Student returns to Colombia
Senior Gerard Ondrey had never given much thought to the idea of finding out more about his birth parents, but now that he’s eighteen, he will be travelling back to his orphanage in Columbia to sit down with a social worker to learn about his history. “Over the years I haven’t really thought about it all that much at all, but now we’re getting closer to when it’s actually happening, and the anticipation is starting to kick in a little,” said Gerard.
During the meeting with the social worker, Gerard and his family will be told all of the known information on the background, story, and personality of his birth parents. They will be given a photo if there is one available and may even be given an address or phone number for contact.
Although the trip will have an emotional effect on every family member, especially Gerard’s younger sister, Juliana, who was also adopted, will be taking the same trip as soon as she turns eighteen. Gerard’s mother cannot wait to see her childrens’ reaction to questions they have been wondering about all their lives. “That’s their story, it’s their life. They need to go back and get any questions they have answered. I’m anxious for them to go back and get as many answers as they can handle,” said Mrs. Carolyn Ondrey.
Gerard’s father thinks the trip will be a good experience for Gerard and knows Gerard will take in the new information with ease. “I’m not apprehensive at all because Gerard has a good head on his shoulders,” said Mr. Frank Ondrey. “He has a really good way of processing life events that’s practical and logical, and he’s not really an emotional basketcase.”
Although the chances of Gerard being able to meet his birth parents on this trip are slim, they are not unheard of. If the opportunity arose for such a meeting, that may mean having those parents a part of his life forever, a fact Gerard is willing to accept. “I have no idea who they are; I have no idea what they’re like, but it’s my family, so I’m not going to tell them they can’t be in my life,” said Gerard. “I have no real reason to tell them that, other than the fact that it might be a little bit uncomfortable at first, but I don’t hold any grudges against them.”
During the meeting, Gerard may find out his birth parents haven’t been heard from since the day they dropped him off, or he they could live just around the corner from the orphanage but not want to have a child in their lives. “It’s not that they don’t care, they’re just trying to protect themselves because it would be so overwhelming for them to see [their child]. It’d be so hard to see [their child], and it’d almost be like they’re putting up a shield because they’re not ready to cope with [them] coming back into their lives,” said Mrs. Ondrey.
Despite all of these potential negative outcomes, Mrs. Ondrey has been sending annual letters and photos back to the orphanage of both Gerard and Juliana with updates on how they’re doing to be given to the birth parents if they were to ask for them. “That’s the least I can do for the birth mothers,” said Mrs. Ondrey. “They gave up their greatest gift to me, and they need to know how well [they’re] doing.”
Before they were even married, Mr. and Mrs. Ondrey knew they wanted to adopt children from a less fortunate country. A friend of Mrs. Ondrey had recently adopted a child from an orphanage in Bogatá, Columbia and came back with rave reviews on the trustworthiness, dependability, and quality of FANA (the Spanish acronym for the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children). After little consideration, the Ondreys knew they wanted their children to come from FANA.
Extensive prayer by the leaders of the orphanage is what led Gerard Joseph Ondrey, originally named José, to be placed with Mr. and Mrs. Ondrey after he was born. While Gerard’s paperwork was being completed and they were waiting for his alien resident green card to leave Columbia, the couple spent as much time as possible getting to know Gerard at the orphanage until they could finally take him home four months later. When Gerard was five years old, the Ondreys decided to take a trip back to Bogatá to adopt their second child, Juliana.
After bringing both Gerard and Juliana home for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Ondrey found other families around the Twin Cities who had also adopted children from FANA. Growing up, these were some of Gerard’s closest friends. Surrounded by kids just like him, Gerard always knew he was different than his parents, but saw no problem with it. “As far as I can remember back, I’ve always just known, but at the same time it’s not like my parents tried to hide it from me or anything,” said Gerard.
Unlike many adopted children, Gerard never had one moment in his life when he finally realized he was adopted, but instead it became a part of his upbringing. “We’ve got so many families like us here in the metro that made [being adopted] not seem that different. Gerard probably saw enough mixed-raced looking families that he never had that moment [of realization],” said Mrs. Ondrey.
During his early elementary years, Gerard attended a week long day summer camp each year known as La Semana, a camp for children of all ages who had been adopted from South America. Here, the commonality of adoption simply added to Gerard’s early acceptance of the differences between him and his parents.
Gerard stopped going to La Semana after second grade, but later returned his sophomore year after reconnecting with an old friend from camp over Facebook. “I went back in 10th grade, and I immediately saw what I had been missing: this whole family of people who looked like me, and for once I looked the same as everyone else,” said Gerard.
Although Gerard never felt out of place as he attended private Catholic schools and living in small suburbs, he was constantly surrounded by a predominately white population. “It’s really subconscious, but until you get into a situation with all Hispanic people who have also been adopted, you realize how much more comfortable you are around them,” said Gerard.
The friends Gerard has made at camp have come from a wide variety of adoptive families and very different home lifestyles, but who all come together at camp to form a trusting and reliable community with a unique bond that unites them all. “I know a lot of people who have relied on that community nonstop for support when many of their lives have spiraled out of control,”said Gerard.
Many of Gerard’s friends from La Semana and their families will also be going back to FANA this summer to learn about their birth parents, a trip many of them have been waiting for their entire lives.
After completing his years as a camper, Gerard still continues to return to camp each year as a counselor for the younger attendees. When he returns to camp this year, it will be with an experience that may bring his story of family and friendship full circle.