Honored to Answer the Call
Traci Onders works as our Program Coordinator for Adult Adoptees and Birthparents, helping those affected by the closed records era reconnect and reunite with their birth families. Traci has a special passion for this mission, as she too went through the reunification process, searching for her own birth family when Adoption Network Cleveland successful led the effort to open the records in 2015.
As far back as she can remember, Traci’s experience with her own adoption has played a major structuring role throughout her life. Her first memory is of going with her adoptive parents to pick up her younger brother from the very adoption agency she, too, had been placed. Her adoption also placed Traci in position of undue pressure. Like most adoptees in this era, Traci was constantly reminded that she was “chosen.” She found herself always striving to live up to the special expectations placed on her as a “chosen” child. While this position made her uncomfortable, it also drove her to much success. Traci went on to excel in school, double majoring in Psychology and Business at Baldwin Wallace before moving on to a career in international sales with FedEx.
While in college, she met a young Air Force major and medical student by the name of Raymond Onders. The two went on to get married, and when the Air Force transferred Ray to North Dakota, they decided to start a family. Traci gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Rachel in 1995 and a son, Ryan, two years later. Becoming a mother gave Traci a new perspective on her own adoption and childhood. “Being pregnant brought thoughts of my birthmother and my lack of knowledge to the forefront,” says Traci. “I was mainly driven by a need to have accurate medical information for my children.”
Guided by this drive, Traci reached out to Adoption Network Cleveland when the family moved back to the area in the late 1990’s. She joined the organization and attended our General Support and Discussion Meetings in Cleveland Heights led by Dottie Klemm and Estes Turner. Hearing the perspectives of others, particularly birthmothers, was invaluable to Traci as she began her first search.
During that process, she learned that her adoption agency, The Ohio Children’s Society, destroyed all of their records. None of her non-identifying information existed and her birth records were still sealed. Traci was devastated, thinking that records would never be unsealed and that she would never uncover her own history. Traci paused her search at this time, the emotional toll of searching without getting any answers or even clues being too distracting while trying to also raise her own children.
In 2013, however, thanks to the tireless efforts of Betsie Norris and Adoption Network Cleveland, Traci’s birth records, and thousands of others, were made available with the passing of the Ohio Adoption Records Law. It was then that Traci reconnected with the organization, attending meetings again in Cleveland Heights, still led by Dottie and Estes. Traci requested her original birth certificate as soon as she could in the spring of 2015 and resumed her search in full force.
A few months later, Traci met her birthmother for the first time and the two have developed a warm relationship. Traci still continued to dig for information on her birth family. Tragically, she learned that her birth father had died in a construction accident just one year after she was born. In late 2016, she learned that her birthfather also had a son. Traci had a half brother. She worked to find him, only to discover that he passed away as an infant. As many adoptees know, these losses still cause pain, even if there was no relationship.
Today, Traci’s children have moved on to college and graduate school, and her husband works as a surgeon for University Hospitals. Impassioned by her own experiences, and eager to help others on their own journeys of reunification and discovery, Traci joined the organization that helped her connect with her own birth family, Adoption Network Cleveland.
In her role as Program Coordinator, Traci works tirelessly in our offices three days a week and regularly takes her work home with her, providing needed support, compassion, and guidance to those who reach out to her for help in their searches. She also coordinates our many General Support and Discussion Meeting, and she leads a team of volunteers who assist her in search work. Traci beams with pride talking about her work, “My work here is extremely rewarding. It gives me a chance to help so many who felt like me at the time, so alone in this process. I’m honored to be the one who answers their call.”