Winter Jam is a 10-band Christian concert tour that hits nearly 60 cities each year. It’s also one of Holt’s biggest opportunities to find and reach new child sponsors — people with a heart for the children Holt serves, willing to give $34 per month to change a child’s life. Holt partners with Christian band NewSong, the band that started Winter Jam in 1995. They traveled with us to India, China and Haiti — spending their days with orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children whose lives have been changed by the generosity of Holt’s sponsors, supporters and adoptive families. Then, seeing the great need for Holt to serve more children, they took to the stage, using their talents to advocate for children. Since our partnership with NewSong and Winter Jam began in 2006, Holt has welcomed nearly 62,000 sponsors into our programs — representing thousands of little lives forever changed. Continue reading “Volunteer for Holt at Winter Jam!”
Holt’s social work manager for the China program, Marissa Leuallen, explains how Holt helped to develop China’s “one-to-one” program — unique agency-orphanage partnerships designed to find families for the many older children and children with special needs living in China’s social welfare system.
Over the past decade, those of us who have worked in international adoption from China— or adopted a child from China — have meandered through an ever-changing environment. A program once known for placing healthy infant girls now places almost as many boys as girls, more toddlers and school-aged children than babies and — perhaps most significantly — nearly every child now joining families through the China program has at least some minor medical or development needs. Adoption professionals have evolved our methods for training, preparing and supporting adoptive families to build confidence and bolster resources so they can best meet the needs of their child. What you may not know is that we do this same work on the other side of the world — with government officials, caregivers and orphanage staff in China.
Holt actually, quite naturally, pioneered the idea of one-to-one partnerships in China.
Holt’s work with Chinese welfare institutions started in the early 1990s and has grown and broadened tremendously throughout the country. Over the past two decades, our presence and reputation in China has paved the way for new programs and services like group homes, foster care, medical and educational support, nutritional and feeding training and support, and adoption partnerships with many child welfare institutions.
Many people believe that if they love a child enough, the child will be able to let go of all their past abuse and neglect and settle into being a loving member of the family. Now there is research that documents the alterations in the central nervous system of children who come from “hard places” — alterations that make it impossible for love and nurturing alone to heal them. It would be the equivalent of trying to cure a child of meningitis with hugs, kisses and chicken soup! We are so lucky to now have medical tests that can identify the alterations in a child’s brain and know what medical treatments can help bring their brain chemicals closer to what nature intended.
However, that is not the whole answer.
Parental interactions do have an enormous impact on a child’s healing, but it involves much more than unconditional love. The key is for parents to learn how to create felt safety in their child. This is the only way we know of to stop the “fight, flight or flee” response that has kept a child safe during their life of abuse and neglect. To create felt safety, parents must learn ways to interact with their child that will quiet and soothe this fear response until it is finally extinguished — opening their child to receive the loving care of their adoptive family. Continue reading “For Children From Hard Places, Is Love Enough to Heal?”
Steve Kalb, Holt’s director of adoptee services, shares what drew him to lead Holt’s camp program — and what’s sustained his enthusiasm over the past 11 years.
During my freshman year at the University of Iowa in 1995, a friend of mine suggested we become camp counselors at one of the local United Methodist youth camps. “We just take care of kids, lead some activities, and get to live by the lake all summer. It’ll be awesome!” my friend told me. How could I lose? Little did I know, I was about to embark on a summer that would change my life forever. Never having attended camps before, the environment was like nothing I’d ever known. It was a place where time slows down and blurs past you all at once. You’re completely uncomfortable living out of a suitcase and sleeping bag but it all fades into the background as the community and relationships make you feel at home. It’s a place where campers and staff reinvent themselves because they’re unbound from the role they’re expected to play back home. The high school offensive lineman can be the lead singer for his cabin’s doo-wap skit. The introverted Pokémon player confidently directs her team at the challenge course. The unassuming piano player wins the tie-breaking game by capturing the flag. It’s a flexible and forgiving space where awkwardness and vulnerability rise to the surface for everyone to celebrate.
Despite the openness camp fosters, as an Asian Adoptee camp counselor and subsequent camp director in Iowa, I felt little space to be anyone but the farm boy from Oelwein. I wasn’t able to take advantage of camp’s biggest benefit, optimal conditions for self-exploration, because I was always reassuring campers, parents and co-workers that I was as Midwest as they were. I wore seed corn-branded clothing, spoke with a Midwest drawl, and thoroughly enjoyed Jell-o cake and breaded pork tenderloins (some of the Midwest’s finest cuisine). This mindset left me with less room to explore different ways of being or trying different types of roles, for fear that people around me would forget that I was “just like them.”
In the following story, the Shardell family shares about their experience adopting a boy through China’s “Special Focus” program — a program for children with more involved special medical or developmental needs, many of whom we advocate for on the Holt photolisting. Before referring children to families, we do all that we can to make sure questions about the children’s medical condition or development are answered. But given the many unknowns in international adoption, Holt also considers the family’s experience level and openness to potential unknowns. The Shardell family had a particular expertise in and openness to developmental concerns, which was a great fit for their son Brennan. Brennan’s unknowns were all part of the process of discovery during their wait for him. Allison, tenacious in her pursuit of answers to her concerns about his development, asked key questions and was open to wherever the answers led us. Our local on-the-ground staff in China was able to follow up and learn more about Brennan, even though he was not in the care of one of our orphanage partners. And ultimately, the Shardells decided to move forward and welcome Brennan into their family. In many ways, their story illustrates how the adoption process is an active partnership between families and Holt’s program staff — ensuring families are as prepared and informed as possible as they enter this major, and wonderful, part of their lives. — Beth Smith, Director of Services, China Program
They say the biggest surprises come when you least expect them, and this definitely seems to be our family’s adage. As a family of five, including a 10-year-old biological son, a 7-year-old daughter adopted as an infant from northern Vietnam, and a 5-year-old biological daughter, we were comfortable and firmly out of the toddler stage. We had a nice little routine of homeschooling and traveling, sports and music lessons, co-ops and field trips. Until one day, that routine was shaken up when we had a family picture taken as part of a culture camp for Vietnamese adoptees and our middle child announced that nobody in the family looked like her. It was around that time that we began to look at different options for possibly adopting one more child. Vietnam, at the time we were looking, was not an option, so we began researching China.
As an autism behavior specialist with a doctorate focused on child development and developmental disorders, I felt well equipped to care for a child with special needs. So my husband and I began talking to Holt to find out about our options. We were told the current status of China adoptions — almost all children have special needs, there was a 6-9 month wait for a young girl, and there was an urgent need for families open to adopting boys. Since we had two girls and a boy, we felt like a little boy would be the perfect fit for our family, and so in August 2014, we applied to adopt a child with a special need through Holt’s China program. Continue reading “Our Son, However He Comes to Us”
Through a community-based gardening program, Holt’s partner agency in Thailand provides vulnerable children and families an outlet for enhancing their self-esteem and providing for their community.
Since 1998, Holt Sahathai Foundation, in an effort to strengthen families and help children thrive, has provided a community-based gardening program in the Tha Sala district of southern Thailand. The program provides learning and socialization opportunities for vulnerable children and their families in order to enhance self-esteem and help promote community camaraderie. “If a community is strong and healthy, then the children of that community have a much higher chance of healthy development both physically and mentally,” Thoa Bui, Holt’s senior executive for SE Asia programs, says. “This is what the community garden helps to address.” Continue reading “Growing Their Confidence”
Holt adoptee Ling O’Donoghue shares about her experience on the 2015 Holt China Tour.
Looking back on the Holt China tour, I feel that it went beyond all my expectations. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I was little. It was a dream come true, allowing me to experience my culture, visit my orphanage, and absorb and share my feelings about adoption.
The excitement of preparing for the trip was half the fun. I spent the fall researching the reasons and policies behind adoption, and shared personal stories with other international adoptees. I also created a mosaic artwork for a school project, which represented my feeling about being “Rooted in Two Worlds.” I wanted to be prepared for any new emotions that would arise on this trip. So I met with a therapist who helped me process my feelings about adoption. It was fun getting ready for the trip, especially thinking about and deciding on the gifts for the people we would meet and for the children at the orphanage where I lived until my mom adopted me in 1999. I prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually as best I could. In China, I learned the preparation was worthwhile. I felt engaged, I was eager to learn the history of the places we visited, I asked questions of the Holt staff, and I was open to sharing my feelings. It’s not about how many presents you brought or the great experiences you can brag about to your friends. It was an incredible feeling to discover my birth country. Continue reading “A Return Home; A Known and Unknown Journey”
Help Holt Find Families for Older Children in Beijing!
How You Can Help — Join us in Beijing!
Families often ask how they can help Holt advocate for vulnerable children, and we are thrilled to offer this unique approach. During the first week of November, Marissa Leuallen, Holt’s social work manager for China, will be leading our second ambassador trip to China, and we are hoping to recruit five families to accompany her and advocate for older children in need of families! During the week, you will have the opportunity to spend several days getting to know a small group of children between the ages of 6-12. You will learn their stories and participate in outings and activities with them. And when you return to the United States, you will help advocate for these children, sharing their stories and their need for loving adoptive families. Holt will provide you with materials and ideas to help with your advocacy.
For a prospective adoptive family, it makes an incredible difference to hear from people who have met the children, played with them, know their personalities and have heard their laughter. Sometimes it simply takes another voice to help someone understand how truly special a child is. Our hope is that Holt’s ambassador program to Beijing will give these children the voices they need to find permanent, loving families of their own.
•The Ambassador trip will take place November 1st – 7th (US departure on 10/31)
•A family traveling on this trip could be a couple, a single adult, or a parent with an older teen.
•Families will spend 3-4 days with the children and their caregivers. Activities will be planned for those days and optional sightseeing will be offered on the remaining days.
•Holt will share the travel costs for Ambassador families. Families will need to arrange their own transportation to and from a West Coast airport (likely Portland, Seattle or San Francisco) and contribute $2,500. Holt will make all other travel arrangements (flight, hotels, meals, group outings) and cover most of the travel expenses, including some meals, transportation and activities.
•Marissa Leuallen has been with Holt International for 11 years. Kathie Stocker, also a Holt staff member, will accompany Marissa on the trip.
In many countries where Holt has programs, cultural norms and tradition have a strong influence over how parents raise their children.
In more patriarchal societies, many parents choose to educate their sons — but keep their daughters home from classes. Or, largely due to poverty, they may feel forced to pull their children from school at a young age to begin working. If a woman was married young, she may be more likely to encourage her daughter to marry young, effectively ending her education.
Culture and tradition can both be beautiful, positive guiding forces. However, our on-the-ground staff around the world say they often have to challenge local norms when encouraging families to educate their children — both boys and girls.
One of these families is Raj’s.
Soft spoken, kind and funny, 13-year-old Raj attends school in Pune, India with the support of a Holt child sponsor. In this area, our programs target girls’ education specifically and only girls have sponsors, but because Raj has a sponsor, her two younger brothers also receive free tuition.
Raj’s mother is 35. She was married at 14, and had Raj’s older brother at 15. Continuing with tradition, Raj’s mother wants Raj to marry next year, when she turns 14. However, if Raj is married, she will likely leave school — also ending her brother’s sponsorship. So for now, Raj’s mother has delayed her daughter’s marriage — not because she wants to keep Raj in school, but because she wants to educate her sons.
This is good news for Raj, who dreams of being a doctor and every year that she can stay in school, she gets one step closer to her goal. Holt’s staff is also counseling Raj’s family about the importance of education, and this may help keep Raj in school, too.
People like you and I can also help keep Raj and children like her in school, just by providing the school supplies and uniforms they need.
For just $17, you can give a child without a sponsor the books, shoes, uniforms or stationary they need this year. For children whose parents might otherwise pull them out early, this simple gift can be just enough to keep them in school — since the cost of these supplies can be too expensive for an already-struggling family.