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032 – Intervew With The Gift Of Adoption Fund

Today I’m bringing you something a little different for #NationalAdoptionMonth. There are a lot of people, processes, and policies integral to the adoption of a child, raising a child, and supporting that person’s desire to search for their birth family. I’m bringing you a few stories from across the adoption continuum. The first is that of the Gift Of Adoption Fund (https://giftofadoption.org/donate/), a volunteer-driven non-profit organization that raises funds to provide adoption assistance grants to complete the adoption of vulnerable children. Gift of Adoption’s CEO Pam Devereux shares a little of her own story of being personally driven to helping others, the mission of the organization, and how she hopes many more of us will consider donating to charities that support adoption because, ultimately, the welfare of all children is on all of us.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Pam (00:00):Adoption is sort of like a one day sort of thing, but then the family is forever and so hearing about the ripple effect of that to me is what warms my heart and it just makes me feel grateful for what we’re able to do.

Voices (00:23):Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon (00:30):This is Who Am I Really, a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members? I’m Damon Davis and today I’m bringing you something a little different. Normally Who Am I Really shares stories of adoptees trying to connect with their birth families, but in talking to so many adoptees, it has become clear to me that there are a lot of people, processes and policies integral to the adoption of a child, raising a child and supporting that person’s desire to search for their birth family. There are birth parents, foster parents and adoptive parents. There are social workers, search angels, policymakers in court systems and advocacy groups all contributing their piece to the adoption community. For National Adoption Month, I’m bringing you a few stories from across the adoption continuum. Don’t worry. I still have reunion stories planned, but I wanted to share some other perspectives too. The first is that of a volunteer driven nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide adoption assistance grants to complete the adoption of vulnerable children. The organization is called The Gift of Adoption Fund and my guest today is Pam Devereaux, CEO of The Gift of Adoption. You may hear me refer to it as GOA. You can find them online at giftofadoption.org. Pam shares a little of her own story of being personally driven to help others. The mission of Gift of Adoption and how she hopes many more of us will consider donating to charities that support adoption because ultimately the welfare of all children is on all of us.

Damon (02:13):I asked Pam a little bit about herself because I really wanted to know what kind of person becomes CEO of a charitable organization that helps fund adoptions. She’s from Chicago and she studied business at the University of Illinois. Pam told me she always felt the urge to help others and wanted to join the Peace Corps when she was younger. She graduated college, got a job in banking instead then achieved her master’s degree and wondered what the next move for her should be. At her next job in the insurance industry, she developed the skills and responsibilities for her business unit that would mold her for the next move into philanthropy. In the 1990s Pam joined the Make A Wish Foundation.

Pam (02:52):I guess I really thought, um, in college that I would end up helping out, you know, maybe going the Peace Corps or something like that. I think I always had a heart for doing something bigger for others. Make A Wish was really growing in brand and organizational structure. And so some of the background I had from Zurich Insurance helped in Make A Wish and at Make A Wish, I was there almost about eight years. We really grew the organization and the Illinois chapter was one of the largest chapters around the nation and just a great exposure to great leaders and great board membership and governance. And again, sort of that idea of taking an idea that was growing and kind of putting a structure behind it. I followed a board chair to Ernest and Young, so I got a chance to move back into the for profit sector, was part of Ernest and Young for awhile. And at that time I adopted my daughter. I was a single person at the time and adopted my daughter from China. She was about one when she came home. And sort of the confluence of all of those things had me meeting the Founder of Gift Adoption, Gene Wyka, he and his wife Lucy cofounded Gift of Adoption. And really at that time, just the culmination of all things, kind of that idea from a business perspective of taking, taking an idea and moving it into an operation and kind of that startup thing is really attractive to me. So when I met the founder, I joined the national board and then shortly after that a year or so in, they were looking for new leadership for The Gift of Adoption. And so I, I raised my hand, I sort of had my hand raised for me. Uh, yeah. So then I became part of The Gift of Adoption team.

Damon (04:29):That’s amazing. What did the founder say to you when you first met that sort of attracted you to the organization?

Pam (04:37):You know what, what I love about Gene is he’s a visionary, uh, but he’s also super, super practical. And so what I loved about Gift of Adoption was it’s clarity of purpose. You know, I love one focus. I think really being an expert and excellent and then, and the leader in the one thing you do is something that’s very attractive to me. So Gift of Adoption at that time and still is the largest, um, organization providing adoption assistance grants on a nondiscriminatory basis. So what he said was that this is an idea that can grow. And he also really to me, talked about how this idea complimented the existing structures that were already in place for adoption. You know, there’s so many phenomenal things happening from legislators and advocacy groups and all the agencies that have been around some for a hundred, a hundred plus years. But ultimately, you know, for me common sense is adoption is at some level of financial transaction. I mean it really does take funds to get it done.

Damon (05:39):Right.

Pam (05:40):And to me the idea that that would be an impediment was really troublesome and I thought it’s something we definitely could tackle. And so I just again love the simplicity and clarity and just really that complimentary mission that I think can make a nonprofit excellent.

Damon (05:56):

Yeah, it’s a really phenomenal mission. And I think, you know, for me as an adoptee, I was clearly sort of part of the transactional process of the thing. So as I started to delve more and more into this space of what the entirety of the process looks like, it didn’t even really occur to me before that time that there were actually some significant costs, monetary costs that a family has to be ready to, um, to go for. And if they are willing to bring home a child and, and that shouldn’t be an impediment. You’re absolutely right. Tell me a little bit about where Gift of Adoption comes along in the process and, and so you’ve said, just say it again, like you give, you give grants, tell me a little bit more about the process of how a family comes to you and where you are supportive to that family in their process.

Pam (06:47):So families, uh, come to us in the process pretty much they can come to us at any time. Um, where we interject and where we provide adoption grants is for that last leg of funding. But a lot of times we’ll talk to families, we’ll encourage them to apply, we’ll actually connect him to other providers. I mean, we love people who have a heart for adoption and um, you know, it doesn’t cross everybody’s mind and when it does, you know, we’re very, very interested and keeping that enthusiasm going. I think the Dave Thomas Foundation research shows that one in four families seriously consider adoption for their own family. And so we have a big heart for that. But then they go on to say that only, um, 2% sort of start the process and one completes the process and financial barriers are one of the key things that keep people from moving forward or completing an adoption.

Damon (07:39):Wow.

Pam (07:40):So in general, we love when people are interested in this and we feel so grateful. That’s why everything we would do works because America’s the most adoptive nation, um, in the, in the world and many families, um, one in six families have a firsthand experience with, with adoption. So they find us anytime, but mainly when we can provide adoption grants is for that last bit of funding to complete the adoption. So our grants of up to $7,500 usually are the last 10 to 20% of costs needed to complete an adoption. And so we’re really partnering with families who have accredited home studies, who have been matched with a child. Um, they have a bonafide financial need and we’re just that last bit of funding to get them over that hurdle.

Damon (08:26):I’m on the Capital Region Chapter Board of Gift of Adoption and on one of our coordinating calls. A GOA representative said there are times when children in sibling groups may actually be divided if one of the siblings ages out of care. It’s heartbreaking to think that sibling groups, the only family those kids know could be separated if they’re not adopted. I shared with Pam that hearing that scenario renewed my desire to be a part of Gift of Adoption because that is a situation we can work together to prevent.

Pam (08:59):Yeah, Damon. So we really follow the vision and the original priority of the founders, which is to really place the most vulnerable children first. So we have tons of people who apply to us. We say yes to as many as possible, but because of funding barriers we’re able to only say out of every three applicants we can say one yes to one and and we have to say no to two. So again, we want to say yes to as many as possible, but given the limited financial resources, we continue to prioritize adoption grants for kids who from our view are really looking at what could be their only chance at having a family. And like you said, these are children who are siblings sets, older, sometimes special needs physical, um, emotional special needs. Just times where this can be their one shot at having a family. This is really who, who we want to prioritize.

Damon (09:54):Pam shared a story that exemplifies the very reason Gift of Adoption exists. One family GOA helped, had been blessed to have their own children but found themselves desperately wanting to help Haitian children in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010. Using an adoption agency, they followed the rigorous process of being certified for adoption, but the adoption agency presented them with an opportunity to adopt a sibling group, a six month old, a two year old and a four year old here in the United States. Their family needed to make an adoption plan for them to get a better opportunity for their lives. Pam received the call asking to assist the family.

Pam (10:35):You know, it was so interesting because literally like on a Sunday evening, I got a call from that adoption agency that said, you know, if this family decides they would like to move forward, we know they’re qualified. Can you help them? Can you assist them with a grant? And we said, absolutely. This is what we, this is why we exist. And so what was really neat though, run one at one quick thing. So yet they said, we said yes. They said yes, it all happened and the children are all merging and becoming close friends. But what was really neat, the dad in the story, the adoptive dad had said, you know what? It was this wonderful window of opportunity. He said, because we understood from our agency that if we weren’t able to move forward soon or somebody wasn’t, these children would have been split up and not been able to stay together as siblings. And he said that his mom, this, this adoptive father’s mom had in fact been in foster care and had been split up from her siblings. So he said it was like this unique, wonderful way to sort of right that. And uh, you know, he said, we went forward in faith and said we just duty calls. And so now they’re just this happy regular family.

Damon (11:41):That’s really amazing. That’s, that’s really incredible. Pam and I chatted about the entire continuum of adoption. So I asked her what elements she would like to see changed. One idea was that we need get the real stories of adoption out there. Being realistic about the fact that just like any other home, we’re talking about children, families and all of the complexities of family dynamics. Pam also said that many people who aren’t directly involved in a child’s adoption don’t know how to get involved to help. And that donating to Gift of Adoption is a great way to do more.

Pam (12:15):I think, you know, there’d be a lot of agreement around the idea that, you know, you want to debunk any misconceptions about it. Illusions, you know, that are overly positive or disillusions that are overly, you know, I mean it’s, it’s family, it’s children, it’s life, you know, it’s happy, it’s messy, it’s all those things. And so I think really just debunking any kind of misconceptions about, you know, children who are adopted, adoption, the process, all that stuff. So I think just getting good information out there. And I think there’s a lot of tremendous work being done for that by National Council for Adoption. There’s a lot of really good groups that Congressional Coalition on Adoption focuses on getting good information out there.

Damon (12:55):Yeah.

Pam (12:56):So I think debunking any misconceptions, I would also say, you know, for us, we would like people who, you know, whose hearts are breaking for children in the United States or around the world who don’t have families for them to get involved somehow. So gifted option you could get involved in our organization by providing funding and seeing adoption as a part of your family’s philanthropic priorities. Cause I think a lot of people don’t know. But if you’re not adopting yourself, you don’t really know how you can help. And so I think really just reminding people that you can get involved and can help, um, you know, these parentless children are on all of our watch and all of us can be a part of them getting into loving homes. That’s really where children thrive and everybody’s sort of, I think would agree with that. So I would say, you know, one of the things I would hope is that adoption can be seen as more of a philanthropic priority, both in terms of volunteerism as well as giving. I think the other thing is logistics. I think it’s tough. I mean there’s..adoption is a complicated transaction, but I do think some people would say the different way it’s regulated can be tricky and, and so I think some people would want to take a look at are there other better systems or communication tools to talk about children in need and families who would want to help them? You know, are there some ways to improve systems or you know, the way boundaries are navigated to better serve kids.

Damon (14:26):You know what, I love all of those things that you said, but I want to push on one thing here because it really sort of struck at a cord of everybody’s philanthropic priorities. And you said that the children are on all of our watch. You know, and it’s, as this goes to the common sort of Axiom that it takes a village to raise a child. I wonder if you could sort of say something about the opposite of all of these children having a home to go to. What happens when a kid ages out of foster care? What are some of the ramifications of not taking action towards these kids?

Pam (15:05):It’s, uh, it’s one of the things that really attracts me to the mission is that it’s real. This is, this is a huge intractable issue and the impact of inaction is very real and it’s so avoidable. Um, but yeah, it, what happens in the United States when children are not adopted and let’s say they enter foster care or some sort of foster system and they age out their life expectancy in terms of life outcomes are really, really difficult. Um, so Jim Casey, the founder of the UPS, his family, the Casey Family Foundation has a real interest in this space and they’ve done a lot of research and just both from a humanitarian and an economic standpoint, it’s really significant. So he just put an economic note on it saying there’s something that costs is something like $300,000 per individual who ages out of foster care in terms of lost income in terms of social services, in terms of incarceration. You know, these are the things that are very difficult, real costs for communities. Um, when a child doesn’t have the benefit of growing up in a family, enters foster care and then ages out without having a family. Um, so it’s, it’s very real things. Someone, one of the research pieces also said were like 25% of children who age out of foster care go immediately into some sort of a homeless shelter, homeless situation. Because once that, you know, formal relationship has ended, they really don’t have a family to rely on. Now that’s not to say there aren’t tremendously wonderful situations and foster situations. And that’s not to say there isn’t a ton of work being done to really help children transition from a foster situation into, you know, their own stable livelihood. So there’s a ton of stuff being done, but the data shows in the past, right, that there’s a very big opportunity for us to really do more for kids so that they do have the opportunities that so many of us take for granted and, and you know, be given that opportunity to have the stability and foundation of families. They grow up and navigate, you know, being an adult.

Damon (17:23):Pam went on to underscore that the domestic issues of inaction can lead to adverse outcomes for the children affected, but internationally the consequences can be equally or more severe. UNICEF points to the challenge of preventing children without families from joining militias, being forced into sex trafficking or other terrible circumstances that no child should be exposed to. Thankfully, Gift of Adoption and a host of organizations are working collectively to help children find homes.

Pam (17:54):It’s why I love our mission so much because I feel like one child who doesn’t have to have that experience, it just makes the world better for all of us. And so we would do it for one kid. I would do, you know, we’re going to help 365 children this year as an organization because the thousands of donors and volunteers like you, Damon. But you know, we would do it for what? It would be worth all of our effort if it was for just one child. It really would be.

Damon (18:23):So 365 is the goal this year, right?

Pam (18:27):Yeah.

Damon (18:27):So talk a little bit about the mission and goals, what you’ve, what you’ve outlined for the year and where we’re going.

Pam (18:33):So Gift for Adoption raises money and then we run an operation and the rest of the money we give away to adoption assistance grants. Our aim is to help 365 children this year. Um, by 2020, we would like to help 500 children a year with the gift of a family. And the way we do it is, you know, we have fundraising programs. The major thrust of our organization is a, a chapter based model, which you’re very familiar with. So we have 20 chapters around the country full of volunteer leaders like yourself who are devoting their time to raising money and building awareness about Gift of Adoption. And so those chapters all together raise, you know, close to a million dollars and the rest of the organization, our national board and investor board and all others bring in close to another million dollars. And that’s the money we use to provide adoption assistance grants to kids. Um, so that’s our main focus is really continuing to grow our national footprint and, um, be able to really bring more people into the fold as donors and as volunteers

Damon (19:35):Gift of Adoption is working toward nationwide coverage with chapters of the organization in every state. But Pam underscored one important fact, just because the Gift of Adoption doesn’t have a chapter in your state, doesn’t mean children in your state are not eligible for adoption grants. We want to fund adoption grants in every state, wherever the needs arise.

Pam (19:56):There’s many, many chapters like Metro New York and the Illinois chapter and the Wisconsin chapter who, whose money they raise goes to reach the most vulnerable children around the nation. So even though we may not have a chapter, for example, you know, in Missouri yet we’re still funding adoption grants for families and children in that state if the need is, is urgent. And so, um, we are trying to take our own advice and not being too boundary written. Um, we like donors money to stay in its own state, but we also know that while we’re building this, uh, chapter state model, we’re going to make sure that if there is a child in need and the situation is urgent, we’re going to get to them no matter what.

Damon (20:37):Yeah, that’s really, that’s really amazing. Um, since we’re talking about support and uh, and generosity and donation, it would be remiss for us not to actually the website right now. It’s giftofadoption.org. You can go to slash get dash engaged, so gift of adoption.org/get-engaged. You can find chapters across the nation. I see it in national capital area chapter there. I would love to get donations through the national capital area chapter, the Capitol region, but you should certainly look for chapters in your own area that will be assistive in helping children to find loving homes and families that are going to ensure a positive future for them going forward. Pay a made it very clear that the mission of gift of adoption is to provide adoption assistance grants. But there are many other pieces to the adoption puzzle. She told me they’re constantly scanning the policy environment to be certain they’re helping in the areas of greatest need and partnering with organizations in the policy making space to make sure Gift of Adoption is seen as a resource to remove financial barriers to adoption.

Pam (21:44):We do follow it, right, because you want to pay attention to make sure, most importantly that we’re being relevant and that we’re helping where the need is greatest. And so one example that I think Damon, is some of your listeners may know, you know, the number of adoptions, particularly international adoptions of children born around the world and adopted into U S families has continued to decline even though there’s still so many children, more children than ever, who are separated from families and in need of permanent families. And so that’s an example where we definitely pay attention to what’s happening on the policy level and we definitely have crafted our mission so that we’re continuing to serve the most vulnerable children in the U S and around the world. So what that means is even though numbers of adoptions have declined, numbers of applications for support from gifted option have continued to increase over that same period. Because again, we’re sort of have a hat on trying to make sure we’re realistic and helping where the need is greatest. And so adapting, you know, our practices to make sure we’ve got a line on that is really how we’ve stayed very current. We also have collaborated with, you know, Congressional Coalition on Adoption with things. The National Coalition for Adoption, the quad A adoption attorneys. Really just trying to be a resource because we don’t create adoption, we don’t create the circumstances of it. All we do is we exist and we hope when that moment of truth happens and there is a financial barrier that the those people families know to reach out to us. So what is intended as the best interest of the child can be served because money isn’t a barrier.

Damon (23:21):Pam really touched me with the story of the family that adopted the three domestic children, allowing them to stay together as a family. I really wanted to hear more stories about children and families that our organization has supported that helped Pam continue to be driven by the mission.

Pam (23:36):Yeah. Oh that’s so nice that you asked. One of the stories early on when I first started really struck me was a couple who was in the, the wife was serving on a mission trip in Ethiopia and when she was there she was building a library and saw these two girls who were sisters. And, um, really noticed, you know, that while they were being fed and they were out of the elements, they were growing up really in what was the cinder block building and that had militia kind of on the outside protecting them. And you know, she felt so connected to those girls. She, you know, I don’t know if it was a long or a short call home to her husband in the States, but you know, just really said, you know what, I’m here for one purpose but I see something different that is really nagging at me and calling to me. And so they ended up going through the process and were able to bring these two daughters, these two sisters home, and really changed the trajectory of their life and really mitigated what was some undoubtably very difficult circumstances. And so, um, that was really neat. But then you keep going on. And so I got to know this family a little bit and we stay in touch later. We say, well, how’s it going? How are things now that the, the girls are home? And you know, the first notices were things like, well, the kids are doing well and um, they’re now taking swimming lessons at the Y and you know, they are getting tutoring and they’re going into certain grades and so, you know, good stuff. And then the next I talked to the mom like, how’s it going now? She said, well, it’s good. And I said, what are you, I said, do you have a story for me? And she said, well, yeah, it’s like, it’s so funny. Cause the other day Rick and I were just sitting having coffee and suddenly we heard some yelling upstairs and we were like, what’s going on? And we realized, you know, the girls were like fighting. So siblings, right? Sibling argument in their native tongue. And she said, it was so funny because she said, that was the day we realized they were home. They were comfortable, they weren’t having good days, they were just being themselves. And that was really a day where I was like, you know, we’re a family. So, um, I think those are the, some of the things that really make me feel connected to this mission is that continuity and that adoption sort of like one day sort of thing. But then the family is forever. And so hearing about the ripple effect of that to me is what warms my heart and it just makes me feel grateful for what we’re able to do.

Damon (26:05):Remember Pam said she’s an adoptive parent too. I wondered about her own adoption story and how she talks about adoption with her own daughter. She was born in China. Pam was born in the United States and is of Irish descent. Her daughter is in high school now, so they don’t think about adoption as much as they did when her daughter was younger, but it is an open topic in their home. Pam said you have to know your child to learn how to comfortably talk about their adoption with them.

Pam (26:31):Early on, you know, she was very concrete and very tactical and so we literally would look at documents, we would look at paperwork. Um, we have it all in a special like fireproof safety box. You know, all of our original passport and medical things. And I will tell you, while it doesn’t come up a lot, you know, we live in the Midwest, so if there’s ever, you know, a tornado warning or whatever, I can promise you Leah does grab that box and make sure it goes with us to safety. You know what I mean? So it’s these little unconscious things that she, it’s, it’s there, you know, this is her heritage. These are her roots. She’s in high school now and she’s fortunate to be in a high school that teaches Mandarin. And she decided, you know, to, to take that language, I think as a way to continue to learn more about her culture and heritage. I’ll say we were laughing. So I’ve been, I’m married and my husband had two children, so there’s five of us in our family. And for her 16th birthday, Leah wanted to get a ring that had a birthstone for, for my birth, her birth month, my husband’s birth month, and her two brothers birth month. And, um, so I was, you know, my husband of course said like that sounds like an expensive ring, but I was laughing thinking, wow, we gotta, we gotta step up, man. She’s, we’re going to be in her ring. Like she’s, this is her family. She’s serious. You know, it was just a neat.

Damon (27:52):Yeah, that’s really cool. You’ve covered everything for me. I was really interested to hear sort of what your own personal perspective was on adoption and, uh, and what your mission and goals were for the organization. And it sounds like the core, the, the mission driven towards supporting funding grants for families is a driving force in your life. And, and that is so impactful for each of these families to bring home a child that they can therefore nurture into someone really special. I think it’s just an amazing organization. I’m really thankful to be a part of it and I, I really do appreciate your leadership in this space.

Pam (28:33):Oh, it’s been my pleasure and I’m so grateful to work with you. It’s really, I feel like it’s so worthy of our time and I just am so moved by your generosity. Thank you.

Damon (28:42):Yeah, no, it’s my pleasure. Um, I’ll just say that the Capital Region of the Gift of Adoption Fund is currently working on our own drive. We have the fall for families event coming up on November 2nd and we’re specifically looking for donations because as Pam said, we can make it a family philanthropic priority to support children going into adoption, but we have to support the families who are going to be the loving homes of those children as well. So do me a favor, go to a giftofadoption.org. Look for the various chapters and the chapters link at the top of the page, and you can find the Capital region. I would love to get a donation from everybody who’s listening because this is such a priority for all of the children out there that need a home and a place to go. So Pam, CEO of the Gift of Adoption. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Pam (29:33):Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Damon (29:35):Sure. All the best. Take care. Bye bye.

Pam (29:37):Bye bye.

Damon (29:42):Hey, it’s me. It was such a pleasure to talk to Pam and hear her personal attachment to Gift of Adoption’s mission. To recap, we raise money to support the adoption of vulnerable children into families. It’s a volunteer based organization and 100% of the money raised goes to funding adoptions on average. Out of every three applications, Gift of Adoption can only help one family. That’s a heartbreaking statistic because that’s not just one applicant turned down. That’s an impact to a child’s and their siblings lives if that adoption can’t be completed for financial reasons, so please go to giftofadoption.org to find a chapter in your area or start a new chapter. I’m lucky to be a board member of the Capital Region chapter and we’re raising funds now for our Fall for Family Funds Drive. You can find links to the fundraiser on facebook.com/waireally, I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in gift of adoption’s mission that inspires you, validates your feelings about supporting adoption or motivates you to get involved and donate or volunteer.

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