My New Perspective on CCAI

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IMG_0137BY Sarah Suitter | Asst. Dossier Manager

I love my job; I love our mission and that has been true since my first day at CCAI. But, like any job, the daily grind can sometimes cause one to lose sight of the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like the daily tasks that my job entails but after going to China, my perspective of what I do here at CCAI everyday has forever changed.

From time to time, CCAI so generously sends staff on adoption trips to observe what an adoption trip is like, to take in the culture, and to see why we are all working so hard. I was so excited when I was told it was my turn to go!

If I could sum the trip up in one word: incredible. I loved all the tours in Beijing, I loved meeting all of CCAI’s amazing China-based representatives, and I loved watching families adjust to their newest family members. Overall, Gotcha Day was what I expected — total, beautiful chaos, kind nannies, brave foster moms, scared tears from upset little faces, happy tears from adoptive parents who have been waiting for this day for so long… But, what I found to be the most impactful part of my time in China was the days to come after Gotcha Day. To watch families over the next week and half of the trip — to see the triumphs, the struggles, the good days, the bad days — made me feel so connected to this whole incredible process.  This is life and this is real and this is love.

I saw this love expressed day in and day out on all sides, but I saw it most intensely expressed by the moms and dads on the trip. It was so powerful to observe parents being, well, parents. Again, more struggles, more triumphs. I saw parents wrestle with how/when to discipline. Do they wait to discipline their child until she understands them and trusts them? Do they start parenting full force, discipline and all, right now? I had (and continue to have) no idea!! I’m sure there are many schools of thought on this. I knew it before, but these families and their hearts made me realize even more so, just how hard adoption really is in so many ways. You don’t know your child’s history — how they were parented (if they were fortunate enough to have a solid parental figure), how they were taken care of day-to-day, what their happiest memory is, what their saddest memory is, why they have certain scars, why they do the things they do, etc. I cannot imagine what those first few weeks of parenting are like, or for that matter what the next 20 years of parenting is like. I’m so glad there are parents who want to rise to the challenge and I admire them endlessly.

What I didn’t expect on this trip was to think about dossiers, but I did! About halfway through the trip, I felt so anxious, thinking, “I should be reviewing dossiers RIGHT NOW! I need to get our families to China IMMEDIATELY!”  I knew my teammates back home had everything under control; but if I was back at work, that would mean one extra person there to get things done!  I couldn’t shake this sudden sense of urgency, a stronger urgency than I had ever felt before!  Of course, I’ve always known it’s important to get our work done as soon as possible, that there is a little life at the end of all of this paperwork, but something about actually being in China, seeing our families in person, seeing the children in person… It changed me and made me see just how important these daily tasks that I do, are and how much patience/love/respect our families deserve in this crazy process!

I had a short but special time with the families I traveled with and got a tiny window into what adopting from China really looks like, something for which I am so grateful! Now I am back at work with a renewed sense of purpose and energy (and with that same sense of urgency I felt on the trip!). I will also never again say, “Your dossier is done! You’ve finished the majority of the paperwork for your adoption process!” since, truthfully, I see now that the ENTIRE adoption process is paperwork (and it continues on your adoption trip and beyond)!

I’m not Wonder Woman and balancing everything that needs to get done in a day still isn’t easy but I can guarantee this … That I will show up every day, completing as much has humanly possible as quickly as possible. I will do my best to keep in mind that despite the monotony the dossier process can sometimes bring (for probably both myself and parents alike!) on the other end of a phone call or email is an AMAZING human being who is courageous and loving and wants nothing more than to bring a child home.

 

CCAI Staff: Sheri Celebrates 1000th Group!

Here at CCAI, we like to celebrate as many milestones as we can — both personal and communal!  Today, on this beautiful First Day of Spring, our Travel Department Manager, Sheri, has officially worked with 1000 groups (3000+ families!)!!!

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Our Colorado office celebrated with a delicious red velvet cake and Sheri wanted to say a quick thank you to all of the amazing, loving, beautiful families who she has had the honor of serving in her journey with CCAI!

 

Our Story

Here at CCAI we have a little tradition—when each staffer hits an anniversary milestone, he/she shares their “CCAI story” with the rest of the group, and/or what makes us feel proud to be part of the CCAI family.

Well, I recently had a turn at the front of the room, as in early May I celebrated my tenth year here at CCAI.

As I reflected on the past several years in preparation for my annual address, I realized that there isn’t a single story that can adequately summarize my time here at CCAI, or express my joy and gratitude to the families that have allowed me to walk with them in their adoption journey. Instead I realized that my story is made up of their stories, and together, they form our story . . .

To date, one of my most memorable moments at CCAI occurred on June 15, 2004, when I was able to make my first match call! Jerry and Kimberley of Tennessee were the lucky recipients of my call that ended with the first viewing of their daughter’s beautiful face, an image I still can recall by memory today:

Jerry & Kim's angel referral picture

I remember they were THRILLED to finally be able to see their angel’s face, and were so happy to do so—almost a year earlier than they had expected! They waited 6 months from LID until match day. Like all parents who finally get to see the face of their little one, they couldn’t wait to get on the plane to bring her home!

Today, I’m happy to say that Savannah (now ten years old) is doing well, and as energetic and busy as her initial referral paperwork indicated (yes, I still remember!). She’s been onstage in several productions (quite the thespian!), plays harp, has a pet sitting business, and enjoys swimming, bowling, hiking, climbing trees, and rock climbing. She wants to be an ornithologist when she grows up, and so is learning all about birds as well. Here is the latest photo of her (isn’t she beautiful?!):

Jerry & Kim angel girl

 

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Another favorite story of mine is from TJ and Renie of Texas, who I worked with to put their dossier together. (They were quick and had it done in about 4 months!) On June 27, 2005, I got to call them and introduce them to their daughter, whom they’d eventually name Kacie:

TJ & Renie babygirl referral picture

I followed their story even after our call, and celebrated with them (from afar) on Gotcha Day. And every year since then, on the anniversary of that special date, I am delighted to receive a note from the family with a photo (or two!) and update of “our” little girl (who arguably, is not so little any more!):

TJ & Renie big girl

TJ & Renie

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In the fall of 2005, I worked with Chris and Carla (here in CO) through a somewhat difficult dossier process. (In fact, my infamous “dossier train” analogy to explain the sealing process was born during this time!) The family stayed in touch even after their dossier was done, and visited our office often during their three year, one month wait for a referral, attempting to stay connected and hopeful. I still remember when Carla emailed me in spring of 2009, excited that for the first time ever, she could see more than her daughter’s back in her dreams—seeing her face was, in her mind, a definite indication her referral was soon on its way! And sure enough, a little over one month later, I got to present the file of this little angel to them:

Chris & Carla little angel

Ciara is now a (kindergarten) graduate! She loves to play with her older siblings but also doesn’t mind taking charge of things at home as well. She is an “old” soul, who responds to life with wisdom beyond her years!

Ciara kiddy graduation

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One of the biggest benefits of working in the Dossier Department is having the opportunity to work with families adopting from countries other than China as well. I have LOTS of memories from working with families adopting from Haiti, however one of my favorite families began the process in the summer of 2009. They were matched to twin boys from one of our partner créches and I was lucky enough to travel with them on a bonding trip that fall. After the earthquake hit in January 2010, they were able to bring home not only the twins, but a young girl who had also captured their hearts during their previous trip.

Now, Joshua, Joseph, and Hope are all thriving at home, and make up half of the family’s six children, including two biological kiddos and one adopted from China. Jake offered the following update on the kids:

“Josh is reading on his own and is always thinking. He’s the kid who is emptying dishwasher and sweeping the floor before most everyone else is awake (partly because he knows he can’t play video games until chores are done!). But he takes initiative and works to reach the goals he sets for himself.

Joe has been one of the leaders of his class this year. Along with Josh you can’t put any sort of ball within 10 feet of them before they have it and are kicking/tossing/rolling/bouncing it. He has a great sense of humor. He’s also always thinking and is usually planning two steps ahead. His current way to demonstrate this is to get really good at making his older brothers and sisters really frustrated. So, he’s either going to become a really fast runner (to avoid getting pummeled) or he’s going to learn to put these skills to good use by entertaining and making friends of his enemies!

Hope’s teacher this year said that in her 8 years of teaching Hope was one of her favorite students of all. She has really overcome some fairly big hurdles. Last year she truly hated going to school, partly out of frustration with math. Her end of the year math score this past year was 90%. She’s looking forward to being a 5th grader next year and one of the kids ‘in charge.’”

Josh, Joe, and Hope

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Matt and Jenny started the process for a non-special needs child in late 2010, and got their dossier sent off to China in early 2011. We had a very difficult time securing a home study with the broad approval language CCAI requests, as the family’s home study agency warned them we were simply wanting the broad language so as to “brainwash” them into accepting a child with special needs down the road. We laugh about this now, because as certain as they were about adopting a non-special needs child from China, the broad language provided them flexibility and in late summer 2011 Matt and Jenny fell in love with a boy with malformed feet/hands on our website, and knew that he was meant to be theirs! They immediately submitted a dossier copy to China (leaving their original dossier in line in the traditional program) and brought sweet Benjamin home in early 2012!

Here he is now, 3 ½ years old and over three feet tall. His dad recently noted, “Benjamin has grown since we met in Zhengzhou. He’s grown from the sick little boy so obviously full of fear with night terrors to match, to a wonderfully happy ‘big boy’ at ‘free’ years old speaking incredibly well, and shrieking like a wild child in delight when he sees mommy or daddy pick him up from preschool. Ben is simply awesome! He’d tell you smiling is the best thing. Ever.”

Benjamin

I look forward to receiving word of the family’s next referral (will it be a brother or sister for Benjamin?) as the time comes!

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These are just a few of the stories that make up the pages of my CCAI story, which continues to lengthen on a daily basis. (We’ve sent over 7693 dossiers since I’ve been here — and with active programs in Haiti, Latvia, and Ukraine, that number continues to grow!) I am forever indebted to ALL the families who have trusted me to walk a portion of their adoption journey with them and allowed me to support them in their all-important paperchase.

I also want to extend a special thank you to all of the families featured here who so generously allowed me to share my history with them to the greater CCAI family. You all are what make my time here at CCAI so special!


Kim's bio pic

Kimberly Elstun is CCAI’s Dossier Department Manager. Mother of three crazy boys and lucky enough to be married to her best friend in the entire world, she just celebrated her 10th year with CCAI!

Wyoming Adoption and Foster Care Alliance Conference

This past Saturday, November 10th, Judy Winger, CCAI’s Director of Adoptions, joined a group of adoption professionals with adoptive & foster care families for the 3rd annual Wyoming Adoption and Foster Care Alliance Conference in Casper, Wyoming!  The conference welcomed over 70 adoptive and foster parents and families who joined professionals from 4 different adoption agencies.  The day provided an opportunity for professionals & adoptive families to share their knowledge and experiences in adoption and foster care, with attendees seeking information to guide them through their own “Journey of Adoption and Foster Care.”  Families all had amazing stories to share about their own adoption experiences, helping other families seeking information and education to be well prepared and successful with their own adoption story.  Families helping families!  It’s always a great thing to see and be a part of.

Though only a day long, it was a day chalk-full of sharing and learning.  CCAI is so happy we could be a part of such a great event!

Beautiful LOCC Caretakers

Just a quick news post for today!
CCAI’s Chinese Children Charity Fund is working its way towards joining the ranks of Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. Don’t believe us?  Just look at these smashing new LOCC fall-winter uniforms we just received.  Our caretakers at Lily Orphan Care Center are not only loving and passionate about what they do for the children under their care, they are also beautiful and fashionable! 😉  They just look fabulous!

And look at the adorable babies joining in on the Kodak moment!

Thanks to the Maddox family, who made this beautiful uniform upgrade possible!

The awesome wall decor, the cribs, the floor mats, the babies’ clothes, their washroom…everything you see in this photo was made possible by passionate, dedicated volunteers and  the loving donations from CCAI families and friends.

For information on how you can get involved in our charity efforts in China, please send us an email at charity@ccaifamily.org.

 

Special Love

Not much needs to be said if the children under our care are healthy, but these children with special needs are truly special, and we are constantly moved and inspired by the big steps and even every tiny bit of progress that they surprise us with daily.

Today I want to share with you a great little guy named WL Dang.

WL loves walking now.  Every time he sees someone going outside he will run to grab their hand and follow them.  He just loves and is curious about everything under the sun.

I remember clearly the day of July 15 as I was ready to leave the Lily Orphan Care Center. WL quickly crawled to me and reached for my hand while telling me: “go! Go!”  Then he tried to use his full force to drag me toward the door.  This silly but very lovely act just cracked me up.

His eyes lit up as soon as he was out in the open and let go of my hand right way.  Whenever I tried to give him a hand he always refused to take it.  He was a very independent and active boy!

But I couldn’t help to look back constantly to make sure he was OK.  Suddenly my high heels gave in to the slippery walk way and I fell heavily on the ground. “Ouch!” I screamed and WL was completely scared.  A few seconds later he walked toward me slowly appearing very concerned.  Then beyond my wildest expectation, he extended both of his hands to me trying to help me up!

I was completely surprised and touched.  “How could a child of such a small age be so caring!?”  Tears came down my cheeks, partially due to the pain, but mainly due to WL’s moving gesture.

I will forever treasure that special moment in my heart.  It is such a great feeling to know that our love for these special children has its priceless reward.

Qin, LOCC Nanyang Manager

August 1, 2012