Today, CCAI celebrates its ten year anniversary! Kerry Hasenbalg, CCAI’s Founding Executive Director and current CCAI Advisory Board Member, shares her reflections on the impact CCAI has made this past decade.
From Louisiana to Myanmar, Haiti to Japan, it seems that this last decade has been riddled with natural disasters of epic proportions. Yet, in the aftermath of each tragedy, we have also witnessed rescue efforts of rivaling proportions.
When news of such mass human suffering is heard, countless people are compelled to act. But the truth is that in every corner of our society every single day children are living out their own personal disasters as they are becoming fatherless and motherless. The number of children who are considered orphans today is 50 times greater than the highest death toll on record resulting from any single natural disaster.
Ten years ago, CCAI became a voice in our nation’s capital on behalf these millions of children in crisis. And looking back, I realize that as an organization it has been incredibly successful at making the issues facing orphans and foster children very real to the lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Its ability to facilitate education interactions between those working in the trenches of child welfare and those at the highest level of government is unsurpassed.
One of my first events with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption was putting up a physical maze in the Rayburn House Office building for Members of Congress to walk through and get a “feel” for what it would be like to be “stuck” in foster care. At the end of the maze there were a group of young adults who had “aged out” waiting to meet the Members as they exited the maze. As a result of a conversation which took place between Senator Mary Landrieu and one of these youths, the Coalition got its first intern to help with the work. The power of this one intern’s testimony brought about a two-fold increase in congressional involvement in our child welfare events on “the Hill”. As CCAI recognized the power of a story to affect change for these millions of children and the need to bring like voices to the Hill, CCAI’s foster youth internship program was born.
Since that time there have been more than one hundred interns who have taken part in this program. Not only have more informed laws affecting kids been written as a result of these internships but these young people have also received a much deserved “leg up” in their own future endeavors. It has been amazingly satisfying to watch how the graduates have gone on to affect change all over the world for vulnerable children.
From CCAI’s foster youth internship program to its domestic roundtables, Capitol Hill briefings and international fact-finding trips, CCAI is affecting real and lasting change. Today, CCAI’s clarion call to organize and mobilize is being heard around the globe; and its results are being felt in the places which matter most – the hearts of countless children. I am proud to have been a part of the early workings of CCAI; and I am exceedingly blessed to now be witnessing how it continues to carrying out its mission in such creative and effectual ways.
Just as I had the opportunity to plow the fields at CCAI in its early days working on these issues at the macro level, I am now personally witnessing their importance at the micro level in entirely new ways. My husband and I finished our home study this last year and although we have not yet adopted, the completion of our home study has allowed us to provide respite care for foster families. We are currently providing care for our friend’s foster son while they are in Haiti helping to rebuild.
And as we oversee this precious nine-year-old boy’s daily activities, we are reminded how impressionable is his young mind and how fragile are his emotions. In order that he and other children in similar situations can continue to be protected, encouraged and advocated for, it is critical that lawmakers are also kept “in touch” with the fragility of these young souls. CCAI is doing a tremendous job keeping these truths top of mind for our federal legislators. Governments don’t do a good job raising children; children are meant to be raised in families, not under the care of the state. So, while we still have children under the care of Uncle Sam, it is comforting to know that CCAI is active in ensuring that Uncle Sam protects these little ones and acts properly on their behalf.
CCAI recognizes that the best emergency response teams are the ones who listen to those in the middle of the crisis because the ones on the ground likely possess the information most critical to rectifying the problems and mending the fractures. I applaud CCAI for bringing the testimonies of those “on the ground,” such as: orphans, foster children, adoptive families, and orphan care workers who are caught in the middle of the child welfare crisis to the ears of government representatives who have the power to respond to the pain and affect positive change on a grand scale. So, to those at CCAI, I encourage you to keep on keeping on even when it’s difficult because your labor is not in vain. Happy 10 year Anniversary!
Founding Executive Director, CCAI