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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.

(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.

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

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.

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.

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.

2014 Family Champion Awards

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

(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.

Congratulations to both Maria and Amy!

Completing a Family—Navigating Korea’s New International Adoption Laws

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.pic 2

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.pic 1

“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.”

Family & Children’s Agency take Foster Care Youth on College Tour

College tour six flags

Family & Children’s Agency staff and Specialized Foster Care youth make a stop at Six Flags on the Agency’s first youth college tour.

Family & Children’s Agency’s (FCA) Specialized Foster Care staff recently took 21 youth on a college tour to visit various school campuses and national landmarks. This college tour is the first of its kind for FCA clients and, for many of the youth involved, their first time visiting a college campus. The trip was both eye-opening and educational allowing these students to envision the future they want for themselves.

“The college tour provided a very meaningful experience for the youth in FCA’s Specialized Foster Care program,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “I would like to congratulate the Specialized Foster Care program staff for their time and dedication to the youth in our program.”

The students visited various colleges including Coppin State University, Morgan State University and Towson University. Site seeing was also incorporated into the trip, as students and staff visited the Capitol in Washington D.C. and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Students also had an opportunity to have some fun with a trip to Six Flags. For many, this was their first time being out of state, staying in a hotel, visiting a landmark or even going to an amusement park.

“The students thoroughly enjoyed themselves and expressed their genuine appreciation for taking them on a trip that was both an educational and fun-filled experience,” said Janeen Reid, Supervisor of Adolescent Services in Specialized Foster Care and Respite Program Manager. “Each one of the staff who chaperoned were phenomenal and connected so well with youth. It was a great trip for everyone.”

Summer Enrichment Program at Family & Children’s Agency Receives $20,000 Grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation

The Summer Enrichment Program, a component of the After School Program at Family & Children’s Agency (FCA), has received a $20,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation (FCCF). The Summer Enrichment Program serves Norwalk youth for four days per week over the course of six weeks. The Program is expanding to serve 30 middle school youth this summer. The Program’s theme this year is “Heroes and Villains around the World,” which will be accompanied by engaging field trips and enrichment activities to keep youth actively learning throughout the summer.

“Family & Children’s Agency has a longstanding relationship with the Fairfield County Community Foundation, and we are grateful for their continued support,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA.

When children’s minds are not actively learning, they may not retain much of what they learned in the previous school year. This is commonly referred to as “summer learning loss.”

“Children need ongoing opportunities for daily reading and learning,” says Amy Jeffereis, Manager of the After School Program at FCA. “By providing educational, hands-on programs, summer can be a time for children to explore interests, develop new skills and participate in learning not typically offered in a classroom. Summer programs that offer enriching experiences engage children in practicing essential academic skills.”

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.

Family & Children’s Agency Receives Grant from the Connecticut Office of Policy Management to Support Inter-Agency Tech Collaborative

Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) is the recipient of a grant worth over $200,000 from the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to support FCA’s involvement in the Fairfield County Information Technology Collaborative (FCITC). The Collaborative is a partnership between FCA, Family Centers of Greenwich and FSW of Bridgeport to create a shared technology platform. This funding will support the purchase of both software and hardware, along with user-trainings as the Agency implements a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

“The VDI project is a critical component of Phase II of FCITC, which is centered on projects that will integrate and upgrade IT infrastructure and operations across the three agencies into a shared model,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “This will enable the Agency to replace our current in-house infrastructure with a more cost-efficient and high-quality performing IT infrastructure.”

VDI will allow the Agency to work more efficiently by increasing both automation of tasks and user mobility. Moreover, it will increase cost efficiency and is projected to reduce FCA’s annual IT operating expenses by more than 40 percent.

The goal of FCITC is to enhance the client experience, improve performance and develop best practices for the 45,000 area residents the three agencies collectively reach each year. This initiative will strengthen each organization’s position as a leader in social and mental health services throughout Fairfield County.

Family & Children’s Agency Kicks Off “Help Me Grow” Campaign in Greater Norwalk Region

Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) has been selected by the Children’s Trust Fund, a division of Connecticut’s newly formed Office of Early Childhood (OEC), to lead the Help Me Grow Child Development Campaign in Norwalk for children ages birth through 5-years-old. Help Me Grow is a statewide public awareness and outreach campaign designed to increase awareness of the critical need to implement universal developmental screenings and connect at-risk children to the supports and services they need to ensure optimum growth and development.Children

“All children can benefit from developmental screening. Screening lets us catch potential developmental delays early on and provide young children with the help they need to succeed,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, Executive Director of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood.

The campaign will promote the use of a tool known as the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) to help screen significantly more young children.

“The mission of Help Me Grow is to identify children who need this help early on in their development,” says Karen Foley-Schain, Division Director for the OEC’s Family Support Services Division, which oversees the Help Me Grow Campaign. “The best way to identify the children who need help is through developmental screening, the use of a formal screening tool to check on the child development periodically from birth to five years.”

FCA is committed to the healthy development of children through our work in Family Support & Prevention Services.

“Very often, developmental delays go undetected before children enter kindergarten,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “Children then enter the school system behind their peers academically and struggle for years to be on grade level. The Help Me Grow Campaign is designed to prevent these children from slipping through the cracks. Parents know their children better than anyone. We encourage them to trust their instincts and contact professionals to address their concerns.”

As a part of the campaign, FCA will be hosting a variety of community events to reach families, with the first event to be held Thursday, April 3 at Stepping Stones Museum for Children.  The Agency will also be reaching out to childcare providers, preschools, pediatricians and other providers who serve young children in the community in an effort to enroll more Norwalk children in the ASQ Monitoring Program.

Two ASQ registration events will be held, which will allow parents to receive questionnaires periodically in the mail to track their child’s development until the age of 5.

Thursday, April 3
4-7 p.m.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Ave. in Norwalk

Saturday, May 10
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Ave. in Norwalk

Three Community Café evenings will be held, as well, for parents to participate in guided discussions about child development.

Thursday, April 10
Topic: Healthy Living & Wellness
4-6 p.m.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Ave. in Norwalk

Wednesday, April 16
Topic: Healthy Living & Wellness
5-7 p.m.
Family & Children’s Agency
140 Water St. in Norwalk

Wednesday, April 30
Topic: Literacy
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Tumble Bugs Day School
11 Allen Road

To RSVP for a Community Café event, please contact Liliana Rodas at (203) 523-5315.

Family & Children’s Agency Awarded Grant to Launch Caregiver Support Teams

Family & Children’s Agency (FCA) is the recipient of a grant from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) to create Caregiver Support Teams, a new component of Family Support & Intervention Services. The role of the Caregiver Support Teams is to provide early, intensive home visitation and support to caregiving families for children who have been removed from their parent’s custody and placed with them. Ultimately, the goal is create a network of support for the families, increase placement permanency and produce a safe environment with as minimal disruption as possible for the child. This is a three-year contract from DCF, and FCA is the only agency throughout Fairfield County to have received the grant. FCA is in the beginning phases of rolling out this new program.

DCF has placed a heavy emphasis on supporting kinship caregivers through the Caregiver Support Teams and keeping children with family members.

“Children succeed best when they are familiar with their surroundings,” said Robert F. Cashel, President & CEO of FCA. “The Caregiver Support Teams will offer robust support and work closely with these families during this transitional period.”

The FCA Caregiver Support Team staff will offer support around the clock, seven days per week for families. The goal is to work with upwards of 35 families when the program is at full capacity.

“These teams will work with families to see what barriers they’re facing, what needs should be addressed and if there are cases of intergenerational trauma,” said Tiffany McCarthy, Director of Family Support and Intervention at FCA.

Family Support & Intervention Services at FCA assists families with issues that have led to DCF involvement. The goal is to promote the safety and well-being of all family members by maintaining and building on primary family connections, while connecting families to community resources as needed.

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