“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead
I’ve always been personally inspired by this quote, and I’d like to thank each and every one of you for being part of our “small group”. It means so much to me that you have chosen to “change the world” with us!
As we conclude our year-long celebration for our 30th Anniversary and have shared many of our milestones through social media posts, newsletter stories, and presentations, I have been struck by how prevalent our values are demonstrated in our actions throughout the years.
This is a wonderful source of pride for me, knowing that no matter how much things have changed and evolved that we have stayed true to our mission and core values of:
We’ve truly put our Values into Action.
These values laid the groundwork for us to rise up to change the status quo – and change the status quo we have. We have had the courage to lead the way to collaborate, trust and invite everyone to the table instead of building walls.
We draw strength from that which unites by embracing all people, honoring diversity and accepting differences.
30 years ago, the aspiration and need for Inclusiveness was one of our founding principles. Our goal was to bring together all members of the adoption triad (including adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, and extended family) from all types of adoption (infant, foster care and international), and the professionals involved, to have honest, open conversations about the lifelong impact of adoption.
As we have grown and evolved to meet the changing needs of our community, the importance of being an Inclusive organization has remained steadfast.
We choose to invite others in, rather than exclude them or refute the value of their input. This can be seen in our direct services as we have worked to include the full adoption community – including individuals impacted by foster care and from kinship families – as well as in our public policy/advocacy work. We are not a single issue organization and have chosen to approach systems change through bipartisan efforts (not a small feat these days!).
One clear example through the years that highlights our Inclusiveness is our General Discussion Meetings. Our very first program, and it still continues – the dynamic power of bringing people together. At these meetings people in the room may have different angles on the issues but we all have more in common than different, and so much to learn from one another.
And, as a result of holding true to this value we created a community where none existed and empowered people to get their needs met.
We choose to be a catalyst for outstanding practices by fostering relationships internally and externally among individuals, organizations, and communities.
During the last three decades, Adoption Network Cleveland has focused on identifying and meeting the needs of the adoption and foster care communities that have not been met through other agencies and organizations. This has freed up our organization to seek out Collaboration and the opportunity to build a support system that complements and showcases not only our strengths, but the strengths of others to best meet the needs of adoptees, birth and adoptive parents, kinship families, youth in foster care and individuals who have aged out of the foster care system.
We have often taken the leadership role in creating and implementing successful collaborative efforts.
The one example that comes quickly to mind is the Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kids Initiative. As a very small organization in 2004, when asked by the Community Vision Council, we accepted the huge responsibility of being the lead agency of a county-wide effort to create a model program. (Some of you remember that in 2003 we had a staff of 3 and a very small budget.)
With Adoption Network Cleveland in the leadership role, together with Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services and many other partners, we transformed adoption in our community by redesigning the system for adoption of youth lingering in foster care through an innovative public-private-philanthropic partnership. We were able to bring together providers, and pool our strengths and resources to focus on a common mission.
Adoption Network Cleveland provided leadership in a way that was ethically oriented, not self-serving, and was solution-inspired.
And, as a result, more than 800 youth who were slated to age out of foster care have families, and those and many more families are supported.
We stand for our mission and an individual’s right to self-determination even at the risk of compromising mainstream acceptance.
Adoption Network Cleveland started with Courage – that leap of faith to start something that I knew would be unique and would foster an open and supportive community where there was none.
It took courage to create a high impact nonprofit, while in my 20s, and driven by personal experience and gut instinct – hardly at the time knowing anything about nonprofit leadership. Our organization has always been willing to stand up for what we felt together was important.
We have had the courage to ask the hard questions. We have had the courage to say the one thing we knew needed to be said that no one at the table would say because it might be unpopular.
This effort and willingness to be courageous has allowed us to be the voice of the otherwise voiceless at the table during conversations – about adoptee records, sibling rights, youth in foster care and the true picture of adoption and foster care – the good and the difficult.
The Courage of the board, the staff and everyone who has chosen to be a part of Adoption Network can be seen in our ultimately successful effort to change state law to allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. It took 25 long years, but we had the courage to stay with it.
And, as a result hundreds of thousands of adult adoptees who faced closed records can now receive one of the most personal documents that exists – their original birth certificate.
I’m proud to tell you that from March 20, 2015, to now, the Ohio Department of Health has released 12,500 files to adult adoptees!
We promote a sense of security and hope through honesty, authenticity, and openness.
Since our very first conference in 1988, Trust has been an essential value for the organization. Individuals have trusted Adoption Network Cleveland to be a part of their personal journey, which is a significant responsibility that we do not take lightly. We have honored that by trusting that people intrinsically know what they want and need – providing a safe space where the individuals we serve can tell us what services would be of benefit to them.
Members of the adoption and foster care community have trusted and joined us to be their voice in our public policy work, in a domain where they have historically been voiceless.
And Donors have trusted Adoption Network Cleveland to be strong, responsible stewards of their gifts.
In our first 30 years, Trust is represented clearly by our ability to create a safe place for those we serve to tell us many of their most personal details and feelings. This includes youth in and aging out of foster care and the creation of our programming specifically for this population including our Get Real program and our highly successful Child Centered Recruitment program, which has become a replicable model.
As a result of living our values every day, during our first 30 years:
- We’ve supported families to successfully parent kids who have had a rough start
- We’ve inspired groups across the country
- We’ve made huge gains in the acceptance of openness and truth in adoption
- We’ve changed state laws and influenced agency practice
- We’ve expanded our search program to assist those searching for birth family, including adoptees, donor conceived and others, to use DNA and genetic genealogy to solve unknown parentage.
- We’ve raised awareness through literally hundreds of media stories.
- We’ve responded to about 78,000 Helpline inquiries from individuals seeking answers
- We’ve provided the pathway to family for hundreds of children and teens who otherwise might not have permanent families, and supported thousands of families in creating positive and long-lasting bonds.
- We’ve gained community recognition through multiple awards and accolades for our approach and our work.
- We have a lot to be thankful for and to be proud of!
Again, a heartfelt thank you for coming on this journey with us, investing in our organization and sharing in so many ways.
Bestie Norris is the Executive Director and Founder of Adoption Network Cleveland.