Sunday, May 18, 2014

Parenting...the other 363 Days a Year

Who doesn't want to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day? Especially those of us who moved heaven and earth, traveling around the globe, to become parents. I know we surely do. But here, in this message, FRUA celebrates the other 363 days a year of parenthood. The day-after-day, challenge-after challenge, joy-following-joy, messy, sweet, exhilarating, exhausting, sometimes lonely, better-if-shared, thankful days that require patience, love and fortitude. FRUA celebrates all of you, every day, and the families we have built. We celebrate with our eyes open, always focused on our mission; to provide hope, help and community for adoptive families.

There has been a lot going on at the FRUA, INC national level. Based on the 2013 national survey, this has been a year of change, as we set out to act upon the wishes of members and those who want to belong. Here, some highlights of the changes over the past few months:

Ten FRUA regional chapters
Since earlier this year, With the involvement of the leaders of FRUA chapters, and a recommendation of a FRUA chapter leader task force, FRUA has shifted from inconsistent metro-focused chapters to ten regional chapters, covering all fifty states. The FRUA regional boards are composed of volunteer leaders spread across each region, with volunteer representatives from Parent Organized Districts(PODs) that can bring FRUA families together wherever family clusters are located.

Major contact with our children's birth country embassies
FRUA has made a concerted effort to establish a place at the table regarding national adoption policy, and in helping to keep the doors of adoption open in Eastern European and central Asian countries. Over the past two years, we have significantly stepped up our communication with the embassies of our birth countries, meeting with them, most for the first time, to share information about our family support mission of hope, help and community for adoptive families.

While the next issue of The Family Focus will include a more detailed report, I made formal calls in February and March of 2014, on the embassies of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Republic of Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. I'll continue to reach out to more of the twenty two foreign embassies of the countries from which our children have come. Last year I met twice with the Ambassador of Ukraine, and plan to meet with the embassy again this summer.

Last December, continuing our cooperation with The Institute of International Education, FRUA-Colorado hosted a group of independent media Russian journalists at my home for dinner. I remain in touch with some of these journalists, to help get factual information about our families to the Russian people,

I have received a formal invitation to attend a US-Russian Forum on Capitol Hill, June 16-18, representing FRUA. The gathering focuses on areas of cooperation in culture, business and science. Attendees will include the Dept. of State, members of the United States Congress, the Russian Embassy, University of Moscow, and the Russian Cultural center.

New, 21st century database tools
With the launch next weekend of the new FRUA Member Center, linked to, FRUA will address a major need; making it easier for members to join and renew, adding efficiency for regional chapter leaders, and preparing to create an enhanced member resource center. Stay tuned for the email announcement message on our around 5/24, and after the roll-out, follow this link  to Join or Renew .

Happy May,
Jan Wondra
Acting Chair
FRUA, INC. National Board of Directors

Friday, July 12, 2013

FRUA Awards Two 2013 Student Scholarships

For the fourth year, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, including neighboring countries, (FRUA) is pleased to announce the distributing scholarships through its FRUA Scholarship Program. FRUA has awarded two 2013 scholarships: $1,000 for a high school senior, and $1,000 for a post-secondary student. This is the only scholarship program created specifically for students adopted from the former Soviet bloc countries.

The FRUA 2013 Scholarship for the High School Senior was awarded to Chris McAttee, the son of Eric and Sally McAttee, members of FRUA-Wisconsin. The McAttee family adopted him from Russia in 1998, when he was not quite six-years-old. Chris, an honor student, has just graduated from Pius XI High School in Milwaukee and plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, with the goal of practicing pediatric medicine.

Chris was elected Circuit Judge and State Senator at Badger Boy’s State, Wisconsin. Chris has explored his heritage for the past ten years through Dnipro, a Ukrainian Folk Dance Ensemble, which performs at the annual FRUA Yarmarka. He joined the dance group in third grade, and now is an instructor of younger students.

David, Lantz, this year’s winner of the FRUA 2013 Scholarship Award for Post-Secondary Students, is the son of Nanci Lantz of Inverness Place, Cincinnati. He was two when he came from Russia in 1994 to live in the United States. His family was active in the Ohio Chapter of FRUA, INC when there was an active chapter there. An Eagle Scout, David found a good fit with the College of Mt. Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, where he is majoring in history. He serves as a college tour guide and is active in Drama, Pep Band, peer tutoring, and as a new student orientation leader.

The FRUA National Scholarship Committee follows a rigorous review process. This year, FRUA received 22 scholarship applications; seven from young men and 16 applications from young women. 2013 Scholarship Committee Chair Mara Kamen noted that “As in previous years, the applications were high-quality and the applicants are incredibly impressive young adults!”

The twenty two applicants were adopted from across the former Soviet Union, coming from Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Kazakhstan. Their family's memberships spread across FRUA chapters in Missouri, New England, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC / Maryland / Virginia, and Wisconsin, and we had unaffiliated membership applicants from Florida, Georgia and Ohio.

With a field of wonderful applicants, we wish that there could have been more than two winners. The fact is that we can continue this scholarship program due to the generosity of FRUA members and friends who donated to the FRUA year-end giving appeal. The number and size of the scholarships are dependent upon available funds. We noticed something this year that has not occurred before; a few applications, not included in the total above, came in from students whose families were not paid FRUA members. To be considered for the scholarships, the students must be both adopted from a former Soviet bloc country and the families of applicants must be current, paid FRUA member families. For anyone looking toward applying next year, please take note of this.

FRUA’s National Board of Directors Scholarship Committee looks not just at applicant's academic records, but at the challenges they have overcome, as well as their service to their communities. We congratulate our two scholarship winners, Chris and David, and are delighted to recognize the accomplishments and abilities of all our talented FRUA teens. Teens who did not receive a scholarship this year are invited to re-apply, for the post-secondary scholarship next year.

What our kids can accomplish with the love and support of families who get them the help they need to reach their potential, is absolutely amazing! As we adoptive families know; having a family that supports you, no matter what, can make all the difference in the world in the life of a child.

My Best Regards,
Jan Wondra
Acting Chair
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Difference a Dad Makes in a Child's Life

Happy Father's Day to all our FRUA dads!

This Father's Day, we celebrate the fact that father's are finally getting the recognition they deserve. It's not just because parental leave for men for the birth or adoption of their children is gaining traction. But because so many of these guys...these new dads.. were raised by working mother's themselves. These are dads who are parental partners, who truly“Get it!”

A man who becomes a dad by going half way around the world -- who helps move heaven and earth to adopt his children -- you know he wants to be a dad. And this dad wants to bond with his children; wants to help them reach their potential. And that involvement can make a huge difference in a child's life*:
  • Involved dads impart a sense of stability and a range of social emotions for their child. While we mothers tends to protect and nurture our babies, dads' playfulness (what can occasionally cause us to utter in frustration “I feel like I have two kids now!”) in fact, teaches children how to control his/her emotions, and socializes them to accept a range of behaviors. Because dads tend to encourage exploration of the world, their encouragement can instill confidence and positive social behavior.
  • Engaged dads can have an impact on kid's future academic success and reduces anti-social behavior. “Studies indicate that children with a positive child/father relationship have greater academic success and are much less-likely to exhibit antisocial behavior.” (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).
  • Engaged dads impact both short-term and long-term behavior in children. A dad's personal life-choices can visibly influence his children's future. It's not just in how much money he makes, or his chosen career, but whether or not his actions show them, that time with them is important, that he values good grades, that he cares about helping others.
  • There is something to the old saying “Show your children love by loving their mother.” Involved dads who are in loving and committed relationship with their child, and that child's mother, give their children something else. They surround a child with stability and model what a stable relationships looks like, with benefits that impact every aspect of that child's life.
These past several months have been difficult ones for those prospective parents caught in the Russian ban on adoption by Americans, who want so desperately to be parents. You know FRUA's position  on this, or if you don't, you should.  It is our position that every child on this earth deserves to grow up in a forever family, that loves them and protects them and gets them the help they need to reach their potential, whatever that might be.  Growing up in a family is a basic human right, the best place for a child to learn the life lessons to help them succeed in life. FRUA continues to advocate, to meet with the State Dept., to meet with representatives of Russian NGO groups, to work with the media, in Russia to raise the stories of our FRUA family success, to work with the CCAI and many other adoption policy counterparts. We seek a resolution for the families caught in the ban, and the opportunity for a better life for the thousands of children being used as pawns. We've offered to tell the stories of our family's successes, to share the joy we have as parents, to the Russian government. But so far; our offers have not been accepted.

Here at FRUA we surely celebrate mothers. But throughout the month of June, and especially on Father's Day, we celebrate fathers and all you do. We celebrate the love you give our children, the strength on which we all lean, the shared joy of being parents. So today, moms, pass this along to the Dads in your life - share it with your friends and family-- and be thankful for the Fathers in your lives.

Jan Wondra
Acting Chair/Vice President
FRUA National Board of Directors

The Importance of Fathers, the Difference a Father can Make in the Healthy Development of Children, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau Rosenberg, Jeffrey., Wilcox, W. Bradford., 2006.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We're what 'hope help and community' means to you...

When FRUA announced a week and a half ago that it intended to conduct its first-ever National Needs survey of adoptive families who have adopted or are adopting from Russia, Ukraine and all Eastern European and central Asian countries, there were some who asked "why?"  To this question, the FRUA National board offers these three reasons:

1. Our mission is to provide hope, help and community for adoptive families. Because FRUA cannot be all things to all people, we hope this survey will help identify those services that are most valuable to the families that we are committed to serving.

2. The way the world communicates and connects is changing, and we must change with it. Some of you, only aware of our online presence, might not even realize that we have chapters or conferences. FRUA began with a regional/local chapter structure; first Washington D.C., then Wisconsin, and onward through the years. Over time, chapters formed, grew, dissolved, regionalized, divided, renewed. But the best base  for the 21st century might be different than the current structure.

3.  FRUA began as an all-volunteer organization. Over 18 years later, it remains all-volunteer. But this may not be the way to guarantee that the FRUA mission can continue to be met.

The survey will close at midnight on Tuesday, March 5. Whether you are a paid members, a lapsed member or a never-member, if you have adopted or are adopting in the regions we cover, please, take ten or fifteen minutes and to complete the survey. Go to:

All who complete the survey and provide their name (which will be seen only by our third-party survey provider and not connected with any specific survey) will be entered to win a $100 Orphanage donation in their name to our FRUA Orphan Support work. That one winner will also receive a FRUA Coffee & Tea for Orphan Support basket worth $75.

I encourage you to add your complete the help us chart the future of this organization. Thank you!

Jan Wondra, Acting National Chair
FRUA National Board of Directors

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

We're on the Record: It's About the Children

January 1, 2013....One week can change everything. When the lower house of the Duma, Russian Federation, voted on December 21st to ban adoption of Russian orphans by Americans, we were barely seven weeks into the new Bi-lateral Agreement on Inter-country Adoption, between the United States and Russia. It is a good agreement; requiring background information on the children, parenting education and a parenting plan for the adoptive parents, as well as a progress reporting structure and safeguards for adoptive children. As FRUA's liaison to the US Dept. of State's Office of Children's Issues, I represented FRUA and the voices of adoptive parents during the more than two years that our State Dept. spent crafting the agreement. FRUA's goal; to do what we can to help keep the doors of adoption open.

At the zenith of the reactive whirlwind, last Friday, December 27th, President Putin signed the swift and complete ban on adoption by Americans; shocking people around the world. On behalf of the National Board of Directors of FRUA, our regional chapters and membership world-wide, I issued a statement the next day, condemning the actions taken by the government of the Russian Federation, which had nothing to do with orphans and everything to do with turning the most vulnerable of children into political pawns.

The effects of this ban are heartbreaking for those 500 to 1,000 orphan children and the prospective American parents in-process to complete their adoptions. It is especially cruel for special needs children, who have virtually no chance to be adopted in Russia. Our government does not yet know how Russian will implement the ban, which went into effect today, but has indicated that it will advocate en-mass, on humanitarian grounds, for the completion of adoptions in process.

As an organization, FRUA believes in children's basic human right to grow up in families that love and protect them and get them the help they need to reach their potential, whatever that may be. We encourage humanitarian action by the Russian government, allowing those American families in-process to complete their adoptions.

In condemning this action, FRUA,has made a special point that our condemnation of this political action by the Russian government in no way relates to our great admiration for the people of Russia, millions of whom we know to be caring and generous, thousands of whom took care of our children prior to adoption, and who support the rights of orphan children to grow up in families. We point out that by adopting children from Russia, we have added the Russian heritage to our families forever.

Of course it is best for a child to be adopted by a family in the home country. But if no families there come forward to adopt them; then surely it is better for a child to be adopted by a willing family wherever they may be, than to leave that child to languish alone, in an institution, to grow up to an uncertain future. Since 1991, over 60,000 Russian orphans have been adopted, and are growing up... successful, happy, families in the United States. Because this is about the children...this is truly where the truth lies.

Sincere hope for a brighter 2013,

Jan Wondra
Vice Chair/Acting National Chair
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption

Thursday, September 20, 2012

1, 2,3....School. Getting Them the Help They Need

Fall has arrived and with it, the next school challenges. Many of our FRUA parents have already had your first back-to-school nights. Many of you may be hearing about new issues, or addressing learning or behavior challenges that came out last school year, only to subside over the summer and return with the advent of the new school-year routine. Which brings me to #3:

 #3 Get them the help they need....It doesn't take an expert to tell us that our kids can be complicated and they don't come with instruction manuals. Just when we've got one problem figured out, something else can pop up.  With each challenge we had, we tried to get the help needed at the time. That's what we parents do; get them the help they need  as we go, to help them reach their potential, whatever level that may be.

Many of you may be facing your first IEP meetings for your children.  For the first few years, we found it helpful, as FRUA-Wisconsin parents, to accompany each other to those meetings and continued that with FRUA-Colorado parent support. Not only did it give us a person on our side to take notes during those tense meetings, but it provided confirmation of our points. Often the other FRUA parent could second the things we had to say about the environments from which our children had come and the typical behaviors of post-institutionalized children. They could support our suggestions for classroom or instructional needs. (Note to parents: I learned NEVER to advocate as something only my child needed...a sure way to get shot down. Instead Ilearned the language of  "this could help the whole classroom learn better." Or..."this suggestion could help all the children understand the concept better."). I didn't shy away from saying I'd put in parent volunteer time, either.  My chosen location: the study library - an hour or two a week. As a working mom, I knew those hours were more beneficial to my kids than lunch out and it let my daughter see that I supported her perseverance.

Not all the issues we confronted were connected; sometimes we had three things going at once. We'd try to figure out what was going on and which issue to address first. Usually the safety things came first. Sometimes those we consulted didn't agree. Or because of the IEP, we found that the school could only provide support for a secondary issue because that's where the funding is these days. We kept plugging away. But here's the thing we can loose sight of while trying to get our kids the help they need. We're the experts – the ones who know our kids better than anyone else with initials behind their names. If you think something isn't right...change something, pursue answers, persist. Don't wait, because our kids surely don't.

So as we bring you the third of the three things that every adoptive parents needs to practice...for the days when it all just seems to be too much....just remember. Its' 1...2...3... love them, stop helicoptering and get them the help they need to reach their potential.

Here's to a successful school year for all our FRUA children,

Jan Wondra
Vice Chair
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

1,2, 3....School. Stop Helicoptering

By now the back packs have been adjusted, the new school bus pick-up spots begin to become routine, and pics of the first day of school have been posted to your Facebook  page. You may be anticipating the first school Parent Night of the year.

No matter the age of one's children, hope for a great school year is riding high. We're on the other end of the school years at our house; it happens so quickly. Our daughter, Katie (Russia, 1994) has begun her senior year at Colorado State University; doing well in her major, and deep into presidential leadership of her chapter of Chi Omega sorority. Our son is a married, second-year grad student at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington DC. He's not beyond asking the occasional piece of advice, but capable of authoring policy pieces that I often need a dictionary to understand.

It is at precisely this point in the school year when I used to write the following two words on a sticky note and slap it on my bathroom mirror:

#2. Stop helicoptering.  

Let your kids make some mistakes, the earlier the better. We can't save them from everything. No matter if your kids are eight or eighteen, challenged, or average or brilliant, adopted or biological, there comes a point when we have to back up and let them fall. Failure at a young age is OK.  Say this out loud, moms and dads. "Failure at a young age is OK." 

This is true, not just because we're here to help them through it, but because it can help make our kids more resilient. We get to say, “Well, pick up and try again.” We can say that because of #1 (below). As adoptive parents, we know our kids can come with more than their share of challenges. Showing them how to keep trying...and trying...and trying... is a gift. In a past blog post, I shared the story of how Katie's kindergarten teacher and I cooked up a spelling word challenge. She learned to spell the word 'perseverance' at age five as a sing-song; the word itself teaching her its meaning and how to put it in practice. It's still her word. 

Attending freshman parent orientation at CSU four years ago, I actually heard a mother express concern to the head of student services that her son would not wake up for classes and what would the university do to assure that he made it to class. The Dean stared at her for a moment and said "Madam, if you have not taught your son that it is his own responsibility to show up for class by this time, perhaps he needs to understand the consequences."

Parent nights are coming, folks....slap that sticky note on your mirror. Then pick a word for the school year and create a partnership with your kids' teachers...its time for some lessons! This weekend...#3.

Jan Wondra
Vice Chair
National Board of Directors
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption