Dr. Bill and Dana Vogelpohl have always had a lively household. The Carmel residents raised eight children together and now have 13 grandchildren. They’ve also been foster parents for 23 years.
A year ago, the empty nesters adopted a 9-year-old who had been in their care. “We have 13 grandchildren and two of them are the same age as April,” laughs Dana. “It’s kind of like parenting an only child now, after having a large brood.
The couple adopted April and fostered babies, youngsters and teens, through Kinship Center. The Monterey County nonprofit strengthens families with foster care, adoption, education and mental health programs.
As an obstetrician, Bill has seen Kinship Center impact his own family as well as the lives of some of his young patients. He credits the agency for offering alternatives during challenging times.
“These kids are good kids in desperate need, and their future hangs in the balance,” he says. “They need the encouragement that Kinship Center provides.”
Three decades ago, Kinship Center cofounders Carol Biddle and Carol Bishop were colleagues at another local agency that closed and left Monterey County families wondering where to turn for help. Concerned community members gathered to discuss alternatives and eventually, created a new nonprofit.
Improving Family Dynamics Through Open Adoption
When Steve Snider and Kelli Uldall of Carmel Magazine researched options before adopting their oldest child, Evan, 13 years ago, they were introduced to what was ultimately a good fit for their family: open adoption.An open adoption is one where birth parents and adoptive parents meet, often before a child is born, and coordinate contact as a child grows up. Whether through shared letters and photos or in-person visits, the birth parents can watch their child grow and remain involved in the youngster’s life. Open adoptions help adoptive parents better understand their child’s birth family, and that understanding helps them give their child a more complete picture of his or her background.
Today, Snider and Uldall maintain a close relationship with Evan’s birth mother, Michelle. She comes to his birthday parties and speaks regularly with the family. Evan’s birth father, Eddie, also visits occasionally.
“Michelle is such an integral part of Evan’s life, and the ongoing relationship helps keep the entire adoption experience solid and balanced. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Uldall says.
When she and Snider decided to adopt their second child, Allyn, they worked with Kinship Center on another open adoption. Allyn’s birth parents were looking for a family much like theirs; years later, the couple still keeps in touch with Allyn’s birth parents, siblings, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
“Adopting a child through the foster care system was the norm when we adopted Evan, but as birth moms have learned about open adoption, more and more are choosing to maintain that role in their children’s lives,” says Uldall. “We are grateful for our relationships with Evan and Allyn’s birth parents and for the understanding, knowledge, and most importantly, unconditional love they provide.”
At Evan’s recent birthday party, more than half the children in attendance were adopted—some through open adoptions, and many through Kinship Center.
“So many beautiful families have been created because of Kinship Center. I see how happy and grateful people are. The people who adopt really, really want to be parents,” says Uldall.
“It was clear that volunteers in this community did not want to lose what was then 35 years of community investment and volunteerism on behalf of adopted and foster children,” says Biddle, who is now Kinship Center’s executive director.
A steering committee consisting of social workers, judges, parents and others outlined ideas, and Kinship Center opened in 1984. As it grew, the agency expanded from Monterey County to San Benito County and beyond, and broadened its offerings.
“Our original mission was to make sure that children who needed a permanent family had a permanent family,” says Bishop. The agency focused first on foster care and adoption programs, services for youth in the probation system and pregnancy counseling for young women. Staff members soon recognized a need for mental health services, as well as educational offerings for parents helping adopted children overcome loss, neglect and abuse.
“Some foster kids come into a family with their own existing trauma. In that case, often love is not enough. Some additional support is needed,” Biddle says.
Today, Kinship Center suppor ts more than 2,500 children annually. The organization arranges shor t-term and long-term foster care arrangements for kids with challenging family situations, youngsters with special health needs and those going through difficult transitions. Care initiatives like the Family Ties program aim to keep children living with relatives when bir th parents are unable to provide care due to illness, addiction, imprisonment or other issues. And, in addition to facilitating adoptions, including open adoptions, the agency leads classes for new parents and for professionals working in education, health, child welfare and related fields.
Kinship Center also provides wraparound services for at-risk youth, and mental health programs for those with emotional, behavioral and developmental needs.
“What makes me most proud is the interrelationship of the services we provide,” says Bishop. “Our mission is permanence. It’s about keeping families together, or creating families and supporting them so that they can stay together.”
Kinship Center leaders attribute their ability to provide comprehensive programming, in part, to the support of local auxiliaries and nonprofits. Groups host fundraisers, contribute their own dollars and volunteer with the organization, and board members donate additional time to set the agency up for success. In addition, Kinship Center merged with the Bay Area based Seneca Center, a youth-serving nonprofit, in 2011. A year later, Orange County’s Canyon Acres Children and Family Services joined the partnership. Being part of the Seneca Family of Agencies positions these organizations to serve families well into the future.
Kinship Center’s River Road headquarters also confirms its long-term community commitment. While children are not housed at the facility, they do spend time there when their lives are in transition.
“Children who have moved with their stuff in paper bags from one place to another come into this building wondering what’s going to happen next,” says Biddle. “They meet our therapy dogs, our staff members are wonderful and everything is at a child’s level. They feel safe here pretty quickly.”
“It feels like a home,” agrees Kinship Center board member Jeff Davi. As a Monterey Peninsula native, he especially interested in helping local children.
“You don’t think kids are unwanted or abandoned here, but they are in our own backyard. We pass them every day on the street…they need our help,” he says. “If Kinship Center wasn’t here, I can’t imagine the amount of desperation and loneliness these kids would feel. We’re changing lives and building families.”
Kinship Center will celebrate 30 years on September 20, during a White Party at the Pebble Beach home of Valentia Piccinini. To support the organization, or for information on Kinship Center’s services, classes and community resources, visit www.kinshipcenter.org or call 831/455-9965.