By Angela Tucker, Amara Post-Adoption Program Manager
On my first day at Amara, I was greeted by an Excel spreadsheet: A program outline created by 12-year-old adoptee Davon Carroll. The document was entitled TSSP, which stood for “The Stay Strong Project,” and it was a proposal for a new mentorship program for Amara adoptees, many of whom were in foster care. Davon’s detailed outline included columns for the “who, what, where, when and why” of his program, and he emphasized a core value of his vision: “Mentors are not therapists. They are role models who desire to have fun!”
I was inspired by his thoroughness and thoughtfulness, and having spoken to hundreds of adoptees over the years, knew his idea fit within the national conversation adoptees are having, about connecting to fellow adoptees in order to strengthen the adoptee identity. I am thrilled that after months of planning and development with Davon and adoptee co-creator, Luke Duncan, that TSSP – now called the STAR program – has just launched.
Strong, Tough, and Resilient
The Amara STAR (Strong, Tough, and Resilient) Mentorship Program is designed to promote adoptee resilience and empowerment, by building a strong community of adoptees and providing mentorship opportunities to youth, adult adoptees, and alumni of foster care. STAR builds on new work in the arena of adoptee identity, and is named for adjectives Davon, who was adopted from foster care himself, felt astutely describe fellow adoptees: “When I think of the words Strong, Tough, and Resilient,” he told me, “I think of adopted kids because they have overcome what most can only dream of doing.” STAR will be a space that nurtures adoptees’ strengths, while staying true to Davon’s intention of making the program fun. As Davon says, “Having fun with other adoptees is important because you can relate to each other. You have a special bond, because even though you may be adopted for different reasons, you can still relate to each other about that experience.”
The STAR program will begin with a 20-participant pilot group. Participants will be invited to:
- Attend group mentorship outings that allow for positive risk-taking opportunities, focusing on personal development, identity, independence, personal skill-building – and having fun!
- Create a personal profile, and connect with other STARs through a safe and secure social media portal
- Reflect on their personal narrative, and receive guidance on sharing their story in ways that are safe and empowering
- Build a unique and meaningful community.
Supporting crucial connections
Why is it important for adoptees to relate to one another in safe spaces, independently from their parents? Consider these examples:
- An adoptee recently learns that her birth mother is alive and has been trying to contact her and her adoptive parents for a few years.
- An adoptee concerned about his health does not have any records anywhere of his birth parents, and he knows nothing of his genetic origins.
- An adoptee has regular visits with her biological family but would like to decrease the frequency since she’s busy with high school activities. However, she worries her birth parents will feel betrayed by this decision.
- An adoptee struggles with conflicting feelings of rejection, loss, and disconnection with his heritage, while navigating simultaneous feelings of loyalty and gratitude to his adoptive parents for adopting him from foster care.
These are just a few hypothetical examples of the unique situations that many adoptees find themselves confronted with, either during childhood or after they enter adulthood. Because of their shared experiences, adoptees can relate to and support each other.
Whether STAR mentors and mentees play ultimate Frisbee, discuss the keys to healthy identity development, participate in a flash mob, or attend a poetry slam, the opportunity to connect with others who have had similar life experiences will offer adoptees a safe space, a powerful sounding board, peer-to-peer guidance, and soul food for growing stronger, tougher, and more resilient.
KING5’s Michelle Li recently spoke with Davon and Angela about why adoptee mentorship is so important – watch the story here
Learn more about the STAR Program at www.star.amaraparenting.org.
Amara’s Post-Adoption program works to ensure that adoptees, adoptive families and birth families receive resources and support in order to promote stability and fulfilling family relationships.
This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Crossroads, Amara’s quarterly newsletter, which convenes community to build a better path for kids in foster care. To subscribe to The Crossroads, sign up here.