By Phoenix reporter Sean Ronan ’20:
Many children face the struggle to find a family that will love and support them through all circumstances. In a recent poll, AdoptionNetwork.com reported that about 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year.
I am one of those 135,000 children. 15 years ago, in 2004, I was adopted from Moscow, Russia.
Experiencing the difficulty of infertility for a few years, my parents, Kathleen and Brian, decided to conduct a research on adoption. It didn’t take long for them to make a decision. In July of 2003, they partnered with Children of the World Adoption Agency, Inc., led by president and executive director Justin Herscovici and adoption coordinator Phyllis Herscovici. It was the only agency accredited by the Russian Federation that was licensed and headquartered in New York.
Upon being shown a video of me playing with various toys, my parents quickly knew that I was the “right” child to take home.
It took my parents at least nine months to complete the adoption process. Within that time, they visited Russia twice — the flights lasting 10 hours each — to submit paperwork and various documents, to attend court hearings, to get fingerprinted and to visit the orphanage, Baby House #2, in which I was situated. A woman named Alla guided my parents and translated for them throughout their trip.
Scripture tells us that a new name symbolizes a new mission. My parents were excited for this new opportunity for me. When asked what my new name would be, my parents chose “Sean Michael Ronan” from the former, “Artem Aleksandrovich Stepanov.”
Time had gone by fast. It was finally the day that the adoption process would be finalized and I would be brought into the care of my new loving parents. Upon landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on April 24, 2004, I was greeted by my new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who had all anticipated my arrival for many hours. I was showered with hugs and kisses.
Since then, I have had the blessing of growing up in a home with a sister whom I consider to be my best friend and a family in which I am cherished for all that I am and have accomplished. I was given a second chance to grow up into the person I am destined to become.
Children of the World, Inc. invited my family and me to their annual picnic for many years until its closing in 2008. It was an opportunity for kids to get to mingle with other children from Russia and for other people to ask questions about the adoption process.
For several years, my family and I memorialized my arrival annually on April 24 by going out to eat for dinner.
I have always known my story. Throughout my life, my parents have encouraged me to share it. To my surprise, Kellenberg Memorial High School has allowed me to meet other individuals who share the same, but unique, stories as mine.
Mrs. York, moderator of Homeroom 11M, teacher of Freshman Scripture and moderator of the Business and Finance Club, was adopted from Long Island, New York.
Mrs. York’s adoptive parents were blessed with great luck: it took just a few years until they were at the top of the adoption waiting list of the adoption agency, Catholic Charities.
When asked about how her story differs from that of an individual who was brought up by biological parents, Mrs. York commented, “For me, that ‘natural creation’ of a family was there, and so was love — so much love my parents were willing to give me what they thought was a better life.”
Every year, Mrs. York shares her adoption story with her Freshman Scripture classes and emphasizes the importance of adoption versus abortion.
She stated, “Adoption is so important because there are so many families out there struggling to have children and are so willing to take a baby who needs a home. Every human should be given an opportunity to be loved. Being adopted is a blessing. Every day I thank God that my birth mother chose life for me, and was so selfless as to make a huge sacrifice by putting me up for adoption. I also feel blessed that God chose my adoptive parents to be my new parents.”
Mrs. York currently has one child of her own. Inspired by her own story, she has always thought about “paying it forward” and adopting a child in the future.
CJ Peknic ’21, a charismatic sophomore at Kellenberg Memorial High School, was adopted from Taiwan in 2009.
Following CJ’s birth, his biological mother had placed him in St. Lucy’s Orphanage. Just when he was several months old, he was then placed with a foster family until he was nearly two-and-a-half years old. Later, he was moved to another foster family until he was 6 years old and adopted into his current family.
CJ’s father stated that adopting CJ and bringing him into his family was, “the best birthday gift he could ask for.”
CJ commented, “Being adopted is unique. God had a purpose for me to have a good and happy life, so He gave me to my family who loves me unconditionally. One of my favorite quotes from Isaiah 30:21 is, ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’’ To me, this means there is always a meaning to something that has happened to you in the past, and for me, it means following the path God has set for me.”
If he gets the chance, CJ would like to travel back to his home country and meet his biological parents in the future.
“If I got to meet my parents in person, I would like to know why they had put me in a foster care, if I had any siblings, and what happened in the past that had made them think the way they did,” he reflected.
Zhenya Pierce ’20 was adopted from Ukraine at six years old, in 2008. His sparse memories of his young life include sleeping in big rooms lined wall-to-wall with twin beds, though his knowledge of his native Russian language has decreased over time.
Zhenya’s happiest memory is of when he began his journey home with his adoptive parents, running around a hotel room in Ukraine in excitement over his newfound family. Zhenya described feeling exhilarated and scared as Finding Nemo, the first Disney movie he had ever seen, played on the hotel room TV.
While the stories of adopted children are compelling, the stories belong as much to the parents who gain the love of a new child. Mrs. Alice Accardi has been a junior and senior math teacher at Kellenberg since 1987. She and her husband have two biological children named Kira and Julia, and one child adopted from Korea named Brian.
Mrs. Accardi and her husband were trying to have a child for at least 10 years. One day at church, they met a family in the pew behind them who had two biological sons and one two-year-old daughter named Rosie, who was adopted from Korea. Following church, Mrs. Accardi and her husband went to the diner. Inspired by their new friends’ story, they decided to adopt.
“I firmly believe that God wanted us to adopt, and to be Brian’s parents in particular,” stated Mrs. Accardi.
Provided with a six-week hiatus from work to initiate the adoption process, Mrs. Accardi, along with her husband, initiated the undertaking through an adoption agency in Mineola named New Beginnings. Following extensive paperwork, Brian was adopted within 7 months on January 12, 1998.
Mrs. Accardi took a five-year sabbatical to raise her children after adopting Brian. She also did volunteer work with New Beginnings, working as a “Greeter” at John F. Kennedy Airport. Once babies came over from Korea, brought by an “escort,” they had to clear Customs and Immigration. Once Mrs. Accardi received gate clearance, she would go to the gate, find the escort and the child, clear the child through Immigration and bring him or her out to meet the new family.
For many years, every Mother’s Day, Mrs. Accardi would send a letter to New Beginnings and ask them to translate it and send it to the agency in Korea.
She commented, “It was my hope that, should Brian’s birth mother or foster mother ever wonder how he was doing, they could see that he was happy and healthy.”
Every January, Mrs. Accardi and her family celebrate Gotcha Day to remember the day that Brian was adopted. Brian gets to choose what restaurant he and his family goes to. As tradition, he chooses a Japanese restaurant.
Today, Brian serves his community as a firefighter.
It is imperative that all children grow up in an unconditionally loving home. Kellenberg Memorial High School has given me the blessing of meeting others with similar stories, which I hope inspires them to further share their stories so that others may become encouraged to do the same.