Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children.

by Jane Ballback

The story of the woman who sent her newly adopted son back to Russia put a spotlight on how complicated international adoption can be. So much depends of course, on the way the adoption was handled, whether a legitimate and ethical agency was used, how old the child is, and how prepared the adoptive parent is. Many people, I’m sorry to say, really believe that love will be enough to solve all problems.

I had almost an ideal international adoption experience. I used Holt International Children’s Services, in my mind one of the most ethical and credible agencies in the world. I adopted from Korea where they have a well-established foster program so my children were not institutionalized, and they arrived when they were five months old. It doesn’t get much better than that and I still had many issues to deal with.

I’m reminded of the woman I met a few years ago who adopted a five-year-old from a county program that takes kids from foster care and works to find a permanent family. This woman was well-educated and well meaning. What she was not, was prepared for her new son. When she and I first met, her son had been in her home a year. It was Christmas time and she was telling me that the previous Christmas her newly adopted son tore open all of the packages, despite the fact that he was told he needed to wait. She also told me of several other behaviors that she found strange in a five-year-old boy. He seemed to her to be much younger than his chronological age. Read More

*Trent Needs a Family

by Ashli Keyser, managing editor

DOB: March 13, 2007, Africa

Two months after I started work at Holt International, I helped advocate for the adoption of “Melissa”, an almost 14-year-old girl from China who, in just four months, would lose her international adoption eligibility. It would be the first time that I really understood my purpose at Holt: to find this little girl a family, before it was too late. This was my calling.

Not just me, but the entire Holt staff rallied around Melissa. One staff member even wrote a touching story about her for Holt’s e-newsletter, summing up Holt’s mission in a single poignant line: “Melissa is excited to have a family of her own,” she wrote. “At Holt, we believe this dream is worth fighting for.”


Trent needs a family

A dream worth fighting for. I think about this line often, especially when describing Holt’s “Waiting Children.” Older children, like Melissa, and children with special needs will often wait longer to have families of their own. It takes a unique and tremendous amount of commitment and care to bring a Waiting Child into ones home. And it simply isn’t for everyone. But at Holt, we believe it’s something worth fighting for.

We fought for Melissa, and she is now home with a loving family. And we fought for Soo-hoon, “Sonny,” an older child with Down syndrome. In a week, Sonny will celebrate two years home with his family. Called by God to care for orphans in their distress, Holt presses on to find families for each and every child regardless of age or physical challenges.

Bertha Holt once said, “all children are beautiful when they are loved.” Her quote has since become a hallmark of this organization. It’s what keeps Holt going even when finding a family for a particular child becomes difficult, or seems impossible. We fight for the child — and all the children —  and never give up.

With that, I give you Trent.

I met Trent in Ethiopia last April. Bombarded with adorable children when I walked through the door of the Addis Ababa transitional center, I took time to

Holt board member, Dr. Becca Brandt greets Trent at the Addis Ababa transitional center in Ethiopia.

make sure each child felt special and acknowledged. It was different with Trent though. When I saw Trent, he made me feel special. His smile made me feel like he had waited all day for me to walk into the room. His high fives and soft hugs made me determined to find this little guy a permanent home.

I simply cannot wait for Trent’s future family, whoever they may be, to walk in the door, and have Trent greet them with the same charming smile, and the same gentle and enthusiastic embrace that he greeted me with.

Only this time, it will be different. It will be forever.

Abandoned as an infant and found wrapped in a cloth, it is suspected that Trent sustained a brain injury in his first months of life, which may have lead to a subdural hematoma and his subsequent developmental delays. He will need medical treatment in the United States and a special family open to dealing with some unknowns.

“[Trent] is doing so much better since the last time I saw him,” said Holt board member Dr. Becca Brandt, on a medical campaign to Ethiopia in November. “He now has many words. He knows all the nannies by name, uses phrases such as ‘give me please’ and is saying much more. Trent can walk with support, loves giving kisses and is very affectionate. He even blew me a kiss to say goodbye,” continued Brandt.

I have faith that one day Trent will have a family of his own. It may take a lot of advocating on his behalf. It will most certainly require prayer. It may not be easy, but remembering Trent’s smiling face, I know someday it will all be worth it. It’s something worth fighting for.

Trent is worth fighting for.

For more information about Trent, contact Kristen Henry at

*Name has been changed

Juntunen family on holiday.

Several years ago, while volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti, Craig Juntunen’s heart was captured.  Her name was Esperancia.  “I can’t explain it at all, other than to say she instantly captured my heart.  I called and told my wife that we were about to become parents,” he told a reporter for the Washington Times. Today, Craig and his wife Kathi are parents to three children adopted from Haiti — Quinn, “Espie” and Amelec.

A father for the first time, Craig felt inspired to write a book about his experience. It’s called Both Ends Burning. Moved to advocate for safer, more efficient and more cost-effective adoption practices, he later founded a nonprofit — also called Both Ends Burning.

“We have a moral obligation to fix this immediately and allow them to come home to loving families,” he says of the children who continue to languish in orphanages.  “There is no shortage of families wanting to adopt and there is no shortage of orphans.  Adults have a responsibility create an efficient and reasonable system to allow these children to flourish.”

On April 15th, Craig Juntunen will speak at the Holt Forum in Washington D.C., a historic gathering of adoptees, families, policymakers and adoption professionals working to “move forward from a 55-year perspective.”

To learn more about this exciting event, click here.

To read the full article on Craig Juntunen in the Washington Times, click here.

Fifty-two years later, an early Holt adoptee reunites with his “first father,” Holt President Emeritus David Kim

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

In 1958, David Kim (right) oversaw Holt's first adoption program, in Korea. Here, Kim shares a copy of his memoir, Who Will Answer, with early Korean adoptee Joey Ko.

Over 50 years ago, in the aftermath of the Korean War, a young boy took his mother’s hand for the last time. Together they walked away from this boy’s childhood home – a one-room shack beside the Han River, a room he shared with his mother, his grandmother and his baby brother – toward the Holt childcare center outside of Seoul. On that day, this boy began a journey that would take him from South Korea all the way to Texas, where a new life awaited him in an adoptive family.

This past May, he traveled to the Holt headquarters in Eugene to revisit that journey.

“It’s just wonderful, man, just wonderful [to be here],” says our visitor as he stands in the lobby, studying photographs of the Holt family. He is Kim Joey Ko, a name that captures in each part a piece of his heritage – “Ko,” a Korean name given by his mother, “Joey” from his American GI father, and “Kim” from the man who accepted his small hand as his mother sought to give her son a better future.

That man is Dr. David Kim, President Emeritus of Holt International. He is also here today.

“Mr. Kim is a legend. He is a blessing to so many children,” says Ko, smiling reverently at the 80-year-old Korean man who in 1956, at the age of 25, Harry Holt entrusted to manage Holt’s first adoption program, in South Korea. In that role, Kim oversaw the adoption of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children. Instrumental in developing the early process of intercounry adoption, he also sought ways to expedite the adoption of the many weak and malnourished children in Holt care. To that end, he became the children’s first legal guardian, a move that authorized him to sign immigration and adoption documents, attaching his name to theirs.

“I was so many children’s first father,” he says as one of those first children, now grown, stands beside him. Many of those children only briefly carried the Kim name, replacing it with the American name of their adoptive family once home in the U.S.

But Ko never took to the name his adoptive family gave him. For a good part of his life, he held onto the name Kim. He’s since pared it down to just Joey… Joey Ko.

Joey Ko’s journey began in 1958, when his mother relinquished him into Holt care. But his journey is forever intertwined with another journey – a journey depicted in photographs throughout the Holt building in Eugene. Moved by the images he saw of malnourished orphans, Harry Holt embarked on an historic voyage to Korea in post-war 1955. That year Harry and his wife, Bertha, urged an act of Congress enabling them to adopt eight Korean children, opening the door for thousands more. With this act, they began a revolution – a revolution in the concept, color and composition of family.

Three years later, Joey Ko became one of 600 Korean children adopted to the U.S. in 1958 by Holt International, then titled the Holt Adoption Program.

“I’m so thankful for the Holt organization,” he says today, 52 years later. “It gave me a new life.”

Ko is a joyful man. Tall and slender, his stance is stooped from a recent back injury. But when he laughs, he throws his whole body into it while still clutching his walker. After attending North Texas University on a scholarship to study music, he became a celebrated jazz trumpet player and bus driver living in Hollywood, California. And like his “first father,” David Kim, he is a devout Christian.

“I’m glad I know Jesus,” he says, a little silver cross shining on the bill of his black cap. “I was angry at my mother for so many years. I didn’t know why she left me.” He says God urged him to forgive his mother for abandoning him.

Over the years, he’s come to not only forgive, but also understand his mother’s decision. “When you’re an African-American Korean in that time, you’re so rejected,” he says. In Korean society, a culture that places tremendous value on bloodline and great stigma on out-of-wedlock births, Ko’s foreign features and dark skin made him an easy target. He became an outcast, and regularly got into fights with other Korean children. Read More

Mrs. Suja Pillai, a 41-year-old foster mother from Pune, India has loved and encouraged 65 children in the last 13 years. Some children have stayed with her for only a few months. Some she has nurtured for several years. She often cares for two children at the same time. One of 26 families currently participating in Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra’s (BSSK) foster care program, Suja cannot imagine her life without the children.

BSSK introduced foster care in 1982 as a way to provide loving, temporary care for children. Being a foster mother requires a lot of time, work and love. When foster parents join BSSK’s program, they participate in a 5-day training to learn how to safely and effectively care for children. Foster parents learn a range of skills, including how to bathe children, boil bottles and prepare food. Regularly scheduled foster parent meetings follow the initial training. In addition to providing training and guidance to foster parents, BSSK helps to offset some of the costs involved by providing a small subsidy for each child, plus money for supplies, clothes and transportation to doctor’s appointments.

Although this support helps with the actual cost of supporting each child, the love and affection each foster parent contributes is priceless.  Suja smiles when asked why she became a foster mother. “Initially I had financial problems and wanted to work from home. Now, I love it and cannot live without the children!” she says.

Suja is now considered one of the most experienced foster mothers in the program, offering guidance and support to some of the less experienced foster parents. She has the formal title of “Head Foster Mother” in the area, which makes her responsible for coordinating 16 foster homes, organizing the distribution of supplies, performing home visits and arranging local transport for doctor visits.

Holding up the photograph of a smartly dressed little girl, she says: “The hardest part of being a foster mother is being able to let go. One child stayed with me for three years before she was adopted internationally.” There are tears in her eyes as she talks about the child she has not seen in ten years. “I don’t know what her life is like now, but I will always know I had some influence.” She smiles through her tears. “That is what being a foster mother is about.”