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The Team Behind the Scenes: How Adoption Network Cleveland Unites Families

Photos of Search & DNA Assistance Staff and Volunteers

Searching for family members is a personal and important life event. Each journey is unique, filled with hopes, questions, and a longing to connect. That's where Adoption Network Cleveland steps in—an experienced, trusted, reliable search resource for adult adoptees and family members, birth parents and siblings, those facing DNA discoveries, and others who are involved in or considering searching for relatives. Our mission goes beyond just finding names; it's about offering a full-circle support system, from advocacy to education, hands-on search assistance, and coaching throughout the process.

“To me, what makes Adoption Network Cleveland’s Search Program unique is its holistic element,” Karen Wyman shared. “What sets us apart is that we have the expertise to do extensive and intensive research and the empathy, understanding, and ability to work one-on-one with individuals at this important time. It’s the wraparound support we provide, offering guidance, expertise, and coaching throughout their journeys—whether someone is just starting their search, during, or after—we’re with them every step of the way.”

Karen Wyman serves as Adoption Network Cleveland’s Program Manager for Search, Adult Adoptees, Birth Families and DNA Discoveries. With in-depth experience in genealogical research as both a professional and volunteer, Karen has worked on hundreds of cases over the years.

Her journey began long before her professional engagement with this organization. “I’ve always been fascinated with genealogy and historical research and have been actively interviewing individuals and researching both my own and others’ family histories since I was a teenager,” she said. “I became involved with Adoption Network Cleveland more than five years ago because I wanted to offer my experience and skills to benefit others; to do something with a greater immediate and direct impact.”

By design, Adoption Network Cleveland’s Search & DNA Assistance Program includes skilled volunteers under staff leadership who, like Karen, bring expertise and dedication to each case. “There is so much interest and so many cases that one person can’t do it all, we take a team approach,” Karen said. “The work we do to identify and locate family members is extensive. In some cases, it’s like the proverbial needle in a haystack. We may have very little information to go on, but that doesn’t stop us from succeeding.”

The task of locating family members can seem daunting. Still, through collaborative efforts and meticulous research, the goal is to provide accurate and concise information to those searching for their roots. Each search volunteer is driven by a unique blend of personal experience and altruism, and their experiences often highlight the diverse nature of search cases.

Some volunteers have seen the effects of finding family in their own lives and are eager to give back. “What began as a personal journey led to me helping my family members find their birth families and then broadened to helping others through search assistance,” Amy Zlotnik recounted. “I love doing family research and being able to help people get answers is gratifying since I know how much it meant to me to learn about my history.”

Similarly, Diana Jeffrey finds purpose in assisting others. “I want to help others find their missing pieces, just as I found mine,” she said. For Diana, volunteering is a way for her to find meaning and purpose. “To me, this work is a healing gesture, a way to help heal the world.”

The allure of volunteerism is a testament to the organization’s commitment to community support. Upon meeting Karen and learning about her work, Svetlana Sandoval seized the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful cause. “It was an obvious opportunity for me to give back to my community,” she explained. “It’s important work and close to my heart—I am passionate about helping other adoptees piece together their stories.”

For some, the decision to volunteer stems from a sense of gratitude. Susan Saltzman reflects fondly on the call to volunteer. “As an adoptee who was reunited with both of my birth parents and their families, I felt that I wanted to help others in my situation to have the same opportunities,” she said. “When friends at Adoption Network Cleveland asked if I’d like to become a volunteer, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help others reconnect as I did!”

Many of our volunteers have been search members and found family with the help of Adoption Network Cleveland. Lisa Malak's journey with the organization began in 2000 when a friend encouraged her to search for her birth mother. Through the internet, they connected in 2004. Sadly, she lost her birth mother in 2017.

A few years later, however, she found three half-siblings and learned of her birth father's passing after connecting with Betsie Norris and working with Adoption Network Cleveland’s search program utilizing her DNA results. This experience inspired Lisa to give back. Realizing the value of family, she became a volunteer. “Life is short,” she reflected, “and you can never have too many family members.”

The adoption journey encompasses a variety of experiences, each unique to the individuals involved. Adoption Network Cleveland provides support, not only to adoptees and birth families but also to those who have learned they were donor conceived or have encountered unexpected DNA discoveries such as misattributed parentage, or surprise siblings.

Kevin Craig, who discovered his true paternity during his teenage years, brings his experience to the search program to help others. “About a decade ago, I embarked on a mission to uncover the origins of all the men in my family’s lineage,” he shared. “I volunteer to help others better understand their family story.”

As technology evolves, so too must the methods employed by Adoption Network Cleveland. Sherri Appleton, a long-time volunteer, reflects on the evolution of search techniques in the digital age. "I didn’t realize at the time that our search techniques were about to go through tremendous change," she said. “We went from looking up information in person at libraries and public offices to the availability of information online and access to DNA testing and helping to interpret those DNA results. It’s an honor for our team to have the trust of the searcher.”

Adoption Network Cleveland stands firm as times change, adapting to new technologies and the diverse stories of those we serve. Thanks to the commitment of our team, volunteers, and donors, we facilitate connections between families and provide answers for those who seek them. In the collective search for familial understanding, we extend empathy, assistance, and the opportunity to uncover our roots.

As the program’s point of contact, Karen Wyman is here to help with any inquiries or support needed. For those interested in learning more about the search program and its process, please visit our webpage, Search & DNA Assistance, where you can find further details and information.

While our location is Ohio, our knowledgeable staff can assist in searches without geographical limits. Opportunities for support are open to and accessible to all. If you are looking for support or search assistance, please contact Karen Wyman for a personalized consultation. We are here every step of the way.

Karen Wyman
Program Manager: Search, Adult Adoptees, Birth Families and DNA Discoveries Karen.Wyman@adoptionnetwork.org
(216) 482-2323