Institute Raises Money in Annual Triathlon

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Fourth Annual Iron Man Triathlon brought in $27,000 for the organization.

Contributions for Matt Donaldson’s event support the work of the facility. Matt participates in the triathlon in the name of his mother.

“We’re very realistic,” said the Institute’s Executive Director Adam Pertman, best-selling author of Adoption Nation and an adoptive father. “We make about $25,000 on the event yearly. We’ve been growing. It’s a really good thing that we’re edging toward $30,000 this year. I think we can do it. It’s a fun vehicle for a very good cause.”

Pertman said historically the triathlon has not been a big income source for the Institute but they’re planning on making some “tweaks” in how they solicit for it.

“We stick with it because it is a source of pride for us,” he said. “Matt dedicates it (the triathlon) to us and uses it for us because he’s on our board, he cares about what we do, and the place is named after his mom. It takes real endurance and perseverance, and strength to run the triathlon. And for us it is a point of pride. We do hope it becomes a better source of income but it’s much more than that for us.”

The triathlon has not gotten a whole lot of community support but Pertman said the Institute needs to do a better job of reaching out to communities and corporations, convincing them that the millions of lives that adoption touches are as important as any other fundraiser.

“What we really need to do more of is reach out to the right people and tell them about it, tell them about our work. Once we do that, they’ll want to support it. It (the Institute) genuinely helps kids, improves lives,” stated Pertman. “At some level there are enough people who will want to support work like that.”

The Institute is the pre-eminent research, policy, and education organization in its field, says Pertman.

The agency just celebrated ten years and Pertman joined the staff four years ago. He said the organization started out “really going great guns” and that the first director was “just extraordinary, doing exemplary work that put us on the map.”

“We had a lull for awhile after she left,” said Pertman. “It’s fair to say we are back. If there is a change the past ten years I would say that our work is more activist than it’s ever been, that it is more sharply focused on instigating real change and insuring that it isn’t just informing people but honestly making things better for people. We’re growing in ways that I couldn’t have predicted when I came on. I think we’re doing the best work we’ve ever done.”

Pertman said he thought the Institute was better known and increasingly so. “That is a good thing because no one can do anything with your work if they don’t know it exists,” he said. “No one can be educated by you if they don’t hear you and no one can support you if they don’t know who you are or what you do. I think our higher profile helps us in all regards.”

The staff has grown to eight or nine employees in five states. The Institute’s goal is to level the playing field in adoption, to make people touched by adoption normalized and equal. This includes keeping adoptees familiar with their roots and treating birthparents in respectful way.

“We sort of wing that in practice and winging it is not the best outcome,” said Pertman.

The Institute just started an Adoptive Parent Preparation Project.

Pertman has another book coming out next week, this one more academic, he says. One of the chapters is on adoption in the media. He is also co-editing a book about gay and lesbian adoption in America with Dr. David Brodzinsky, who just joined the Institute staff. In November an updated version of Adoption Nation will be released and the special edition will be dedicated to the Adoption Institute. Pertman is also starting work on a book along with some others on siblings in adoption and issues related to it.

A conference on ethics in adoption is planned for next year.

“We try mightily to base the information we give to base it on facts, research, what we really know and there are other organizations that don’t, that have a more vested interest,” Pertman said. “Either they make money on adoption or they have a political or other agenda. Our mission is to decimate real information, research-based information.”

Pertman said there are still a lot of myths out there regarding adoption.

“I would love for the day to come when there is no need for what we do because that would mean the playing field had leveled,” he said. “Adoption was a corrosive stigmatized secret for generations. We’re making progress but people still don’t understand birth mom and their motivations very well, for instance. They (birth moms) are the ones driven farthest underground. That’s a shame but it’s true.”

Pertman said one of the reasons for the cultural misunderstandings regarding adoption among the Hispanic and people of color populations is that out of family placements of children has never occurred very much in these families and so it isn’t part of the culture. As a result, attitudes are different towards it in those populations. One of the things the Institute does is educate the public about adoption.

“I don’t think there are other places that do what we do,” said Pertman. “Other places might do pieces of what we do but not the combination like we do. We put together the best available information and then use that information to inform the field, to change policy, practice, and to advocate for alterations in law. I don’t think anyone has the sort of hands-on experience we have. It’s a think tank that is put into practice. We don’t make money off adoption. No one can say, ‘Oh, you’re dong this because you get something out of it.’ The only thing we get out of it is the satisfaction of knowing we’re improving people’s lives. We’re doing what we do in order to better people’s lives.”

Pertman said he had gotten “mostly wonderful” feedback on Adoption Nation and that it seems to touch people’s lives.

“There are people who have told me it has changed their practices,” he said. “I argue against money being attached to human lives. I understand why some people don’t understand that (a real minority) and have problems with what I teach but I think the reason the feedback from the book is so overwhelmingly positive is because it’s real, it reflects the experiences most people have.”

One of the things the Institute wants to do is to insure that adoptees have all their biographical and medical information that they need to be on a level playing field. They are the only ones who cannot get their original records.

Brozinsky, a renowned adoption expert, is now part of the Institute as research and project director. He is professor emeritus of Development and Psychology at Rutgers University where he directed the Foster Care Counseling Project.

“When someone like David is hired, it sends two clear messages: that the organization must be doing something very right to attract a professional of his caliber – and that its work is about to get even better,” said Pertman.

Brozinsky said he was “very enthusiastic” about joining the Institute’s staff after a decade of serving on its board of directors and, most recently, as one of its senior research fellows. Brozinsky recently moved from New Jersey to Northern California, where – in addition to his work for the Institute – he will continue his private practice in psychology, much of it focusing on the clinical needs of members of the adoption community.

For more information on the Institute, go to adoptioninstitute.org.

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