G.A. Family Services is celebrating National Adoption Month and the success of the program that connects foster children with forever homes.
According to Maggie Dreyer, MSW, LCSW-R, director of community based services, National Adoption Month celebrates families who have adopted children out of the foster care system.
"Because we're a new, much-needed program in Chautauqua County, we're very excited to finally be able to offer a celebration for all the families who have gone above and beyond in providing a home for children," said Dreyer.
Summer Spitz and her adopted daughter Lyla are shown enjoying some playtime together.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
Pictured from left are Sara, 4; Lyla, 3; Owen, 5; Belle, 4; and Gavin, 4. These five children were adopted by Summer and Dave Spitz of Jamestown.
An Adoption Appreciation Dinner will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the G.A. Learning Center cafetorium, 200 Gustavus Ave. on the Lutheran Campus. The event is open to parents and children involved in the adoption services program. The dinner will feature live music and a presentation by local artist David Miller. And, there will be activities in the gym for children while the presentation is taking place.
In addition to the Adoption Appreciation Dinner, G.A. Family Services will host a Christmas holiday party from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, also at the G.A. Learning Center cafetorium. The event is for families with children in therapeutic foster care and those already adopted.
"Sometimes there can be a stigma associated with foster care children, but when you see the families who have adopted children out of the system you see an incredible amount of generosity, love and caring; so it can be hard to tell who is who in terms of biological or adopted children," said Dreyer. "We have amazing families who have taken on an immense amount of work, dedication and responsibility to meet the needs of these children who otherwise would have been lingering in the system had they not stepped forward."
One of the families who stepped forward is the Spitz family of Jamestown. In addition to having three biological children of their own, Summer and Dave Spitz adopted two children domestically from foster care through Chautauqua County Social Services, and three more children, Lyla, Gavin and Belle, with Down syndrome from the Ukraine.
"I read an article in People magazine about what happens to children with special needs in foreign countries that made me sick and want to help," said Mrs. Spitz. "Here we were thinking that we were saving a child, never realizing that these children would save us. The blessing for us has outweighed anything we could have ever expected."
The Spitz family most recently adopted Lyla, 3, originally from Ukraine, who has both serious heart and lung conditions that will require surgery.
"It's because of Lyla that we found Belle and Gavin too," said Mrs. Spitz. "Two years ago we committed to Lyla, but she was sick and wasn't well enough to be adopted. Then about six months ago we began the process of bringing Gavin home only to find out that Lyla had survived and was well enough to be adopted. So, because of this one little girl we now have three."
Through Reece's Rainbow, reecesrainbow.org, an adoption ministry that advocates for children with Down syndrome, Mrs. Spitz works on a blog that details the life and times of her large family. To find out more about Mrs. Spitz and her children, visit luckytolovelyla.blogspot.com.
According to Mrs. Spitz, G.A. Family Services offered her a great deal of help after the children were adopted and at home.
"That's how the program began," said Tiffany Lang, adoption specialist. "Social services saw the need in Chautauqua County because families were struggling after an adoption took place."
One of the ways that G.A. Family Services helps is by providing each child with a "Life Book," which is similar to a scrapbook. The books give children the means to creating a lasting memorial to the struggles and blessings they faced while searching for a forever home.
"The 'Life Books' have helped out the children tremendously," said Lang. "They are pretty much a story of the child's life that starts at their birth. They are also done for children in foster care, so that if the child returns to their family of origin the book can go with them. It can help the family know where they've come from."
G.A. Family Services also hosts family fun days once a month to bring all the families who have foster and adopted children together to interact and learn from each other. The events can range from visiting a nature reserve, hosting movie nights, to a Halloween party.
"At the very first family fun night we had a foster child approach another child who had just been adopted and said, 'You're adopted? How does that feel?'" said Dreyer. "That solidified for us what really needs to be happening. Those in a similar situation need to meet each other so they can open up and share their feelings."
G.A. Family Services is an affiliate of Lutheran, and is a program that is federally funded through a TANF grant in collaboration with Chautauqua County that will end in May of 2013. However, Dreyer hopes to continue the program by bringing to light the necessity of the services the program offers. There are currently 14 families with more than 50 children benefiting from the program's services. And, in addition to Lang and Dreyer, the program employs three caseworkers, some of whom are bilingual, and a family advocate.
"We don't know what will happen," said Dreyer. "However, we're looking at G.A. Family Services as trying to continue the services even if we don't get the grant money because we have seen such an incredible difference in the families that have needed it. I think we need to prove that we have absolutely impacted by reducing any kind of readmission into foster care. That's our goal, to ensure that these adoptions do not disrupt and these children are not returned to the system. I think our success in that will help us be able to advocate for continuation of services."
G.A. Family Services is currently working on finding forever homes for many children with special needs, those who may be hard to place due to behavioral issues, large sibling groups and teenagers, said Dreyer.
For more information call 708-6161 or visit www.lutheran-jamestown.org/ga-family.