Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Difference of Being Affected vs. Being Impacted

From Monday, May 13th through Wednesday, May 15th, I had the pleasure of attending the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Summit. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, an Ohio based organization whose goal is to implement proactive, child-focused recruitment programs targeted exclusively on moving America’s longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families (DTFA).

Attending the Summit is nothing new for me as I have been a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter for 4 years and 9 months. In the months leading up to the Summit, I was at my usual level of excitement. I wondered which recruiters from around the country and Canada I would see again, who had exciting adoption stories to tell, and who would our speakers and panelists be. About two weeks before the Summit, my DTFA Grant Manager sent an email out with the agenda. I quickly browsed through, but at the end of the agenda, something caught my eye.
Keynote: Saved by adoptionShawn Hessee, Rolling Through Adversity – Confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, Shawn, considered unadoptable, was adopted by his preschool teacher.

This keynote topic spoke to me, so much that I immediately emailed my grant manager to thank her for including Shawn in the Summit. To provide some background on why I was so excited to hear from Shawn, I will share a little about the youth on my caseload.

I serve a caseload of 10 youth—8 boys and 2 girls. Of the 10, 5 are considered medically fragile, 2 have autism and 1 has Down syndrome. Most of them at one time or another has been considered unadoptable. Recruitment for them has not been easy, and despite feeling personally defeated on their behalf, I know that I must continue on in the search for their forever families.

Fast forward from the time my grant manager sent the email to May 15th. I have just experienced two days of powerful presenters—doctors, child welfare specialists, recruiters and youth who have aged out of care—all people who have been affected by foster care and/or adoption. Finally it was time to hear Shawn’s story. I already knew Shawn’s story would hit home with me, but I do not think I could have imagined the impact he would have on me, my kids, and my work in adoption recruitment.

Wearing a stylish suit and an award winning smile, Shawn commanded the audience from the start of his presentation. He shared his story from birth to present day. Sharing his ups and his downs, his victories and losses, he spoke about his families (biological, foster and adoptive), his passion for wrestling, his work history and his current profession. When Shawn was young, he wanted to wrestle, so the coach gave him a chance. Shawn was expected to work out and train just as the other wrestlers, despite having leg braces. He trained hard and prepared for his first match, which unfortunately he lost. He would actually go on to lose all of his matches, completing his high school career at 0-80. He remarked that as a society, we live in a world that tends to value wins over losses. Looking in from the outside, Shawn is by no means a loser. He is an inspiration.

He left the audience with the message that his mission is to help children embrace the challenges they face. As he wound down his speech, tears began to flow from my face. He provided us with an hour of inspirational words to last a lifetime. After his presentation, I stood in front of the entire audience and with tears flowing even harder now, thanked Shawn for sharing his story. He too makes me want to help children embrace their challenges and succeed in life.

After the presentation, I asked Shawn if I could give him a hug. He smiled, let me know that he loved hugs, and we embraced. Although I had just met him, I felt like I knew him forever. I quickly asked if I could remain in touch, as I knew I’d have my days where I felt as if I was failing, and could use his words of encouragement. Again he smiled, and let me know that I could reach out to him for support anytime. And I think he truly meant it, as we exchanged information and are now Facebook friends and follow each other on  Twitter.

Even as I write this, I can’t help but to tear up again. Not because I am sad, but because I know the potential that my children have and know that they have a “wonderful” role model in Shawn. He has truly made an impact on me.

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