A Different Kind of Wonderful

Are boys easier to raise than girls? Sarah S. wasn’t sure, but when she and her husband, John, decided to adopt again from China, they chose a boy. The S. family already included four daughters, all adopted from China. After almost a month of discussion with Agape Adoptions and each other, Sarah and John stepped forward to adopt a little boy they named Joel. “John’s friends all assured him that boys were easier to raise than girls,” says Sarah, “especially during the teen years.” Whatever the future held for Sarah and John, they were sure Joel belonged in their family.

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Sarah describes Joel Minyuan as a smart, kind, musically inclined little man. Joel had been diagnosed with Intestinal Lymphangectasia, and when he first came home he walked very slowly, an adjustment for his fast-moving, fun-loving family. Joel was six years old when he entered the S. family, having been abandoned at age three; and Sarah worried that he would have trouble attaching to his new family. As time passed and Joel settled into his new life, Sarah’s worries melted away as she saw Joel develop deep connections with his family and gain a new lightness in his step as his own fears began to subside. Soon, Joel was teasing his sisters and chasing them too!

Today, Joel fits so well into his family that it’s hard to think of a time when he wasn’t with them. A good-natured boy, Joel loves to play with and bother his sisters; and he enjoys basking in the glow of being a “mama’s boy.” Has Joel been easier to raise than his sisters? Sarah says, “Everyone really ought to have several girls and boys – then they’d see!” For the S. family, raising a boy is simply a different kind of wonderful.

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Linked to Each Other, One-to-One Around the World

Agape Adoptions prizes the relationships we have developed with orphanages over the years. The colleagues we work with around the world are highly dedicated, caring individuals who advocate tirelessly for the precious children in their care. This past month, we have been blessed to begin a relationship with another One-to-One orphanage in Guangdong, China, where our agency has the privilege of advocating for the children in that institution. (We also maintain a One-to-One relationship with an orphanage in Yunnan, China.)

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Our One-to-One relationship with orphanages is unique. We not only work to match their children with forever families, but we also commit to supporting the care of the children who wait. It is our goal to help improve the lives of these children as they wait to be placed in families who will embrace them with unconditional love.

The relationships we have developed with these orphanages allow us to bless these children in very tangible ways. One of the orphanages received a washer and dryer from Agape Adoptions. We also have provided needed medication for a child with a severe skin condition. The medication is expensive and not easily accessible in the area in which she lives.

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Unlike other orphanage relationships where families might wait for months for updated information, One-to-One partnerships allow us to communicate much more frequently with the orphanage staff. Waiting families can hear more frequently about their child, and our staff at Agape Adoptions can better understand their children and their needs.

Agape Adoptions celebrates this new One-to-One partnership. With it comes the awesome privilege of advocating for beautiful children who are waiting for homes to welcome them. Our One-to-One partnerships also bring with them tremendous responsibility. Each file is a child, a life waiting to flourish. It is our hope and prayer that each of these children finds his or her place in the arms of a loving family.

 

Creative Fundraising: One Family’s Story

In this four-part series, we’re discussing the costs of adoption. Today, in part three, we interview Carrie O., adoptive mom and creative fundraiser, on how their family addressed the costs of adoption.

Carrie, tell us about your journey toward adoption.
Eric and I (Carrie) have talked about adoption ever since we started adding to our family. After we had our third child, for various reasons, we knew we were done, at least biologically. In December 2012, our eyes and hearts were opened to the reality that this journey might just be for us, for this time. We are followers of Jesus, so it’s impossible to tell our story without including our faith and trust in God; who we believe planted this dream in our hearts and showed us that He would help us, guide us, give us strength, ideas, and creativity, and ultimately provide for us. We have relied on this truth along the journey so far and we haven’t been disappointed, only encouraged and spurred on.

What were your initial reactions to the costs of adoption?
After much prayer, interviewing several friends who have adopted in different ways, researching, and going to an adoption conference, we were led very specifically to adopt internationally, China exclusively – and we also felt we would bring home two children at once. That is more money than I can fathom, and not a normal budget line-item, and to raise it in approximately 15-18 months was massively intimidating! But we relied on our God, knowing that if He called us, He would provide, show us how to raise the money, and make it happen.

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How did you plan to manage the costs of adoption?
Because of our annual salary, adoption costs weren’t quite in our budget, nor in our immediate savings. Even being debt free (except our home), managing the costs can be hard. I can’t say we really had a plan. Thankfully, in the beginning, we had some friends who adopted internationally encourage us that “all the expenses aren’t paid at once. You have time on your side.” And this has been so true.

We knew we needed to do our part first. So, at the recommendation of another adoptive family, we began simply by cutting back in our budget. We agreed with our three kids that buying needs over wants would take precedence. We would be sacrificial and give up birthday fun and even go “simple” on Christmas and vacation. (These are still important though!) We were surprised at how much money we started saving! And we survived. This was such a learning time for our family too.

For the rest of the costs, we planned on getting the word out, doing several fundraisers, along with applying for grants. Our last resort would be adoption loans and the possibility of dipping into long term savings. We had to trust God, especially since we didn’t want to go into debt. Our friends who have gone before us on this journey gave us the best and most helpful advice. There are several websites as well, that give a wide array of ideas on how to fundraisers. Along the way, we’ve experienced that it’s not beneficial to look at the total amount owed or you will be overwhelmed, but take it one upcoming expense at a time.

What methods of fundraising did you use? What worked and what didn’t?
We used all different types of fundraising. We saved personally each month. We made hand-crafted items and sold them. Friends made stuff for us to sell. We had a huge multi-family garage sale, held a silent auction and dessert night, had a karate benefit tournament, a benefit square dance, applied for grants, and sent letters telling our story to friends, family, and acquaintances. These letters resulted in generosity from countless people, in sums of small and large amounts, and even matching company donations.

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What worked first and foremost was getting our story out and being excited about it. That is contagious. And when others feel the excitement, they get excited and want to partner with you. Secondly, we had a motto of keep it simple and use what we have, along with what works with our abilities and passions. This makes the fundraising enjoyable, and while it might be labor-intensive, it seems easy and becomes fun.

For example, I love to make cards. I had existing supplies so I made cards and sold them in packs. Our daughters knit, and someone donated yarn to us, so they made scarves and sold them. Eric’s mom loves square dancing. She organized a benefit dance, the callers donated their time, the grange was donated, and people showed up. It was fun!

One important piece of advice about fundraising events is: don’t keep your focus on the end amount that you think you might raise. If you have an idea of what you might raise, and you don’t make your expectation, this sets you up for disappointment and steals the joy and fun from fundraising. Have “fun – raising” money, and give thanks for those that do give and do participate.

We experienced that it’s better to do fundraising in events or seasons, as to keep it fresh and new. While we sold cards, scarves, and earrings in the beginning, when I tried to sell those items eight months later, it just didn’t work. It also works better to offer a service or event people can participate in. People loved donating to our garage sale or auction night. Some people might not be able to give cash, but they can give time and items. Therefore you include all ranges of people and achieve a richer experience.

The breakdown of our “fundraising” was:
personal savings — 20%
monetary donations (given to us or Agape Adoptions our behalf) — 31%
grants or matching company donations — 22%
other fundraising methods/events –27%

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What was the best moment of your fundraising experience? The most difficult one?
We have had so many “best moment” experiences in our fundraising; it’s hard to pick just one. One was in the very beginning when Agape Adoptions called to tell us they’d received a $4,000.00 donation from a friend of ours, in our name. Little did we know that it would be matched by our friend’s employer a few months later (when our second child fee would be due), just at the perfect timing.

It wasn’t just the big events like the auction night that were memorable. We can’t forget the dollar bookmarks, the $20 that someone slips us in passing, or the anonymous $1,000.00 gift given in church just this past week. Every little bit is meaningful and counts. We have been amazed and thankful for every person involved. God loves adoption, and He has shown us this through the generosity of His people.

One of the most difficult things about saving and fundraising is that life still goes on, and some things are just out of our control. Cars break down; teeth need worked on; roof leaks happen. On several occasions we had some larger, unexpected expenses, resulting in us not being able to save personally in those months. This was difficult because we want to do our part. But it was out of our control and worrying wouldn’t benefit us (not to say we didn’t have any worrisome moments). And when those times came, we just had to take a step back, pray, trust, and believe it would all work out. And it always did. God showed His faithfulness in our trust. And as each “out of our control” experience comes up, it becomes easier to hope and trust, knowing it will all work out.

What wisdom would you share with families who are just starting out on their adoption journey?
Be patient and don’t try to control every detail. Let others share in the joy of your journey. Walk in faith and thankfulness; do your part, work hard, and trust God in the journey.

Help Save the Adoption Tax Credit

The House Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees (the two committees with jurisdiction over tax policy) have begun their review of the U.S. tax code and have signaled their interest in continuing to determine which of the existing credits should be eliminated. If tax reform occurs, all existing tax credits or policies, including the now permanent adoption tax credit, would be subject to review and there is always a chance that it could be changed or eliminated.

In order to ensure that the adoption tax credit not only remains a permanent part of the code but is amended to add back in refundability in order to serve the needs of all children in need of adoption, Members of Congress need to be educated about how this credit is affecting you and your family.

The best way to do that is to demonstrate to legislators that their constituents care about this issue. Additionally, because refundability was not included in the bill that made the adoption tax credit permanent, many adoptive families are still not able to receive this critical support, a fact which some Members of Congress may not yet know. To this end, the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group (ATCWG) has set a goal of obtaining 30 Co-Sponsors on the Adoption Tax Credit (ATC) Refundability Bills: S. 1056 and H.R. 2144 in 100 days.

Get educated on the ATC by visiting Save the Adoption Tax Credit and contact your legislators to let them know you support tax credits for adoptive families.

Welcome Home, Little One

Before September 11th, I regularly greeted families at the airport as they arrived home with their new child. I’d wait at the gate with a lump in my throat, and, as I’d see the family coming off the plane, my eyes would fill with tears. All of those months of paperwork, phone calls, excitement and frustration were all coming together in that moment – a new child, in a new family, in a new country. In those years, the agency I worked for was only 10 minutes from the airport, and I attended many arrivals. I’d even show up in the middle of the night for families coming home on red eye flights. There is nothing more exciting than seeing families and children when they first arrive home.

These days, I don’t go to many arrivals. With heightened security keeping visitors out of terminal areas, it’s more hectic to meet families in the middle of the frenzied international baggage claim area, and our agency isn’t close to the airport anymore. But if ever there is an opportunity to be there when a family arrives home, I try to take advantage of it.

This weekend, I attended an arrival for a special little girl here in the Seattle area. The roads were packed that day, and the traffic made me anxious. I didn’t want to miss the big moment! For the last year, this little girl’s story has captured my heart, and I wanted to be there to see her first moments with her new family here in America.

After parking the car, I hurried into the airport and found my position at the top the escalator that leads to the baggage claim area. Beside me stood family and friends with “Welcome Home!” signs, children running around, searching each face on the escalator, waiting for this celebrated little one to make her appearance. It was a loud and busy and excited bunch!

Then I saw her face, riding up the escalator, her hand firmly grasping her mother’s. And my eyes filled with tears. She was grinning from ear to ear, looking around and taking it all in. Her life here is just beginning — a life filled with promise and overflowing with the love of her new parents and family. She’s here!

I like to say that each piece of paper we touch here at Agape Adoptions is connected to a child, living in an orphanage, waiting for a forever family. It’s why we’re so serious about doing our work with excellence, because children’s lives depend on it. It is such an honor to see the culmination of that work in the face of a smiling child who has found a family to love her forever. That’s why I love arrivals.

Photo courtesy of Finally a Family of Five 

Creating a Fundraising Plan

In this four-part series, we’re discussing the costs of adoption. Today, in part two, we look at funding an adoption. Who better to talk about adoption fundraising than Adoption Finance Guru, Cherri Walrod? Cherri has scoured the web and other resources for the last decade to bring adoptive families the best information in the field on adoption finance. We’re happy to share Cherri’s top five steps for successful fundraising in this series on adoption costs. Enjoy!

Five Steps to a Successful Adoption Fundraising Plan

By Cherri Walrod, Founder and Director of Resources4adoption.com

cherriWhen my family began our first adoption process over ten years ago, there were so many times when we felt completely lost. It felt like we were crawling around in a dark room with a small flashlight having to feel our way around…especially when it came to the topic of adoption financing. There was, and still is, a lot of great information available to families about the adoption process, but there is still a serious lack of resources available to help families put together a solid adoption financial plan.

Since beginning Resources4adoption.com over two years ago, I have talked to hundreds of adoptive families. It has become very apparent that you are still experiencing what I felt all those years ago. You need someone to come into the room and turn on the light!

These five steps will help guide you through a successful adoption fundraising plan.

1. Research

Investigation and research is building block number one because you much first know what is available to you. Many people are completely unaware of just how many options there are available today. When I first began my research into adoption grants and loans over ten years ago, I was amazed and encouraged by what was available. However, you must narrow those options down for what will most likely work for your family’s situation and needs.

There are four main categories for adoption financing options: Your own personal savings, adoption grants, adoption loans and adoption fundraisers. Within these categories there are some sub-categories. For example, there are three types of adoption grant options: Direct grants, matching grants and fundraising grants. Likewise, adoption loans have several options as well as some limitations.

Many of the adoption grant and loan options do have some kind of application criteria as well. Examples of common application criteria includes: Marital status, religious affiliation, income guidelines, and so on.

Thankfully, there are now tools available to help you. Resources4adoption.com is the direct result of my desire to help you sort through the maze of options and narrow down your list of viable options. Read more here

© April 2012, Resources4adoption.com
Photo courtesy: Resources4adoption.com

Understanding the Costs of Adoption

As families begin their adoption journey, Agape Adoptions encourages them to learn all they can about the process. Families spend many months talking to other adoptive parents, reading adoption blogs, researching different countries, and preparing for the arrival of their new child. For many families, the financial aspect of preparation is the most daunting. Adoption often comes at a significant cost. Prospective parents field questions from family and friends who wonder “Why is adoption so expensive?” And, perhaps, in the midst of balancing the checkbook, they too begin to wonder, “Where does the money go?”

All families who work with Agape Adoptions receive a breakdown of all fees associated with their adoptions. But sometimes those can just look like numbers on paper. In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the costs of adoption – how the money is used, how to fund an adoption, and how Agape Adoptions works as a non-profit charity agency.

 

Part One: Understanding the Costs of Adoption

In 2010, Adoptive Families magazine estimated that the average adoption from China cost families $28,623. Many families engage in active fundraising for their adoptions, and the U.S. government offers tax credits to adoptive parents to offset the cost. Nevertheless, the choice to adopt is a significant investment. For many families embarking on an adoption, numbers like these can be staggering and beg the question, “Where does all of the money go?”

The costs for adoption can be broken down into four basic categories: agency fees, immigration fees, country fees, and travel expenses. While the specific costs vary according to country, these fees are consistent across all international adoptions and all agencies. Simply put, they constitute the financial investment all families must make on their adoption journey.

First, all families, whether interested in domestic or international adoptions, pay fees to the agency with whom they work. These fees cover the required home study for the family and post-placement costs paid in trust. For families pursuing international adoption, this fee also includes the administrative and legal costs associated with preparing a dossier to be processed by the country from which the family wishes to adopt. These tasks require skilled professionals who have a deep understanding of the adoption process, from social workers and attorneys to health professionals and translators. All of these participants are coordinated by the agency and paid by them.

In the case of international adoptions, families pay not only for local costs (preparing documents in the U.S.) but for immigration and country expenses as well. Immigration fees are a significant portion of the adoption cost as they are paid to the U.S. government both here and abroad for the parents and the child. Country fees include administrative and legal work to prepare adoption documents. Some countries also require families to give a lump sum to the orphanage from which they are adopting as a goodwill donation, helping to subsidize the cost of raising their child while in transition.

When all of the paperwork is complete, families see the final cost – travel expenses to meet their new child. Many countries require parents to remain in-country for a lengthy period (between 2 and 4 weeks, and in some cases longer). Travel expenses such as plane tickets, hotel stays and meals are included in this fee for families. A four week trip to Uganda isn’t a budget vacation!

To be sure, parents who embark on the adoption process make a huge investment. They offer their time, their emotions, and their finances to build the family for which they long. It is a significant act, one borne of selfless love and hope for the child who will become theirs. Adoption is a costly decision; but for children waiting for a forever family, it is a priceless one.

Next installment in our series: Where will the money come from?: Creating a fundraising plan

 

Images: J Aaron Farrar and MoneyBlogNewz, Creative Commons License (Flickr)

 

Our First Christmas Together

Even though seven years have passed, I still remember Sophie’s first Christmas in our family like it was yesterday. We came home from China in late October, and Sophie had open heart surgery in early December. It was a whirlwind first few months, and before we knew it, Christmas was upon us.

I’d love to tell you that it was a picture perfect holiday, but it wasn’t. We were home from the hospital before Christmas, but Sophie was still recovering. We did our annual big family gathering, but all of the people and noise overwhelmed her. And our family was still adjusting; we were learning to be a family of five, surrounded by lots of people, at one of the busiest, most chaotic times of year.

I remember that sometimes I’d pause and think, “This is hard.” And it was. But it was also beautiful. 

Sophie loved all of the food and the presents. She especially loved the crinkly wrapping paper and tree decked with ornaments. She’d never seen twinkling lights, and when we lit up the tree, Sophie’s eyes grew wide with wonder. At only two years old, she didn’t say any words yet, but she mimicked her older brothers and their excitement. I found my holiday-induced stress would melt when I saw her smile as she encountered something new. Sophie’s enthusiasm was contagious.

In all of the Christmases since, I’ve never forgotten that “first Christmas” together. As I look back, it’s not details of the holiday that I remember, but the love. Sophie’s enthusiastic love for all that the celebration entailed. The extended family’s welcoming love for our new little girl. Our overwhelming love for this precious little person who was changing our lives, and our family forever.

Whatever your Christmas holiday brings, I wish you that same measure of love … enthusiastic, welcoming, overwhelming, unconditional love. Merry Christmas from our family here at Agape Adoptions, to yours!

Agape Adoptions’ Executive Director, Myriam Avery, welcomed home her daughter, Sophie, from China in 2006.

A Picture That’s Worth a Lifetime

It’s hard to believe that my week in Eastern Europe is more than half over already! This has been a busy trip with lots of “housekeeping” work to do as I talk to my colleagues and process important government paperwork that makes all of the work here possible. One of the highlights of this trip has been the opportunity to meet Rory, the young man who is photographer and videographer for the children we work to place in families.

Rory is an enthusiastic man with a good eye for pictures and a warm heart for the children he helps. We sat together and talked, and I could see his eyes brighten as he’d share anecdotes about the children – things that a still photograph can never capture. He smiled as he said, “I love love love to go and visit the kids. I am honored to be a small part of their journey.”

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Rory’s pictures and videos have provided many children with a life-changing link to waiting families thousands of miles away. His work is perhaps the single most important piece of information a family can get as they wait to welcome a child into their home. Big dark eyes smiling for a camera. A giggle caught on video. A hopeful glance into the lens that will somehow connect them with their forever family.

On this trip, I visited with a family who is preparing to head home with two new little girls. Those little girls probably don’t realize what an important part Rory has played in their story. After all, he’s just an adult taking pictures. But Rory’s participation in their journey – and in the journeys of the other children who still await adoption – is making a world of difference. For these waiting children, a picture isn’t just worth a thousand words. It’s worth a lifetime.

Note: If you are interested in learning more about the little boy pictured, or other waiting children, please contact us at 253-987-5804 for more information. We have pictures and videos to share with you!