FCC Austin Highlight
In the past few years there has been an ongoing discussion regarding how FCC groups can connect and engage with growing age spans and family interests. The FCC Austin chapter faced that challenge and addressed it head on. In a recent phone interview with Becky Harding, president of FCC Austin, she discussed the ways they have reached out and connected across a wide variety of ages and family types. It may be considered a prototype for handling the change. Regardless, it is a group that has created an intentional agenda.
Becky says that families in the Austin chapter have very diverse needs and interests. She mentions that there are families with teen kids facing college and those issues and that there are families whose child just arrived within the last month. She says, “Our Austin FCC chapter is really a microcosm of the country and represents adoptive families across the spectrum of identities.” She continues, “We have a large cross-section of families including: gay and lesbian families; single parent families; traditional mom and dad families; families with special needs kids; families with bio and adoptive children; families with a child from China and a child from Ethiopia or Guatemala or domestic adoption or others. We are very much a diverse, multicultural representation of families and our events really do have the “color of the rainbow” element to them. Our activities are usually not just for adoptive children or not just for children from China – we try to include everyone”.
Our interview was on a compressed time schedule and it seemed that the information literally bubbled out of her. It quickly becomes obvious the rapid fire nature of the conversation was not due to time constraints, but rather her heartfelt passion to discuss the needs and concerns of adoptive families. It’s clearly her thrill and passion.
As she shares emphatically on the opportunities and challenges faced by the Austin FCC group, she emphasizes that it is not complicated for FCC groups to stay relevant to growing kids. She says, “It starts with reaching out to the Asian ethnic community-- whether a dance or language group, martial arts, or other interest. Then there is this natural opportunity for relationships.” She says, “We as parents have been too willing to sit back and wait for the relationship with the Asian community to just happen. Well it doesn't-- we need them-- they don't need us. Maybe it's part of our job as parents to make those connections happen; it benefits our children. We’ve got to get out of our own comfort zone if our kids are to become an integral part of a community that represents their ethnicity. Once we can engage with adults or families that look like our children, we can find resources within that community. The research shows these role models are essential for our children.”
She explains that the Austin Board drafted a strategic plan last year during her first year as president. She says, “We took a thorough and honest look at ourselves. We looked at who we were; what our needs were; what type of events we were holding; what messages these events were sending about us, whether intentional or unintentional; and how we were or were not reaching what we hoped to accomplish. It was a very insightful process. And, of course we realized the need to change. She explains, “Our largest event is CNY, but it was challenging to build a community with this once-a-year celebration.” She continues, “While large events such as CNY are expected and feels important for many people, it we realized that this event with hundreds of people was not unifying us, but rather fragmenting our identity. These events generally allowed friends a natural time to reconnect, but we were “separately” celebrating the event in a large community. In looking at ourselves, we realized it’s impossible to count on this type of event structure to build relationship that we all wanted.” She explains the shift in planning and emphasis, “So, we began to structure smaller events that were focused on meeting specific interests and needs. We intentionally kept the groups small and built around needs – everyone is busy – no one has time for something that doesn’t meet a need in their life.”
Becky continues to explain, “We invited the most respected attachment therapist in Austin to come in and speak to interested families in a centrally located community center. It was a resounding success --- 20 people or so attended. There was an intimate atmosphere to discuss needs and issues and it was a really meaningful experience. The information shared and relationships that have been built with this experience has created stronger bonds, a common identity and built cohesion within our group. For parents struggling with this issue, it became an opportunity to get some insight and support.” She excitedly mentions, “We also scheduled Jane Brown to come and talk with our kids and parents, which will be great.” Then she adds, “Although, now for health reasons, she has had to reschedule the session. When she does come, it will be her 4th visit with us. We are planning a variety of events, several which are small in size, to allow building of community.” She adds, “These small events help us build meaningful relationships and connections to meet the needs of our families.”
Clearly, Becky thrills to talk about this work. She mentions that FCC Board discussed the key element of providing Asian role models for kids. As a result of that, Becky and Dr. Rowena Fong, an honored scholar and award winning professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin have created the first ever local China culture camp during August 2010.
She recounts the college teen counselor’s surprise at being so valued for doing what they feel like is “just having fun”. Becky says, “These kids are all incredibly wonderful role models for our kids, most of them pre-dentistry, pre-law or some type of strong professional college career.” We have built relationship with them due to them being involved in the China Care Club at the University of Texas at Austin. Becky adds, “These teens see the time spent with our kids as just catching up on some of the fun they are missing by being away from their families --- they really love spending time with our kids. She adds, "Since they normally spend all their free time studying, playing with our kids is a welcome relief.” Clearly she thrills to talk about this work and says, “Creating a bridge between our kids and these older kids is such a gift – I cannot be an Asian parent – but I can surround myself and my family with many valuable and diverse friends who can and will enrich their lives.”
She recounts the training meeting that she and the camp co-director held to prepare these Asian teens to be camp counselors. She recalls telling them, “We (co-camp directors) can do all this work to develop these educational tools and cultural programs. I explain to them that them getting down and playing with our kids is so vital. They are surprised when I shared that whatever we do in putting the camp together and developing the program is nice – but their presence and them being able to share how they have handled racist comments and how those comments made them feel and what they did about it – that is the real value and the most important experience our kids will gain from attending camp.” She continues, “Our kids relate most closely with ABC’s (American born Chinese). They have little in common with first generation immigrant Chinese and less in common with Chinese children who currently reside in China. The ABC community is a rich resource to tap into to assist and connect with our kids.” She adds, “I am so excited about camp this year. Already a large number of kids are registered. And, what is especially neat is that many of these families are not typically involved in FCC events. For a couple of families I personally went and shared the camp agenda. The response was like, ‘Yes, absolutely, this is something I want my kids to be a part of’ and signed up. This camp is another example of how we have partnered to make the community connections work. Most of the adult leaders in the camp are Asian; all the teen counselors are Asian. It is a wonderful example of the community pulling together to teach and mentor our young people. This type of thing can happen once we as Caucasian parents step out of our comfort zone to engage in the culture of our kids. We have to be willing to build a relationship and then make a specific request.” She also cites the example of the FCC Austin’s booth at Austin’s Dragon Boat Festival, as an example of creating connections. It is an event coordinated by the Asian American Cultural Center and FCC Austin which offers their highly popular zodiac t-shirts and people get acquainted in the process.
Becky passionately recounts how supportive her own family is and how she could not put this level of energy and passion into the FCC group without that support.
As Becky continues to share the work involved of shepherding the Austin chapter through different phases of development, she comments that this role is fitted to her as a former teacher. A quick look at their newsletter shows many ongoing activities: book reviews; various ages of play group scheduling; Single Parent Appreciation Day; a film screening of the documentary, “A Long Journey Home” which chronicles China birth family experiences and many more upcoming events. Becky describes her family as “wonderfully supportive”. Becky says that if they did not support it fully she would not be doing it. I can hear the smile in her voice as she recounts the time she and her two daughters were walking out of the building after an event; it was late and had been a long day. She recounts, “And my 4 year old looked up at me and said, “Mom, I am so proud of you – you did an awesome job tonight!”. Becky says, “You know, it’s funny to hear that encouragement come out of her mouth at such a young age--- but she is really just mimicking what I have said to her when she has done well. It is nice to hear it come back.” And then she adds, “But if they didn’t support it, or if this work took too much away from my family, I wouldn’t do it. I think it adds to our family.”
I comment that with her passion and her vision for FCC leadership, she may want to start a database of ideas and a community of sharing ideas on how to bring depth and meaning to FCC groups beyond CNY celebration parties. And, of course, she ended our conversation with a “Wow, I’d love to do that!One more opportunity for Becky’s kids to be proud.