Visit Northwest Girls Coalition's profile on Pinterest.

Wednesday
Oct242012

An Adoptee’s story

We are so excited for tonight’s Supporting Girls in the Middle School Years event, Somewhere Between: Identity Development in Transracial Adoptees.  To kick the day off, we have another guest blogger, Heidi, here to share her adoptee story:

  

I am a child of the 70s who was relinquished for adoption at just three-days-old. As I was born in the midst of the sealed records era, I didn’t know much about my origins. The non-identifying information that was provided to my parents indicated that my mother was caucasian and my father’s mother (paternal grandmother) was a native of Venezuela.

I was a mixed-race child growing up in a white family in suburban Washington. I often wondered, ‘what am I?’ and could sense others wondering the same. The only label that we could slap on me was Venezuelan, which was not too telling or informative as there were no Venezuelans in my community (aside from the exchange student who enrolled in my high school during senior year). I question whether most people in my community could have pointed out Venezuela on a map.

The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being the ‘other.’ I did not look like my family nor did I necessarily behave in the way that they had imagined their adopted daughter would act. Being different was hard, but it also motivated me to succeed. 

The other paramount struggle was hair. What in the world were we doing with my hair?? My locks are curly, dry and thick. I longed to feather my hair a la Farrah Fawcett, but it just was not to be. My mom would take me to a hairdresser friend who ‘knew’ how to cut curly hair, but she would just chop up my shit with thinning shears. Those things give me nightmares to this day. Where was the black hair salon when I needed it?

I was always, always, always on the lookout for my mother. I would strike up conversations with strange women on the bus, and, when my grandma asked who I was talking to, would reply, “my mom.” Certainly, my mother was not as mean as the parents of this family, would let me have hot lunch on pizza day and would not change out the banana seat on my bike without my permission.

After graduating from college I did two things:
1. traveled to Venezuela to figure out ‘what is Venezuelan?’
2. employed a non-profit group to search for my mother

Venezuela was amazing and holds a very dear place in my heart. It was my first travel destination outside of the US. I love the people that I met there and still feel like I cannot get enough of my country.

The non-profit search group, WARM, picked up my case and ran with it. In Washington original birth certificates are sealed, but WARM can petition to open the record and perform a confidential search (i.e. no info will be released until both parties have given written consent) on behalf of the client. Over the course of 15 years, I worked with three different volunteers. They did find my mother, but were never able to make contact as she did not respond to certified letters or calls. In 2009, they told me that the case was closed.

In my eyes, this was not good enough.

I read the book Birthright by Jean Strauss, which provided instruction on how I could start to search on my own. I called the lawyers, hospital and vital records department, which all turned out to be dead ends. I started to feel like a second-class citizen after hearing “oh, you’re adopted…” over and over again before being transferred to another unsuspecting records department employee. I wrote to DSHS in September of 2009 and received a postcard from them indicating that I would receive non-identifying information by July 2010. I put that postcard up in a prominent spot on my fridge.

July 2010 came and went. In August 2010, I sent an email to DSHS to check the status of my request and received an out of office message (vacation). I kept waiting. In October 2010, I sent another message and finally received a response from a live person. The documents were on the way! In late October a CD arrived in the mail.

I tore in to that 61-page PDF trying to find some answers. Bingo! I found my mother’s name. Eileen. She was from New York City. There were two potential fathers, but neither knew about me. She could not identify the father because she did not even look at me when I was born.

I found pages and pages of ‘what is she?’ questions posed by the social worker. Maybe black. Perhaps Hispanic. Mother says she is white. Definitely not Puerto Rican. Two placements fall through due to incompatible skin color. Oriental blood. Good god, this is how I have felt my entire life. I can just picture a group of white-haired, little old ladies starting down at me in a crib, “hmmmm…”

I googled for days on end, but I was up against tough odds. I was looking for a Smith surname in New York City.

I decided to try to narrow my search to my birthplace, which was a small community on the Washington peninsula. In the DSHS document, I found reference to a PO box in a town called Beaver. I immediately rounded up a couple of friends to go search for clues. We met some interesting people, but came up short on information regarding Eileen.

In April 2011, I took a few days off of work in honor of my birthday and decided to make a return trip to Port Angeles/Forks/Beaver. My strongest lead was the PO box number and I wanted to beat the street to try to find a resident historian/town gossip. I met with a genealogist and librarian. I also went to the court house asking for documents related to my original court order. No dice. On a whim, I stopped by the post office to ask if they have any sort of reverse directory history for the boxes (side note: I knew that my mother was living with a male friend, who was not my father, but perhaps the renter of the PO box). I found an angel in the post office who, when she discovered that I was looking for a ‘lost relative’ (I’ve learned to never say adoption), offered to call some locals that were living in Beaver in the 70s. She made phone calls for two hours. We ended up with a couple of ‘let me think about it’ leads and the name of a man who moved to Oregon. When you have an ally, it is hard to feel defeated, even if it is unlikely that we accomplished what we set out to do. I jotted down the Oregon guy’s name and headed home.

I googled.

Oh, he lives on the east coast. Isn’t that interesting?

I googled Eileen + his last name.

Holy sh*t! Exactly 11 minutes before my 37th birthday, I found my mother. I. could. not. believe. it.

I spent no less than two weeks on high anxiety – no sleep, reading anything that I could get my hands on about adoption and attending support groups. My world was flipped upside down. I tried to contact Eileen by email, phone and letter. At first I treaded lightly and wrote, ‘we have a connection,’ but, by the time I wrote the letter I declared, ‘I am your daughter.’ All of my emotions were amplified and I started to feel like I was on a roller coaster that could take me from elated to tears in 60 seconds. There were so many emotions, feelings and thoughts that I had never addressed regarding adoption. It was a struggle (as evidenced by some of my posts), but fortunately I have a lot of loving people in my life that held me up when I was truly down.

It is hard to accept being rejected once, but even more difficult to accept the second round. I am lucky as I’ve had many questions answered (bits and pieces of who is she and what is her story? is there a possibility of reunion or relationship?). I still have a burning desire to know the identity of my father as it will help me to resolve my own ‘what am I?’ quandry (Eileen is Irish-American). It is likely that I will never know who he is.

A friend questioned, “what, in life, could be more scarier or painful than what you just went through?” Nothing. Just nothing. Except maybe being pulled from a kayak by a hungry alligator, but that would be over quickly. I’m proud that I did this and now I hope that I can help others to reach acceptance in the face of an undesired outcome.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I have sisters! They do not know about me and I’m not ready to make an official move on them yet, but maybe someday…

 

You can follow Heidi’s journey at Ms. Wander Girl.

Thursday
Oct182012

One Week after Day of the Girl: What’s Next?

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate the inaugural Day of the Girl last week!  What a great day of highlighting, celebrating, discussing, and advancing girls lives and opportunities across the globe.  So, what happens next?

First, register now and join us next week for our annual Supporting Girls in the Middle School Years event.  This year’s topic of identity development in transracial adoptees is sure to be an engaging discussion.

This Saturday is also GirlFest, organized by the Girl Scouts of Western Washington.  This day-long celebration on Oct. 20 for EVERY girl (and their families) celebrates all the cool things about being a girl! This year’s festival will be held at the CenturyLink Field Event Center from 10am-5pm on October 20.

Heading into winter, we have a slate of events coming up we hope to see you at, and all you moms out there should save the date for Mamacon on May 18-19, 2013!  

We here at the Northwest Girls Coalition have worked hard  to strengthen the girl-serving community by fostering education and collaboration in the Puget Sound region – check out our network of partners to find additional opportunities where you can help ensure all girls realize their full potential.

Tuesday
Oct162012

Girl Scouts: Strong Past, Eventful Present, and Innovative Future

In honor of 100 years of changing the lives of girls with innovative programming through the Girl Scouts, NWGC LC member Natalie Walker interviewed Lauren Domino, a National Delegate for Girl Scouts of Western Washington. 

How did you first get involved with Girl Scouts?

I joined Girl Scouts as a Brownie in first grade (and loved wearing my little brown beanie, sash, and knee-high socks to school!), and I continued on in scouting all the way through 12th grade.  Although several girls came and went in Troop 519 over the years, there were a few of us that took the whole journey together – I still keep in touch with these women, as they are like sisters!

How are you currently engaged with Girl Scouts?

I am currently serving a three-year term as a National Delegate for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, and I also volunteer as a facilitator. As a National Delegate, I traveled to the National Convention this past November and voted on governance issues relating to the future of Girl Scouts USA. This was also the big 100-year anniversary of scouting, so the convention was filled with parties, concerts, renowned guest speakers such as Katie Couric, and more. There were over 10,000 adult and girl members there from across the globe! In my role as a facilitator, I lead workshops for girls and adults, and I specialize in the Gold Award Workshop for girls interested in pursing this award.

 

Many of us have had experiences with Girl Scouts when we were young that often conjures up memories of mess halls and fireside songs like “kum-ba-yah.” How has Girl Scouts changed and evolved their programming since the days that many of us remember?

What I think is great about Girls Scouts is that the movement has done a fantastic job of keeping many of the cherished traditions like camping and fireside singing, but it has also continued to evolve its programming to remain relevant and engaging for girls today. The core of girl scouting has always been the same – to equip girls with the confidence, courage, and character to make the world a better place. More recently, Girl Scouts has released a series of new leadership “Journeys” that focus on topics like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the environment, human rights around the globe, and more. Though many people may think girl scouts is about earning badges, it’s really not. The programs today are about providing a safe environment for girls to discover and connect with the world around them. It’s a deep learning experience, and the “patch” on the sash is really just a way to remember the journey – it’s not the end result.

How do you feel your experience with GS helped prepare you for your future?

I think first and foremost, Girl Scouts gave me the skills and confidence to lead. Girl Scouts served as a safe place for me to try new things, and even fail – all with the unyielding support of my fellow scouts and leaders. Girl Scouts also provided me with a set of guiding values that continue to serve as my compass, such as the importance of serving one’s community, respecting others, working as a team, and being honest and kind. Girl Scouts also gave me real-world experience that helped me succeed in my career. For my Gold Award project, I created an after-school theater program for first- and second-graders in partnership with a local elementary school. I had to write a complete project proposal, present it to a review board, develop a budget and track expenses, work with the decision makers at the school, write and lead a 6-week drama curriculum, and submit a final program evaluation – all of this as a Senior in high school. After college, while interviewing for my first job as a teaching artist for the Seattle Children’s Theatre, I was confident that I had the skills and experience needed to be successful!

What’s one fun memory from when you were a GS?

Wow. This is a tough one – there are so many! One fun memory I have as a scout was from 5th grade. Our troop was earning the “Career” badge, researching different professions and thinking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. As part of this badge, we decided to have some fun and host a “career” party. We all dressed up in our mother’s pants suits and blazers and pretended to do interviews and such.  If I remember correctly, I wanted to be a newscaster because I was pretty sure they were the smartest people – they always knew everything that was going on! I’ve included an incriminating photo of me in said suit. Pictured with me is my friend Rachel, who I recently visited in Houston while attending the National Convention. It had been 10 years since we had seen one another, but we picked up right were we left off!

What do you see as being an important role for Girl Scouts in the future?

Women today are still incredibly underrepresented in leadership roles in the U.S. According to a 2010 testimony to the U.S.  Joint Economic Committee,

Women constitute nearly half the total work force, earn 57% of Bachelor’s degrees, 60% of Master’s degrees, and control or influence 73% of the consumer decisions in America. Yet among Fortune 500 companies, women make up less than three percent of CEOs and hold roughly 15% of board seats.

I think it is important that we continue to encourage and equip young women to succeed as leaders in all sectors, and programs such as Girl Scouts help to do this. Moreover, millions of women across the globe are deprived of their basic human rights for no other reason than that they are women. With ten million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from 145 countries across the world, we are working to create awareness of this inequity and inspire girls to stand up for one another.

What can people do to help GS and support the girls in their lives?

Get involved. Of course, I would say sign up your girl for the Girl Scouts, but there are also many other ways to support her growth. I think all girls need a safe environment where they are encouraged to explore and try new things, whether it’s sports, the arts, or scouting. If you want to support Girl Scouts, consider signing up to be a volunteer – both men and women are welcome, and you don’t need to have a child to take part  (I don’t!).  Another way you can support Girl Scouts is to make a donation to your local council to help provide financial aid for girls in need, fund improvements to the many beautiful camp locations, and offer basic operating support to ensure the delivery of quality programming.  And of course, when that special time of year rolls around – buy some delicious Girl Scout cookies!  

Thank you Lauren!! And here's another way to get involved with Girl Scouts... and it's a fun event!! Join Girl Scouts in their current efforts to enrich the lives of girls! Come to GirlFest: a day-long celebration this Saturday at CenturyLink Field Event Center from 10am-5pm. What can you expect at GirlFest? "Perhaps you’d like to study cool stuff under a microscope, or learn more about being a news reporter. Maybe you want to climb a rock wall, learn about global cuisines and then go assemble circuitry. Or you want to identify shark species by their teeth, get details on volunteering with homeless youth or share your opinions by tweeting about issues important to you. You can get a henna tattoo, help paint a mural and so much more! If you can dream it, you can do it at GirlFest!"

Wednesday
Oct102012

Seattle Salutes Girls for "Day of the Girl"

This week, October 11 marks the inaugural Day of the Girl. The Day of the Girl is about highlighting, celebrating, discussing, and advancing girls lives and opportunities across the globe. In Seattle as well, many events are planned and Mayor Mike McGinn has declared this Thursday "Day of the Girl" as well.

"History shows that it hasn’t ever been easy to be a girl, and, despite awesome changes in the status and perception of women and girls,herstory is still a complicated and challenging one.” – School Girls Unite

In a world that has a day for everything – from Valentine’s to Edgar Allen Poe to Toasted Marshmallows - isn’t it about time we had a day devoted to girls everywhere?

Studies show that children and youth spend only 20 percent of their waking hours in school. How girls spend the remaining 80 percent has profound implications on their well-being and future. TheNorthwest Girls Coalition works to strengthen the girl-serving community by fostering education and collaboration in the Puget Sound region. They do this by building a knowledgeable, connected network of organizations and individuals who support girls.

In Seattle, this network includes programs such as the following:
  • Seattle Girls School inspires and develops courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change
  • Rain City Rock Camp for Girls is dedicated to building positive self-esteem in girls and encouraging creative expression through music
  • The EdLab Group is dedicated to educational innovation, developing and implementing programs and projects that create meaningful and widespread impact
  • Lake Washington Girls Middle School prepares girls to be confident young women, strong in mind, body, and voice
  • Mercy Housing develops, finances, and operates affordable, program-enriched housing for families, seniors and people with special needs who lack the economic resources to access quality, safe housing opportunities

I’ve been lucky enough to be a Big Sister, a Running Buddy, aMentor, and now Leadership Council President for the Coalition, and I encourage you to get involved so you can experience first-hand the transformative power of helping girls. Locally, you can support the Powerful Voices Day of the Girl Luncheon, stop by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center to learn about the role of girls in African agriculture, join Global WA in theirStand for Girls!, be inspired by Wonder Women with Reel Grrls, and meet members of the Northwest Girls Coalition towrap-up the day with others who share your passion.

Let’s make October 11 a day to celebrate the girl and ensure all girls realize their full potential.

 

Kendra Kelly

NWGC Leadership Council President

Tuesday
Oct022012

Countdown to Day of the Girl!

On October 11 the world will celebrate the first Day of the Girl because as the organizers state: "History shows that it hasn’t ever been easy to be a girl, and, despite awesome changes in the status and perception of women and girls, herstory is still a complicated and challenging one."

Locally in Seattle there are several ways you can be involved with events scheduled throughout the day:

11:30am-1:00pm Powerful Voices Day of the Girl Luncheon

415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109 (South Lake Union neighborhood)

The program will feature girls and alumnae of Powerful Voices. Hosted by Mistress of Ceremonies Felicia Guity, General Manager of Channel Marketing and General Incentives Management for Microsoft, named as one of Ebony Magazine's "Outstanding Women in Marketing and Communications."


1:30-2:30pm Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center 

440 5th Ave. N, Seattle, WA, 98109

"Where are the girls in African agriculture and rural economies?"   Arlene Mitchell from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will share her work experiences with girls in rural sub-Saharan Africa. She will share personal observations, anecdotes and data about the challenges and the opportunities for girls in resource -poor rural areas."

 

5:00-7:30pm NWGC Tweet Up then Meet Up!

Murphy’s Pub in Wallingford

After a full day of girl-related events, join us to continue the conversation with your NWGC peers! Please bring your friends and colleagues, the more the merrier! In addition, bring any resource materials or event information your organization wishes to share with the group about spring activities.

 

5:30-8:30pm Wonder Women! film screening hosted by Reel Grrls

               Big Picture, 2505 First Avenue

Join forces to see one of the great films making the film festival circuit this year. Reminisce about your favorite superheroines. Be inspired. And learn more about women who are heroines in our own community. New Day Northwest's host, Margaret Larson and Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur will lead a raucous discussion after the screening with Jennifer Stuller and Maile Martinez.

 

All Day, GlobalWA encourages you to connect with your community to delve deeper into the issues and organizations that are influencing women and girls worldwide. Whether it’s with your religious group, school, family, or friends, there are opportunities to be a part of Washington’s solutions for global poverty and health. They have some great ideas to help you stand for girls!

 

October 11 also kicks off the Elles exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum – stop by between 10:00am-9:00pm to enjoy this landmark exhibition of more than 130 works of art made by 75 women artists from 1907 to 2007.

 

Finally, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, be sure to tune into our pages to keep up to date on all the Day of the Girl happenings in the next few days!

Facebook:        https://www.facebook.com/#!/NWGirlsCoalition

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/#!/NWGCoalition