BAAS Founder and First Executive Director
BAAS was founded in 1984 by Sue Kowalski who adopted her daughter Amy from Colombia. After going through a very long process herself, Sue had a vision to create an agency that would help streamline the process for parents looking to adopt internationally. Here is Sue's story in her own words.
The Things I Should Have Said
In June of 2004, as founder and initial Executive Director of BAAS, I was graciously invited to appear at the agency’s 20th anniversary celebration at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. At one point Andrea Stawitcke, the current director, kindly introduced me to the crowd, as well as my then 8 ½ months pregnant daughter Amy, who had arrived from Colombia to complete our family 20 years earlier at the age of six. Amid the applause, I accepted some lovely flowers from Andrea but professed to being too shy to speak.
Looking back, I now wish I could have overcome my lifelong tendency to nerves at the prospect of public speaking, and shared with the families on hand my wonderful experience with BAAS, from its formation as an initial glint in my eye to the overwhelming pride and delight I felt on that June day in San Jose, when I saw how truly far the agency has come under Andrea’s loving and expert guidance.
I grew up with two brothers and then bore two sons. Convincing my sweet husband that I really needed a female presence in the family was luckily not too difficult, so we decided to do it the certain way, via adoption. However, since we already had two biological children, no domestic agency would touch us. Finally a lead at O’Connor Hospital directed us to Flora and Herbert Breidenbach, a San Jose couple who had recently adopted through Colombia. We paid the Breidenbachs a visit, and thought, “Why not?!” Excitedly, we embarked on inter-country adoption in July, 1977.
Our wait for Amy took three long years. Along the way, our home study was performed by the State Department of Social Services, which was then overwhelmed with myriad complex regulations, reams of paperwork, and enormous caseloads. Somehow I came into contact with a dynamic group of adoptive parents who had begun to work with SDSS in an effort to streamline its cumbersome adoption process. We attended many meetings throughout the state, and became quite close. In one Christmas card exchange, a delightful, energetic woman in rural Arcata wrote to me jubilantly that she was in the process of obtaining state licensure for her very own inter-country adoption agency! Amazed and picturing hordes of little brown babies toddling around her forested yard, I demanded instant clarification: her response was that her agency would be non-custodial but would be led and staffed wholly by parents, with access to adoption sources abroad, the ability to perform home studies and to complete all the requirements for international adoption. “Wow!” I thought. “I want to do that for the Bay Area!” And so the idea of BAAS was born.
From that point on, everything seemed to magically fall into place. Amy had arrived to our great joy, and only confirmed my resolve to form the agency. True, preparation of the licensing application took almost as long as a pregnancy. But Flora Breidenbach by now had become a close friend, and the two of us slaved together over choosing a name for our agency, forming a first Board of Directors, obtaining proper office space, selecting staff, and compiling all sample forms necessary to complete a foreign adoption. Flora had planned to be Co-Executive Director with me; she eventually reconsidered, but shortly before we opened the agency in 1984 I had the extremely timely good fortune to be able to appoint Pat Brown as Assistant Director. Pat was an old friend who with her husband had adopted a Colombian daughter from the same agency as Amy’s, and who by now even lived on my street! Very handy when we gave pre-adopt sessions and drove home together or one behind the other, in our two Volvo wagons!
And oh, the memories of BAAS. Pat’s husband and mine as well as other hardy Board members, hammering and sawing as we erected partitions for our first office in an unused Sunnyvale elementary school--my incredible feeling of excitement when, pulling into my driveway after a morning’s shopping, my eye caught a glimpse of a hot pink sign written by Pat and taped to my garage door as it automatically opened: “First Baby Arriving Next Week: From Mexico!”--and most of all, those wonderfully rewarding trips to the airport to welcome home exhausted but elated parents and their new babies/toddlers amid balloons, cheers and flowers.
So yes, I wish I had shared with everyone at BAAS’ 20th anniversary celebration the wonderful sense of fulfillment the agency has given me, the warm feelings that have stayed with me through the years. I won’t pretend that being an adoptive parent is always completely trouble-free: adolescence in particular can be a traumatic time for these foreign-born children as they struggle to seek their emerging identity. But let’s face it: biological kids come with their own set of problems. Our rough spots were truly minimal, and today, my daughter is my best friend. We talk on the phone about five times a day; I simply don’t know what I would do if she were not part of my life. I always bear in mind those words to a touching poem I first heard when founding BAAS: “Flesh not of my flesh/Bone not of my bone/But still, miraculously, my own/Never forget for a single minute:/You grew not under my heart/But in it.”
To all the parents I saw that day in June, I hope you experience as much
love and joy with your new sons and daughters as my husband and I have with
ours. And by the way, I still own that hot pink sign!