Vision Narrative

IAMAdoptee was co-founded by Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW. Joy received her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University.  She has been working in the field of adoption for 25 years professionally and through various volunteer organizations.  As a Policy Analyst for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, she co-authored the Report on the First Gathering of Adult Korean Adoptees in Washington, DC, the first of its kind to report first-person perspectives on what it means to be adopted.  She has also been published by the Child Welfare League of America in their Adoption and Ethics series. Joy was a social worker in international placement for a brief moment at a private adoption agency in NYC but ultimately worked in their post-adoption department for six years. Joy worked as a counselor for children and parents, presented at workshops related to issues around being adopted, facilitated Kids Groups, ran Teen Forums, and helped to create a youth Mentorship program for domestic and international adoptees.  Joy has spoken in local and national forums, in particular, at the Joint Council on International Children Services, Adoptive Parents Committee, Families with Children from China, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the St. John’s Adoption Initiative.  Joy was the 2014 recipient of the Caring for Children Award from the Coalition on Asian American Children and Families; the 2016 Outstanding Practitioner Award from St. John’s Adoption Initiative Conference and the 2020 Dynamic Achiever Award from OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA-WHV).

Joy was adopted from Korea.  She came to her family just shy of her sixth birthday.  She grew up in New York.  She was the president for about six years of Also-Known-As, a NY-based non-profit volunteer organization for internationally adopted people and families.  She created and co-directed the Youth Mentorship Program that continues to this day. She was on the planning committee for the First Gathering of Korean Adoptees in 1999 as well as the Gathering in Korea in 2004.  She lived in Korea working volunteering in the orphanage where she once lived.  During her year in Korea, she learned how to speak Korean again, learned that her birth mother had been searching for her for 21 years, and learned that her identity as a Korean adopted person was a significant aspect of who she is.   

Joy has been in private practice for over 15 years serving intercountry adoptees and their families.  It has been these conversations – as therapist and counselor – that has informed so much of the vision for IAMAdoptee. The intimacy of the counseling space has taught her that the desire to understand and be understood is lifelong and hits the most sacred spaces of our hearts and consciousness. 

We welcome you to IAMAdoptee and invite you to share IAMAdoptee with others as we curate a body of resources for the international adoptee community to help know that “we are not so different from each other; historically, as narratives, we are each of us unique.” (Dr. Oliver Sacks)

 

Meet Our Board

Joy Lin Arness

 

Joy Lin Arness is adopted from Hefei, Anhui, China. She spent her childhood in Idaho, but later moved to Las Vegas where she is a graphic designer. Joy has not been back to China since her adoption but hopes to visit her birthplace sometime soon.

 

Hollee McGinnis, MSW, PhD

Hollee A. McGinnis, MSW, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Social Work. She is a prominent scholar, policy expert, and community organizer on adoption and child welfare. Hollee was the policy director at the former Donaldson Adoption Institute, where she headed a national study on adoption and racial identity among adopted adults.  In 1996, she founded Also-Known-As, Inc., a non-profit adult intercountry adoptee organization providing post-adoption services to international adoptees and adoptive families. Hollee speaks regularly at national conferences and organizations and has numerous published scholarly articles, book chapters, and essays. In 2008 she was recognized by the U.S. government with a Congressional Angel in Adoption award for her work in adoption. She is regularly sought out by the news media including interviews about her research on South Korea’s child welfare system and overseas Korean adoptees by the New York Times Magazine, BBC News, and NPR.

Jennifer Mehltretter (Wu Yen-Ming)

 

Jennifer Mehltretter is adopted from Taiwan, grew up in New Jersey, and now resides in Washington state. She has always known and been in contact with her birth family in Taiwan. She is an advocate of leadership development and equity and inclusion work.

 

Kathy Carney Sacco, LCSW-C

Kathy Carney Sacco is a child and family advocate with over 20 years’ experience in both the private and public sectors. She is currently the Vice President of International Children’s Policy at First Focus on Children. She works on First Focus’ efforts to harness the power of governments, NGOs, and corporations to partner and help children all over the world to improve their well-being and reach their full potential. Kathy worked for nearly eight years at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, shaping and leading policies related to child protection, intercountry adoption, and international parental child abduction. Previously, she facilitated foster care and intercountry adoptions for 13 years. In her work on various agency boards, Kathy advocated for ethical adoption practices and the expansion of post adoption services.

Kathy was adopted from Korea at age five along with her biological sister. She is a licensed clinical social worker who obtained her Master of Social Work from Arizona State University. She resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.

 

Meet Our Contributors

Whitney Fritz, Administrative Director

 

Whitney Fritz is a Korean adoptee who has been in reunion with her birth family since 2010. She is married to Lee, a fellow KAD, and together they run a popular adoptee blog, titled We the Lees. The two reside in Baltimore, MD with their pup, Yoda.

 

 

Darci Wen Siegel 

Darci Wen Siegel is a Chinese adoptee from Huangshi and identifies as a transnational adoptee, activist, and advocate, whose dedication to examining the relationship between gender, race, and policy is driven by her personal experiences stemming from China’s One-Child Policy. Through working with communities, human rights organizations, lawyers, and politicians, Darci has fought to build spaces to elevate and empower individual voices impacted by domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation, and related forms of race and gender-based discrimination, with special attention to women, girls, femmes, and communities of color. An aspiring lawyer, Darci graduated from Vassar College in 2020, where she authored: “Homecoming. An exploration into the meaning of ‘belonging’ and examination of transnational adoption as a means of the neo-colonization of the female Chinese American adoptee body.” Her thesis offers a first-person narrative along with careful political and historical analysis and reflects on her return to Huangshi in 2019; “Homecoming” was awarded the Marjorie Lynn Gluck Thesis Prize by Vassar’s International Studies Department.

 

 

Kacy Ames, LCSW

Kacy Ames is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York City.  She has a private practice where she meets with individuals, couples and families touched by adoption.  She did her training in Family and Couples Therapy at the Ackerman Institute for the Family where she continues as a Project Associate in the Foster Care and Adoption Project.  Kacy has run groups for adoptees through her private practice and has facilitated birth parent support groups through the Foster Care and Adoption Project.  Kacy’s therapeutic approach focuses on family systems, narrative work and trauma informed practice with a social justice and racial justice lens.  Kacy was adopted through transracial, inter country adoption.  She was born in Korea and adopted by a white family in Massachusetts.  Kacy is the parent of two children by birth.  She currently resides and practices in New York City.

 

 

Dr. Katie Bozek, LMFT

 

 

Dr. Katie Bozek has been in private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist.  She is currently the Executive Director of the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN).

 

Dr. Susan Branco

 

 

Dr. Susan Branco is a clinical assistant professor in the clinical mental health counseling program at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. Her research examines experiences of transracially adopted persons and counselors of color. In addition, she is currently focusing her research on past corruption within the Colombian adoption system.  Dr. Branco maintained an independent practice where she specialized in working with members of the Adoption Kinship Network from 2004 to 2018. She is adopted from Colombia and is in reunion with her birth family.

 

Katie Naftzger, LICSW

Katie Naftzger maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Newton, MA where she sees adoptees and families. Her book is, “Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.” Katie’s work has appeared in Adoptive Families magazine and Adoption Today. She has been also been interviewed on Asian Focus on a local NBC network.

Katie was a previous advisory-council member and frequent speaker at KAAN. She has spoken at organizations such as Children’s Hospital, Boston, The Brookline Community Mental Health Center and Judge Baker Children’s Center. Katie was also a discussant for a clinical case presentation focused on race at The Psychodynamic Couples and Family Institute of New England. Katie facilitates online and local groups for adoptees and parents. Learn more at www.adoptiontherapyma.net

 

Robyn Joy Park, LMFT

Robyn Joy Park is a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who specializes in working with children and families as they are seeking therapeutic services with a large focus and passion to work within the foster care and adoption constellation. She works on an amazing multi-disciplinary team founded by Tina Payne Bryson at The Center for Connection as well as a private practice alongside Angela Gee, LMFT (and fellow adoptee!) Robyn has specialized trainings and workshops locally and nationally addressing various things such as adoption, maternal mental health and interpersonal neurobiology.

Robyn is a Korean adoptee, believer. globetrotter. foodie. marathoner. transracial adoptee. qpoc. LMFT. gryffinpuff. IPNB. cushie. fighter. she/her.

 

Melanie Chung Sherman, LCSW-S, LCPAA, PLLC

Melanie Chung-Sherman is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed child-placing administrator, and TSBSWE-Board approved clinical supervisor through the State of Texas. She is a Certified Theraplay® Practitioner and Trainer. She is the Regional 3 Representative for the NASW-Texas State Board of Directors.

She is a senior psychotherapist with the University of Texas at Dallas’ Student Counseling Center serving the diverse mental health needs of UTD’s student population. Melanie is also the founder and owner of a private practice in North Dallas where she specializes in transracial adoption, complex trauma, and womxn’s health.  She was an adjunct professor of Social Work at Collin College. In addition, she has worked in the field of child welfare, medical social work, and womxn’s issues since 1999. Her passion includes education and training others to lift the voices of marginalized groups, particularly womxn of color and adoptees, combatting mental health stigma, and addressing power-based violence.

 

Jaclyn Skalnik, LCSW

Jaclyn Skalnik is the founder of Adoption Wellness and is also a transracial, internationally adopted person. Jaclyn earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin. She has assisted adoptive families throughout their adoption process for nearly two decades. She has presented at global conferences on matters concerning adoption and is passionate about counseling adopted persons and adoptive families seeking support. Other professional experiences include international adoption-related travel throughout Asia and Latin America, homeland travel with adoptive families, and advocating on behalf of children who deserve permanency in a loving, healthy family.

Jaclyn is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a trained Hague Accreditation reviewer for the Council on Accreditation, a member of the National Association of Social Workers, a World of Diversity trainer, adoptive family homeland journey social worker and has facilitated international birth-family searches and reunions.

 

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

 

 

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker provides support from her unique “trifecta perspective” as a licensed psychologist, transracial adoptee, and adoptive parent specializing in adoption, trauma, attachment, and racial identity work through her private practice in Denver, Colorado. She is a frequent speaker and trainer at adoption agencies, camps and conferences throughout the U.S., and is the author of “The Adoptee Self-Reflection Journal,” as well as the creator of the National Adoptee-Therapist Directory. Learn more about the services and educational resources she offers at www.growbeyondwords.com.

 

 

Katie Betancourt

 

 

Katie Betancourt is a psychiatric care worker on the child adolescent psych unit of a hospital in Ann Arbor, MI.  She is adopted from Colombia.  To learn more about Katie’s work in helping fellow Colombian adoptees search for their birth family members, go to https://iamadoptee.org/birth-search/ or contact Katie at [email protected]

 

Emma

 

 

 

Emma is an editor for IAMAdoptee. She enjoys art, music, sports, traveling, and bubble tea. She was adopted from Hunan province in 1995. Emma has returned to China a few times and has been attempting to learn Mandarin for many years.

 

Katie Mantele

 

 

Katie Mantele is a Chinese-American adoptee and currently a graduate student pursuing a MA in Social & Cultural Analysis, which is essentially American Studies. Her research interests include Asian American Studies, race and ethnicity, diaspora, kinship formation, and critical adoption studies.  To learn more about Katie’s knowledge on DNA testing and birth searching in China, go to https://iamadoptee.org/dna-iii-katie-mantele/

 

Katara Ziegler

 

 

Katara Ziegler is a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder studying Mechanical Engineering. Adopted from Sichuan, China in 1998, she’s based in Colorado with her parents and dog. She loves languages, food, and tinkering.

 

 

Origin Story

Joy Lieberthal Rho and Thomas Kaplan met in 1997 shortly after the incorporation of Also-Known-As, Inc. in New York City, a non-profit volunteer organization created for international adoptees. We teamed up to create the Youth Mentorship Program which we are so proud to know continues today. Our friendship has gone from attending years of adoptee functions, speaking on panels, serving the Korean adoptee community to traveling to Korea, navigating our relationships with our birth families, attending each others’ weddings and raising our boys; we each have 2!

Over the last 20 years, social media has become the seminal way for international adoptees to connect and create community. As adoptees, we still thrill when we make a connection with another adoptee. It never gets old! Because these connections become intimate fast, Tom wanted to find a way for adoptees to find each other easier, meet and connect.

Joy has really never left the adoptee community, primarily working as a therapist specializing in issues related to adoption, identity and family. In the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship, she would hear repeatedly – are there others like me, are there others who have the same experience as I did, is there a good book for me to read, is there any research being done on adoptees, have you seen this documentary on adoption, do you know any organizations for adoptees, how can I travel to my birth country, how do I begin my search for birth family, where can I learn to speak my birth language? Navigating a sense of what it means to be an intercountry adoptee has depended on word of mouth or the perseverance of the individual adoptee to find resources on their own. She wondered, maybe there could be a way for her to create this resource as well as a community of fellow helpers.

IAMAdoptee was born out of the desire to create the community Joy and Tom were seeking, a place to connect and provide resources for people like us all the while making the seeking a little easier and less alone. Tom Kaplan left the board of IAMAdoptee in January, 2020. Tom remains co-founder of IAMAdoptee. His vision and hope for a community of adoptees for adoptees remains strong. We are grateful for his dedication, resources and enthusiasm to help other adoptees feel less alone. He is an integral part of the history of IAMAdoptee and the legacy of the work he furthered in creating an online community will remain.