How an NBC Sports Competition Allowed One Man to Find His Biological Family

American Ninja Warrior (ANW) is an athletic competition that is nothing short of entertaining and exhilarating. If you haven’t heard of it before, the show consists of intense, qualified athletes who compete through extremely difficult courses consisting of balance, agility, strength, and speed tests. While it may not sound too different from a regular obstacle course, only 2 contestants to date have completed the full course in every round and achieved “Total Victory”. To some contestants, the show may be just another adrenaline rush, an excuse to stay in pristine shape, or an extreme competition, but to competitor Dan Jager it turned out to be much more.

American Ninja Warrior has not only allowed Dan to express his immense level of fitness, but has also helped connect him with his birth family in South Korea. Dan was adopted at the age of 5 and was hiking mountains and snowboarding down the slopes by the time he was beginning elementary school. He started competing on American Ninja Warrior in 2015 to free some built-up adrenaline, but the further he advanced, the more widely known his name became. As Dan went on to compete in his second season of ANW, his adoptive parents, Ray and Cherie, received a letter from the agency revealing that Dan’s biological father, Young Il Kwon was interested in meeting with him. Dan soon received a Facebook request from, a woman named Jihye Kwon, who he later found out through messaging was his half-sister. Their conversations were difficult due to the language barrier, so their conversations mainly revolved around using Google Translate. Jihye informed Dan that their father had been searching for him for nearly 13 years! When the agency confirmed the 2 were his biological family, they began video chatting frequently. Dan revealed, “I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of those things where I know I’m adopted. As a kid, I wanted to find my biological dad. But I always wanted to wait until I was older, maybe in my later 20s. Old enough to handle and be at a maturity level to handle it. As I aged, I kind of lost interest. I just kind of let something go, and here it comes to find you.” Dan’s biological family had searched for him many times before, but it wasn’t until he advanced in the finals that his name became easier to find. Dan states that American Ninja Warrior, “projected me into a space that I could be more easily searched.”

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In October of 2016, Young Il and Jihye Kwon came all the way from South Korea to visit Dan in Colorado. As Dan picked them up from Denver International Airport, he saw his biological father for the first time, in person, in nearly 30 years. While meeting with his father, Dan revealed that, “He doesn’t understand like any English, so we had to use our phones for our entire trip, typing in stuff on Google Translate and showing the translated Korean on my phone, and they would do vice versa for English.” One night, Dan took both his biological family and his birth family out to dinner. Cherie, Dan’s adoptive mother, stated that they were very happy for Daniel and how she felt like, “That was the early part of his life, and he needed to have that.”

This experience was important for all members of the adoption triad. Dan emphasized this by revealing that, “It was a cool moment because my parents got to meet my (biological) dad. It was reassuring for him because they were good people, and I had a good life here.” The show allowed Dan the opportunity to be more widely known in the public and if it wasn’t for his success, Young Il may never have been able to connect with his son. American Ninja Warrior may just be an entertaining competition to most people, but for Dan Yager, it brought his entire family together in the best way possible.

What Happens Next: Domestic Adoption for First Time Applicants

Choosing to adopt is a big decision. You have explored all the roads to adopt and have determined that Domestic Adoption is the right path to expand your family. We are sure you will have plenty of questions about the journey including the process and so we have created a step-by-step guide for first time families working with AFTH. Know that our social workers are always there for you whether it’s one simple question or a list of 100 questions you’d like to talk about.

1) Complete your application. Read and sign each form including Description of Services for Fees Contract and Agency Policies for Domestic Adoption. Return completed forms to AFTH with your application fee.

2) Upon receiving your application, you will be contacted by an adoption social worker to schedule an individual adoption counseling session.

3) After meeting with a social worker, you will be required to attend an Education Course, Home Study Sessions and Transracial Adoption Course for those considering adopting a child of a different race.

The Education Course dives into the topic of open adoption from the perspectives of all three members of the adoption triad: adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees.

 

The Transracial Adoption Course discusses topics related to raising a child of a different race necessary for prospective adoptive parents considering transracial adoption to explore. The interactive training debunks the idea of being colorblind, discusses strategies for becoming a multicultural family and reviews how to talk with children about race and racism.

 

The Home Study Sessions cover topics including your road to adoption, parenting and discipline. They are typically held in a group setting with other families. Additionally, you will be given a list of the required paperwork to complete for your home study. Once your home study paperwork is received, a social worker will visit your home.

 

4) After your home visit, you will come to a Profile Meeting. The focus is your profile (which is a 10 page visual story of your family for expecting parents to view) and profile key (guide for social worker indicating your preferences regarding expectant parent situations). Meeting topics include the dos and don’ts of creating your profile, overview of the profile key, the process after being selected and what to expect at the hospital.

5) Then, you will come into the office for a Video Session to create a 5 minute video. It allows you to talk candidly about your family and let your personality shine. Expecting parents have the ability to view videos in addition to seeing profiles when selecting a family.

6) Families submit their profile to their social worker for approval. Your profile will be shown to all expecting parents agency-wide whose situations match your profile key. You will be given the opportunity to have your profile and video on our website as well to increase your exposure.

7) During the wait, you will have access to your social worker for any questions and concerns. You are also encouraged to take advantage of support groups and continuing education classes.

8) When selected by expecting parents, you will have a match meeting with your social worker to review background information about the placement. In the case of Emergency Placements, which currently account for nearly 50% of our agency’s placements, all of the information will be discussed with you over the phone and recapped in a follow up email due to time constraints.

9) At the time of being matched, you will be given escrow forms to submit your placement and miscellaneous fees which will be placed in an escrow account until the time of placement. In the event of an Emergency Placement, the fees are be deemed earned at that time forgoing the escrow account.

10) Upon the expecting parent’s request, if time allows, a pre-placement meeting will be held with the social worker, prospective adoptive parents and expecting parents. In the case of Emergency Placements, the prospective adoptive parents may have an opportunity to meet the expecting parents at the hospital.

11) When it’s time to travel to the hospital, you will meet with a social worker at the hospital to complete the placement paperwork and then meet the baby and possibly the biological parents as well.

12) After the birth parents sign their legal consent to adoption, the baby will be discharged with you from the hospital. IMPORTANT – Keep in mind that during this time the child’s birth parents have a revocation period which varies from state to state. The revocation period is time for the birth parents to be certain of their decision. During this time, birth parents may legally change their mind(s) and choose to parent.

13) If the baby is born outside your state of residence, you will be required to stay within 2 hours of the hospital and will be unable to return home until interstate paperwork is processed and approved by both states.

14) When you do return home, your social worker will conduct post placement visits with your family.

15) The adoption will then be finalized between 6-8 months after placement. AFTH hosts ongoing events and classes to bring families together for support. Your social worker will continue to be available for you to answer any questions you may have as your child grows.

 

“Building Families Through Adoption” – Miss PA and Her Journey to Miss America

Katie Schreckengast has a full resume – she’s a rising senior at Penn State University, plays the alto saxophone in the Penn State Blue Band, as well as serving as the Public Relations Officer for the organization. To add to this impressive list of activities, Katie was just crowned Miss Pennsylvania 2017 this past June. She began her journey when she was just thirteen years old, winning Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen in 2013. This past January, she received her first “Miss” title, winning Miss Central Pennsylvania 2017. In September, she will compete in the Miss America Pageant under a very personal platform – “Building Families Through Adoption.”

Miss PA Headshot

Miss Pennsylvania 2017, Katie Schreckengast, will be competing in Miss America this coming September.

Adopted at just six months old from South Korea, Katie now travels the state speaking about her adoption journey. Seen in a social media post on her official Miss Pennsylvania Facebook, Katie posted a heartwarming video about a couple adopting with the quote, “I may not have had them in my belly, but I have them in my heart. #AdoptiveFamily #BuildingFamilies.” Quoted in the Detroit Free Press, Katie added that, “I want to share my story throughout my year just so people understand that just because you’re an adoptive family doesn’t make you any less of a family.” And adoption is just that – another way to build a loving, strong family.

In fact, Katie’s younger brother is also adopted from South Korea. She adds that, “Every single adoption story is different and mine has been so positive and wonderful.” Her family has been incredibly supportive every step of the way. Additionally, when looking back, Miss Pennsylvania 2014 was ALSO adopted! Khari Siegfried, a Temple University graduate, was reunited with her biological family while competing for the Miss America Pageant. The irony of it all being – while promoting a personal platform of adoption, Khari’s own adoption story was unfolding behind the scenes.

Khari Miss PA

Miss Pennsylvania 2014, Khari Siegfried, was also adopted.

 

It is empowering and heartwarming to hear so many stories of adoption, especially on a national stage. By sharing these stories, adoption becomes just another beautiful way to build a family. Not everyone who finds themselves pregnant is in a position to parent, and, on the other side there are many loving couples and singles who desire to have a family who are unable to traditionally. Katie and Khari’s stories solidify the complexity and joy that encompasses adoption.

Adoptions From The Heart is honored to have Katie in attendance at our First Annual Find Her Footing Sweat-A-Thon. Katie will be joining Zumba, Pound, and Hip Hop instructors to help everyone Break a sweat in support of birth parents just weeks before she makes her way to Atlantic City for the Miss America. The event will be held at the Greater York Center for Dance Education on Sunday, August 20th from 1-4 pm. To learn more about the event and to register, visit our website here. To follow Katie on her amazing journey to Miss America, check out Miss Pennsylvania’s website.

How To Tell Your Child’s Adoption Story

Explaining a child’s adoption story can be overwhelming for the adoptive parents. Some don’t know when is a good time to tell their child, while others are unclear on how to tell them. For starters, there is no right or wrong way to discuss adoption with your child. However, it is best to start introducing positive adoption language as soon as possible. Your child should be familiar with adoption language because it is a part of their story & their identity. Down below are a few tips to help you tell your child their adoption story.

How & When to Explain

Make sure to take your child’s age and maturity into consideration. The story should be simple and age appropriate. Give them details that you can elaborate on as they get older. The details should be truthful, so that you don’t contradict yourself later. Share the excitement with an upbeat tone. Understand what your child is asking. Let them know that it’s okay to ask questions and talk about their adoption at any time. Don’t be afraid to revisit topics you may have explained at an earlier time. This will happen as your child’s curiosity grows and their understanding develops over time.

Ages 0-4

            This is the best time to start sharing your child’s adoption story. Let’s face it kids love being the center of attention. They’ll be more eager to listen to their own story. Whether it’s the story of their birth or the story of the magnificent time they made your family whole, they want to hear it. The meaning of adoption doesn’t quite sink in yet, so keep the story basic. Let them know they were born the same way everyone else is. They grew in their mother’s tummy, but she couldn’t parent at that time. Explain that you wanted to be a parent very much, so you adopted him/her. Include that their birth and adoption were both awesome events that will never be forgotten.

Ages 5-11

            Within this age group, the concept of adoption and having two sets of parents becomes clear. As your child gets older and mentally develops you may notice them experiencing more complex feelings of loss and feeling different. Make sure to have open dialogue with your child. It is essential to see how they are putting the story together. Your child’s stage of development, emotional & intellectual maturity may determine how they piece the information together. Answer any questions regarding their birth parents appropriate for their age. If any misconceptions of their birth parents form, offer alternative views to address the situation.

 

Ages 12-18

Around this age children in general begin pulling away from their parents to form their own identity. Children who have been adopted may have a difficulty forming an identity if there is any information lacking. Parents can help by understanding the need for this information. Help them attain the information they are searching for. Also, give them the freedom to explore it. As for any age, make sure to keep the line of communication open. It is vital to hear what your child is saying and what they are asking. Allow them to share their feelings with you. Help them with any struggles they may be having regarding their adoption or their birth parents.

 

Time is of The Essence

When talking to your child about their adoption story timing is everything. It’s best to start as early as possible. Don’t let your child’s adoption story be a family secret. If you didn’t tell their story when they were young children, start telling them soon. It is important to let them know that they can come to you with any questions they may have. Always leave an open line of communication regarding their adoption or birth parents. As children get older, their questions may become more complex. Be open and accepting to whatever they may want or need to know.

Adoption: Changing Perspective & Broadening My View

When I first began working in the field of adoption, most of my personal experience had been from the viewpoint of adoptive parents. Growing up I had family members and friends who had adopted children both internationally and domestically including foster care. So, I had seen what the process was like from that side of the experience. It wasn’t until I fully dove into the world of adoption entering the field as a professional at age 24, when my perspective began to change. It wasn’t that I discovered what I thought I had known wasn’t true, but I saw a much broader experience which included expecting and birth parents as well as adoptees.

I stepped back to see the bigger picture. I have had the joy of witnessing thousands of families brought together through adoption over the years. I saw children growing up and families come back to expand their family a second and third time. What impacted me the most was also seeing another side of the experience as thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies entrusted the agency to help walk them through all their options. These women were confronting one of the most difficult decisions in their lives and they needed support no matter what they chose in the end. I was hungry for even more knowledge to continuing broadening my view. I sought out adoptees willing to share their stories, mostly through online forums, and I listened. It can be challenging to listen, I mean really hear what is being said especially what it’s not all rainbows and sunshine but it’s so important.

Now as an adoptive mother, my perspective continues to change and develop having first hand experience with open adoption. Seeing my daughter’s mother’s experience and growing together through open adoption has deepened my perception. I don’t just see adoption from the viewpoint of adoptive parents anymore as I did when I was younger. When I’m moving through life with my young daughter, I push myself to see from her point of view. What is it like for her growing up as a transracial adoptee? Are there things I find celebratory like Mother’s Day and her birthday that might have a complex duality for her as she grows up? When we text, videochat or visit with her birth mother it’s evident how complex adoption can be. My daughter’s birth mother has become a part of our family and we love her deeply. If someone sat us down and asked us both to “walk us through your adoption experience,” we would have starkly different answers. If you charted our journeys on the same timeline, my moments of greatest joy would most likely correspond to her deepest times of sorrow.

To realize it’s not just about me is humbling.  Much of the time, I’m the least who matters because the impact for my daughter and her other mother is so much deeper because of the loss they have experienced through adoption. I’m not saying that adoption isn’t a beautiful thing. It has amazing and joyous aspects for everyone involved. But what I do want to press upon prospective adoptive parents is that isn’t all that adoption is. The journey for every member of the triad is shockingly different.

Simply put, adoption is bittersweet. I don’t mean that to say one side of the equation is always feeling happy while the other side is always feeling down. It’s not a seesaw. The exact moment I’m feeling so joyous to hold my daughter in my arms and introduce her to her new family I can feel devastation for  her other mother who is most certainly in pain. When we video chat, Momma J may experience happiness and excitement when our daughter shows off her newest superhero move and at the same time heartbroken that the circumstances weren’t different when she made the decision to place. My daughter is still too young to voice too many adoption related thoughts but when she is a little older her birthday might be a time of celebration and sadness. Opposite feelings can be meshed together at any one time adding complexities to our lives.

As I continue to grow as a professional and as a mother through adoption, I am committed to a simple life motto: Know Better, Do Better.

So if you are just beginning the process as a prospective adoptive parent, I would encourage you to challenge what you already know by seeking out voices of birth parents and adoptees and take it all in. Every story is unique but there are often common themes connecting each experience. It won’t be easy, but it will enrich your journey and better prepare you to raise a child who comes into your home through open adoption.

The more stories you hear from adoptees and birth parents the more opportunity your viewpoint has to stretch and grow. I found myself thinking differently, with a higher level of empathy for others touched by the same process but in very different ways. Personally, the biggest impact first hit me while I navigated the waiting process. Instead of focusing solely on the loss for prospective adoptive parents, which would have been my primary focus before entering the world of adoption, when hearing the terms “disruption” or “disappointment ” I found myself thinking about the happiness the child’s mother was feeling in her decision to parent.

You might notice your thoughts during your process shifting too. After rushing to the hospital for an emergency placement, you might find yourself struggling when asked to wait in other room for an extended period of time while the biological family is bonding with the baby. Understandably, you just can’t wait to hold the child in your arms. It may help to remember that in that moment, the child’s mother and family are squeezing in precious time before preparing to say goodbye.

As you are hopeful in counting down the revocation period until you can celebrate becoming a forever family, remember that “forever” decision is weighing heavily on the woman who is making sure she is certain that adoption is the right choice.

I’m not asking readers to completely shift their beliefs about adoption. I would just encourage prospective adoptive parents to actively seek out adoptee and birth parent voices whether it be online or in-person to gain a better understanding of all the sides of the adoption experience. Keep in mind, someday soon you hope to be a parent of an adoptee and in a life-long relationship with parents who have chosen adoption through openness and so learning about those experiences now from those who lived it will only help you when that time comes.

Talking With Your Kids About Adoption

Having that first talk about any subject matter with children is difficult. The “adoption talk” can seem daunting. However, it does not need to be this way. There are certain steps you can take in the adoption journey, especially when explaining it to children. We are here to alleviate some of that stress for you because we know it not an easy subject matter.

Do it Early and Do it Often

Being able to talk about your child’s adoption story early and often is important. By utilizing adoption terminology as early as when they are an infant, they can slowly become accustomed to the words as they grow older. By reverberating their adoption story from a young age, this can help them better understand where they came from.

It’s also important to anticipate – children ask a lot of questions. By being prepared for questions they may ask, you, as parents, can feel better equipped to answer them. If you are in a two-parent family, it’s also good to be consistent with your child’s adoption story. This prevents confusion and miscommunication. Coordination is key.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is also important to realize the developmental aspect of it. In other words, keep the talks “age-appropriate.” One of the most common questions kids start asking is about being in their “mommy’s tummy.” At that age (around three or four), kids are obviously still figuring out the world around them. By utilizing story-telling language to explain their journey to this world, it can aid in the child’s understanding.

It is also seen through developmental and behavioral psychology that repetition for a child is crucial. Certain aspects of life must be explained repeatedly to a child, and that’s okay. That’s normal. Explaining their adoption is no different in that way. It is a complex concept, and sometimes the information is emotionally laden for a child. Talk when they are ready or bring it up.

Be Honest and Let Them Express Their Feelings

Understanding adoption as a parent is hard. Understanding adoption as an adopted child is even harder. It’s important to be honest with them when you need to be. They have a right to know their story, but it’s important to realize that what you tell them when they are six years old is a lot different than when they are thirteen.

As parents, we want to make every boo-boo better, every bad day a good one, and every sad face a smile. Children are little people; they have bad days, sad days and everything in between. Help them express those feelings when beginning to tell them their adoption story. They may feel anger, sadness, betrayal, along with many other negative emotions. It’s always good to find outlets for those feelings – drawing is helpful, as well as writing. As they get older, an adoption journal may be beneficial.

If they ever feel a need to express those emotions, utilize it as a teaching moment. Ask them why they feel that way, and go from there. Give them an opportunity to sort through their thoughts. Of course, every child is different, and we learn from that.

Adoption can be tough to talk about with your child, but there are ways to alleviate that stress building up. By taking a few of these tips, you may find it easier to explain their adoption journey. We love our children, and ultimately want what’s best for them. We learn from them and feel what they feel. Remember, you’re all in this together. Family is family, no matter where or how it started.

I thought I couldn’t either…

If you are a birth mother that’s involved in a post placement, hopefully you are beginning to make peace with your decision. If you’re in involved in an open adoption, you realized the family you chose was a great a fit for your child. For some birth moms they gain more family through the adoptive parents. This can make your decision feel worthwhile as time goes on. Getting updates, letters, and pictures help tremendously on keeping you involved in your child’s life. Let’s not forget about the chat with the adoptive mother about the characteristics you and your child share. I am four years post placement and I must admit I am not the same person I was when I placed. I am different in the best of ways. I have matured and always keep an open mind. I love speaking to my son’s adoptive mother about all the crazy, cute things he does.

Unfortunately, from the outside looking in people don’t see the bright side of your story. Most people still have the negative misconception of adoption. The belief of all birth mothers are on drugs, homeless, or worse is untrue, unfair and yet people still believe it. The belief that you “gave up your child” because you didn’t want to be a parent is another common misconception. It cuts deeper when it comes from close friends & family that share the same misconceptions. What hurts worse is hearing the all-time line “I could never do that”. Once upon a time, we didn’t think that we could “do that” either. Fortunately, us birthparents thought with our heads instead of our hearts, so our child could have more opportunities in life. The further you get through post placement you begin to figure out good ways to dodge certain questions and even better ways to respond to them. I have chosen to discuss the two best ways to respond to people regarding your decision to use adoption.

  • Silence!

There is no better way to combat negativity or ignorance than with good, old silence. Especially with the statement I mentioned before the “I could never do that” line. I have heard this time after time and I always respond with silence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about anything. Keep in mind, that most people that say this have never been in the circumstances you have experienced. Also, this statement implies they are solely speaking with their hearts rather than their head. Placing your child because you wanted him/her to have a better life, both parents, or a loving & compassionate home is a great thing. It means that you are thinking past your own feelings and emotions for the good of your child. So, if your boyfriend’s sister wants to mention something about your adoption, ignore her to the high heavens. Some people may never truly understand.

 

  • Think about it, smile, & be kind when you speak.

I have had a few instances where some people weren’t being negative at all. They are generally surprised by our courage and call us brave. They are eager to learn more about your situation with adoption rather than shunning you. I have encountered people that wanted to hear about the brighter side of adoption rather than the side they are accustomed to. It’s okay to answer the questions you are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to set the record straight and dispel the misconceptions. These conversations can be very therapeutic and make you feel empowered. You will be shocked at how some people look at birthparents as heroes. Your child is a blessing that made someone’s family whole.

 

 

Coping with post placement isn’t about struggling with your own emotions regarding your decision. It mainly consists of learning to deal with people who think you should feel a certain way. People have told me that I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m not ashamed. People have told me I will regret my decision in the long run, but I don’t. After all this time, I couldn’t imagine being without the adoptive parents I chose for my son. I wouldn’t change that for the world. Embrace your strength as a birthparent and everything negative will become a breeze in the wind.