“I love that the work that we do means something and has a true impact on the most vulnerable people in the state. To really provide safety for them, that permanency, that sense of belonging.”
With her headset phone microphone and offices both at Lund’s Hoehl Family Building in South Burlington and at the state offices in Waterbury, Toni Yandow, Adoption Administrator at Lund, is the epitome of efficiency and hard work. Her desk is decorated with frogs and images of the Eiffel Tower, two of her favorite things, but soon Toni will have something new to display on her desk. She is the recipient of a 2016 Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Angel in Adoption Award in recognition of her work ensuring that every child in Vermont has a loving home and a forever family. Toni is the only person in the state who is involved with every single adoption that is finalized in Vermont.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is a non-profit organization that works to raise awareness about the needs of children without families and to remove policy barriers that hinder children from knowing the love and support a family provides. CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® Program provides Members of Congress the opportunity to honor an individual, couple, or organization from their district that have made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of children in need of homes. Toni’s nomination came from Wanda Audette, Lund’s Director of Adoption, and was supported by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch. In September, Toni and Wanda will travel to Washington DC where Toni will be honored at a series of events attended by award recipients from all over the country.
Meet Toni and learn more about her work:
What do you do at Lund?
I am the adoption administrator, that’s my official title. I process all of the paperwork for families so that they can adopt a child. When a family contacts Lund, I’m the first person that they talk to about adoption. I give them all the information, and answer basic questions over the phone or via email. I collect all of their paperwork when they’re ready for homestudy and after they are placed I put all of their paperwork together and get that to court. I process all of the finalizations packets for Project Family. I make sure that everything is in order – all our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted, everything that needs to be certified is certified and that the information all matches. Then I get those off to court. I also handle all of the adoption petitions as part of the Vermont Adoption Registry so anytime anyone petitions the probate court to adopt anybody, those all go through me. I am the one who looks them up in the database to make sure that they are not substantiated for child abuse or neglect. I work closely with the Permanency Planning Program Manager, and the Deputy Commissioner for DCF.
When did you find out that you had won this award?
I got home on Monday and there was a letter from CCAI. I didn’t think about it. I almost recycled it! I thought I should probably open it in case it was a training opportunity that I could share with my co- workers and I opened it up. I had to read it three times. I was bawling. I was so honored. I tried calling Wanda but she was in a meeting so I texted her and said ‘What did you do?’ I was totally surprised and honored. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. It’s such a huge honor. I don’t think it will hit me until I am there.
What are you looking forward to?
DC is one of my favorite places so I am looking forward to being there again. I am really looking forward to the gala, the big celebration. I am excited about who is going to be there. One year when Diane Dexter (retired DCF Adoption Chief) and Wanda were there, Diane sat next to Mohammed Ali! It is the biggest event that congress puts on. More members of congress attend this event than any other.
How do you think being adopted yourself affects the work that you do?
I think that I am in a unique position because quite a number of my coworkers are adoptive parents which is great, but I am adopted so I know what it is like to grow up in a family that is not your family of origin and on top of that I know what it is like to be a kid in foster care. My beginnings to life were pretty traumatic and I have a pretty horrible story. I was removed from my family at the age of five and placed with one foster family for two years and then placed with my mom. I was eventually adopted when I was 10. I know what those kids feel like when they’re anxious to be adopted but also really sad about being adopted. I know what it feels like to not really have that sense of permanency and belonging. I feel very strongly that everything we do should be what’s in the best interest of the children. We should do everything in our power to make sure that permanency happens as soon as possible.
Did you always want to work in adoption?
When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist and then I decided that I did not want to swim with sharks so I wasn’t going to do that. I’ve always loved being around children and having an impact on young lives. After I had my son, I couldn’t give 100% to working with kid’s hands on and still feel like I was able to give him what he needed. So I decided, you know what, I can still have an impact if I get into the adoption world. It will just look a little bit different. I had always wanted to work for Wanda and ended up being hired as a residential counselor and then was a receptionist and then when my position opened up I applied right away. I’ve been at Lund since 2001, and I started working for Wanda in 2002.
What do you like best about your job?
I love my coworkers. I love that the work that we do means something and has a true impact on the most vulnerable people in the state. To really provide safety for them, that permanency, that sense of belonging. There’s so much to be said for not having a family and then having a family and what that means – the internal security that it gives you, that security blanket. You know you can have the worst day in the world and everything could be falling apart but you have that family that’s going to wrap you and support you. We help them get that. That’s means the most to me. I know what it’s like to not know how it feels to have a family, to not have a stable place, to feel like any new person that comes in the door could be the person who takes you away. I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and be ripped away from your family. It didn’t happen just once, it happened twice. The less transition that we can do for kids, the better. The work that we do is really important. Because it’s human beings, we are talking about little children who don’t have a choice. They don’t get to make the decision, they don’t have the voice, they don’t get to say, “Put me with this family”. It is our responsibility to make sure we are doing right by those kids. That’s what I think is most important. I am not in the house, I am not doing what Karisa (Lund’s Finalization Case Manager) does, I am not doing what Wendy’s Wonderful Kids does helping to find the families, but the little piece that I have is important. When a file leaves my hands, it’s ready to go, we’re ready to finalize that case.
What else do you like to do?
My family is very important to me. My husband and my son. And my mom is very important to me, I spend as much time as I can with her. My siblings are very important to me. I like to quilt, read, garden a little bit, swim. You know, normal things.
Congratulations to Toni on being awarded the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Angel in Adoption Award. So many families in Vermont are impacted by the work that you which truly changes lives. Everyone at Lund is very proud of you and so grateful for the dedication, insight and love that you infuse into everything you do for children in Vermont.