lot of groups to work with. What are some of the events?

Every summer the Taiwanese American Association sponsors a cultural camp where the children learn Chinese Folk Art, Chinese Folk Sports (diabolo, spinning tops, rope spinning, jump rope and double dutch as well as martial arts) and Chinese Folk dances.  This is probably the most well attended activity.  Also, every 18 months the Taiwanese Association of Tallahassee brings in a Folk Sports Troupe from Taiwan.  Many of the students are hosted in our homes.  The photo I gave you is of our kids and these kids together one evening.  Bet you can’t tell who is who! And, of course, we attend and participate in some amazing Chinese New Year celebrations!

IC: What are your main chapter activities?

JF:  We have monthly potluck dinners; groups for waiting families; and playgroups for families with younger children.  The biggest event of the year for us is the Christmas potluck event and there is a cookie exchange.  (Mentioning this event brings out a cacophony of shared stories and laughter from the group, as they share memories of past year’s events.)
As I ask about the Kadzis family, the conversation grows briefly quiet with reflective thoughts. Some in the group share about the last time they saw the George Kadzis and discuss the strength and love in the family.   

Of course, since all parents have children at the next table, the silence is quickly interrupted with questions about visits to the restroom and other necessary concerns of the evening.  As we gather up and tally up restaurant receipts to conclude the evening, it is apparent that the parents of these kids are deeply connected and the kids seem to view themselves as part of an extended family.
As I and my girls return to the car, I leave with well wishes and hugs and an invitation to come back anytime. I feel connected and welcome to join them again sometime.  I can appreciate why this group is a growing, vibrant organization.  The warm and encouraging support among the members is tangible.  They have intuitively created some extremely wonderful connections.

Note:  If your chapter would like to be contacted to share about successful activities and programs that grow and change with maturing of children through various stages, please contact us at iris@lotustours.net .  We would be pleased to be a resource of exchanging and sharing useful ideas within our newsletter.

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