There is a lot of talk these days around the importance of community and sharing in collective experiences, so much so that “building community" has become a bit of a catchphrase and a hot topic. But we know it is so much more than that, as we see firsthand how powerful it can be when people that have shared experiences come together with common goals in mind.
As a transracially adopted person and professional in adoption, being part of a community takes on a unique and important meaning in my world. I did not know how incredibly poignant and essential being in community with other adopted people, first-birth families, adoptive families and professionals would be until I experienced it. I was an adult before I discovered how vital it was to be around people who shared my experience in some way and organically understood the beauty and complexity of adoption.
For me, community has manifested in many ways: formal support groups, informal circles of friends who are all members of the adoption community, professional advisory groups and mentoring programs. Of these communities so full of meaning, my favorite activities and groups are those that involve working with young people and families.
Two years ago I had the good fortune to connect with a wonderful Brooklyn-based program called “All Together Now" and quickly got involved by becoming the teen mentor facilitator.
Founded in 2009 by adoptive parents Martha Crawford and David Amarel, All Together Now (ATN) is a 501c(3) charitable organization that supports adoptive families offering fun, multicultural, and age-appropriate peer support groups and playgroups facilitated by adult and teen adoptees for adopted children from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. A committee of adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and teen adoptees organize and put the programs together. ATN also provides adoptive parents an opportunity to gather with a facilitator to make connections and share resources.
ATN groups meet for two semesters during the academic school year – in the fall and in the spring. Each semester has five sessions that are scheduled on Sundays every two to four weeks, offering an engaging, relaxed, and supportive environment for children (3-9 years), tweens (10-12 years) and teenagers (13-18 years) to participate in activities and discussions. The younger children meet in a playgroup setting with themed activities intended to build awareness about adoption. All of ATN's program coordinators and facilitators are adult adoptees who are assisted by teen mentors who are also adopted. The tween group meets in a separate space and frequently has off-site excursions. The parent group runs concurrently in a separate space.
ATN believes that adoption comes with unique developmental processes for adoptive families, and that they differ from biological families for that reason. Therefore, it values the perspectives of adult adoptees, seeking their input and supporting their concerns as an integral part of the program. Because of the care and concern that goes into the program, the ATN community is one in which adopted children, teens and adults have a safe and creative space to determine their own experience and form supportive friendships around people who genuinely understand.
ATN also works to better understand and integrate the birth cultures into our families' lives and recognizes the role race can play in this context and especially how it affects the lives of families with children of color. The team works together to help prepare families for the particular challenges they may encounter. ATN acknowledges the birth family as a living reality in the adoptive family and is attuned to the losses experienced in adoption, especially those of children and birth families.
As teen mentor facilitator, I am seeing the very positive impact ATN is having on the children, teen mentors and parents alike. It is so encouraging to be part of an organization that is working to create a safe and creative space for exploration of shared experiences as members of the adoption community. As each session unfolds I am inspired by the interactions, by what we are all learning and navigating and I am reminded of how amazing it would have been if a group like this had existed when I was growing up as a transracial adoptee. I am so proud to be part of ATN and hope more adoptive parents will investigate this program and take part as they build a community around their family.
For more information, visit the ATN website.