Family & Children’s Agency’s annual Golf & Tennis Classic will be held on Monday, September 8, 2014 at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield. With the support of community-minded businesses and individuals, the golf outing has evolved into a major fundraiser for the Agency and its programs. The Classic is a wonderful way for both corporations and individuals to support the work of Family & Children’s Agency, while enjoying a relaxing round of golf with friends, clients, and colleagues, at one of the premier private clubs in Fairfield County.
Join Family & Children’s Agency for the 2014 Golf & Tennis Classic, to be held at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield on Monday, Sep. 8, 2014.
Two kids, a dog and a house with a white picket fence is universally considered the archetypical American dream. Despite its simplicity, however, building what’s considered the average American family is a struggle for millions of families everywhere. Kristin Peck, a businesswoman and Darien resident, along with her husband Bob, spent five years facing hurdles in their pursuit of a family, which included five miscarriages, six infertility efforts, four infertility doctors, a surrogate’s miscarriage, a birth mother with a substance abuse issue, preeclampsia and a nurse involved in a murder scandal. For the woman who always had a plan, her journey to motherhood would prove to take her off course over and over. Through it all, however, Kristin and Bob never lost faith that they would complete their family someday. Now, years later and two children in tow, Kristin tells her story in the e-book, Perseverance, and encourages women everywhere to never give up on building their family.
Perseverance was selected by Amazon.com’s Books Editors as one of the Best Kindle Singles of the Year So Far. The “Best of the Year So Far” is a midyear retrospect that highlights the must-reads released between January and June 2014.
This is a very personal story. What inspired you to share it?
(left to right) Bob, Taylor, Connor and Kristin Peck.
My husband [Bob] originally suggested I begin to write the story down. As I was writing, it occurred to me how alone I felt throughout this crazy journey. I hoped it would help other women going through similar journeys to not feel so alone. I began passing [the manuscript] around to my friends, and as it got shared, I found more and more women going through similar situations. Many women feel as if they’re the only ones struggling; it’s hard to explain or talk about unless you’ve gone through it.
The events that led you to build your family were incredibly painful. Was it often difficult to relive these memories?
Initially, it was really cathartic. I realized how proud I was that we got through it. It’s harder for me to read the story now. When I was working on the final book for Kindle and had to define what should be included and what shouldn’t, that was hard and emotional. I even debated whether or not to release the book. It’s strange having people know so much personal information about you, but I think the book resonates with people because of its honesty.
You discuss a lot about trusting your instinct. Reflecting back, do you have any regrets or things you may have done differently, or was it all part of the journey that led to your two children?
The latter. I try in my life, as a general philosophy, to not have regrets. I will make every decision the best I can. I’ve made mistakes, did the best I could and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I believe life is 75 percent competence and hard work, and 25 percent luck. Getting that call [a phone call regarding the birth of her adopted daughter, Taylor]—that’s a little bit of luck. I really feel that she was destined to be our daughter, but that doesn’t mean you should wait for destiny to happen and not take your own steps.
When your father was sick in the hospital, you were given advice from another patient’s family to be your own advocate and pay attention to his medications and progress. The advice proved to be crucial later in life. Why is it important to be your own advocate, whether choosing different reproductive measures or pursuing adoption?
It’s extremely important because nobody has to live your life except you. Knowing your own condition and the questions to ask is crucial. Whether it’s your health or the adoption process, you can’t just hope someone else will take care of it. You need to be assertive. There’s much of this process that you don’t have control over, but you can have these conversations with your doctor or the adoption agency to gain some of that back.
You often discuss how you’re a very organized, meticulous person who doesn’t leave much to chance. How hard was it to surrender control so many times to doctors and adoption agencies?
Author and Darien resident Kristin Peck.
The hardest part of the whole process was not having control. The adoption process has taught me more life lessons than anything else. I’m now much calmer when plans don’t work out. Flexibility is what matters most. You need to have a plan, but sometimes the winds change direction and you need to change course. As long as you’re going in the same direction, you’ll have the same destination. I’m a better mom now because of it.
What surprised you the most about the adoption process?
Just how unpredictable and unexpected the process can be. You have to embrace a tremendous amount of uncertainty and questions you may not have been prepared to face.
How old are your children now?
Both are 8-years-old. My daughter is in third grade and my son is in second. My daughter [Taylor] loves science, and my son [Connor] is the polar opposite. He loves acting and theater; he’s very social.
Describe the moment you first held your daughter in your arms.
I was so scared, honestly. When someone hands you a baby, you feel an incredible responsibility for its well-being and to take care of it. I was in awe of her. She was the most beautiful girl I’ve ever held. When someone essentially says, “You’re responsible for this life,” it’s instant. I have such amazing respect and admiration for birth mothers. The idea of someone loving their child enough to want a better life for them…there’s nothing more selfless. I feel so amazed to have had a woman trust me to do that. I’m amazed by it every day.
Have you shared with your daughter, Taylor, her story about how she was adopted?
We’ve shared it with her since the day she was born, which is something I learned from Family & Children’s Agency. We wanted her to know her story, and there are some things that are public, such as us getting the call to go to Texas, how she was named or her ethnicity, but other things are more private and it’s for her to decide if or when she tells others about her story. She’s amazingly proud of being adopted and tells everybody.
How was the first year after you had both of your children as a new mother and father with two babies?
It was rough trying to manage careers and lack of sleep, but I rarely complained because I had fought for five years for this blessing. This is what I worked so hard for, and even though it was difficult at times, I could have been where I was a year before.
You discuss meeting with FCA to begin the process of adoption. You mentioned that FCA helped you confront some of the difficult questions people may ask, such as, “why didn’t their parents want them,” etc. Did you find that was an issue when people learned that your daughter was adopted and only months apart from your son?
It’s amazing the questions people ask. But I felt prepared, and prepared to answer [Taylor’s] questions, as well, such as questions about her birth father, or the family tree conversation. Those are things we haven’t discussed yet, but will be relevant someday.
You’ve chosen to donate the proceeds from this book to Family & Children’s Agency. How else did the Agency help you during this period? (Home visits, answering questions?)
Connor and Taylor Peck
[Our case manager] was incredibly flexible, and so was FCA. They were always incredibly responsive. They’re used to the unpredictability, so it was seamless with FCA. Our case manager, Sue, was so calming. Why haven’t we received a call yet? Can we handle a birth mother with substance abuse issues? How was I going to discuss certain things with family and friends? There are unbelievable topics and questions they helped us through.
Any final words, about you shouldn’t give up and build the family you want?
The message I hope people leave my book with is that there is no one way to form a family—be open minded and don’t give up. And, if you love someone who is struggling with fertility or adoption, ask what they need and be supportive. Trying to be helpful, people often say, “You just need to relax; if you weren’t so stressed maybe it would work out.” When having a baby is your dream, try not thinking about it. It made me feel guilty and selfish for wanting and caring so much. Instead, all I wanted to hear was, “I am so sorry. I love you. I am here for you. What can I do to help?” It’s a rough road, and the love of family and friends is crucial no matter what way you go.
Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) is the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls to support Girls’ Challenge, a component of the After School Program. Girls’ Challenge is designed to develop and strengthen positive peer relations, internal resources and leadership skills in the female students within the After School Program. The topics covered include self-esteem, body image, peer pressure, self-care and stress management. In addition, girls have an opportunity to hone their leadership skills through community service projects.
“Family & Children’s Agency is grateful to the Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls for their ongoing, generous support of Girls’ Challenge,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA.
Girls’ Challenge is held on Friday afternoons during the school year. This fall, Girls’ Challenge will enter its eleventh year.
“This past year, the girls focused on positive affirmations and how to resist peer pressure and negative influences,” said Amy Jeffereis, Manager of Youth Development. “They focused on the good, not just in themselves, but in others, and learned that together they are a strong unit and rely on each other for support.”
The After School Program seeks to improve the lives of Norwalk’s middle school youth by enabling their successful transition into high school and increasing their ability to be productive, independent young adults. The program serves 50 Norwalk middle school students who meet after school, Monday through Friday, throughout the school year at the Program’s Norwalk Community College (NCC) campus.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation promotes the growth of community and regional philanthropy to improve the quality of life throughout Fairfield County. Individuals, families, corporations and organizations can establish charitable funds or contribute to existing funds. The Foundation also provides philanthropic advisory services, and develops and leads initiatives to tackle critical community issues. It is in compliance with the Council on Foundations’ national standards for community foundations. The Foundation has awarded $168 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond. For more information, please visit www.fccfoundation.org.
For the fifth year in a row, Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) has collaborated with Fodor Farms to provide a community garden for clients in its Homeless Services program. The garden consists of two 4 by 10 foot plots and will grow vegetables chosen by the clients. The goal of the community garden is to educate participants on the importance of healthy nutrition and provide them with fundamental vocational skills to explore or obtain employment.
Frame built by a Homeless Services client and Jamal Benbow, Homeless Services case manager.
“Fodor Farms has been a wonderful partner with FCA over the last five years collaborating on the Homeless Services community garden,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “The education and training provided to clients is projected to reduce barriers of employment and encourage lifelong healthy habits.”
Approximately one dozen participants from Homeless Services will tend to the garden throughout the season. The garden is intended to empower clients and allow them to see that healthy eating can be attainable on a budget. In addition to attending monthly nutrition classes, clients will have the opportunity to interact with other community gardeners and get advice on gardening and caring for their vegetables.
Maintaining the community garden will also supply clients with life skills such as working as part of a team and following a schedule.
“These skills will not only help reduce the barriers to employment, but encourage self-esteem as they can witness their hard work grow throughout the season,” said Chris Jachino, Director of Homeless Services at FCA.
Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) and Norwalk Community College (NCC) were recently honored with the Campus-Community Partnership Award by the Connecticut Campus Compact (CTCC) for their longstanding partnership supporting FCA’s After School Program.
The After School Program, which serves 50 Norwalk middle school youth throughout the school year and summer, is located on the NCC campus. Students in the After School Program potentially face multiple barriers to academic success, and the Program includes enrichment activities, mentoring services, helps promote character development, reinforces executive functioning skills and prepares students for a successful transition into high school. The Program now includes an Alumni Component, which supports previous students throughout high school and prepares them for college.
“FCA’s partnership with NCC is unique in that it allows these youth to have the opportunity to be exposed to what it’s like on a college campus and use all the resources available there,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “We are grateful for our longstanding partnership with NCC and for being recognized by CTCC.”
Since its inception in 2004, the program has doubled in size and many former After School Program students now attend NCC.
“It is an honor for Norwalk Community College’s partnership with Family & Children’s Agency to be recognized by our peers in the Connecticut Campus Compact as an exemplar of college and community engagement,” said Dr. Pamela Edington, NCC Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs. “This partnership is so powerful because it is supporting multiple generations of students in achieving their educational goals. “Middle school students benefit from their location on a college campus while being supported in their academic and social development. NCC students have the opportunity to act as role models for younger students while learning how to apply college-level material in a real-world setting. By leveraging each organization’s strengths, it’s a win for everyone–students, NCC, FCA and the community at-large!”
In addition to the After School Program, FCA and NCC have also collaborated to provide free, short-term counseling for NCC students who are experiencing challenges in their lives. FCA’s highly trained social work staff is available to help students through times of crisis, transition and individual issues.
CTCC is a statewide program based on the Fairfield University campus that promotes improving community life and social responsibility.
Each year, the Connecticut Council of Family Service Agencies (CCFSA) recognizes exemplary volunteers and human service professionals with the Family Champion Award. On May 15, Family & Children’s Agency’s Board Vice Chair Maria Wilcox and Accounts Payable and Receivable Finance Specialist Angela Brooks were honored with this award.
(left to right) FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel, Maria Wilcox and Angela Brooks
Maria Wilcox has been FCA’s Board of Directors since 2009 and currently serves as the Vice Chair. During this time, Maria has been one of the Agency’s most active and effective Board members having been engaged in numerous committees and activities for the Agency. Since joining the Board, she has participated in our annual Benefit committee and co-chaired our highly successful 2012 event. She is also on the Agency’s Fund Development Committee, Finance Committee and is Co-Chair of the Board Development Committee. There is literally no area of governance or fundraising where Maria has not brought great value. In addition, Maria’s passion and love for volunteerism extends throughout her entire family, including her children who have volunteered by collecting and donating books for young children participating in FCA’ programs. It is evident in all she does that Maria is an incredible asset and goes well above and beyond in supporting our work with children & families, youth, adults and seniors.
As a dedicated member of the finance team as Accounts Payable and Receivable Specialist, Angela Christian Brooks has exhibited an outstanding work ethic and acumen for detail. Although a behind the scenes player, it is because of Angela that the FCA staff can continue to do their good work throughout the community. She has been with FCA for more than 11 years paying the organization’s bills, preparing cash deposits, created over 37,000 disbursement checks and 2,700 trips to the bank. She does this all with a smile, saying it is the people and culture of FCA that makes her role so enjoyable. More importantly, Angela is always willing to give of herself to assist others. It is a privilege to honor this dedicated individual.
Jaehoon, the son of Hoon and Yvonne Park, came to the United States from Korea with his family in October 2012. They were one of the last families to adopt before sweeping changes to Korean international adoption laws took effect, including the length of the referral process, eligibility changes and travel requirements. Jaehoon, often affectionately referred to as “Mini Hoon,” is over two-years-old now and both Hoon and Yvonne say they cannot imagine life without him.
Hoon, an American citizen of Korean decent, and Yvonne knew early on that they were interested in international adoption. The two met in college while Yvonne was studying at Connecticut College and Hoon was in the Coast Guard Academy. It was a through a friend that the couple was later introduced to Family & Children’s Agency and embarked on their first adoption in April 2011. By October of the following year they were off to Korea to meet their son.
Over a year later, the couple is in the midst of their second Korean adoption to give Jaehoon a sister. New Korean adoption laws have made a once far more expedited process a bit longer. While the wait can, at times, be difficult, they look at Jaehoon and are reminded that the reward of completing their family far outweighs any hoops they may need to jump through.
The relationship between Family & Children’s Agency and the Park family is a strong one. While the Agency updates all their families regularly on the status of their application, Hoon jests that he’s been known to call on a weekly basis and is always met with a friendly ear.
“Even when you know there’s no new information, you just want to feel connected in some way to the people handling your child’s adoption,” says Hoon. “The Agency is so supportive, and we know from Jaehoon that they really take the time to match the child with the family that is best for them.”
Despite all the preparation offered by Family & Children’s Agency, however, the Parks recall that nothing could prepare them for meeting their son for the first time. In October 2012, the couple, jet-lagged, exhausted and anxious, was able to meet their son at the Social Welfare Society (SWS) of Korea. Social workers often remind parents when they are meeting their children for the first time to be cautious, reminding them that they are new faces to the babies.
“I broke all the rules,” says Hoon, laughing. “I couldn’t wait to hold him. You’re so overwhelmed when you see them and realize that’s your child that you’ve been waiting and praying for.”
The Parks were touched upon meeting Jaehoon’s foster family, as well. Even now, the couple still chats every month with the Korean family who cared for their son during the first year of his life. The foster family provided the Parks with hundreds of pictures, videos and letters to Jaehoon, items that the Parks say they will hold on to forever.
“If ever he has any questions about where he came from, I want him to know he was always very, very loved,” says Yvonne.
Jaehoon was just under 11-months-old when the Parks took him home to the United States. Now, under new laws, most babies are between 18-24 months old when they return home. The Parks remember bringing Jaehoon home and coping with the stresses and excitement that comes from being both new parents and having a newly adopted son. Eventually, however, everything falls into place, says Yvonne, noting that it feels as though Jaehoon was always meant to be with them.
“Even now, when I hear him calling ‘Mom, Mom, Mommy,’ repeatedly, I’ll never get tired of it. I never get tired of hearing him call me ‘Mommy,’” she says.
Both Hoon and Yvonne fully intend to teach Jaehoon about his Korean roots. They are heavily involved in a local Korean church and celebrated doljanchi on his first birthday, a traditional Korean ceremony. Hoon himself is brushing up on the Korean language and cooking traditional foods.
As with their first adoption, the Parks continue to keep close contact with Family & Children’s Agency as they navigate the adoption of their daughter. The support from the Agency, coupled with knowing what an extraordinary experience adoption is, makes the wait far more endurable. Hoon himself has become somewhat of an adoption evangelist in the community, speaking locally about the tremendous rewards of international adoption. In time, they know their family will be complete.
“It has to be something in your heart,” says Yvonne, “but I would recommend it to everyone.”
IMAGINE 2014: A Night on Broadway was a great success! Our deepest thanks to our dedicated co-chairs, talented committee, tireless volunteers, generous sponsors and dear friends of the Agency who supported this event.
View pictures from the evening:
It’s opening night, the velvet rope is lined with photographers, and the marquee is shining just a bit brighter. You look up and in big, bold letters it reads, “IMAGINE 2014: A Night on Broadway.”
The curtain rises on May 17 for Family & Children’s Agency’s annual Benefit, which will pay homage to New York City’s celebrated theater district. Spare yourself the hustle and bustle of 42nd St. and join us for an evening of dinner, dancing, and live and silent auctions.
IMAGINE 2014 is sure to be a night of critical acclaim. We hope you’ll join us.
IMAGINE 2014: A Night on Broadway
Woodway Country Club, 540 Hoyt Street, Darien, CT, 06820
Saturday, May 17, 2014
6:30 p.m. Cocktails and Silent Auction
8:00 p.m. Dinner, Dancing, Live Auction
With Mother’s Day around the corner, the timing of the Weston Women’s League’s Annual Baby Shower for new and expecting mothers could not have been more fitting. Held on May 1 at Christ Church in Norwalk, approximately 25 mothers in Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Family Support & Prevention program were treated to a luncheon and received gifts, such as clothing, diapers, toys and baby essentials. This is the Weston Women’s League’s sixth year hosting the baby shower.
“FCA is so thankful for the tremendous effort put forth by the Weston’s Women’s League year after year in planning this event,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “This is a wonderful celebration for these women, many of whom would not have the opportunity for a baby shower otherwise.”
“This day is a lovely celebration for these women about becoming a parent,” said Mary Kate Locke, Director of Prevention, Adoption and Youth Development at FCA.
Family Support & Prevention services at Family & Children’s Agency provides support and guidance to parents and their young children through the Nurturing Family Network, Fatherhood Initiative, Maternal Outreach and Mentoring Service (MOMS) program, Healthy Start and Child FIRST. The program’s trained staff educates parents so they can build a strong foundation for their family’s growth. All programs are offered free of charge in English and Spanish to families in the Greater Norwalk area and are on a voluntary basis.
Thank you to Minks to Sinks, Family & Children’s Agency’s auxiliary, for another successful event. We hope you all had a chance to visit the greatest tag sale in Fairfield County “under the tents” in Wilton. The next sale with be this October… stay tuned!
It’s that time of the year again! Minks to Sinks, Family & Children’s Agency’s auxiliary, will host its bi-annual Spring tag sale this weekend, May 3-5.
Saturday, May 3, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday May 4, 12-4 p.m.
Monday, May 5 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
The sale is located under the tents at 395 Danbury Road at the intersection of Route 7 and School Road in Wilton.
Minks to Sinks is a bi-annual tag sale rooted in the town of Wilton’s history since 1931. The sale, which garnered its name from the variety of items donated including minks and sinks, has since grown to staff more than 160 volunteers of all ages from the Wilton community and beyond. Rain or shine, the sale occurs each spring and fall “under the tents” at the intersection of Route 7 and School Road in Wilton. Volunteers may be found donning their trademarked red, white, and blue striped aprons. All proceeds will benefit Family & Children’s Agency.