Autumn 2006 (14.3)
One of the most valuable
outgrowths of the Yahoo ListServ called "AzerbaijanAdopt"
is the annual summer reunion -"Celebrating our Families".
McDevitt children: Ethan,
Roxanne and Leyla playing together with Sabina Shifrin
This annual event has been organized since 2002. This year it
was held in Indianapolis on July 20-21, 2006, was organized by
three families - the Estells, Icenogles and Wierzbickis. Sixteen
families attended the reunion including 18 children.
Families could choose from many activities. Many were delighted
at the chance to see the city's award-winning Children's Musuem.
Son Saturday lunch was at the Turkish Bosphorous Restaurant for
lamb kebabs, baked chicken, hummus, pita bread and deserts.
Silent Auction was held again for the third year. Fifteen works
of art had been selected and brought from Baku by Azerbaijan
International's Editor Betty Blair in cooperation with three
children's art instructors - Katana Sharifova, Inna Kostina and
Galina Nikolayevna. Proceeds went to help children in orphanages
Members of the Azerbaijan Adopt ListServ have selected Philadelphia
for the site of the July 2007 Reunion. Here are some impressions
about the significance of the reunions from families who have
been attending them.
Left: Children gathered at Bosphorus Restaurant
gathered outside the Bosphorus Restaurant in Indianapolis where
they enjoyed lunch together at the Fifth Annual Azerbaijan Adopt
Reunion "Celebrating Our Families".
The Icenogle Family
"It's very difficult to put into words the gratitude we
feel towards the people of Azerbaijan for giving us the most
precious of all gifts - the gift of a precious child. Our daughter,
Katya Aysel, has brought us indescribable joy and a love that
knows no bounds. She has stirred in us an abiding desire to teach
her as much as we can about her rich Azeri heritage. The annual
Azerbaijan reunion -"Celebrating our Families" is one
effective means to that end. We have a strong family commitment
to make the annual reunion a family priority every year.
"We love to watch the children
interact, to witness their common heritage while celebrating
their own individuality. We especially enjoyed the Bosphorus
Restaurant in Indianapolis this year. Being there brought back
a flood of memories from three years ago when we visited our
daughter's homeland for the first time - Baku, Azerbaijan."
-Andrea and Gary Icenogle, parents to Katya Aysel
Andrea and Gary Icenogle,
parents to Katya Aysel from Azerbaijan and Dmitry from Russia.
Right: Surrey rides in Indianapolis:
The Icenogle Family (Gary, Andrea, Katya and Dmitry) and the
Bueltmann Family (Mark, Trese and Ian)
The McDevitt Family
Left: Back row. McDevitt Family: Eamon, Mike and Miranda.
Front row: Leyla, Chanell, Ethan and Roxanne. Leyla and Roxanne
joined the McDevitt Family together at the same time.
"We cannot provide
our girls Roxanne and Leyla with a true sense of their culture,
and we certainly cannot take them to Azerbaijan every year.
These reunions provide an opportunity, however brief, for us
to bring a small piece of Azerbaijan to our family. We enjoy
seeing the kids as they blossom, and we love hearing about other
families' challenges and conquests."
-Mike and Chanel McDevitt, parents to Leyla and Roxanne
just turned three years old in 2004 when we attended our first
reunion in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ben Bottner, who with his
mother Jane, first attended the reunions in 2004
"All of the children there were quite young, and while they
seemed to enjoy playing together, this reunion held more meaning
for their parents, at least it did for me. Finally I got the
chance to meet in person the people I had corresponded with on-line
through the AzerbaijanAdopt ListServ.
"Adoption is a journey that never quite follows a straight
path. Through the ListServ, we could ask our many questions,
express our anxieties, reveal our impatience, pass on information,
revel in our joys as we each received our referrals, and at last,
made the two trips to Baku to bring our children home.
In Kansas City, our journeys were still fresh as was the urgency
to share our Baku stories and marvel at our children's adjustments
"The idea of a yearly gathering to connect and share a common
heritage and story for our Azerbaijani born children and their
families needed to continue. Gina Andriolo and I organized the
next reunion in New York City with the help of Tomris Azeri,
president of the Azerbaijan Society of America. Our emphasis
was on Azerbaijani music, food, and celebrating our family stories.
"Ben is now 6, a veteran on the Azerbaijan reunion circuit
as well as Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) gatherings and
Novruz celebrations. In the four and a half years since Ben has
come home, we have made some very special friendships both here
and in Azerbaijan. We have had many memorable discussions about
Ben's (adoption) story and how we became a family.
"This year's reunion in Indianapolis was different from
the three earlier reunions. I admired each child's growth and
spirit and enjoyed reconnecting with their families. But it seemed
to me that Ben, for the first time, made a conscious connection
between himself and the other children. He understood that they
had all come from the same place that he had and that they also
had spent time in a Baku Baby House, just as he had.
"Reunions mean connection, sharing stories, discovering
commonalities, and celebrating our children and their birthplace.
As our children grow up, I hope these reunions will become as
special for them as they are for their parents and, perhaps,
some day they, too, will continue the tradition."
-Jane Bottner, mother to Ben
The Contrino Family
Andy Contrino was adopted
from Baku from Baby House No. 1 in November 2002 when he was
23 months old. This December, he'll be six. He continues to delight
us as parents, along with his extended family and their friends.
Andy is an extremely outgoing, perceptive and talkative child
with a keen sense of humor and quite extensive vocabulary.
In the true tradition of both
his Azerbaijani heritage and his Italian-American upbringing,
he is known for charming the ladies, whether ages 4 or 84. He
often takes their hands in his and kisses them while offering
up an impish smile.
Gina Andriolo and Charles Contrino, parents to Andy
The Contrinos were involved
in helping to organize the Third
Annual Reunion - Celebrating our Families - in New York in
July 2004. Read Gina's account of it? in AI 12.3 (Autumn 2004).
Andy Contrino riding a gorilla
at an old-fashioned carousel, one of the most popular amusements
at the Children's Museum.
Right: Andy Contrino with his father Charles.
Andy's mother Gina was deeply involved with the Third Azerbaijan
Adopt Reunion held in the New York City area.
Left: Children's Museum: Sabina Shifrin and Andy Contrino
dressed up like dinosaurs and had their own dinosaur family,
complete with eggs to hatch.
This was the Dinosphere exhibit, a magnificent biosphere set
up to show visitors how the dinosaurs lived, complete with changing
weather, sound effects, and real-life vignettes of prehistoric
The Shifrin Family
turned six on May 20th. She's in the first grade at a French
immersion grade school. Actually, it's the very same school that
I attended which has now become a Charter School.
Judy Shifrin with daughter
She speaks French with a beautiful accent as the teachers are
all native French speakers and come from all over the world.
She is also learning violin. She is a sweetheart and I am truly
blessed to have her in my life.
Recently, I was showing a friend of mine an early video from
the Baby House in Baku. It's miraculous how far Sabina has come,
how she has caught up, and turned into such a caring little girl.
I can say she is truly a testament to the resilience of the human
Having attended all five reunions "Celebrating Our Families",
I have noticed that my daughter Sabina really started to connect
the dots at the Indianapolis event.
I think as the children grow, it is even more important to keep
the connection of Azerbaijan alive among them. She truly understands
that she and the other children are special in that they were
all born in Azerbaijan and now live in the United States.
As her mother, I think it is extremely important for her healthy
identity that she is aware of her connection to another country.
In August of this year, we hosted a 22-year old Azeri art student
who was in the Kansas City area for three weeks as part of an
Azerbaijani delegation of artists and craftsmen. Sabina seemed
to feel a special bond with her.
I, of course, have a special place in my heart for the country
where my daughter was born and will do whatever I can to maintain
the strong tie. These annual celebration reunions are so significant.
It keeps the children in contact with each other and is a natural
bridge for them to stay in touch with each other as they grow
-Judy Shifrin, mother to Sabina
These photos are the artistic creation of Judy Shifrin, mother
of Sabina, as she documented many of the Fifth Azerbaijan Adopt
Reunion activities this past July in Indianapolis. The Shifrins
are the only family which has attended each of the five reunions
held each summer in a different city across the United States.
This year many families visited the Children's Museum of Indianapolis,
which is the largest children's museum in the world with its
11 major galleries spread across 14 acres of land.
Above Left: The
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum which displays
numerous model race cars of the Indy 500 NASCAR Race Track.
Sabina and Andy play with
the plastic replicas of Dale's Chihuly's most popular glass shapes,
a clever way to involve children to touch art
Left: Sabina Shifrin delighted in the horses
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