Chapter Corner Highlight
As the field of international adoption undergoes change, so do key support organizations, like FCC chapters and other international adoptive family support groups. While people in urban areas often are a part of an international chapter that focuses on their child’s birth country, the less densely populated communities often band together with all parents of internationally adopted children in a particular region.
At Lotus Travel, we see the changes and challenges faced by these grass roots organizations as they provide a network of support and services for adoptive families. In that interest, we are beginning a new feature column in this newsletter focused on work and efforts of various chapters like this around the country.
For our first look at such an international support chapter, we looked to an active chapter serving a small region across the international spectrum, titled “International Adoptive Families of Southwest Missouri.” Jessica Gerard is president of this chapter and spoke with Lotus Travel’s Homeland Programs Director, Iris Culp and discussed challenges and rewards of leading chapter activities.
IC: One challenge many chapters face is to remain engaged, active and relevant to adoptive families, as their children become too mature for the simple traditions such as the Lunar New Year dragon dance. I’m hearing from chapters around the country that as kids enter the middle school years they want less and less to do with events or traditions that distinguish them from their peers. What has been your chapter’s experience around this issue?
JG: Well, yes we feel it too, and I feel it personally keenly, as my daughter is at the age of 13. Of course, she mostly doesn’t want to be associated with younger children or categorized in with them in any way. What seems to work beautifully with this age, is to engage them by giving them a task or responsibility to take on. For example, my daughter and her best friend who was also adopted from China, took over the responsibility for running the ‘store” during our Lunar New Year event this year. The woman who had run it in the past, wanted a break and when I put those two in charge of the store, it became such a fun project for them. The parent attendees bought a lot more items from the kids and the store sales went through the roof! It was for a good cause of (?XXXX). In our small chapter, those two girls are main participants at their age, so they appreciated being given independent tasks and not being grouped with the younger children. For other activities, sometimes they are in charge of child care for the youngest members of the group, while parents attend a workshop. These couple of opportunities have turned out to be ideal situations to recognize their increased maturity and independence.
IC: So, is your chapter being methodical about this?
JG: Well, I think it tends to happen more organically most of the time. When a parent is also an FCC leader, you tend to come up with a solution to keep your child involved. Or, the other alternative is to let them drift away from important cultural connections. Some people will tell me, “Well, my child has another activity, such as basketball, that evening, so we cannot make it.” For me, that would not work, as I made a commitment to instill in my child an appreciation of her culture. I made a promise when I adopted her, and it’s a promise I’ve taken to heart. Yes, I agree it takes work to make the chapter events interesting and relevant for differing ages, but that is why these chapters are so important. Really, these groups are parent driven, so it’s up to us, really. There are a number of parents in our group who have grown in leadership and taken on responsibility for differing projects and events, so it has grown over time. It’s a great group.
IC: Do you have a lot of event activities during the year?
JG: We have several main events during the year. These include the large Lunar New Year event; an annual summer picnic; an adoption fair, a summer camp program which is quite extensive and is coordinated with a local university. We have a lovely, informal Christmas gathering, which is a potluck meal event. We also offer Chinese language and music classes and hold informational or social meal events typically once per month. We are fortunate to have a relationship with a university to use resources there to provide enrichment activities and with whom we cultivate an active partnership.
IC: Your chapter seems quite active, particularly given the fact that your organization is relatively small. To what do you attribute the active nature and “success” of your chapter?
JG: When I became president several years ago, I really threw all of my energies into this venture and applied my organizational skills and time into making programs interesting and relevant to the majority of the families attending. Naturally, I focused on information and programs that would be of interest to my own daughter and developed activities and functions that met my and my daughter’s needs at that time. As I look back I see that we didn’t provide anything relevant for the older kids at that time. Over a period of years, others have taken on increased leadership roles and expanded offerings and activities the chapter offers. It has just grown from there.
IC: One of the challenges many chapters around the country are facing right now is the reality that international adoptions have slowed. Is that impacting your chapter in any visible way?
Well, yes, the adoption fair that we host and organize has had up to 400 participants in past years and many adoption agencies attend and provide information. This most recent adoption fair, only 3 (?) families participated, so that’s clearly a dramatic change in the numbers of interested people exploring international adoption in our area. Agency representative spent much of the time visiting with each other and made use of the time anyway. However, I’m not certain we will host another one during this next year.
IC: It sounds like many things have gone really well for your chapter. What is something that you wished would have been more effective?
JG: Well, I think the most disheartening aspect of this has been trying to establish an open connection for families who struggle with post-adoption challenges, such as attachment strain, or other difficulties, some that even escalate into an adoption disruption. While our chapter attempts to be a resource for parents experiencing any such difficulty, it seems that we have not been as effective in supporting families as they face these challenges. I’m not certain what the answer is here, but I would like us to find a more effective way to help and support each other.
IC: Possibly this is where the online community provides a valuable service of being able to seek help in a more anonymous, confidential manner, since reaching out for help in this regard can be feel so very risky and may put parents in the position to feel like they’ve failed.
JG: Yes, I wish we were in a position to more be more effective for these families, but it can be intimidating to reach out for help when you’ve waded through the process of completing an adoption and finally have a family. I do think our groups offer each other a lot, and I’m thankful to be part of an active thriving chapter which offers my family so much. I look forward to hearing about things other chapters are doing as well.