Manayunk: Adoption Advocates Gather for Benefit Concert

Adoptions From The Heart (AFTH), an organization that provides services to adoptive families and birthparents in the Philadelphia area, held their third annual Share Your Heart Benefit Concert on Nov. 7 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Manayunk Brewing Company.  

In honor of National Adoption Month, the Share Your Heart Benefit Concert raises money for the AFTH Birth Parent Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to birthparents who want to further their education.

As the first open adoption agency in the Philadelphia area, AFTH’s mission is to support all members of an adoption — the birthparents, adoptive parents, and the child — before, during, and after the adoption. In open adoptions, the birthparents are able to maintain a relationship with their child and the adoptive parents.

“There is a lot of trust, loyalty, commitment, and faith that goes into the adoption process,” Meagan Twardy, AFTH’s public relations and marketing coordinator, said. “It is important that the expecting parents and prospective adoptive parents are honest with one another about what kind of relationship they want to have.”

Meagan Twardy poses alongside Miss Elaine, a performer at the fundraiser.

Open adoption gives birthparents and adoptive parents the chance to be active in the child’s life together. Birthparents can struggle in making the decision to place their child up for adoption, Twardy said. The adoption process can be mentally and physically grueling on birthparents, so AFTH offers support beyond the adoption itself. 

Kristy Hartley-Galbraith, director of marketing and communications at AFTH, said that the problems birthparents face don’t end when the adoption occurs. 

“The hardships don’t stop when you place a child, they continue,” Hartley-Galbraith said. “A lot of men and women really want to get out of the situation they were in and better their life through education. So, this scholarship fund allows men and women who have been in situations and placed children an opportunity to actually finish a degree.”

The Birth Parent Scholarship Fund has been in place since 2014 and is offered to between two and five recipients each year. Board members from AFTH meet twice each year to read applications for the fall and spring semesters.

“The fund is open to any birth parent around the United States,” said Myra Herrera, the events and marketing coordinator at AFTH who was in charge of planning and managing the event. “This means that anyone in the country can apply for the scholarship regardless of placing through AFTH or not.”

All proceeds raised at the concert through ticket sales and raffles go directly to the scholarship fund.  

Herrera said this year’s benefit concert was the most successful the organization has seen. 

“This is our third year holding this event and it was a success for us,” Herrera said. “Our first year, we were hoping to make at least $500 since it was our first time, but we actually made around $1,000, which was a great success.” 

This year, the organization raised over $3,000, the most they’ve ever raised through the concert, Herrera said.

The performers at the benefit concert included Bethlehem and Sad Patrick, Miss Elaine, and Whiskey Logic. Attendees could also purchase raffle tickets to win gift cards to local restaurants, businesses, and breweries.  

Trez Malatesta, the concert’s host, volunteered to be the emcee for the event after Herrera and Twardy approached her about the opportunity.

“As a lesbian, I have thought about adoption,” Malatesta said. “Open adoption was something I wasn’t very familiar with, so as me and Myra linked up I got to learn more about it.”

Trez Malatesta and Miss Elaine pose for a photo at the AFTH fundraiser.

Darrick Rizzo, the founder of Cam Media Team, the media company that sponsored the concert, wishes he knew about AFTH 22 years ago when he was 18-years-old. It was then, during his freshman year of college, Rizzo placed his son up for adoption. 

“The agency that I went through pretty much made me believe that I had no rights,” Rizzo said about his own experience placing his son for adoption. “For 13 years, I’m sending letters and pictures and he never received it, but they [the adopted parents] always told me he did.”

Rizzo has tried to track his son down and even named Cam Media Team after him, Cameron. Having Rizzo share his story at the benefit concert was very special to AFTH. 

“This year, one of the most important things was Rizzo and having Cam Media sponsor us,” Hartley-Galbraith said. “As a birth father, he’s been behind the scenes and he came out from behind the scenes to publicly speak about an event like this, which is awesome.”

Recipients of the scholarship were also in attendance at the concert.

Tammi Cox placed her son, Henry, up for adoption on Feb. 25, 2015. She chose to go through AFTH so she could give her son a better life while still having the option to communicate with him and his adopted family. 

She was granted the AFTH Birth Parent Scholarship in fall of 2016. Cox is studying psychology at Montgomery County Community College’s University Center program to receive her bachelor’s degree from Albright College in Reading, PA. She said the scholarship gave her the motivation she needed.

Tammi Cox received the AFTH Birth Parent Scholarship in 2016.

“I applied, was given it, and then that was what pushed me to continue my education,” Cox said. “Now I’m hoping to graduate in December with my bachelor’s and I’ll be transferring to Drexel to get my master’s.”

Cox intends to work with kids in early childhood trauma or who are going through adoption. She also speaks about her own experience with AFTH at information sessions with perspective parents to give them insight into the adoption process.  

“You know the pain you go through, which isn’t always going to be there, is for a good reason,” said Cox.

Cox said events like the Share Your Heart Benefit Concert shed light on who birthparents really are.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what a birth parent is,” Cox said. “This kind of event shows that we’re just normal people, just normal people who face something difficult and found the best way out of it. And the best way to deal with it.”

Malatesta continues to learn more information about the open adoption process from other birthparents who attended the concert.

“They [birthparents] are talking about how they make open adoption work, and I am just amazed at their stories,” Malatesta said. “I always thought it would have been awkward to have the parent involved, but what they’re teaching me is that it takes a village to raise a kid.”

Cox is eternally grateful for AFTH and the scholarship fund for allowing her to take this next step in her life. 

“Being awarded the scholarship made me realize I matter,” Cox said. “Like, I matter too, it’s not just all this about the child. It gets you up, it gets you moving again, and you’re like, ‘You know what? I’ve got goals. I can get back to it.’”

Although putting a child up for adoption can be a hard decision for a birth parent to make, Cox said that for some people, like herself, it is the best option. Cox said she was able to secure a better future for her child while she focused on improving her own life with help from AFTH support groups, counseling services, and seminars geared to assist children and families.

“The best thing I’ve ever done with my life is place my son for adoption,” Cox said. “It’s my hero moment to make somebody else’s dream come true.”

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