Life With James

The Van Winkle family share their story of bringing home James — a boy with special needs — from Korea. Throughout National Adoption Month, we have advocated for children like James — all boys with special needs who need our extra help to be matched with loving adoptive families.

Adoption is part of our hearts. We started our family six years ago with our daughter, Corinne, who was born in Vietnam. We began our second adoption journey two years ago with the Holt Korea program. We were matched with our son, James, who immediately captured our hearts. He is now 2 years old and has been home with us for three months. He loves to mimic his sister, stack Legos and be outside. It has been wonderful to finally have our family complete.

With James’ adoption, we had been through the adoption process before so we felt confident in starting again. We began following the paper trail, checking off various boxes as we mailed off our documents, and anxiously waited to be matched. We finally got ‘the call’ four months later and saw the most handsome and sweet little boy’s picture. That moment is when the real waiting began. We had seen him, connected to his picture and started sending care packages and photo albums. Little did we know that our short wait of four months would turn into two years.

We knew that his adoption was going to take a much different path than his sister’s. For Corinne, we waited longer to be matched, but travel came soon after. During James’ process, we were matched early on, but the wait to travel was long. Then came the changes to Korea’s adoption laws and the adoption process. This was a glaring reminder that although the paperwork steps are similar in most international adoptions, the process itself can be very different for each family. Our best advice for other families working through the adoption process is that it’s best to have a ‘go with the flow’ mentality and to expect changes or bumps. The adoption process is a rollercoaster of emotions, but the final steps and meeting your child is completely worth every loop on that rollercoaster.

Continue reading “Life With James”

Jaylenn Needs a Loving Family… Will You Help Find Him One?

UPDATE: Jaylenn now has a $5,000 Special Blessings grant toward the cost of his adoption. Help Jaylenn find the loving adoptive family he needs! !

DOB: October 8, 2011, N.E. Asia

Jaylenn in November 2014.

Jaylenn* picks up a toy microphone and tries to figure out what to do with it. He uses the cord to strum its accompanying colorful guitar – making the lights blink. When his caregiver presses the button on the microphone that makes it light up and play music, a huge smile spreads across his face and he starts bouncing and bobbing his head with the song.  His caregiver giggles in the background.

Jaylenn is a darling little boy who turned 3 last October. Up until last January he lived with a foster family, but he transferred to the Ilsan Center for children and adults with special needs for greater access to medical resources. When he lived with his foster family, Jaylenn greeted them with a bow and opened his arms when they came home. He loves to be held and kissed when he’s in a good mood.

During Jaylenn’s well baby examination a little over a year ago, it was apparent that he was uncomfortable moving his left hand. An MRI revealed that Jaylenn has Rt. Pachygyria, a congenital malformation of the cerebral hemisphere. Due to this condition, Jaylenn has difficulty keeping his balance when he walks quickly and has a slight gait.  He has weaker strength in his left hand, but it doesn’t keep him from picking up toys and playing.

Jaylenn knows 15-20 words, can walk alone, jump, go down stairs, grasp objects, put blocks in cups, and remove his socks with his right hand.  He waves bye-bye, imitates activities and plays ball. He is currently 37 months old and assessed to be 21-23 months developmentally. Continue reading “Jaylenn Needs a Loving Family… Will You Help Find Him One?”

A Warm and Loving Home for Schyler

Share Schyler’s story to help us find him a family in these last few days of National Adoption Month!

November 26, 2014

DOB: May 26, 2014, N.E. Asia

Today, Schyler has been in this world exactly 6 months. In that time, he has been lovingly held by his birth mother — a young woman still in high school who relinquished him for adoption shortly after giving birth. He then moved from his mother’s arms to the soothing arms of his foster mother, a woman in her later 50’s who has cared for many children waiting to join adoptive families. In his brief glimpse of the world, he has known what it’s like to be in a family — living in an urban apartment with his foster mother and father, as well as an older brother and sister.

Born in May, he has not yet experienced the cold of winter — only the hot brilliance of summer and cool, crisp days of autumn. On warm summer days, his foster mother took him for walks in his stroller, from which he studied his surroundings, and curiously stared at tree branches swaying in the wind.

Schyler has discovered that he likes baths — loves to feel the warm water on his skin. He loves to be held, loves to hear familiar voices and feel the presence of people — especially his foster mom. When he hears her voice and sees her approaching, he gets excited and makes cute sounds. He does not like strangers, however, and cries when he sees them.

Developmentally on target, Schyler can bear weight on legs. He has figured out how to roll himself over and to reach for large objects. He smiles and babbles and laughs. He loves to play.

Shortly after birth, a brain sonogram showed that Schyler has a small cyst around his right cerebral ventricle that needs to be medically observed. He also has a flat occiput, brachycephalic-shaped head. Schyler needs a family that has access to medical resources and will be open to unknowns regarding his special needs.

Schyler’s life has just begun. And so far, all he has known is warmth and love. Our hope is that he will continue to find the world a warm and loving place. Please share his story to help us find Schyler the loving adoptive family he needs and deserves — a family that will show him everything that life has to offer.

For more information about Schyler, contact Kristen Henry at

A Whole New Layer of Blessings

For National Adoption Month two years ago, the Barnette family shared their story of bringing home their daughter, Hannah, from Korea. Last March, they traveled to Korea again to bring home their second adopted child — this time, a son who they named Drew. This November, we have advocated specifically for boys with special needs from Korea and China — children who need the greatest help to be matched with families. But Drew fits the more common profile of children waiting for families in Korea. While he is a boy with a special need, his need is so minor that it would not be considered a “special need” in the U.S. In fact, all of his medical issues are resolved except for sensitive skin and eczema. Click here to read more about the children who need families from Korea today.

After bringing home our daughter, Hannah, from South Korea in 2012, we knew we wanted to add to our family as soon as possible and decided to grow again through adoption.  Deciding on an agency and country was easy this time. We had a great first experience with Holt and South Korea and felt comfortable with Holt’s Korea program staff in the U.S. and the Korean adoption process. We also loved that our children would share their birth country and culture. Before bringing Hannah home, we thought we would adopt from a different country if we adopted again, but South Korea had captured our hearts! We were told we could start the process again after we finalized Hannah’s adoption. So on December 15, 2011, we finalized Hannah’s adoption in court, and on December 16, 2011, we sent our application to Holt!

We knew there was a need for families to adopt boys with mild and manageable special needs from South Korea. This proved true in the number of families we had connected with on social media that were bringing home sons through Holt’s Korea program. Boys in Korea are not as likely to be placed domestically for adoption. Many of them also have normal neonatal conditions that end up resolving on their own, but are still considered “special needs” in Korea. We felt that a baby brother was just what our family needed.

Once our home study was complete, Holt’s waiting child program could directly match us with a child based on our profile and the child’s needs. A few months later, we received a file from Holt to review for a possible match. But after further testing, the child’s needs seemed much greater than what we felt we were able to parent.

In August of 2012, Holt sent an email to waiting child program families — the same way we first saw our daughter’s face — with a few boys from South Korea. One of those boys was Wu-jun, a handsome little guy who was 6 months old with a few rashes on his face and a mischievous grin. My husband and I were immediately drawn to him and felt really at ease about the medical info shared about him. We requested his file that afternoon. One of the great things about the Korea program is the extensive medical info on the children, including hospital records and monthly well baby check-ups. Wu-jun had an abnormal neurosonogram at birth and his skin rashes were thought to be due to food allergies. We had a doctor experienced with international adoption review his file and she advised us that while the abnormal test could be part of a more complex problem, his seemed isolated with no other issues. She felt he was healthy and developing on target. The doctor also told us that an abnormal neurosonogram at birth was a fairly common need seen in boys from South Korea. His possible allergies and skin issues seemed very minor to us. We also consulted other families who had adopted children with similar medical histories and everyone we talked to had positive experiences. We prayed about moving forward with Wu-Jun’s adoption and quickly felt a peace that he was our son. While we waited to hear if we would be matched with him, Korea sent the results of Wu-jun’s follow-up brain MRI, which was completely normal. A few days after letting Holt know we wanted to be Wu-jun’s parents, we received a phone call with the news that he would be our son! Our family and friends received this picture later that afternoon:

When Liz and Jason received the referral for Drew, they learned that he had a rash on his face – likely due to a food allergy. He still has sensitive skin, but all of his other medical issues have resolved on their own.

Continue reading “A Whole New Layer of Blessings”

If We Are Brave

In honor of National Adoption Month, Holt adoptive mom Mandie Hickenbottom-Conner shares about her journey to Korea and back to adopt her son, Desmond. A boy with special needs, Desmond is like many of the children who wait too long to find the loving adoptive families they need and deserve.

I never imagined my road to motherhood would be so riddled with loss…

Babies and children are surrounded with ideals of hope and joy. So, when I was dating my husband and we got engaged, we never talked about dreams deferred, fertility difficulties or death. And yet, before parenthood could be realized in our life together, all of these things would come to pass.

Mandie changes her hair color to raise awareness about different kinds of cancer. “It’s been a strangely effective way to get people’s attention,” she says. “When they ask about my hair, I tell them about warning signs and statistics.”

Our decision to adopt felt more like a long, arduous, emotional preparation than the beautiful “calling” so many of our friends seemed to experience. And although we always felt we wanted to adopt “one day” to “complete our family,” it soon became obvious that if we wanted to have a family, we would have to embrace adoption.

I know it may sound as though I think of adoption as a consolation prize.  Please know, this couldn’t be farther from the truth…

On a cold but unseasonably sunny winter day in February of 1960, a young, Irish immigrant gave birth to a premature baby girl in the rural Iowa bedroom of her older sister and guardian — herself an immigrant-bride during the Second World War.

Mom and baby were very ill. And because mom was caught pregnant with no husband to claim her or her infant daughter, she was also facing deportation. Her only option was relinquishment.  So when the ambulance arrived, the baby was immediately handed over to the medics with the instruction that mom did not want to hold or see the baby and that her infant daughter was to be placed in the care of a representative from the nearby children’s home.

Although she never touched her newborn child’s soft skin, mom took the time to gift her with a name. Following Irish tradition, it included her own mother’s name in the middle position.  A name…  the second and last gift she would ever give her daughter this side of Heaven.  The first being life itself, no matter how harsh the circumstances may have been.

In the far reaches of time and space, close as a breath yet expansive as the universe, God was watching this very mother and child. And He knew He already had a plan in place for the life of this small, sick baby girl — one part of which was to become an adopted daughter in a family of her own.  Another was to become my mother.

Fast forward to October 18, 2011. My now 51-year-old mother was on the phone in her living room while I was on the phone in her basement.  She, with an oncologist.  Myself with our adoption agency, Holt International.  It was our third wedding anniversary, but the atmosphere was far from joyful.  My mom was being told she had cancer for the second time; and my husband, Sean, and I were being told we must change country programs – from Thailand to South Korea.  Thailand’s adoption program was in upheaval due to the recent monsoons, and many foster families and orphanages had been displaced. In the wake of the natural disaster, timelines in Thailand had stretched into the unforeseen future and all new families without a current referral were advised to switch to a more stable program.

I got off the phone and wept. Wept for my mother, and wept for this unsure future facing my husband and me.  Holt was our second agency and South Korea our fourth country program.  Our previous agency had lead us through dead-ends in China and Ethiopia; so, hearing the news about Thailand that day, coupled with my mother’s returned cancer, was a blow my heart was not prepared to handle.

As my husband and I became caregivers to my mother while she began the extensive and physically exhausting road to stem cell transplant, we hoped and prayed daily for news of a child referral to restore our joy. We were called once in the summer of 2012 with a possible referral of a boy with some very specific special needs — the most daunting (in our eyes) being frequent seizure activity. Everything in my being wanted desperately to grab hold of the thought of having this child in our lives and press it tightly to my heart. But after much prayer, we both knew that we were not emotionally ready to give this sweet boy the kind of care he deserved. Continue reading “If We Are Brave”

There’s More to Devin…

Devin Needs a Family!

Born:  September 9, 2006

For over 5 years, I have kept a watchful eye on Holt’s waiting child photolisting, observing as new children have been added, and watching, in joy, as the words “I Have a Family” have appeared across many of the children’s pictures.

It brings Holt staff great joy to watch as children move from our photolisting into the arms of loving families.

Some children, however, are added to the photolisting only to wait…and wait. A few children have sadly been on the photolisting for years. Waiting. We do what we can to advocate for these children, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

The children who wait the longest often have disorders or special needs that seem particularly scary or involve many unknowns, and the hesitation many prospective families face regarding these children is quite understandable. Reading words like “unknowns,” “Cerebral Palsy” or the rare “osteogenesis imperfecta (or brittle bones syndrome)” in 8-year-old Devin’s case, can be scary. Even the words “older child” can seem rather intimidating.

Many times, though, to lessen the fear or hesitation that these words conjure up, these children on our photolisting often just require a closer look, a look beyond what’s written in their 200-word bio on our website.

Here’s what’s written about Devin:

Devin has osteogensis imperfecta, or brittle bones. He uses a wheelchair and sometimes has pain if he moves his leg too much. Devin is described as a thinker. He enjoys puzzles, blocks and Legos. He is especially good at math, and he is also a talented artist and singer.  Right now, Devin is unable to attend classes in China because of his medical condition. “He desperately wants to go to school with normal children since he is lonely at the orphanage,” one of his caretakers says. He has good social skills and gets along well with other children. “It is impossible to describe how cute, funny and intelligent this special boy is.” she continues.

While this bio gives you glimpse into Devin’s personality and tells you a little about his special need, there is so much more to Devin.  He deserves a closer look.  To find out more about Devin, please contact Jessica Zeeb at


Honoring Foster Mothers During National Adoption Month

A Holt adoptee and adoptive mom shares a touching tribute to foster families and how she and her daughter honor the foster mother in their lives.

by Kim Hanson

November is National Adoption Month. The foster families that take care of our kiddos prior to adoption are some amazing angels. I’ve witnessed foster mothers reunite with their kids years later and the love they have for them at that moment was just as strong as when they were with them. The tears are plentiful as these foster mothers never dreamed they would ever see their kids again. I’ve been blessed to thank my daughter’s foster mother in person. The three of us have matching bracelets. We also have one for her birth mother for when that day comes.


What National Adoption Month Could Mean for Baye

Baye Needs a Family!

Birthdate:  4/2/2006, China

As 8-year-old Baye goes about his day in China, he is most likely unaware that here in the United States we are celebrating National Adoption Month. He probably hasn’t heard that November is dedicated to adoption, and finding families for children just like him, and he doesn’t know that in the last few years, thanks to the advocacy of Holt’s Facebook friends during National Adoption Month, numerous orphaned and abandoned children now have loving, permanent families.

Maybe this November, we can help show Baye the true meaning of National Adoption Month by joining together and helping him find a family!

Baye was found abandoned at a hospital in 2006 when he was just a few days old. Doctors performed an initial exam on him and found him to have some vision issues, and minor hydrocephalus. Upon further examination it was determined that Baye is blind in his right eye and his other eye is affected by inner transposition — a surgically correctable condition that makes his eyelid appear a bit droopy. He is developmentally a little behind, but is working hard to catch up.

In June of 2006, soon after being brought into care, Baye was taken to a foster home, where he still lives today. Baye is well loved and taken care of by his foster family and has made a lot of progress developmentally. It is reported that although he has not received any surgical attention for his hydrocephalus, the cerebral effusion has gone down.

Due to his vision problems, Baye always sits in the front row at school, and works very hard. His teachers say that he is always willing to do extra work and finishes his homework every day without being reminded. When asked why he likes to go to school, Baye says, “because I can learn a lot of knowledge only in school.” He is adored by his teachers, and gets along very well with his foster brothers and sisters, although he is a little shy around the other children at school and strangers.

Baye will need a loving family who is ready to embrace him and give him a lot of attention.

National Adoption Month is nearing its end.  Wouldn’t it be nice to think that during this special month, you helped a little boy in China find his family?   Share his story on Facebook today!

For more information on adopting Baye, please contact Jessica Zeeb at





We’ll Let God Decide

The Buettner Family.

Four years ago, Rita Buettner shared about her family’s decision to adopt a boy from China. “How did we ever adopt a boy who has wiggled his way so surely into our hearts and lives? Only God knows,” Rita wrote. “And we thank Him every day that when we were asked, ‘Which gender?’ we shrugged our shoulders and said we’ll let God decide. We could never have picked for ourselves so perfectly.” Today, they share about their second journey to China, to adopt their son, Michael.


Five years ago, I was standing in the lobby of the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China. My husband and I had just adopted our son, Louis, days earlier, and I was waiting to pick up his visa. I had a sudden thought.

“I wonder,” I said to a few adoptive parents standing nearby, “whether our second child might already be alive here in China.”

Our new friends stared at me. They may even have laughed. We were new parents. We were exhausted. Yet here I was talking about our next adoption. I was as surprised as they were.

Still, as it turned out, Louis slipped so beautifully into our family that months later we called Holt to start talking about bringing another child home.

Navigating the adoption process was easier the second time. We had a better idea of what to expect, I was more organized with the paperwork, we had a better network of adoptive families, and we had fewer questions.

Again this time, John and I didn’t want to request a particular gender. We had given no preference the first time, and we had been matched with Louis. We suspected we would be matched with a boy because we knew that many boys in China wait for families. That was just fine with us. We were having so much fun with our little boy.

Prior to adopting Louis, we had met with a doctor friend who helped us understand the special needs on the checklist Holt gave us. We submitted that same list for our second adoption. We had to trust we would be able to handle our child’s needs. Life is full of leaps of faith, and this was just another.

On March 22, 2011, Louis and I were spending the day with my brother and his sons when my cell phone rang. It was our social worker. She had a file for us to review. It was a boy! He was 15 months old. He lived in Guangdong Province. She told me his Chinese name and some of his medical history.

But what struck me right away was his birthdate. He had been born while we were in China adopting Louis. While I was wondering aloud whether our second child could be alive in China, he was—and he was living about an hour’s drive from that very building.

Minutes after the call when we opened our referral, John and I saw an adorable round face with peach fuzz hair. In one photo he was laughing so hard you could practically hear his belly laugh. He had had surgery, but his file indicated that he was healthy. And there were those brown eyes looking straight into our hearts. He was ours, and we were his.

Five months later to the day, John and I stood in a government office in Guangzhou as an orphanage staff member placed Michael in our arms. He was quiet and snuggly and absolutely precious. We were in love. On our first night together this little 20-month-old guy started calling me “Mama” and John “Baba.” And he hasn’t stopped talking since.

When we returned home, Michael and Louis became brothers forever. Any adjustment is challenging for a child, and it was a transition for all of us. From the beginning, however, our boys, who have such different personalities, have thoroughly enjoyed each other. 

Brothers Michael and Louis

Now 7, Louis has a great sense of humor and a deep curiosity. He likes Pokemon, Legos, puzzles, and folding paper into spaceships. Michael is always looking for a way to make others, including his brother, laugh. He likes nature, baby animals, vehicles, World War II, and God. He is energetic, determined, and has a sweet and compassionate heart. At almost 5, he says hi to everyone he sees and tells us he loves us several times a day.

Although we checked off quite a few special needs on those lists, we have two healthy, energetic children. One of them goes to an extra doctor’s appointment every few years—not particularly special. Every single day John and I look at each other and marvel that we are the parents to these two boys, these brothers, born in different parts of China, and yet so perfectly matched. We are so richly blessed.

Maybe you are thinking about adopting. Maybe the process seems daunting or overwhelming. Maybe that list of possible special needs is intimidating. Maybe you want to adopt, but you aren’t sure you want to parent a daughter or a son.

Here’s a thought. Research those special needs and think about what you can handle. Ask yourself whether you would be open to raising a son. And know that all those questions, all those concerns, and even that term “special needs” will vanish the instant you meet your child.

Because, in the end, maybe the one with the special need is not the little boy who sneaks up behind you to give you “back hugs” in the kitchen. It might just be you. And maybe the best way to address that gap in your heart and home is by making a sweet little boy your son.

by Rita Buettner 

Rita Buettner blogs at Open Window


Gifts of Hope

Can you put a price tag on Hope? Can you calculate the worth of something so abstract?

The worth of something is, after all, relative — it changes from place to place, person to person, currency to currency. Hope is relative too, and looks different for everyone.

By definition, hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

The expectation that something is about to change.

Something is about to get better.

Hope is also a feeling — a very powerful one — that drives us to continue to push through hard situations, eager to find the light in the darkness.

Continue reading “Gifts of Hope”