Leslie Jenkins

Leslie Jenkins, ASAP Therapist

I’ve been working with a young boy I’ll call John and his adoptive dad for the past several months. John and his dad always participate in therapeutic activities and do their best to apply our in-session training to real life, which is not always easy. John’s dad continued to express his skepticism, however, as we explored the residual effects of trauma, including the very real self-worth and esteem issues faced by many children who have experienced trauma.

One of the skills I’ve learned throughout my experience as a therapist is to pay close attention to the body language of others. This indicator keys me into Dad’s response to our work together surrounding these discussions. As John continued to strengthen his communication skills and improve his ability to share his feelings with Dad, I watched their relationship continue to strengthen.

Last week as we sat together at the table during our family session, John turned to his Dad, looked into his eyes, and revealed to him that sometimes, no matter what, he just doesn’t feel “good enough”. I watched Dad receive this message and finally connect all our learning together. These breakthrough moments are what I live for! They are so rewarding and usually come so unexpectedly. What a special privilege to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children and their families.

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Kim Liberatore

Kim Liberatore, ASAP Family Therapist

As Family Preservation Counselors in the ASAP program, we work with children and teenagers adopted from the state foster care system. Almost every one of our clients experienced significant trauma before being removed from his or her birth family and placed into foster care. Their stories of horrific abuse and unthinkable neglect would likely shock most people.

Yet, as devastating as these events are, time after time, when conducting trauma assessments, I have noticed that a majority of children continue to cite their most traumatic experience as being in foster care, or changing homes so many times.

For children in foster care, everything in life is temporary, conditional, and unknown. Each placement could be the last, or it could be just another stop in a long and sad journey that no child should ever have to endure. The unspoken message is: You can live here, as long as you act a certain way. You are staying with these people for now, but you will probably have to move. You will be taken care of, but we don’t really know where you belong yet. In adoption, we say, every day a child is in custody is a day of childhood lost. Given these circumstances, it makes sense that the transient and unpredictable life of a foster child is what is often most traumatizing to that child. And that is why one of the most profound and important missions that adoptive families have is the idea of claiming a child. Claiming is the process by which adoptive families embrace a child as a full-fledged member of the family.

Adoptive parents have many different ways of outwardly making a child feel claimed. Finalizing an adoption and giving the child the adoptive family’s last name is the primary act of claiming in the adoption journey. Since parents who adopt from foster care weren’t able to name their child at birth, sometimes they give the child a new middle name, which is often a name that carries a special meaning to them. Adoptive families may take new family photos to ensure that their child is included in the pictures or they may decorate the child’s room in a more personal way. They might begin to celebrate the child’s adoption anniversary, or “gotcha day,” to emphasize the importance of the day the child joined the family. They will certainly begin calling the child my son or my daughter, and will eagerly anticipate the day that their child returns this sign of claiming by calling them mom or dad.

Most of all, though, the concept of claiming is achieved not through a series of actions, but from the way adoptive families surround their children with a sense of commitment, security, and belonging. Feeling claimed means that a child feels included, accepted, and loved in a permanent way. There is no caveat or clarifying adjective. They are not a foster child; they are simply, someone’s child.

When a child feels claimed, the unspoken message of adoption becomes this: “For better or worse, you are one of us. No matter what, you can never not be one of us ever again. Our lives are now inextricably interwoven, and thus, what affects you affects us, too. We are your people. With us, always, you belong.”

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Evelyn Wilcox

Evelyn Wilcox, Communications and Grant Development Coordinator

It’s that time of year – children will be going back to school. Imagine you are changing to a new school – for the 12th time.

For many children and youth in foster care, a new school year becomes another traumatic experience: moving to a new foster care placement often means changing schools – again.
With every move, children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress, falling farther and farther behind. Only 50 percent of children and youth in foster care complete high school by age eighteen.

Jimmy could have shared that fate. His story, as reported in Atlantic magazine by Jessica Lahey, begins when twelve-year old Jimmy was abandoned by his parents and entered foster care. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended twelve different schools. Jimmy doesn’t remember learning anything in school after fifth grade – he was thinking about what he was going to eat that day or where he would live.

At age sixteen, Jimmy’s life was transformed. An older couple, who saw how desperate he was for a stable home and an education, became his foster family. He lived with them for the next six years, and they gave him the stability he needed. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything” said Jimmy. “When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

Jimmy Wayne finished high school and college and launched a successful country music career. In 2010, Jimmy walked halfway across America to raise awareness for kids aging out of the system, and in 2012, he advocated for passage of the bill that extends the age of foster care in Tennessee to twenty-one.

Harmony is finding homes for young people like Jimmy who have given up hope of finding a safe, loving family. You can find out more at Harmony’s new Parent a Child Website (, which features stories and videos of Tennessee children/youth in foster care whose greatest wish is a forever family – the love and support that can transform their future.

Posted in Adoption, Family | Comments Off on BACK TO SCHOOL


Carol Johnson

Carol Johnson, President, Harmony Board of Directors

I’m busy. I run my own company. I have a very active six year old son. My husband’s job requires him to travel weekly. I’m the treasurer of my church. I like to travel, shop, and spend time with my family and friends. I don’t have time to add anything else to my calendar.

That’s what I told myself before I stopped, took a deep breath and looked around me. We are surrounded by people in need – financial, emotional, spiritual. How can we look the other way? It’s easier than getting involved. Realizing at times that we are working feverishly but not getting very far meeting the needs of others. It’s easy to throw our hands up, go on about our busy lives and be thankful for other people willing to fight the fight.

For me, it’s not enough to be busy with the things in my life. I want to do more. I want to help others have a happy home life, a job opportunity, time to enjoy life. There are so many folks around us that for various reasons don’t have that. For me it’s the kids without families, stability, a home that pull at my heartstrings. It’s their happiness and well-being that pushes me to give more and do more. And no one does more for hurting and needy kids than Harmony Family Center. Spend some time on Harmony’s website, look at their staff, the services they provide and then look at the profile of the kids longing for a happy home life, a forever family. Imagine the impact of finding one child a forever family. It’s this hope and reality that draws me to Harmony and makes it easy to find time to serve others through this amazing organization. So get involved, if not here at Harmony then some other organization that makes a difference in others’ lives and in your own.

Carol Johnson,
President, Board of Directors, Harmony Family Center

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Lenna Allen

Lenna Allen, ASAP Family Therapist

The benefits of music are many. Children who learn to play music increase their math skills. Music can improve our mood; a song can quickly bring back memories of another time.

Harmony’s Adoption Support and Preservation (ASAP) team uses an approach called ARC (Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency) with clients who have been through traumatic stress. When we were asked to come up with a therapeutic activity for ARC, we created a musical time line for children to use to tell their life stories.

Giving children a voice is an important principal of another ASAP approach, TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention): children are asked to identify a song and a particular lyric that speaks to them. I use this activity with my clients, and it is amazing how even the children who bury their emotions will suddenly talk about a feeling expressed in a song.

A young girl who suffered multiple forms of abuse identified with Matthew West’s song Broken Girl: “Look what he’s done to you, it isn’t fair, your light was bright and new, but he didn’t care, he took the heart of a little girl, and made it grow up too fast…”

A teen dedicated the lyrics of Mama’s Song by Carrie Underwood to her biological mother: “Mama there’s no way you’ll ever lose me, giving me away is not goodbye…”

A mother who was helping her child with the time line chose One Less by Matthew West for their adoption day. “Well, worlds collide and colors fade, and a man and wife brought their little girl home today, and there’s one less…lonely heart in the world today.”

A child reflected on his hope for the future with Pentatonix’s Radioactive: “All systems go, sun hasn’t died, deep in my bones, straight from inside, I’m waking up…welcome to the new age.”
Another child chose Katy Perry’s Firework: “If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow.”

Our children from hard places often understand more than they can express, and they can identify with emotion when they hear it in a song. It gives them a voice. It’s a less vulnerable way of expressing feelings, because someone else has been there, too. I encourage you to listen carefully to some of the lyrics of your favorite songs, and see what resonates with you, your children, and your family!

Posted in Advocacy and Support, Healing | Comments Off on MUSICAL TIMELINES


Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

It is that time of year – when we start making promises for the year to come. This year I am going to get back on my exercise routine. Almost all of us make some type of formal or informal resolution for the year. Recently I was doing some research for our adoptive parent support groups on the topic: Top Ten Parenting Tips for the New Year, and I came upon this quote from Circle of Security, a relationship based early-intervention program for families dealing with attachment issues. The quote goes like this:

(Almost) Everything I need to know about being a parent in 25 words or less:
Whenever possible: Follow your child’s need.
Whenever necessary: take charge.

I love this quote. These are simple words and simple advice really. I love it so much that I have thought about getting a T-shirt made with the saying on it, but I imagine there would be copyright issues involved. I visualize something like the Life is Good movement, with caring parents around the world donning Circle of Security T-Shirts.

Perhaps I will order a bracelet with the words Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind engraved on it. Whenever I am feeling impatient or grumpy with my thirteen-year old, I can look at my wrist and remember my mantra. I really think that with these four words we could start a parenting revolution. Come to think of it, we could start a revolution period. Think of how different the world would be if we lived by these words: Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind.

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Carol Dunaway

Carol Dunaway, LPC/MHSP, NCC, is Clinical Manager of the ASAP Program.

The theme for Harmony’s ASAP November support group meetings has been reducing holiday stress. Parents who attended have noted that they do feel the stress associated with this time of year. The holidays are stressful enough already for most families. Expectations for a “perfect” holiday season are high, budgets might be tight, there may be conflict within families, and we all have the ideal Hallmark holiday vision in our minds. When you add into this mix the fact of being a foster or adoptive family, the holidays can be overwhelming for both adults and children. Here are some tips for making the holidays less stressful for your family.

1. Lower your expectations that you can create or will have “the perfect holiday.” Make your family time about being together, and plan low-cost family activities. Let the kids help you prepare the holiday meal, and do as much of it ahead of time as possible. Take a walk together after the meal to work off some of those calories and increase endorphins, which will improve mood. Participate in a volunteer activity as a family. Let your children choose a name off the Angel Tree to purchase gifts for a child who otherwise might not have a gift at Christmas.

2. Talk about feelings at the holidays. If you have foster or adoptive children in your home, they may be having very mixed feelings about the holidays. Oftentimes, children and teens idealize their birth family and minimize the negative experiences they may have had with them, especially around the holidays. These children often act out behaviorally during this time, creating additional stress for their foster or adoptive parents. Help your child or children express their feelings verbally by opening the discussion, giving them a safe place to talk about their feelings, and listening without judgment.

3. If the holidays are “always” too stressful for your family, give yourself the gift of celebrating family at a less busy time of year. Families often feel pulled in different directions if they have two, or three, or four sets of grandparents/in-laws to visit. Schedule family visits throughout the year when you can enjoy the experience and your children can have a more meaningful experience in a less rushed, crowded, or tense atmosphere.

4. Be kind to yourself so that you can build up your emotional reserves. Build in time in your schedule for the things that make you feel good, whether that is exercise, yoga, meditation, worshiping, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, having some alone time with your spouse or partner – you get the point. People often give and give until they have nothing else to give. Then they feel guilty because they have to withdraw from their children or spouse or other family and take some time to refill their emotional bucket. Keep your bucket filled all year long by taking care of yourself first and you can skip the empty feelings and the guilt!

Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

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Beverly Gonzalez

Beverly Gonzalez, Group and Volunteer Coordinator

Some days, as I sit at Montvale working, I think about how the journey to this place began. One might ask, why did Harmony Adoptions, now Harmony Family Center, buy a camp? How does that fit into our mission? Well, the initial answer is that we knew that this would allow us to expand our services to adoptive families. We have been doing in-home therapy for over 10 years. About 4 years ago we began doing equine therapy with the kids, but had to go to an outside barn for this. Then, one day the opportunity arose to purchase the old YMCA summer Camp Montvale.

Suddenly the possibilities available became endless! We created a new program, with cutting edge protocols, that we could use with our families. Now we could bring them in for a weekend: the whole family and work with them in this remarkable, peaceful space. The results have been absolutely amazing. Adoptive children and families connecting in a way never before hoped for.

But then I’ve seen something else. I’ve seen the incredible transformation of a truly historic property, from a sad, abandoned place, to the beautiful, garden-like place that Montvale is today. I’ve also seen how Montvale reaches the very soul of everyone who comes here. I’ve seen the kids in the creek, catching crawdads and building dams. I’ve seen families playing in the pool, shooting hoops and playing volleyball together for hours. I’ve seen countless people, old and young, who have a history with Montvale, come back. I’ve watched them walk around the field, picking ups sticks and rocks, with the most peaceful smiles on their faces, remembering what an impact Montvale had on their lives.

And so, I realize, Montvale IS a perfect fit for Harmony. It totally fulfills our mission to serve children and families – only now in an incredibly expanded way. And it makes me happy to think of my small role in the transformation of Montvale – along with our staff and hundreds of volunteers. What we are doing here matters, and it will make a difference!

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Kim Halbert

Kim Halbert, Harmony Parent Education & Training Specialist

I am sitting in the small eat-in kitchen with the mother/step-grandmother of three children in rural Campbell County. The children are in and out of the kitchen eating sandwiches and chips. The two little boys, ages 3 and 5, have been placed with their grandparents by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) because their mother is a meth addict and unable to care for her children. The boys are precious. The three year old has now seen me 3 times and he is curious but more interested in his snacks, cartoons, and his new light up shoes. This is my first visit with the five year old. His birthday is the next day and he tells me about it. I ask him if he will have birthday cake and he informs me he already has a cake with a spider on it. The children rush me over to the fridge and open the door. There is a Halloween cake with a big spider and web. He grins and the little girl says they will also have ice cream. The children squeal with excitement. The grandmother then says his parents will be visiting him on his birthday. He smiles again. I go back to the table as the home study forms are being passed between me and the grandmother and then it happens. Such an unexpected and spontaneous gesture. A hug. The five year old walks over to my side, slips his arm around my neck with his head barely touching mine. I felt it was like he knew I was there to help him and his brother remain in this safe, loving home. A loving home where he is given permission to miss and love his parents. A home where turning 6 is the biggest deal in the world. A hug so sweet and gentle. He didn’t know how good he made me feel. He didn’t know how this simple hug gave me affirmation that we do make a difference in children’s lives.

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Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan, Audio Visual Specialist

As the videographer for Harmony’s In My Own Words video project, I found these three attributes where I had least expected – in kids who had suffered more trauma in their young lives than most adults can even comprehend.

Harmony developed the video project to allow children in the state welfare system – who are longing for a “real” family – to tell their own stories themselves. The videos, which are posted on the Parent a Child website, are intended to serve as each child’s introduction to prospective families.

I was not sure what to expect. How would kids who had been powerless – with no control over the traumatic events of their lives- respond to the challenge of telling their own stories?

This is what I found: The heroic spirit of the child who shared his story with painful honesty – his mother had simply walked away from him – leaving the 3-year old child abandoned at a grocery store.

The child who is now classified as “special needs” because as a toddler he was severely beaten – who just wanted a hug from me before beginning his story.

All the children I have helped with their videos have one thing in common: trust and a willingness to share their stories, despite lives that have been filled with betrayal.

That’s what keeps me going – the courage and resilience shown by these kids and their willingness to share the harrowing events of their young lives.

And when children I have filmed find forever families thanks to their videos, I know it’s all worthwhile.

You can view In My Own Words videos here: PARENTACHILD.ORG.

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