Alumna Heather Breems Brings Haitian Orphans Home
CHICAGO, IL (April 26, 2010) – Preparing students for lives of significance and service—it’s a mission into which North Park University channels its efforts with tenacity and heart. This mission and the University’s three defining values—distinctively Christian, intentionally urban, and purposefully multicultural—shine through in the lives and work of graduates who practice faith in action around the world. Heather Breems, C’2003, is one of these remarkable individuals.
A North Park psychology major who earned her Master of Social Work at Loyola University, Breems began working for Adoption-Link (www.adoption-link.org) in 2007, carrying out international home studies for the Oak Park, IL-based organization, which specializes in domestic and international adoption and humanitarian services for African, African American, Haitian, multiracial, HIV-positive, and other special needs children. Today, she is the international supervisor and Haiti program coordinator.
Following the earthquake in January, Breems traveled to Port-au-Prince and brought 16 orphan children in the process of adoption to the U.S. from Haiti. All the children were adopted before the earthquake, and some of the adoptive parents started the adoption process as long as two years ago, so all the families were relieved to connect following the devastation. For Breems, making those connections happen is the most joyous part of her work. She says, “The greatest reward is to visit the home a month after the adoption and see a child thriving within their new family and environment.”
Further initiatives currently underway in Haiti—several to which Adoption-Link is contributing—include:
- Establishment of functional irrigation system for the land, which offers plenty of space for growing fruits and vegetables for the children and community
- Provision of goats and other animals to care for and raise for food, as well as protein powder, to address nutritional protein deficiencies that cause health and development problems for children
- Operation of a school that is educating 400+ students from the community and prepared many of the teachers to teach at the school
- Strengthening of women’s job training and life skills program
- Plans to open a community clinic soon
Her studies in psychology at North Park inform her work counseling adoptive families prior to adoptions, Breems says. “At times, I counsel them through the grief and loss of not being able to have children biologically, or I help counsel and prepare them to adopt a child from another country,” she explains. “After the adoption, I often help assess the needs of the children.”
Breems credits two key North Park professors with strongly influencing her: the late Dr. Katie Cook and Dr. Haddon Klingberg. “Dr. Cook taught me to think critically and appreciate the value of research,” says Breems. “I also had the opportunity to travel to South Africa on Dr. Klingberg’s last student tour summer 2003. At the time, this was the most incredible experience of my life, and it helped shape my views on racial reconciliation.”
Based upon the philosophy that children of all races and those with special needs have a right to a loving, permanent home, Adoption-Link is one of the few agencies that advocates adopting children who are HIV positive. Breems says, “We educate families and are usually successful in finding families willing to adopt children with HIV.” To date, the agency has helped find homes for more than 800 domestic children and 40 HIV-positive children.
Breems faces a number of ongoing challenges in her work with Adoption-Link, including providing adequate support and resources to orphanage directors and staff, managing the sometimes lengthy and difficult adoption process, and helping families cope with the wait period before their adopted children are brought home.
But for Breems, the rewards far outweigh the struggles, and she looks forward to many more years of service with the organization. “I believe our work in Haiti is more crucial than ever,” she says, “and it is my hope to remain at Adoption-Link and directly involved in Haiti for as long as possible.”
Learn more Breems's work with Adoption-Link in Haiti in this video.