A Baby From Heaven

Phyllis and Jim T. thought their family was complete, until one day, while surfing the Internet, Phyllis fell in love with a little boy, Michael, from China. The T. family already had adopted a son from Korea; they had no plans to adopt another child. But when Phyllis saw Michael’s picture, she says, “it was like finding yourself suddenly pregnant when you thought you were through having children.” Michael captured her heart. The T. family stepped forward to adopt again.

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When the T. family’s first son Anthony was four, he began asking for a little brother or sister. Both nearing their 50s, Phyllis and Jim were uncertain. Babies required a lot of care. “That’s why God gave babies to people in their 20s and 30s,” thought Phyllis. Each time Anthony would talk about having a sibling, Phyllis’ heart ached. She says, “I was not only grieving the inability to conceive a child, but also the inability to grant Anthony’s request.” Anthony was relentless and full of faith. He asked,

“Mommy, what if God sent us a baby from heaven? What would we do?”

To ease her heartache, Phyllis frequented adoption websites, looking at pictures of waiting children. When she discovered baby Michael on RainbowKids.com, she fell in love. Phyllis remembers, “Michael looked sweet and innocent, like all he wanted as to be held and cuddled.” He had been born with imperforated anus, a birth defect that required two life-saving surgeries in China. Phyllis felt so drawn to Michael, that, unbeknownst to her husband, she called Myriam Avery to learn more about him. An email filled with answered questions and complete medical records confirmed for Phyllis her desire to adopt. Unsure of her husband’s response, Phyllis quickly called him to confess what she had done. His response? A resounding, love-filled yes.

Arrival

The journey to adopting Michael was new and complex for the T. family. While their first son had arrived via escort from Korea to Nashville, Phyllis and Jim would travel this time to China to bring Michael home. Neither had ever traveled outside of the United States, and the prospect of overseas travel seemed daunting. They talked often about what China would be like, but their worries dimmed as they envisioned seeing Michael for the first time.

Michael’s medical needs posed an even greater concern. Here, Jim’s confident love for Michael bolstered Phyllis’ spirits. He assured her, “If we had a natural born child it could have been born with this defect, and we would have loved it the same.” Confident that they could provide better medical care for Michael, the T. family started the adoption process.

In the next months, Phyllis and Jim worked diligently to meet deadlines and get their new baby home. Before they knew it, they were in a Chinese hotel room with a very emotional, sullen two year old. Michael was very attached to his caregivers, spoke Chinese, and had never seen white people before. The transition overwhelmed him. Phyllis and Jim showered Michael with affection. They kissed him and sang to him, and each day he began to open up to them. During their two week stay in China, Michael blossomed. He learned some basic English words, ate until his belly was full, laughed, played and climbed into bed to watch TV.

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Since arriving home, the T. family has delighted in watching Michael meet life’s developmental milestones – language acquisition, relational attachments, food exploration, and comfort in his surroundings. Phyllis says, “Watching him evolve from an orphan into our son [has been] amazing.” Every day holds something new to discover.

Michael has had to endure five corrective surgeries since he came home. He has also had major dental work. Post-surgeries, Michael no longer needs a colostomy bag. He does have hygiene issues, but he accepts them. They are a normal part of his life. A life that is filled with happiness, soccer, swim lessons, pets, friends, and the dear big brother who prayed for his arrival.

Michael does not remember China, although the T. family talks about it. He sometimes leafs through the photo albums of his parents’ trip to bring him home, and he knows where China is on the map. He does not remember his life there, and Phyllis and Jim cannot remember life without him. Parenting two boys has taught them patience and compassion. For Phyllis and Jim, answering questions, teaching prayers, settling arguments, laughing, and watching their boys grow constitutes the best job in the world. Phyllis says, “When adopting a child, you love the child regardless of their sex or their medical issues. Some societies are paternally oriented. To be given the gift of a boy from such a society is exceptional.” 

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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.

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.

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.

Family Spotlight: Adopting with Eyes and Hearts Wide Open

Doug and Deanne W. are seasoned veterans of the adoption process. Still, Deanne admits, she was nervous as she awaited the arrival of her new son, Scott, from China. When the W. family decided to adopt again in 2012, they felt a strong connection to Scott, age 14, a young boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy. They knew well the challenges of adopting an older child who has been raised in an institution, but they felt ready to embrace Scott as their own. “He was meant to come to our family,” says Deanne. “I had peace knowing this was the right thing to do. Still, I was anxious.”

There are lots of unknowns in any adoption, but adopting an older child brings a unique set of complexities. Children who have grown up in orphanages can experience significant emotional, physical, and relational challenges. They process the transition to a new family in different ways than babies or toddlers do. Sometimes, this experience can be very painful for families. In preparation for Scott’s arrival, the W. family learned all they could about older child adoptions. They had observed adoptions of older children that hadn’t worked out well, so they prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. “We went in with our eyes wide open,” says Deanne.

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When the time came to go to China to bring Scott home, Deanne stayed back in Utah with the younger children, while Doug traveled with their two teenage sons for a “boys trip” to bring home their new brother. During the family’s time apart, Deanne says she experienced an intense time at home. The family car broke down. One of her little boys used the family pool as a bathroom. Things just seemed out of whack. “I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to anticipate the joy [of Scott’s arrival]. I was just trying to hold it together at home,” she says. Deanne looked at pictures of Scott, reread his files, reassuring herself that all would be well. “I had heard all the great things about this child,” says Deanne. “He had great potential. Who was I to back out because of my fear?”

Three months later, Scott’s integration into the W. family is nothing short of miraculous. Scott knows no English, so the family does a lot of pantomine to communicate. Though from China, he does not speak Mandarin, so traditional translation services haven’t helped the family much. Scott has been forced to learn English on the fly. Still, with this and other challenges the W. family has been knit together to include this new member. “Scott so badly wants to fit in and love others and be loved,” says Deanne. “I know there is a honeymoon period, and it should be ending. But I don’t think we’re going to experience it this time.” Deanne has been thrilled to see her older children embrace Scott with amazing love, love that has changed Scott and has changed them, she says, for good.

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Deanne and Doug know that adopted older children and their families often have difficult journeys. To head off those complications, the W. family has done significant reprioritizing since getting home from China. They’ve cleared their calendar, giving special time to bonding. Deanne is an enthusiastic advocate for older child adoption. She encourages prospective families to get educated, to maintain a hopeful attitude but to be aware of the difficulties that are a real possibility. “Make sure you’re prepared to keep putting your heart out,” says Deanne. “I have to go through this whole experience telling myself, it’s not about me.”

When she talks about Scott, Deanne exudes love for her new son and hope for his future. “He is a treasure,” she says. “It was definitely worth it. We have given him a chance at life. He will have success.”