Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2006 (14.3)
Pages 78-81


Celebrating Our Families

One of the most valuable outgrowths of the Yahoo ListServ called "AzerbaijanAdopt" is the annual summer reunion -"Celebrating our Families".

Left: 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.

A 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 in Baku.

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 in Indianapolis
Left: Families 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



Above Left: 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

Bottner Family

"Benjamin had just turned three years old in 2004 when we attended our first reunion in Kansas City, Missouri.

Left: 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 and growth.

"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).

Above Left: 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 times

The Shifrin Family

Sabina 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.

Left: Judy Shifrin with daughter Sabina

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 spirit.

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 older.

-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.

Right: 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 and mules

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