Thursday, March 22, 2012

Commitment to Excellence 2012

This year we are excited to honor Marty Cardona and the late Cecelia Park of Love the Children Adoption Agency at the Parenthood for Me Annual Gala April 21st.


Kelly Weishaar
Parenthood for Me Board Member
President, Love the Children of Rochester

“There are currently 13 babies available for adoption.”


I had been struggling with infertility for 4 years. I had faced countless medical treatments, losses, and heartaches. My husband and I were in a period of grieving and trying to figure out our next step when something unexpected happened. I was at a meeting at school when I “overheard” a casual conversation that changed my life forever. An administrator at the meeting, Marty Cardona, who also happens to be an adoption caseworker, was explaining how the changing international adoption rules in Korea resulted in many babies becoming available for adoption all at once. Everything became clear to me at that moment. We were a family who needed a baby, and there were babies who needed families.

Becoming a mother through adoption not only brought me my two beautiful children, it brought me in contact with many amazing people. Two of those people, Cecelia Park, Director of Love the Children and Marty Cardona, caseworker for Love the Children not only made an impact on my life but on the lives of thousands of other families and children.

Love the Children is an adoption agency located in Pennsylvania. The agency’s founder, Mary Graves worked with the Korean international adoption program at an agency called Welcome House. On one of her trips to Korea she met Cecelia Park. Cecelia was trained as a concert pianist and was playing at the hotel where Mary was staying. When Mary stopped to ask her for directions, the two women struck up a friendship. Cecelia knew nothing about adoption or adoption agencies but was impressed with the work Mary was doing to help Korean children.

Eventually Cecelia moved to the United States to work with Mary. Shortly after Cecelia arrived, Mary started her own agency called Love the Children. Cecelia was instrumental in forming the relationship between Love the Children and the agency they worked with in Korea called Eastern Social Welfare Society. This close relationship was critical to the success of Love the Children. In 1979 Love the Children placed their first child with a U.S. family. Initially they found homes for older children who were difficult to place and had been living in orphanages for many years. As time went on, the agency started to do more infant adoptions.
As the agency grew, there was a need for more caseworkers to provide social histories and the periodic updates required by Korea. Mary Graves reached out to Marty Cardona and invited her to join the agency.

Marty Cardona and her husband had two biological children but wanted to expand their family through adoption. They were interested in adopting from an Asian country and went with South Korea because it was the most established and stable international adoption program. Marty adopted her daughter through Welcome House which is how she came to know Mary Graves. Marty went on to have two more biological children and then adopted a son from Korea. As Marty went through the process of her daughter’s adoption, she learned about a program through Monroe County Social Services. In 1976 Marty was trained as a “volunteer” caseworker which lead to her job at Love the Children.

In 1997 Mary Graves passed away. Cecelia took over as Director of the agency. Cecelia and Marty became close colleagues and friends over the 30 years they worked together. For Cecelia working in adoption was more than “just a job.” Twenty-four hours a day she was an advocate for the children of Korea. In the beginning, Mary and Cecelia made the two-hour drive to New York City to meet every flight from Korea and welcome each baby to the United States. Cecelia called Korea every evening and was in constant contact with Eastern. When the babies got home, Cecelia called them on the phone. She sang them Korean songs and told them they were safe with their new families. Each summer she traveled to upstate NY to attend picnics and visit with the children and families. Twice a year she went to Korea to visit and check on the babies who were waiting to come home.

Marty Cardona’s commitment to the agency and to the children was equal to Cecelia’s. Over the course of her career she placed approximately 2,500 children with permanent families. She worked primarily in Western NY, although throughout her years with Love the Children she expanded into other areas of NY and PA. Marty’s other “full time” career was being a school principal for Brookshill Elementary School (K-5) in the Fairport Central School District. She retired from being a principal last year, but has continued her work in education by becoming part of the Fairport Board of Education. She also remains active on the board of Love the Children of Rochester.

In 2011 Cecelia Park passed away. Although she is gone, her devotion to the children of Korea lives on. Mary and Cecelia worked hard to create an adoption agency that was different from other agencies. Their commitment to the children of Korea came before anything else. They spent much time and resources giving back to the country they worked with. Although not inclusive, the following is a brief summary of their accomplishments:

-Love the Children required each major city they worked in to establish a parent support group. Rochester’s parent support group has been in existence for 30 years and is still active in our community.

-Love the Children required each family who adopted through the agency to make a commitment to support the children of Korea.

-Love the Children provided Eastern with the van (called the “Love Mobile”) that transports the children from Eastern to the airport to make their flight to the U.S.

-The agency/parent groups raised funds and sent money to Eastern to build a children’s hospital and three schools (elementary, middle school, and high school) for children with disabilities.

A while ago we learned that Love the Children will most likely be closing within the next couple of years. Korea has always desired to end the international adoption program. It is their hope to promote domestic adoption and be able to support needy children within their own country. The international adoption program has seen a great amount of change over the past few years. Although it will most likely continue in some form major changes are expected.

So, while I once considered infertility a curse, I now consider it a blessing. In my heart I know I was supposed to “overhear” that casual conversation about Korean adoption and Love the Children. I am the proud Mommy of two funny, smart, beautiful children. I have also had the opportunity to be part of something bigger. Through the commitment I gave to Love the Children, and through my participation in the local parent support group, in my own small way I too am able to give support to adopted children and the children who remain in Korea.

I am so pleased that Cecelia Park and Marty Cardona are receiving the Commitment to Excellence. I am grateful to them everyday. This award will give other people the opportunity to learn about the amazing work they have done for children and families.

For more information on the gala visit


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