Dissolved in Ohio
Another Hurt By Denise
This is the story of a dissolution, a topic not discussed in international adoption forums. If brought up, it’s brushed aside like the topic of incest.
Contrary to what many want to believe, dissolutions DO happen. They are a reality in adoption when families adopt children with emotional and psychological needs that surpass what they can handle. Children transitioning from an institutional setting into a family structure will have delays and are a high risk category. Often adoptive parents are not sufficiently warned about the real risks of adopting children with RAD, ADD, ADHD and a range of other emotional disorders. Some are intentionally misled by those who they placed their faith and money to in bringing about the miracle of adoption.
This BBAS client’s experience follows the above. From the moment they began their homestudy, until they returned from Russia with a mentally disturbed child, they were LIED to by experts: Denise L. Hubbard of Building Blocks Adoption Service, Inc. Jennifer Marando of A Child’s Waiting, two Russian facilitators, two translators and Amrex, Inc.
This is the third dissolution of a Building Blocks placement we know of. Dissolutions Denise L. Hubbard is aware of, yet does nothing to prevent before children are placed into their new homes. She cares nothing for the children of dissolutions or the lifelong consequences for these children – and their adoptive families. She talks a good talk about “the children” on their referral videos, but when they come home, delayed, mentally and physically sick and more than their new parents asked for, she blames the clients. Then she forgets their names. It just ain’t her problem anymore.
For reasons of confidentiality, this client has requested we change their names and that of the child they relinquished in April 2002. All other names associated with this adoption remain unaltered.
- Elizabeth & Daniel Case
After the birth of their son Tucker in 1994, Margaret and Peter Ponish were unable to have another child and discussed adoption. They felt adding a child, hopefully a little girl, through adoption would be a positive thing for their family. Like other Americans who pursue international adoption, they looked into domestic adoption, and were dismayed by the wait for a young child. After looking briefly into international adoption, they decided a young girl from an Eastern European country would be a good fit for their family.
The Ponishes, who live in Northeastern Ohio, first contacted three local international adoption agencies in July 2000. One of these was Building Blocks Adoption Service, Inc.
They received a letter and BBAS’s typically chintzy, no-frills “information” packet. The letter was dated Aug. 8 and signed by Denise L. Hubbard. The Ponishes did not respond to this letter but received a telephone call from Denise asking if they had received the information. In September they received another letter from BBAS, signed by Sandra Harding. She wrote: “We here at Building Blocks feel that communication is an essential tool when adopting through our organization…Also, as a courtesy we have requested your Immigration forms be forwarded to you…”
The Ponishes decided to choose an international agency while they began their homestudy. In February 2001 they attended a two-day adoption seminar held by their homestudy agency, “A Child’s Waiting” (ACW) of Copley, Ohio, where they would become indoctrinated about BBAS’s virtues.
During their initial homestudy screening, ACW endorsed Building Blocks for Bulgaria and Romania. Unbeknownst to the Ponishes, however, A Child’s Waiting had allied itself with Building Blocks, in a mutually beneficial working partnership.
ACW was founded by two sisters, Jennifer Bessemer Marando and Crissy Bessemer Kolarik. They registered A Child’s Waiting as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) on Jan. 25, 2000, with the Ohio Secretary of State.
Crissy Kolarik and Jennifer Marando are actively involved in the Ohio adoption community through domestic adoptions, foster care and doing international adoption homestudies.
Jennifer and Crissy, on top of running an adoption placement agency, were busy rural ladies. They appeared in an episode of The Learning Channel’s “A Make Over Story” in a segment titled “Farmers’ Daughters”:
Crissy and Jennifer are sisters, best friends and business partners. They grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and now own an adoption agency together. This year marks Crissy’s 30th birthday and Jennifer is planning an unforgettable party. The sisters are poised to demonstrate to their friends and family that beauty definitely increases with age.
According to ACW’s website, Ms. Marando has a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Counseling. It states she is a licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and worked in Child Welfare for seven years. Her “area of specialty” is “attachment and bonding issues in children who have suffered abuse and neglect.”
Ms. Kolarik has a similar educational background with a B.A. in Art Therapy and an M.A. in Counseling. She too is a licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), having worked in Child Welfare for over six years. It states on the website: “Her area of specialty has been with children that were victims of sexual abuse, as well as children displaying inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Ms. Kolarik’s husband Todd is involved in ACW too; he is an adoption attorney, keeping it all in the family, much like Building Blocks and Richard J. Marco, Jr.
ACW emphasized finding homes for harder to place older children on their website. Ms. Kolarik stated in an interview with WKSU radio in Cleveland there was a “crisis” in Cuyahoga County with the amount of children that needed forever families — and that nobody seemed to care.
Not only that, but ACW also had an “Adoption Store” at the Rolling Hills Mall in Akron in November 2001. The mall was “so enthused” about having this store, they allowed Kolarik and Marando the retail space for free for that month. This “Adoption Store” featured photos of waiting children from Ohio on the walls, had a local radio station do live broadcasts from the store and even gave away adoption-themed items to prospective adoptive parents.
Over the month of November 2001, A Child’s Waiting reported that 40 families had submitted adoption applications after visiting the store, and they conducted 127 in store intakes. Due to the success of the Adoption Store, Kolarik and Marando’s exposure grew. They received invitations to speak about adoption at various locations such as church groups, a teacher’s conference and within neighborhoods.
Thus began a marketing extravaganza that the Ponishes were unknowingly swept into. A marketing extravaganza that would bear fruit in April 2004.
The two-day seminar the Ponishes attended was required for families pursuing both domestic and international adoptions. Workshops were held by families who had completed successful domestic adoptions. They discussed their lives as adoptive parents and the challenges they faced. Other presentations were given by professionals about aspects of adoption and parenting issues.
Jennifer Bessemer Marando was there to speak, along with her sister Chrissy Kolarik. While she spoke, Ms. Marando parroted one of Denise Hubbard’s lines about where to adopt the healthiest Eastern European children: Bulgaria and Romania. She spoke to a green audience, filled with hopeful believers in the goodness of the adoption industry and how it aided children in foreign orphanages.
Ms. Marando, recommended BBAS as a good local agency with excellent Bulgarian and Romanian programs. She homed in on her audience and their concerns. Many people, when they are new to the adoption process, wish to use a “local” agency. They mistakenly believe if the agency is local, therefore, it must be honest and good, run by people just like them.
As she spoke, Ms. Marando was going out of her way to steer them towards a local con artist who was nothing like the good people of Northeast Ohio.
Ms. Kolarik went around and asked people to raise their hands and took a count as to which families were using which adoption agency. Mrs. Ponish said she saw many hands go up for BBAS.
In between tales of angel wings, butterfly kisses and “once they’re home they’re all okay” propaganda, Ms. Marando omitted examples of the effects of institutionalization on children. Problems such as ADHD, ADD, SIDS, bipolar disorders and most importantly, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) were not brought up. One could say that the presentation Ms. Marando was giving should have been called “Child Marketing 101.”
She neglected to review the definition of a “special needs child”. A special needs child included children who had long term medical and psychosocial problems that could not be reversed.
While in Russia, the Ponishes see first hand the definition of “Special Needs Child” in action.
From listening to Ms. Marando’s misinformed love-touched pitch to the audience, they were left with the impression that the majority of children adopted from Eastern Europe would have mild, correctable problems. Once they were home with a loving family in the United States, all the kids became happy, healthy and well adjusted.
In utero drug, alcohol exposure, parasites, malnutrition, untreated infections, and attachment problems were not mentioned. These not only affect children in institutions, they are prevalent in children adopted from foster care systems around the United States. With her educational qualifications and years of working locally with these children, Ms. Marando should have been more honest in her descriptions of adopting a child who had been neglected or abandoned to a country’s state child care system. She should have known and witnessed first hand what deprivation can do to children and their developing minds.
Upon listening to this spiel, the Ponishes, like the rest of the audience, believed that the little girl they envisioned would be reasonably healthy, happy and well-adjusted. They were not told the potential risks of adopting a child from an institution increased the child’s chances of having mental, emotional, physical delays and attachment problems.
Ms. Marando swayed them with her flowery, angel-kissed and feathery sales talk. Their hearts and minds were won over. An international adoption was for their family. Certainly they had the means to adopt an orphaned little girl who needed a loving mother and father. Their son would be make a wonderful big brother to this little girl.
Again, they were not told that many medical specialists feel the adoption of a toddler from an orphanage is considered a “special needs” adoption.
After the presentation, Margaret and Peter talked privately with Jennifer Marando and Crissy Kolarik in greater detail about their opinions for which local agency to use for an adoption from Bulgaria or Romania. Repeatedly, both women highly recommended BBAS’s Bulgarian program and Denise’s personable services. After all, BBAS was right in Northeast Ohio, ACW did homestudies for them, and BBAS had a great Bulgarian program — so many healthy children were coming home to loving families.
This was precisely what the Ponishes wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. Hearing this caring agency was right in Northeast Ohio was a boon. Everything they were looking for was within their reach. Yes, they could adopt a lovely little girl! With a local agency who understood their needs and the health of the children being placed — with a proven track record!
Ms. Marando, as she extolled Denise Hubbard’s adoption agency, gauged her client’s reactions and smelled a quick client for Denise. No doubt ACW was doing many homestudies and post placement reports for BBAS and others. BBAS no longer had to rely on Jim & Carol Wilson’s Adoption Specialists International for their Ohio clients homestudy needs. Two years later Adoption Specialists International itself would be on hiatus.
The Ponishes needed no other convincing. They explored a relationship with BBAS for their adoption.
After the seminar, with a sense of vigor, they again contacted BBAS. This time, Denise was directly on hand to answer their questions.
They first asked her about BBAS Bulgarian program. Denise, always happy to get more clients for Valeri Kamenov, proclaimed “We ARE Bulgaria!” She went on in greater detail about the superior health of the Bulgarian children, due to the higher “caregiver to child” ratio in their orphanages.
She gushed “People adopt from Bulgaria because of the health! It’s the number one place to adopt from if you want a healthy child!”
Denise edited out the sordid details about her Bulgarian program, particularly the wait and what that does to the healthy Bulgarian children’s mental development. But remember — none of the BBAS Bulgarian kids had any delays! She neglected to tell them of Valeri Kamenov’s cozy relations with the orphanage directors in Burgas, Buzovgrad and Kurdjali and exactly how the orphanage directors were providing those quick, healthy referrals for Mr. Kamenov.
At the time this conversation took place, Romania was on the verge of shutting down, and therefore was not brought up. Bulgaria was presented to them as BBAS’s premier adoption program with all roads leading to Sofia.
If Peter and Margaret wanted to adopt a boy, well all they had were Bulgarian boys available! All boys from Bulgaria! Quick referral if they wanted a healthy boy!
But the Ponishes did not want to adopt a boy — they were adamant about adopting a girl two to four years old.
Hearing how badly they wanted a girl, that was an entirely different situation — and country.
Bulgaria was taken off the table. Denise switched gears and told them a Bulgarian female referral would be long in coming. And it was only then she told them an adoption from Bulgaria would take a year. Bulgaria for the Ponishes was never brought up again. Nor, for some reason, did Denise steer them towards her Guatemalan program.
There was always Russia. Russia had children who resembled the Ponishes. A Russian little girl could be referred quickly, one in relatively good health. When all other programs failed, there were always the fair-skinned Russian children to fall back on.
Denise told them whatever she wanted to in order to get their business. If she had been truthful, she would have told them her true feelings about the Russians, that they were “uncaring and greedy” – and the health of the Russian children was not close to that that of the Bulgarian or Guatemalan children.
Why, just look at how healthy Emily was! And she was from Russia!
Quick referral, quick placement once their paperwork was completed, quick trip to Russia. Their Russian princess could join their family within the year.
Again — what the Ponishes wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear.
Denise said BBAS had great facilitators in Russia, the phenomenal reps that worked in the orphanages taking care of God’s orphaned children. She mentioned the good work these “reps” did for the Russian orphans.
As with Jennifer Marando at the workshop, the Ponishes were being sold on a country they didn’t know the first thing about. They took Denise at her word about the health of the Russian children and their progress when they came home. Denise led them to believe their monetary donations would actually be going towards the orphanages in Russia. BBAS’s cut would be minimal.
“We were never told by Denise that three Russian families must reject the child first before we could be considered for adoption,” Mrs. Ponish said later. “We were being offered the most sickly of children.”
Denise then invited the Ponishes to her new 5,000 square-foot home and office for a one-on-one meeting. They readily accepted.
When they arrived, just as she had done with Constance and Alan Bady, Denise gushed about the amenities of the Hubbard family dwelling. She bragged about the 5,000 square feet of living space and emphasized the “good deal” she had received per square foot.
She led them into her office so they could continue talking about adoption. Sadly, Margaret and Peter did not know every question to ask Denise. Margaret, however, was sharp enough to ask if BBAS had any dissatisfied clients or had placed any sick children, and how Denise herself had adopted Emily.
Denise’s answer to that question was vague. She told them her dad knew a translator in Russia (he was of Russian descent, you know!) who was able to set up Emily’s adoption for them. Once the ball was rolling, Emily came home in a few short months.
Regarding dissatisfied clients and the placement of sick children, Denise responded: “Yes. We had one baby die at the orphanage, and the husband was really angry. He wrote us a very angry letter!”
When she mentioned the baby’s death, Margaret told me, “I wanted to tell her that I would have been angry too if a baby had died. When we heard that, we should have walked.”
They didn’t walk since Denise sounded and looked sincere in her persona of “kind, caring, understanding agency director.” When Denise does her pity-the-kids sales pitch, she’s a natural – she knows how to play every heart string you have. She emphasized how much she cared about the babies! How badly the babies needed loving homes! How great the children did once they were in the loving arms of their adoptive families! How BBAS would be there every step of the way during the adoption process.
During these conversations, Denise never reviewed post-institutionalization mental disorders such as attachment issues, RAD, FAS/FAE, ODD and ADHD, all disorders some “BBAS Kids” themselves had in areas of learning and attachment. She did not mention that autism, ADHD, FAS/FAE, drug addiction and a whole host of other institutional and social woes were prevalent throughout the orphanage population in Russia.
All she said about any health conditions was a comment on the medical reports. “She merely stated”, Mrs. Ponish wrote us later, “untrue diagnoses like ‘microencephaly’ appeared on the ‘history sheet’ at the time so that U.S. parents could adopt internationally.”
Same lies, different family.
They asked Denise to show them photos of BBAS kids who were now home with their loving adoptive families. Denise refused to do so, claiming she was giving away “too much private information.”
At the same time, they’re all over BBAS’s website under “BBAS Kids”.
Not fully informing potential clients of these risks is wrong, misleading and damnable. By now, Denise knew better, having seen her clients through two dissolutions, one dead child and a host of delayed placements. Failure to disclose the truth, given this knowledge, is negligent at best and fraudulent at worst.
Since the subjects of FAS/FAE, RAD, ADHD, ODD, drug addiction and attachment issues were not brought up, she saw no need to mention where to turn to for information on the issues families faced once they were home.
The Ponishes asked Denise if they should learn more on the Internet.
Denise was adamant in her response. They were not even to log on and ask questions about adoption. She cautioned them that everything they would read on the Internet was lies. The Internet was a bad place for adoptive parents. There were too many sick and crazy people on the boards and the lists – and everything these sick and crazy people would tell them would be fabrications. They would be better off having BBAS, Denise Hubbard and the Russian “reps” handle their adoption. They were the most qualified to answer their questions.
Nonetheless, later, when they were in Russia making serious life changing decisions about a mentally sick little girl, Denise would blame them for not having prepared themselves for her illness.
Like those who came before, Margaret and Peter Ponish were in the clutches of the Arch Liar and unknowingly at the mercy of Amrex, Inc. They decided to sign up with BBAS after meeting with Denise, believing in her sincerity when she told them she wanted them to be the parents of a beautiful Russian girl.
Their homestudy had been close to completion in Nov. 2000 with ACW and Jennifer Marando. Ms. Marando wasn’t too swift. She screwed up their INS and they had to pay an extra $400 to get the problem rectified - along with more detested paperwork. Their wallet took an even swifter beating as the months wore on.
The contract with BBAS was signed on March 23, 2001. Along with the contract, they signed and completed BBAS “Required Information” sheet, describing themselves and the type of child they wished to adopt. Under the question “Are you willing to adopt a special/medical needs child(ren)?” they circled “N” for NO.
When their $275 application fee and $3,000 non-refundable Program fees checks cleared, “President” Denise sent them a welcome onboard letter.
“I feel it our pleasure to work with you throughout the next few months to build your dreams.” Denise wrote. “But, most importantly I myself an so delighted to have been chosen to be part of your life and the changes that will occur starting now and throughout the years to come. I hope to begin a relationship with you and your new family and share our children’s lives together, along with their heritage …Remember our goal is you and the children. If you are happy, we are happy and that what makes this wonderful world go round. Love and Happiness.”
With their checks cashed and cleared, those changes began for the Ponishes. Little did they know that Denise Hubbard’s real “goal” was their money. Not their “Happiness”. Or their Love.
Mrs. Ponish told me they paid in increments, as all clients do.
In August 2002, upon acceptance of their referral, BBAS sent the Ponishes – Amrex, Inc’s “AGREEMENT BETWEEN AMREX AND ADOPTIVE FAMILY – Exhibit C”. It was the first hard copy evidence we had that BBAS was formally an Amrex agency – and that BBAS clients were trapped into dealing with Amrex for their Post Placement reports.