Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Heidi Gonzalez, Executive Director of Adoptions From The Heart (AFTH). In addition to her duties as the new Executive Director, Heidi is the Regional Supervisor of Wynnewood, PA, Allentown, PA, and Wilmington, DE for AFTH.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I never really thought about it. In fact, I take each day as it comes. I try not to look back and get caught up in a “woulda shoulda coulda” mentality. Instead, I focus on the future and what I can do to improve my agency and myself. Every profession has its challenges: it’s all in how you handle them, and if I don’t think I did a bang up job the first time, I try to look at where I made mistakes and try to correct them the next time. Every day is an opportunity to do better–so that’s what I aspire to do.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Trying not to get caught up in the fear and drama of the times. I try to look at the bigger picture and see how I can weather this challenge in the most effective way instead of playing into the fear. For instance, with COVID-19, people were panicking that we would have to close the offices and work from home. Luckily, I am a technology nut so I had already moved to Microsoft Office 365 several years ago, and we already had the capability to do webinars and access files and databases through home. It was just a matter of calming people down and working on the logistics of how to hold certain meetings online instead of in person, revamping some agendas, and keeping everyone calm. Staff soon realized that working from home wasn’t as difficult for them as they thought it would be! They still have access to everything, and with a few tweaks here and there, they were off and running smoothly again.
Every day brings new challenges, though. You just have to be able to go with the flow and not panic. Look at the bigger picture and don’t rush into decisions. I think that’s where a lot of people get into trouble: They rush and don’t think things through all the way. I’m not saying you can think of everything, but usually with help you can really work through a lot of the bumps you may encounter.
That’s also important: I really work on a team approach, I love getting new ideas and outside the box thinking from staff. When they are involved and see their ideas implemented, it helps make them feel valued.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
Seeing all the families that we have created over the years and watching families become more and more comfortable with more open adoptions. Really incorporating birth parents into their lives and into their families. I’m also so proud of being able to give these men and women a voice. There is so much misinformation about adoption out there, and these women and men have so much to say. It’s important to listen and hear them.
I am also really inspired by my staff. They are such amazing people with such big hearts, they truly love what they do. To see their passion and dedication is inspiring.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
I’m not really sure, I mean I’m a mother and a Cis female so I understand the desire for family and can empathize with the struggle of both Adoptive parents who struggle with infertility and the birth parents who are facing a difficult decision to allow someone else to raise their children. However, I’m not sure that this is solely due to my gender identity. As a cis-gendered female, I do appreciate being able to empower pregnant women with choices. It seems like more and more we have to fight for basic rights over our bodies and decisions around pregnancy.
5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?
Empowering people of all genders, fighting for equal rights for the non-binary and trans-community, and putting transgender people in positions of power so that they are seen. We are starting to see more and more transgender people in positions of power, and we need to normalize this so it isn’t such a “threat.” It wasn’t that long ago that gay and lesbian people were hidden away–now they are in public office, heads of companies, etc…
Do we still have to fight? Yes! But our visibility makes us stronger. The same has to happen for trans and non-binary people.
6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
I think we will see more Cis-gendered women in office and positions of power, and I hope to see more transgender people in leaderships roles. Gender identity has really grown recently and you are seeing more people–particularly younger people–really embracing gender fluidity. I think that we will start to see more representation of all genders in positions of power in the coming years and hopefully with that an equity of pay and benefits.
More on Heidi Gonzalez:
Heidi Gonzalez is AFTH’s Executive Director, Regional Supervisor of Allentown, PA & Wilmington, DE, and self-proclaimed Webmistress! Heidi’s connection to adoption goes back to before she was even born! The daughter of AFTH’s Founder Maxine Chalker who is an adoptee herself, Heidi has seen the ups and downs of the adoption process, and everything in between.
Heidi has led AFTH to be recognized by the Human Rights Campaign In 2019 as an Innovator, the highest tier of recognition within the foundation’s All Children-All Families initiative. Heidi has been a big part of establishing Adoptions From The Heart as a progressive agency: AFTH was the first adoption agency on the East Coast to provide open adoption services.
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