My True Calling
As I prepare for my 49th year on this planet I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I would have chosen a different path. For half of those 49 years I have “walked beside” my clients who have entrusted their hopes and fears, pain and triumphs with me. A very wise man once told me that we all have the ability to feel what others feel; some of us just block this out. I believed him and consider my ability to feel what others around me are experiencing one of my greatest strengths.
When I feel what the folks I work with are going through, it creates a connection between us. This is the absolutely best part of my job. I suppose that it is possible to help families with an adoption plan and NOT connect with them, but why on earth would anyone miss out on this incredible opportunity? Some of these connections are only meant to last throughout the short few months or even weeks in which the actual “work” of the adoption takes place. But, some very special birth and adoptive families weave their lives into the fabric of mine. This is what inspired me and Jennifer, a very special birth mother, to create our birth parent support group, “Placement from the Heart”. It is through this creation that adoptive parents can give back to the birth parents that they love and honor, and birth parents can stay connected to us and each other.
Like many of us headed toward the big 5-0, I did not always have as clear a vision of my true purpose. Throughout my career I was blessed with the opportunity to work in many different settings. And like many of us I was able to make a long list of how I would change things “when I’m in charge”!! Well the amazing thing is that, for the most part, except for Florida Statutes and Administrative Codes, and my best friend and partner, Edna Brown, I am in charge. So, the Adoption & Family Support Center (drum roll please) is the culmination of everything I believe an adoption agency should be. I have borrowed all of the really good stuff that I have learned along the way and done my best to leave behind the things that simply don’t work for me.
For example, some of you may not know that the agency’s main office is built on to the back of my home where I have lived and raised my family since I was 24. This overlooks the pool and, on nice days, we have our staff meetings on the back porch. This was on the top of my “When I am in Charge List”, by the way! Agency work can get a bit stressful; I wanted the environment to be relaxing. If you visit with us you will likely sit at my dining room table. That is only fair that you get a peek at my house, since I may, in fact, be “studying” yours if you are a potential adoptive parent.
We are a Social Service agency in the true sense. This was borrowed from my former job as a case manager where I helped link families to community services. The best part about community services is that they will continue to support the family after the adoption to help maintain stability. The most challenging part of the current state of community services is that they are, at times, difficult to obtain and sustain. That is why we help. Sometimes our efforts make the difference between a family getting or not getting the food stamps that they are entitled to. How can we NOT help with that?? Another service that we find very important is taking expectant mothers to the doctor. I think that I must have logged enough hours by now to have earned some kind of honorary medical assistant degree. It is not so much the transportation that seems to be important to the moms as the connection or relationship that forms during these visits. Going to the doctor can be a very scary thing. When you have someone to sit beside you it can reduce a lot of anxiety. But the best part for me is when I am invited to be part of the birth plan. Although this often requires an overnight stay at the hospital, seeing a new life enter the world is an experience that defies explanation. Each woman that I work with has unique needs, so how we provide services always depends on her.
Another item on my list was how we were going to work with our adoptive parents. Edna had a lot to say about this one too, as she does the lion’s share of administrative work with our adoptive families. Adoptive parents foot the bill for the cost of the adoption; there is just no way around this fact. The cost of adoption is high (from my middle class perspective) and the risks can seem scary. So we decided that we did not want our adoptive families to have to risk up-front fees to be shown to a prospective birth family. This is really different from most agencies I have worked with and forms the hallmark of our philosophy regarding adoptive parents: “We believe that your child is already selected for you by God. He or she will find you.” If we are part of that journey, that is wonderful. But if your child is supposed to come to you in a different way, we do not want to have collected money that prevents you from seeking the match that you are supposed to pursue. So we show home study ready adoptive families to our birth families for no fee. Our agreement is, if selected, the adoptive family will honor all of the birth parents requests and the fees are due when they accept the match. This just feels right to us. It allows us to maintain a level of integrity to the process that is less motivated by a financial bottom line and more focused on building families that fit. The adoptive families who work with us seem to really like this philosophy. We also never encourage them to sever relationships established before they came to us. The more folks adoptive parents have helping them find that child that is supposed to be in their family the better. We are just as happy for you if your child comes from another agency as if he comes from us. The important thing is that you are now a family.
Another big list item for me is to only work with people you love. Studies have been done (won’t cite the research…you can Google that on your own J) documenting the fact that in Industrialized Society, we spend more time with our coworkers than our own families. So, it only makes sense to hire folks that you love. That describes the staff at Adoption & Family Support Center. You pretty much have to “know someone to get in” and there really isn’t any exit plan…we are sort of stuck with each other for the duration. Edna Brown and I have been friends for nearly 20 years. I kept dragging her around with me until finally we combined our talents to their full potential and “Adoption & Family Support Center” was born. Elisa Maffucci is Edna’s neighbor. Poor lady was out walking her dog one day and asked about adoption…well now she practically runs the place!! She was thinking about a part-time job since her kids were older; be careful what you ask for! Miss Hala Paiva, our newest financial wizard, moved next door to me at the ripe old age of 4 (are you sensing a theme here?). She was our state weight lifting champ and a newlywed. And last, but not least, my “all grown up” daughter, Amanda Peck has joined the group. This, of course, is a mother’s dream, as I can now share my life’s work with my child.
As I look back over the last quarter century, a profound sense of peace envelopes me. I consider myself abundantly blessed and fortunate. I know what I am called to do and who I am supposed to share the journey with. The exciting part is that the journey will continue and the outcome will be amazing. And that is the message I am supposed to share with those who I “walk beside” and serve.