“Adoption is More than a Moment in Time” — FCA Recognizes National Adoption Month
“Adoption is more than a moment in time,” says Natalie Jackson, Assistant Director of Adoption at Family & Children’s Agency (FCA). Families formed through adoption or guardianship sometimes face unique challenges later in life, such as talking to your child about adoption, child development, or transitioning from foster care to a permanent home. In addition to offering domestic and international adoption services, FCA offers the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), a grant funded program through the University of Connecticut Health Center, which provides comprehensive assessments, education, brief counseling and referral services to adoptive families free of charge.
“Adoption is a lifelong journey that brings both joys and personal growth,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “The Adoption Assistance Program is an incredible resource to families facing unique challenges to receive the support they need.”
The range of services provided by the Adoption Assistance Program vary greatly from minor questions to more complicated challenges, such as behavioral issues derived from abuse or neglect a child experienced with their birth family. A social worker provides a comprehensive assessment to determine how to best meet the needs of both the child and family. All inquiries are confidential.
National Adoption Month has been recognized throughout the month of November for 19 years. Each year, events are held around the country to celebrate adoptive families, finalize adoptions and raise awareness. This year’s theme is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections,” which encourages states to make a reasonable effort to place siblings in the same foster care, kinship guardianship or adoptive placement to provide ongoing interaction between siblings.
FCA offers domestic, international and post-placement adoption services. FCA is one of only two Hague Accredited international adoption agencies in the state of Connecticut. Free informational seminars are offered each month at FCA’s Hartford and Norwalk offices.
A Modern Family–National Adoption Month
National Adoption Month has been recognized in the United States for over 30 years. Each year, events are held around the country to celebrate adoptive families. This year, the Administration for Children & Families of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has declared “Supporting and Promoting Sibling Connections” as the theme of National Adoption Month. As the Administration notes, siblings have a unique bond. Research has shown the critical nature of sibling bonds and their importance for children’s development and emotional well-being.
FCA’s 2013 Annual Report highlighted a unique adoption story, in which two daughters from the same birth mother were adopted by different families, but raised as sisters. In honor of National Adoption Month and its unique theme, we would like to again share their inspiring story.
Click here to learn more about adoption services at FCA, a Hague Accredited organization.
“Families come in different shapes and sizes.” This is what Kelly Moore has told her daughter, Caroline, whom she and her husband, Jim, adopted domestically through Family & Children’s Agency’s Adoption services seven years ago.
From left to right: Aislyn,
Siobhan, and Caroline.
While families do come in different packages, the story of the Moores is particularly unique. When Caroline was four years old, Jim and Kelly’s caseworker at FCA informed them that Caroline’s birth mother had another daughter who was also adopted. Caroline not only had a sister, but a sister in Fairfield County.
It was then that the couple met John and Lisa Reilly who had adopted their daughter, Aislyn, also through FCA. After one dinner together, both couples knew they wanted their daughter to grow up knowing her sister. The girls met for the first time when Aislyn was just 7 months old at the Maritime Aquarium on Oct. 17, 2009. Four years later, Aislyn, now 4, and Caroline, now 8, are practically inseparable.
“We celebrate all birthdays and family parties together, and never miss a Christmas,” said Lisa. “It’s very important to us to establish traditions for them.”
Two years ago, John and Lisa welcomed another daughter by birth, Siobhan, who—if you ask Caroline—is also her sister. Although raised in separate households, the girls are growing up sharing a bond that many children of adoption yearn for throughout their whole life. This past year, John and Lisa have even moved to Redding so their daughters may grow up in the same school system.
The questions children may have surrounding their adoption may change as they grow and develop mentally. Aislyn, however, who has since birth regarded Caroline as her sister, seems content with her family’s extension.
“I asked Aislyn once what she would like to tell her cousins about her sister, Caroline,” said Lisa. “She looked at me and said, ‘I’ll just tell them that we come from the same woman’s belly, Mommy’.”
Family & Children’s Agency Elects New Board of Directors Member
Brian Vendig, President and Managing Executive at MJP Associates, a wealth advisory firm, is the newest addition to Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Board of Directors. Brian has been an active member of FCA’s Junior Board since its inception in 2013. A resident of Fairfield, where he lives with his wife, Michele, and two children, Brian brings with him over 15 years of financial management experience, as well as an inherent drive to raise awareness of FCA’s work.
Brian Vendig, President and Managing Executive at MJP Associates, a wealth advisory firm,
is the newest addition to Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Board of Directors.
Brian is a graduate of Bucknell University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a major in accounting and a minor in economics. Prior to joining MJP Associates, Brian spent over eight years with Xerox Corporation, a venture capital firm and a “Big 4” public accounting firm.
He first joined the Junior Board of Directors when the group was founded in 2013. In its first year, the Junior Board focused its fundraising efforts on FCA’s Homeless Services programs, hosting a number of activities including a barbecue for clients and A Taste of Fairfield County, held at Aitoro in Norwalk. This year, the group has focused its efforts on FCA’s After School Program, hosting an ice cream social for students, book drive and sponsoring the second annual A Taste of Fairfield County, to be held November 13.
“My involvement with Family & Children’s Agency has been an extremely enriching experience,” said Brian. “I have a greater appreciation for members of our local Connecticut community that deserve and need additional support to overcome life’s challenges. My involvement with FCA to date has spanned from interacting with clients to fundraising events, and I am looking forward to expanding my connection.”
“Brian has shown a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and commitment since his involvement with FCA began, and we are thrilled to have him join our Board of Directors,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA.
The Connection, Inc. Awarded Family & Children’s Agency’s 2014 Family Strengthening Award
The Connection, Inc. was awarded the 2014 Family Strengthening Award by Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) on Oct. 21 at FCA’s annual meeting, held at Silvermine Golf Club in Norwalk. For more than 40 years, The Connection, Inc. has been one of Connecticut’s leading
Peter Nucci, Jr., President and CEO of The Connection, Inc. (third from left) accepts the FCA Family Strengthening Award with The Connection, Inc. staff and FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel (far left).
private, nonprofit human service and community development agencies. Each month, thousands of people throughout Connecticut are assisted by The Connection, Inc.’s diverse behavioral health, family support and community justice programs. These programs reunite families, break the generational cycles of abuse, create safer communities, and assist with mental illness and addiction issues.
Since 2004, FCA has partnered with The Connection, Inc. to provide a Supportive Housing program through FCA’s Family Support and Intervention services for families referred by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). Services provide families with case management and other support that helps them access and retain appropriate housing that is safe, affordable and promotes family stability. During this partnership, which spans over a decade, over $3 million has been allocated to FCA for these support services.
“One of the hallmarks of the Supportive Housing program has been the close working relationship between the staff of The Connection, Inc. and FCA,” said FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel. “Throughout our relationship, staff from both agencies have worked together to provide appropriate housing and support for families.”
The Family Strengthening Award at FCA recognizes and celebrates individuals or organizations in the community whose outstanding contributions have dramatically impacted FCA’s ability to strengthen and stabilize families and offer help in all phases of life.
Sharon Sullivan Awarded Family & Children’s Agency’s 2014 Anne C. Cary Volunteerism Award
Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) presented Sharon Sullivan with the Anne C. Cary Volunteerism Award at its annual meeting, held Oct. 21 at Silvermine Golf Club in Norwalk. Sharon first became introduced to FCA in 2003 and became quickly involved by leading a shoe-drive for clients and donating to the Agency’s Campership Program. She has been an active member of FCA’s Board of Directors since 2004 and served as the Board Vice-Chair from 2005-2012.
Board of Directors member Sharon Sullivan accepts the Anne C. Cary Volunteerism Award with
FCA President & CEO Robert F. Cashel.
Sharon’s involvement with FCA has spanned from governance to fundraising. She has served on numerous Board committees including the Board Executive Committee, the Board Development & Nominating Committee, and the Development & Marketing Committee. She brings a fresh perspective to each. She has a keen eye for marketing and has been an instrumental leader in FCA’s rebranding and visibility efforts throughout the years. In addition, Sharon and her husband, Jeff, have been significant financial supporters of FCA and have generously donated copious auction items to the Agency’s annual Benefit. Throughout the years, she has donated hundreds of tickets for shows at the Westport Country Playhouse to FCA families. Sharon has an inherent passion for bettering the lives of children and families, which is something she has shared with her entire family. Her daughter, Samantha, was a mentor to students when she was in high school and taught hip-hop classes to students in the After School Program.
“Sharon’s charity and vision have been a tremendous asset to myself and FCA as a whole,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO.
The Anne C. Cary Volunteerism Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated the highest level of volunteerism on behalf of FCA. The award is named in honor of Anne Cary, who has been involved in every aspect of volunteerism at the Agency for more than 25 years. Anne was also a Board member during the 1990’s and currently serves on its Advisory Board.
25th Anniversary of National Recovery Month
September 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of National Recovery Month, a period to applaud the gains made by those in recovery as we would those who are managing other health conditions. National Recovery Month emphasizes that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover. Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) offers Project REWARD, southern Fairfield County’s only outpatient substance abuse facility specifically designed for women. This month, FCA celebrates the achievements made by those in Project REWARD and encourages other women battling substance abuse to take the first step toward recovery.
“Project REWARD offers a continuum of care with a variety of outpatient options,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “This program provides the support and safety that an all-women’s program can ensure.”
Project REWARD has been serving clients since 1993. All clients who are referred to the program meet privately with a clinician for a comprehensive evaluation to determine the appropriate level of care. The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for three hours, with less-intensive programs offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Project REWARD is unique in that it provides both child care and transportation for those within our catchment area of Norwalk, Darien, Wilton, Greenwich, New Canaan, Stamford, Westport, Wilton and Weston.
“Women feel more comfortable opening up and sharing in a gender-specific environment,” said Elizabeth Murdoch, LCSW, Director of Behavioral Health at FCA. “This individualized attention allows the staff to help the client determine triggers and stressors to help prevent relapses.”
In addition to relapse prevention, group discussions focus on co-occurring mental health issues, anger management, domestic violence, parenting, mindfulness, relaxation, co-dependency issues and nutritional education. Women in the program have access to a psychiatrist for an evaluation and, if needed, medication management.
FCA believes that mental health and addiction recovery is essential to overall well-being, and supports the efforts being made around the country during National Recovery Month.
FCA Ranked #1 Top Work Place for Mid-Sized Companies by Hearst Media Services
Family & Children’s Agency is thrilled to share that it was listed as the number one Work Place in Fairfield County in 2014 for mid-sized companies by Hearst Media Services. This is FCA’s first year being included on the Top Work Place list, and we are both honored and proud to have placed first out of 10 in this category.
The Top Work Place competition is conducted through an independent employee surveying company. Seventy-four companies throughout the region participated in the survey this year. FCA had a 68 percent response rate among employees, and FCA employee responses greatly surpassed national averages in terms of employee satisfaction, such as encouraging new ideas, being well-informed, conducting work efficiently and feeling that senior management understands what is going on.
As noted in the article written by the Connecticut Post, staff feedback is valued highly at FCA. “We have a culture that really looks to bring in employees at all different levels into the organization,” said FCA’s President & CEO Robert F. Cashel.
To read the full article from the Connecticut Post, please click here: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Staff-feedback-key-to-Family-and-Children-s-Agency-5744632.php
Darien Resident Authors E-Book on Her Journey to Parenthood
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.
Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) provided post-adoption placement services for Kristin and her family. She credits FCA for guiding her on how to handle the tough topics that come with adopting child. All proceeds from Perseverance will benefit FCA. Perseverance can be purchased as a Kindle single: http://www.amazon.com/Perseverance-Kindle-Single-Kristin-Peck-ebook/dp/B00JQQD394.
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 Receives $10,000 Grant from Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls
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.
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Fodor Farms Community Garden Provides Homeless Services Clients with Nutritional and Vocational Education
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.