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Center for Global Justice Intern – Ilona Manzyuk

Ilona Manzyuk, 2L
Policy Intern at the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute

In the midst of the hustle of a regular business day in Washington, DC, I take a moment to reflect on what brought me here in the first place and led to my internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI).  I feel so blessed when I think about the various experiences and opportunities that have greatly impacted the course of my life.  It all started with a desire to help orphans.

When I was a teenager, my church in California often raised awareness of the issues faced by children without families in my native country, Ukraine.  These children were orphans, living on the streets or spending their childhood in orphanages. It broke my heart, and I set out to discover what I could do to help.  In 2007, I joined a missionary group on a short trip to Ukraine.  We brought gifts and conducted activity-filled summer camps for the orphan children to brighten their days.  My heart was captured by the children I served, and I knew this experience would have a lasting impact on my life.

Two years later, in 2009, I spent a summer working with Agape International Ministries, a nonprofit that serves children in over 40 orphanages around Ukraine.  The ministry organizes summer camps, provides humanitarian aid, fosters mentorship relationships between locals and the children in orphanages, and teaches the children about the love of Jesus Christ.  During this trip, I had the opportunity to serve as a Russian and Ukrainian interpreter for the director of a partnering nonprofit, Heart for Orphans, based in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I accompanied the director on her trip to the orphanage that she had adopted three of her daughters from more than ten years earlier. Hearing about her adoption story and how her children flourished since their adoption was incredibly inspiring.  After my experiences in Ukraine, I was determined to pursue a profession that would allow me to assist prospective adoptive families. This decision led me to the legal field because legal counsel is often a necessary step in facilitating adoptions.

When I began applying to law schools, my friend Elissa Polley informed me about an adoption symposium hosted by the Center for Global Justice at Regent University School of Law.  At the symposium, I met Becky Weichhand, who is the current Policy Director of CCAI.  It was inspiring to hear about CCAI’s work in educating Congress about the important issues faced by our foster care system, as well as the unnecessary barriers to domestic and international adoptions.  This symposium strengthened my desire to pursue a legal education.  Also, learning about the dedication that the Center for Global Justice has to child welfare issues encouraged me to attend Regent University School of Law.

My first year of law school has flown by and I am grateful to find myself interning for CCAI this summer.   As a Policy Intern, I am constantly learning about child welfare issues encompassing adoption and the foster care system.  I track and review current bills written by Members of Congress that seek to reform and improve the foster care system and the adoption process, and to help birth families keep and provide for their children.  I am preparing a report about the effects of the recent political events in Ukraine on intercountry adoptions from Ukraine by U.S. citizens.  I have had the opportunity to attend several hearings by House and Senate committees related to these issues.  I am also serving as an advisor to one of CCAI’s Foster Youth Interns as he prepares a policy proposal.  This proposal focuses on ways in which former foster youth can overcome hurdles in finding employment and become self-sustaining adults after aging out of the foster care system—and he will present it before several Members of Congress in July!

I have learned so much in these past few weeks, and I know that my work with CCAI is preparing me to achieve my future goal of helping families adopt orphan children.  I am thrilled and consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to learn so much about the policies that shape domestic and intercountry adoptions, as well as our foster care system.  It is an honor to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to keeping these important issues on the forefront and make sure our policymakers are fully aware of the need for reform so children in need of families are not forgotten.

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