Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview with Andrea Roberts

If you've been a reader since the beginning here on A Perfect Lily, you've probably witnessed a sea change in my writing and blogging. What began here as letters to my daughter- a way to process the grief and subsequent joy that is often the journey of a diagnosis of Down syndrome- over time transformed into a platform to raise awareness for children overseas who share her extra chromosome.

I truly believe that learning about orphans on Reece's Rainbow and advocating for them is what turned the corner for me, as far as dealing with my emotions after Lily's birth. As any parent of a child with special needs knows, our love for our children is not what is at stake when it comes to processing those emotions...the truth is, no parent wants to see their child struggle, and it is because of our love for our kids that we wrestle with how they might struggle in life.

After Lily was born I began to read blog after blog that mentioned Reece's list of adoption blogs grew and grew, until they pretty much dominated my blogger dashboard. Slowly God dealt with my heart about the fact that Lily is not suffering- she knows joy and she knows the love and acceptance that our family provides, and ultimately she will always be surrounded by those who love her. What more could I ask for, for my child ?

The children on Reece's Rainbow however, are not guaranteed any of those blessings in life. In fact, unless a family steps forward to rescue them, they are most certainly guaranteed a life of isolation and neglect and eventually cruelty, as they are transferred from baby houses to mental institutions. I've said it here before- if we can't stand to read about what happens to orphans with Down syndrome in other nations, we can click that little x at the right hand corner of the screen. But children on Reece's Rainbow don't have that option. They can't close their eyes and make their whole bad-dream-of-a-life go away, and there are few truer definitions of suffering than what they face. God forgive me, for ever closing my eyes to their fate, because the pain was too much to bear.

I am so thankful that God did open my eyes, through the gift of Lily, and so thankful that He did the same for one woman, many years ago. I remember frantically emailing Andrea Roberts last December on the first day of our iPod giveaway for Olga. The donations were rolling in faster than we could update, and we wanted to know how to let readers know they were making a difference. I heard back from Andrea almost immediately- she put me in touch with Michelle Zoromski, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past 9 months I've been blessed by the friendship that has developed with this amazing woman. One of the distinctions that marks a person of character is their ability to deal with success as well as criticism...I'm honored to interview someone who has handled both with grace and integrity.

Please enjoy this interview with....

Andrea Roberts
Executive Director
Reece’s Rainbow Down Syndrome Adoption Ministry

One of the things that has amazed me from the moment I "met" you through emailing last December was your availability. You must be one of the busiest women I know, and yet you take time to answer each and every email (and I bet half of them are mine!) 
First of all- HOW do you make time for everyone, and second- do you ever get a break? It seems with what you hear and read and see every day, your brain would constantly be focused on the need.  

 My heart is a servant’s heart.  I love to help people.  I always have.  In college I studied Spanish and Criminal Justice, but my career path has been all customer service, sales, marketing, etc.  I know the value of a fast response, especially when someone is asking about something as important and exciting as the adoption of a child.  I make it a priority to get back to folks as quickly as I can.  

As RR has grown though, that has become harder and harder.  I am blessed to have an amazing team of folks who assist with new family inquiries, setting up FSP profiles, disbursing grants, processing donations, etc.   They are the face of this ministry.  Fast response time is very important to me, and it helps to build a trusting relationship from the beginning.  

But yes, what we ALL do here at RR is exhausting.  There really is no real break, but that’s ok.   The team shares the load now, we make decisions together, we have a Board of Directors now, and I am so happy it isn’t all on me anymore! The burden, just for the children alone, is nearly unbearable some days.  It is easy to rejoice in all the funds raised and children found, but every day I get up, it’s right back to still working to save the others and find those who are still hidden away.  Everything I do is for *them*. 

Who inspires you

Renee Loux.  Anyone who knows her won’t need an explanation.  Her name and her life are synonymous with God’s grace, patience, kindness, peace of heart, service to children, and living for all God asks of us in this life.

I've watched you under fire for many of the past 9 months that I've known you. I've seen it get ugly, as far as critics and false accusations go, and I've seen you time and time again respond with grace and even helped me to not take things personally, and to stop worrying about what others think by offering this sage advice: I know the truth, and that is what matters. 

So be painfully honest: do you ever just want to quit? When you work so hard to try to save kids, and there are still people who will find fault or question your motives- are there days when you say, "I just want to go back to being a mom!" ?

YES.  :)   But when that is what God wants, He will make it crystal clear!  For now….too many lives are still waiting.  RR is too much of a voice for those kids to just walk away from them.  Sometimes families have a difficult time in country for various reasons, and it pains me greatly because all we ever want here at RR is happy families with a smooth adoption process. 

 International adoption is a moving target, at best.  We have to try to keep up with the needs of every family’s personality, the changing statuses of some of the children, new laws, new travel reqs, ridiculous unexpected paperwork requirements…in addition to everything it takes to run this 501c3 administratively.  Some folks have a hard time relating to the heartfelt genuine-ness that we all work under…they just can’t believe that no money is involved at all (RR does not pay for child info and we do not get paid for any child matches).  We try to provide as much personalized service and attention to each family as we can for free. RR is a true non-profit in every sense of the word.  Our mission statement is the same as it was on the first day I started this website.  We love what we do (our whole leadership team), but it is draining sometimes!  The needs are overwhelming.  Trying to make everyone happy is impossible, but we keep on pursuing that goal. 

I could really use a LONG vacation, but you know what I talk about on vacation?  New ways to serve our children. :)  New graphics.  New awareness campaigns.  New slogans.  New opportunities to reach outside of the Down syndrome community and bring in some great visibility, one that will really make a social statement to the entire nation.  This is who I am now.  I swore when Reece was born that I didn’t want to be a flag waver, but in hindsight I can hear God laughing, like ROFL.  :)

A few months ago I was struggling with whether or not Sam and I were called to adopt. I told you I felt so torn because I have such a burden for adoption...and yet it appears that God is only calling me to advocate for children on Reece's Rainbow. You encouraged me by saying God had not called you to adopt either- but that we still have very vital roles in helping rescue children. I'd love to know more about that decision you came to...was it a gradual process, or did you just wake up one day and say, "This is what the Lord called me to do"  ? 
I love my children dearly, but I was simply not cut out to be a mega mom.  Reece is more than a handful just like he is, and he needs as much of me as he can get.   As RR grew, and more children were found, it became very clear to me what a valuable service this was, and that bringing another child into our family would significantly limit my ability to do what I do as the Exec Dir.  I get to live and love vicariously through each of our adoptive families.  Getting to meet those kids in person for the first time is an incredible feeling!   

 I know I am doing my part, and I love the vehicle that RR has become to make it possible for so many others to participate in the life-saving gift of adoption.  As we often say “you don’t have to adopt to make a difference!” 

What is a typical day like for you? 

Which 30 second increment would you like me to talk about?  Lol  My day is ever changing.  I can’t make a to-do list because the priorities change every 30 seconds, seriously.

We saw miracles happen in December during our giveaways for Olga and Kareen, and then in February for Peter and again in May for Albina. I've watched Adeye raise multiplied thousands of dollars for many other children on Reece's Rainbow as well. We've chatted through yahoo about the blessing and the curse of miraculous online fundraising events like this. Can you talk about the pro's and con's of these types of miracles?

  That is an interesting question. 

The miracle?  Self-explanatory.  Raises funds for a particular child, drives sometimes hundreds of new supporters to our website during that campaign, raises awareness for so many other kids at the same time.  It is beyond words to see this amazing Reece’s Rainbow family come together for those who really need it!!  

The curse….I wouldn’t call it a curse, more like the risk of disappointment.   When some families are able to raise $20k in 24 hours, but some families have no luck whatsoever…that they made a commitment to a child in the hopes that they too would have such a successful fundraiser and it just didn’t work out that way.   

When a need is brought to me, no matter who it is, I do everything I can every time.  RR leans very heavily on social media to get the word out, and we are honored to have been nominated for the Classy Awards “Most Innovative Use of Social Media”.  But in the end, it is up to those donors to give or not to give for a particular family or child.   I’m not God.  I don’t have a blank check to write for anyone. I don’t go begging.  I share the needs as they are brought to me  Each of our donors has different, personal things that touch them and compel them to give.  

We're getting ready to gear up for the angel tree project. I'm plotting and praying for how Lily's blog can be effective in finding a family for Artem, whom I've been a warrior for during New Years, Valentine's, Easter, and 5-5-5.  I've been blogging my heart out for Artem and still he waits. Aside from prayer and fasting and blogging and giving...what can we as Christmas warriors be doing for the children we are advocating for? Are there things that you see in the online community that you wish you could "fix" or address? What can we do to get our message out there better?  

Oh, the Angel Tree is such an exciting project, folks save up all year long just for that, and I think that is so cool!   The bottom line is that the more grant funding that is available for each child, especially these older kids and ones with significant medical complications, the better their chances of finding families.  That is why the Christmas WARRIOR program is so important, because each warrior is focused on raising funds and awareness for just one child.  The “tipping point” for many of these older kids (4+) seems to be $10,000 or more.  $1000 is a hefty goal for many warriors, let alone $5k or $10k.  So we start small and build from there.  But you can continue serving as Artem’s warrior until he DOES find a family, because he CAN!  What a joy it will be for this to be his last year on our Angel Tree, and for him to be UNDER his family’s tree next year :) I think you’re doing all you can, social media and lots of prayers are truly the best ways I know of to make a difference for each child.  Don’t be discouraged because other kids are chosen first, or because one warrior’s fundraiser isn’t as successful as another one.  When we see others struggling, we are at our best in terms of reaching out and helping to achieve goals. 

Last year was the first time we have ever had every child on the Angel Tree meet their $1000 goal.  We quadrupled our raised funds during that project from the one in 2009.  This year, as we celebrate our 5 year anniversary, we are setting an organizational goal of $500,000 *just during the Angel Tree*, from November 1- December 31.  Lofty goal, but I think we can do it.  I KNOW we can do it.  Christmas Warrior signups begin on September 15,   And as a note, donors of any faith or nationality are welcome. 

When can we have lunch together? ;)  

Any time, cyber lunch at Olive Garden maybe?  :)


I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did...and I hope you don't mind, but Jack and Lily's Giveaway Wednesday will be postponed until next week, as I would like to run this post for several days.

And just to let you know- there will only be one more of those giveaways- can you believe summer is almost over?!?

In just a few weeks we'll be hosting a big fundraising giveaway here for a friend of ours who is adopting an angel from Reece's Rainbow. I hope you won't miss this chance to help an adoptive family bring their little girl home, as well as a chance to win some fabulous prizes!

In the days ahead we're also gearing up for the angel tree project by putting together an amazing giveaway for Artem, the orphan I mentioned above. It breaks my heart that he has been waiting for two years on Reece's Rainbow, and still no family has claimed him. If you would like to donate any items to a pre-Christmas giveaway for Artem, please contact me via email. We are looking for gift cards, large ticket items such as cameras, iPads, game stations, mini-vans...okay, just makin' sure you were still reading. ANYHOO, although I personally love homemade items, not everyone appreciates the value of such gifts, so please keep donations limited to those that have a specific monetary value. I hesitate to say that but if I don't, I know my brother will be offering an autographed photo of himself posing with Robert Mueller, and I really would hate to have to turn him down.

Happy Tuesday!!


Elissa said...

Great job Patti and Andrea! Can't wait to see what's in store.

Elissa said...

Oops. In the coming months. I too have struggled with the strong calling to adopt and the obstacles and seeming walls God has put in place. While I have done nothing even close to you Patti, I find my role in saving orphans may also just be in advocating and raising/donating $. It is indeed a bittersweet place to find myself for many reasons. I am just trusting in God and his plan for our family.

On a different note, now I see why you've been so busy!

Race Bannon said...

Did you get the Director's permission to use his photo?

"specific monetary value" - hello, that undershirt was worn by Anthony Quinn! He took it off to do sit-ups in the park and I nabbed it.

nicole said...

Great post, Patti! I clicked over to Renee's blog and am blown away by her love and perseverance amidst such suffering.

Michelle Z said...

Great interview, Patti :)

I'm so glad you've harassed me ... I mean, befriended me ;)

And, I, for one, would be HONORED to win Race's picture. As long as he still doesn't think me suspicious! LOL

Mrs. K said...

All I can do is advocate and donate but I sure would love to hold some of those precious babes in my arms. I have a longing to do so much more but don't know what God wants of me. I have signed up as a RR Prayer Warrior but it seems redundant as I pray each day for these little ones.

Lils, please give Mama a big kiss from me and tell her I loved the interview.

one_plustwins said...

Nice interview Patti!

kecia said...

great interview! Andrea is more than amazing! I hope to meet her someday too! She really amazes me!

Unknown said...

patti that was fabulous! xxxxx

cara said...

Thank you SO much for doing this to both of you!!! You are a voice for the voiceless taking on that call for the fatherless. May God bless you both richly in Him.

Anna Theurer said...

Great interview Patti & Andrea! Love the photos too :)

Melissa said...

Love the interview and the photos!!