It is not every day that you get the opportunity to go to Fiji. In fact, it is not every day that you get the opportunity to not only visit a beautiful island, but also to immerse in the culture and interact with the villagers on a personal level!
This past summer, 24 Fresno State students got the opportunity to be a part of that life changing learning experience through Fresno State’s Fijian International Service Learning trip, which was designed to teach students the elements of service, leadership and reflection.
The students do not go to classes, unlike most study abroad trips, but rather focus on building relationships with the natives through community-based projects.
“An experience like this really teaches students to appreciate the differences of various cultures, not to judge others because of their differences, but to value the importance of learning about the backgrounds of their future clients or students,” said Dr. Fran Pomaville, a professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies, who also participated in the trip.
Many of the 24 students were Speech-Language Pathology majors, or were from other majors on campus, including public health, education, psychology and family services – all professions that require working with individuals and families of diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Cathleen Fagundes, a senior majoring in Communication and a student assistant in the CHHS dean’s office, served as a crew leader on the trip, responsible for planning trips, leading reflections and facilitating interactions with the Fijians.
“We created relationships through connections and building community projects that we set up with the village,” Fagundes said. “If the Fijians are working on something and you come by, they will literally stop what they are doing to talk with you. They actually care about their relationships with other people. That is something that we do not really have here, in the United States.”
Fiji consists of 330 islands, in which 106 are inhabited. The group from Fresno State stayed in the small village of Naboutini, located in Vanua Levu, one of the main islands in Fiji. Their daily activities included working on community projects, such as building the community kitchen, classroom observations and teaching lessons at local primary schools.
Stephanie Greisbach, an undergraduate Speech-Language Pathology student, said her experience in Fiji was among the best experiences of her life.
“The Fijian outlook on life inspired me to become a better person,” Greisbach said. “Being able to immerse myself in a culture that is full of thoughtful, and kindhearted people led to an amazing journey that was full of laughs, knowledge, adventures, memories, and friendships that will last a life time. I also took away a new appreciation, love, and knowledge of a country and village that I will use in my future career as a Speech-Language Pathologist.”
Fagundes echoed Greisbach’s sentiments, saying one of her greatest lessons she’s learned from the trip was learning to step back and appreciate her relationships, which she admits is not always the easiest thing to do.
“You learn so much more than just the service you are doing,” Fagundes said. “You are learning about yourself and the culture. Going into this we all thought the service would be the main component of this trip, but it was more about sitting back and learning and reflecting on ourselves. I learned to appreciate the little things that we take for granted here in the U.S., for example, running water and easily accessible food.”
The trip was entirely student lead, meaning that students were responsible for making sure things ran accordingly. The faculty were there to oversee the student operations, but they were really there as participants. Before the trip the students were required to attend several meetings, which informed them of what to take to the island, as well as, how to properly interact with Fijians.
For some of the students, this was their first time away from home, or traveling by airplane. The living conditions were extremely challenging, even for an experienced traveler who is used to the harsher conditions, but that only made the experience more enriching.
“We experienced a lifestyle very different from our own, in a village without electricity or technology, no vehicles, and few material possessions”, said Pomaville. “Despite that, these were some of the happiest people we had ever met. “We were all way out of our comfort zones and had to dig deep to deal with some of the conditions we were faced with, but I was so proud of the students and the personal growth I saw in each of them.”
Zandra Mitchell, a graduate student in the Speech-Language Pathology program, described the trip as exceptional, life-changing and full of life long lessons.
“As a whole, I learned to be in the moment,” Mitchell said. “In the U.S we are a very fast-paced society and I find myself thinking about what is happening next rather than what is happening right now. In Fiji, they truly enjoy what is happening in the present and I found that I would rather live life in that sense.”
This trip was not only beneficial for the Fijians, but it was even more beneficial for Fresno State students and faculty.
As Pomaville said, “I think a service abroad trip like this is important for several reasons, but what I learned is it’s often more about what they do for us than about what we do for them.”
And for the students on the trip, they couldn’t agree more.
The College of Health and Human Services is pleased to welcome four new faculty to our college, each of whom bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise and passion for their field of study. Due to the time and dedication of faculty and administration, our 4,800+ students in our college are given a first-rate education and the chance to #LiveWell and #BeBold! We welcome our new and returning faculty to the start of a great 2016-2017 school year!
Dr. Jennifer Adame-Walker is an assisant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Physiology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in Physical Therapy from Fresno State and her Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of California, San Francisco and Fresno State joint doctoral program.
For 18 years, she taught activity classes in the Department of Kinesiology at Fresno State and in 2011, began teaching part-time in Fresno State’s Department of Physical Therapy shortly after graduating from its doctoral program. In addition to teaching, Adame-Walker has worked in a number of areas including outpatient orthopedics and home health. Recent ventures include serving as an independent contractor with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Adame-Walker’s research interests include developing exercise programs that are safe, effective and have a good compliance rate with obese/at-risk youth and utilizing the pilates method of exercise to affect posture, strength and confidence in teenage or college-aged women.
Dr. Nupur Hajela is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. She received her bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Baba Farid University of Health Sciences in Punjab, India; a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and participated in a post-doctoral fellowship in Biomechanics and Electrophysiology from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
She is a physical therapist and neuroscientist who specializes in neurologic rehabilitation in patients with spinal cord injuries and stroke. A native of India, Hajela came to the United States to pursue her Ph.D. She prides herself in working with the community to increase therapy caps for people with spinal cord injuries. She is also has a growing interest in improving the quality of life for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and concussion by helping them improve their motor and cognitive outcomes.
Hajela’s research interests include designing novel interventions utilizing robotics and technology for physical and cognitive therapy to improve quality of life for survivors of spinal cord injury, stroke and Parkinson’s. She is also researching brain stimulation, games and virtual reality for increasing physical activity and inducing neuroplasticity.
Dr. Nisha Nair is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and master’s degree in Public Administration, both from University of Kerala, India. She also obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at Fresno State and Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the California State University, Northern California Consortium.
Nair holds certifications as a lactation educator counselor and is a clinical nurse educator. She previously taught undergraduate level courses at Fresno State’s School of Nursing. With over 19 years of experience as an obstetric nurse, she has provided clinical leadership in this area both in national and international settings. Her passion is working with families as they make their transition to parenthood.
Nair’s research interests include parental education in newborn health, with a focus on parental empowerment leading to holistic health and reduction in hospital readmission.
Dr. Nicole J. Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from the University of Nevada, Reno, and master’s degree in Physical Education Teacher Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Ph.D. in Physical Education Teacher Education, with an emphasis in Physical Activity Promotion from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
She has more than 20 years of professional experience as a teacher and researcher in secondary schools and higher education settings. Her expertise is in the area of physical education teacher education, direct observation, physical activity promotion, and evidence-based interventions to increase physical activity in physical education. She presents and publishes her work in peer-reviewed outlets on these same topics.
Smith’s research interests include physical activity opportunity, school connectedness, school wellness policy, school adoption of evidence-based P.E. curricula, observation of physical activity and measured physical activity and sleep using accelerometers.
Congratulations to each of our four newly promoted and tenured faculty! They were recognized at yesterday’s Faculty Recognition Reception, under the direction of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Lynnette Zelezny.
Dr. Bryan Berrett is a professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies and director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Fresno State. He served as faculty in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies for 19 years. He most recently served as a professor and department chair, where he secured two large federal grants totaling $2.4 million dollars to prepare deaf education teachers and sign language interpreters to serve deaf children. At the start of his teaching career, he was instrumental in the creation of the sign language interpreting degree option.
Actively involved on campus, Berrett received the 2012 Provost Award for Educational Technology and was named as the Spirit of Service Awards’ Outstanding Faculty. He has a strong commitment toward faculty development and has mentored new faculty in his department for several years. In addition, he has provided leadership and guidance to support students, staff and faculty on campus.
Berrett has a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Studies from California State University, Northridge, and a master’s degree in Recreation Administration: Special Populations from California State University, Chico, and an Ed.D. In Educational Technology and Leadership from Pepperdine University.
Dr. Terea Giannetta is a professor in the School of Nursing at Fresno State, where she has taught for over 30 years. She began her career at Fresno State as a lecturer and has worked up the ranks to teach all levels of nursing education from baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. As an experienced advanced practice nurse, she is able to promote clinical placements for students, as well as provide clinical competence for her teaching role at the University.
Outside of the academic setting, Giannetta serves as the chief nurse practitioner at Valley Children’s Hospital, where she is responsible for maintaining legal scope of practice for over 50 nurse practitioners. At Valley Children’s, she provides clinical placement for students and runs the clinical practice in pediatric hematology service.
While at the University she has served on various roles and committees, including University senator and graduate coordinator. Her proven leadership, teaching and clinical skills have been recognized nationally in pediatric nurse practitioner textbooks, as well as on national boards and foundations.
Giannetta received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from California State University, Sacramento, Master of Science in Nursing from Fresno State and Doctor of Nursing Practice from Brandman University.
Dr. Christine Maul is an associate professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies at Fresno State. She began her career with Fresno State in 1998 as a lecturer. On campus, she has served on numerous research and curriculum committees, including the College of Health and Human Services’ Honors Council.
As a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, Maul’s passion lies in advocating for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In addition to presenting at national and international conferences on topics of autism, literacy acquisition and multicultural issues, she has authored and published a number of textbooks and journals relating to child language disorders and behavior principles in communicative disorders.
Maul was appointed by Governor Brown to the Porterville Developmental Advisory Board and also serves on a task force for the California Department of Health and Human Services, where she is tasked with addressing the need for community residential facilities for people with behavioral challenges.
Dr. Jenna Sawdon-Bea is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. She began her teaching career at Fresno State in 2008 as a full-time lecturer, where she now teaches in the areas of musculoskeletal and orthopedic dysfunction. She is a licensed physical therapist and is active in clinical research, having shared many projects at the state, national, and international levels.
She has served on various committees on campus, including the University’s Academic Planning and Policy Committee, the Department of Physical Therapy’s curriculum and student affairs committee and as a member of the College of Health and Human Services’ Honors Council. Outside of the academic setting, Sawdon-Bea is the president of the Art of Life Cancer Foundation’s Board of Directors.
Sawdon-Bea received her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy and Master of Science in Physical Therapy, both from Fresno State. She obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Therapy from Texas Woman’s University in Dallas.
In addition, we’ll be starting off the semester with three new chairs, including Dr. Steven Skelton with the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies, replacing Dr. Bryan Berrett; Dr. Kara Zografos with the Department of Public Health, replacing Dr. Vickie Krenz; and Dr. Martha Vungkhanching with the Department of Social Work Education, replacing Dr. Virginia Rondero Hernandez. Congratulations to our new incoming chairs!
This story is reprinted from The Fresno State Alumni Association as written by Elisa Navarro. Originally published in the July 2016 issue of the Fresno State Alumni Association Newsletter.
“I was four and I still remember stuff…we left in the middle of the night from Oakland to get away from my dad. My mom was terrified and almost didn’t leave but my grandmother just said, ‘I’m moving to Fresno and I’m taking the grandkids…you can come or not.’ My mom decided to come. And I remember all of that…I still remember the drive to Fresno.”
Lisa Nichols (1998) has been living in Fresno ever since the night her grandmother drove her family away from the life of domestic violence they endured every day, and in 2014 she began working as an administrator at Gaston Middle School — a job she loves, which allows her to motivate kids every day.
As an administrator Nichols helps create school policies, educative social skills lessons, support groups, teaches lessons about bullying and many more things that allow her to help the school one way or the other. She also is able to mentor and counsel students, in order to help them find themselves whenever they are struggling through school or even life difficulties.
“The West Fresno area is a different community, so I am able to help different students and mentoring them is the best,” Nichols said. “My principal has let me be the advisor of a new club, so I can now mentor that club after school.”
Black Student Union is the club that Nichols has been an advisor of for two years and where she is able to guide students and help them succeed in any way she can, just like her grandmother was always there for her every single day of her life.
“[In kindergarten] I had a speech impediment and I was just kind of behind…I never did well with reading and math so when I was in elementary school I didn’t speak very well so I had a speech therapist,” Nichols said, “My grandmother was really good about making sure I had services every year, because it was a year-by-year basis. She was very good about saying ‘no she needs another year of services!’”
For Nichols’ mother, the effect of domestic violence was too much, even after escaping it and starting a new life with her two daughters. She suffered and was diagnosed with a mental health breakdown in her mid-30s.
“My grandmother raised me because even though my mom was in the home…she was not mentally there,” Nichols said.
With her grandmother’s unconditional love and support, Nichols has obtained three degrees and two credentials from Fresno State: Bachelors of Arts in Social Work (1998), Masters in Social Work (2003), Masters in Administration Education (2014), Pupil Personnel Services Credential (2003) and an Administration Credential (2014).
“She is my motivator, because I am 44 and she passed away when I was 42, but I tell kids every day, ‘you are never too old to have a support system. You only need one person rooting for you’,” Nichols said, “And I was still getting advice from my grandmother until the day she died.”
View the original Alumni Association Story in full at the LINK.
Last week’s heat wave brought the media out to Fresno State to talk to our resident heat and hydration expert, Dr. Luke Pryor. He spoke to KSEE 24 news about ways individuals can spot signs of dehydration and best practices for preventing heat stroke.
Dr. Scott Sailor was also in the news to talk about ways high school athletes can can stay hydrated during summer high school practices. As president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Sailor writes a monthly column for USA TODAY High School Sports on topics relevant to coaches, student-athletes and schools. Read his latest column at the LINK.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from August 1-7 in an effort to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies all around the world. In 2013, Carmen Chapman, Administrative Support Coordinator of the Department of Public Health, spearheaded the development of the Fresno State Breastfeeding Coalition. She shares her journey with us.
When Chapman returned to work after the birth of her first child in 2010, she struggled with finding a proper place to “express” her breast milk. Because there was no accessible location on campus to do this, often times she was confined to public restrooms or her small office space during break periods. She realized during that time that other mothers on campus were going through the same struggle.
According to the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant, known as Title V, employers are required to provide a private space, other than a bathroom, to “express” breastmilk, which means to take milk from the breast either by hand or pump.
“Many employers are not aware of this law and as a result many new mothers who work, struggle to find a private area to express breast milk,” Chapman said. “Often times this hinders women from being able to nurse their child, which is not the best option for the health of mother and child.”
Shortly thereafter, in 2010, Chapman took matters into her own hands and decided to find a solution to this problem. Her years of hard work and dedication resulted in the establishment of the Fresno State Breastfeeding Coalition in 2013, as well as multiple lactation stations on campus for staff members and students.
Because of her own experience as a mother, she was inspired to establish the Coalition, as she was able to empathize the feeling of having to express breast milk in a bathroom stall or other unsanitary settings. The ultimate goal of the Coalition is to establish Fresno State as a breastfeeding friendly campus by aiding in the development of lactation stations.
“It is preferred to have at least one lactation station per building,” Chapman said. “It takes five minutes to set up the breast pump, 20 minutes to pump and five minutes to break down. For students who are in between classes, ideally you would want to be in the building that you are having your class in.”
Staff members currently have two designated lactation stations located in the Joyal Administration and Engineering East buildings. Meanwhile, students have three designated stations that could be found on the second floor of the University Student Union, the third floor of the Family and Food Science building and located centrally in the Frank W. Thomas building.
It wasn’t until this last academic year that the student-designated rooms were put into place. The road to get there was tricky, as it encompassed a dual approach. Staff members were legally covered by Title V. On the contrary, it did not cover students. Therefore, a separate approach had to be enacted.
“Today it is required by law, but when I first initiated it five and a half years ago no one seemed to know that,” Chapman said. “When I was inquiring more about it through research, I found out that it is a law and employers had to provide a space, so I called Human Resources, who found out that they did have to provide me a place as an employee, but they did not have to cover the students.”
After being told by administration that as a staff member, she could not advocate on behalf of students, Chapman began to seek out public health students to get involved. In order for lactation stations to be considered a need for students, students themselves had to inquire about it, she said.
Nancy Baus, a breastfeeding mother and nutrition student at the time, became one of the first students to collaborate with Chapman in forming the group as a student run organization. When her daughter was four months old, Baus returned to Fresno State, determined to finish her degree and graduate. However, the ability to express breast milk in between classes proved difficult.
“I would carry my breast pump with me,” Baus said in a 2013 Collegian article. “It was concealed in a black backpack along with all of my books, computer and everything else required for my classes.”
She mentioned that producing breast milk in a bathroom stall was both unsanitary and embarrassing for her, as she struggled with organizing all the different breast pump parts, while maintaining cleanliness.
Chapman remembered Baus as someone who was just as passionate as she was about the issue. She noted that Baus also struggled with not having a designated private space to express breast milk, and was confined to pumping in restroom stalls and even in her car.
Chapman’s next move involved meeting with University President Joseph Castro, who took great interest in the matter and referred her to the Human Resources department. Shortly after, a couple lactation stations were put in place for staff – and finally, in 2015, three stations were provided for students.
“A woman’s right to have a space to express breast milk is not just an issue of formality, but it is very much a public health issue,” Chapman said. “It is a matter of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, and it not only affects the baby but it also affects the mother in health-related ways.”
In babies, breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by 36-50 percent, lower risk of respiratory tract disease by 72 percent and gastrointestinal infections by 64 percent. While in mothers, breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of Breast Cancer by 28-50 percent, Breast Cancer with family history by 59 percent and Coronary Heart Disease by 37 percent.
“Another important factor in breastfeeding is that it also help lowers the hormone balance associated with postpartum depression in new mothers,” Chapman said.”It is key to note that out of 55 healthy breast milk ingredients, only six of those ingredients are replicated in formula.”
While the Coalition continues to push for more lactation stations on campus, their primary goals is to educate the public on health issues related to breastfeeding.
“We are going to concentrate on education this year,” Chapman said. “This is part of what the Department of Public Health does. We educate the public of the importance of these health factors.”
Learn more about the Fresno State Breastfeeding Coalition by following them on their facebook page or contact Carmen Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A map of the lactation stations for students can be found here.
– Story written by Sierra Frank, CHHS Communication Student Assistant
This article is reprinted from The Fresno Bee, as written by Farin Montanez. Originally published July 4, 2016. Christopher and Mindy Mohr (2000 and 2001 alumni of the Department of Physical Therapy) share their adoption journey with The Fresno Bee.
Life is a little — OK, a lot — different for Clovis residents Christopher and Mindy Mohr.
They have three more Mohrs.
The couple adopted three siblings — Valencia, 11, Kerby, 9, and Laurencia “Lolo,” 7 — from Haiti and brought them home May 3.
The Mohrs have three biological children as well: Marin, 13, Steven, 11, and Megan, 8.
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo speak very little English and seem to be in a state of perpetual amazement — everything is new to them.
While the transition to becoming a family of eight has been quite an adventure, the Mohrs are glad to have finally brought their children home.
All six of the children played quietly together upstairs while Mindy and Christopher sat down with the Independent on a recent evening to share their adoption journey.
“We decided that Haiti was where our kids were — or where our child was,” Mindy said with a laugh.
It’s funny because the Mohrs hadn’t set out to adopt three kids.
Actually, if someone had asked Christopher five years ago if he would adopt one child, he probably would’ve said no.
When Mindy mentioned adoption, Christopher “wasn’t quite ready,” she said.
“I was too old,” he said.
“You’re going to be the same age whether you have three kids or more kids,” Mindy told him.
“You just said pray about it, so that’s what we did,” Christopher said.
One day Christopher turned to his wife in church and said he felt they were supposed to adopt.
“One,” Christopher said. “One little boy. That was the plan.”
So they began the paperwork to adopt a son.
“Well, absolutely everything says that that is just nuts and that’s crazy and too hard and too expensive and too everything. But I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Clovis resident and physical therapist Christopher Mohr, on adopting not one, but three children.
They were drawn to the world’s poorest nations, so they set their hearts on the Democratic Republic of Congo. But suddenly, the Congo closed adoptions to the United States.
With that door closed, the Mohrs stepped through another, submitting their paperwork to Haiti.
Soon, Mindy received an email with a list of special needs children. Valencia, Kerby and Laurencia were on the list because they were a sibling set and older than most of the other children in Haitian orphanages.
“At first I said ‘no way,’” Mindy said. “I kept telling God, ‘There’s no way I’m going to mention that to (Christopher).’”
So she sent her husband an email — something she never does.
They didn’t mention the email for two weeks.
When they finally did, Christopher said, “Well, absolutely everything says that is just nuts and that’s crazy and too hard and too expensive and too everything. But I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
The couple decided that if the adoption wasn’t supposed to happen, doors would close — just like they had with the Congo.
It took three years and several creaky, stubborn — but not entirely shut — doors. Finally, the three children moved out of a jam-packed, tiny Port-au-Prince crèche, or orphanage, into the Mohrs’ spacious Harlan Ranch home — and into their hearts.
Life in Haiti
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo are part of a larger family — there were 12 kids in total — who lived in a coastal town about two and a half hours from the Haitian capital of Port au Prince. Their farming parents could no longer afford to feed all dozen children.
Laurencia was just an infant when she was taken to the crèche; Kerby was 3 and Valencia was 5. As one of the oldest, Valencia became a helper to the crèche mothers, cooking for and cleaning up after the younger children.
The home — a nice house by Haitian standards — had running water and electricity, but no air conditioning nor carpet, Mindy said.
With about 40 children in the approximately 1,500 square-foot crèche, the children didn’t have much space to play, or sleep. Laurencia, the smallest, shared a twin bed with two other girls.
Third time’s a charm
Christopher and Mindy met the children in February of 2014 while on a mission trip with New Covenant Community Church.
“We couldn’t say anything to them because nothing was official at that time. But we got to see them for about 20 minutes,” Mindy said.
Exactly a year later, the couple went back to Haiti for their bonding trip — a requirement from the Haitian government — and spent two weeks with the children.
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo officially became theirs, but the Mohrs couldn’t bring them home. Visas, passports and more paperwork had to be drawn up and evaluated on the U.S. side of things, they said.
Having patience was the biggest challenge that came with adopting internationally.
“A lot of it was very disheartening because they would tell us we could pick them up in a couple of weeks and it was like Christmas,” Christopher explained. “And then Christmas wouldn’t come. And then they’d do it again and I’d get just as excited.”
While the Mohrs were riding the roller coaster of anticipation and disappointment in the U.S., they wondered what their children were thinking in Haiti.
“Do they think we’re not coming back?” Christopher wondered.
He compared the long wait with a pregnancy.
“I think God set it up so that you carry a baby for nine months and you get that time to prepare and you have that opportunity to get used to being uncomfortable at times,” he said. “Three years was a long time, but there was a lot to go through.”
Finally, Christmas came — in April. Christopher and Mindy were given the green light to pick up their waiting trio.
On their third trip to Haiti, the Mohrs brought Marin, Steven and Megan.
“They got to see Haiti, they got the chance to see the poverty and see the children in their environment which they were coming from,” Christopher said. “It is a lot easier to explain things as we’re going through the transition now, because so many things, we take for granted.”
The family spent 10 days together in the Caribbean country before returning to Clovis as a family of eight.
In America, the three Haitian children are learning how to be kids.
“I got really emotional just watching them run back and forth,” Christopher said. “You know how you get that uncontrollable laugh? Valencia was enjoying herself so much and I got really emotional about it… I mean, they’re learning how to play.”
They’re also learning about the world around them.
“I used to describe it as having three grown up babies, but I think it’s like three grown up toddlers because they are fascinated by everything,” Christopher said. “It’s amazing to watch them process what exactly is going on.”
The three are highly inquisitive.
“My biological kids couldn’t care less if I’m putting up curtains, but those three are right there, watching me with the drill, handing me tools. They’re into it all,” Mindy said.
They enjoy visiting the community pool at Harlan Ranch and are learning how to swim.
While the Mohrs often draw a lot of attention because of the number of children in the family, and because they are different ethnicities, they said the Clovis community has been nothing but positive.
“The neighbors are really including the kids,” Christopher said. “It’s been overwhelming how welcoming everyone has been to the kids. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The adoption community recommends “cocooning” for the first six months to make the transition easier on children from other countries — but not for these kids.
“That’s not our life, not with our other three kids,” Mindy said. “I’m running to soccer, gymnastics, everywhere, friends houses, church youth group… so they have to come along.”
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo don’t mind at all.
“They love to get in the car and go places,” Mindy said. “They say ‘Mommy, machine?’ Machine is the name for car in Creole.”
They were overwhelmed by Costco and thoroughly unimpressed by the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
“We’ve found that these places we think they’re going to love, they have absolutely no interest in,” Mindy said. “They didn’t care to try to touch the stingrays … they thought the giraffes were ugly. They wanted nothing to do with them.”
Their favorite place to go is the local trampoline park. “They’ll ask, ‘Mommy, bounce?’”
And they love to eat, Christopher said.
“Their appetites are out of control,” he said. “We’re told that’s normal and it will taper off over time, but man, Kerby especially can eat.”
The children ate two meals a day in the crèche — of beans, rice and chicken broth — Christopher said.
They’re enjoying trying various local summer fruits and clean their plates at every meal.
Coming from the Caribbean, where it’s in the 90s and humid most of the time, the Valley’s triple digit summer doesn’t faze the three kids — but the air conditioning does.
“They think it’s cold,” Christopher said. “If we’re going to the market, they grab their jacket because the air is on in the store. When they sleep at night they have warm jammies on because we have the air conditioner on.”
With a trio of kids come three completely different personalities, the Mohrs said.
The outgoing one of the bunch, Kerby, has a quick smile and loves to tease. Valencia has stepped out of the “momma role” she assumed at the crèche, but she is quick to step in when asked for help.
“She’s there in a heartbeat,” Mindy said. “She loves to fold clothes and loves to cook.”
Little Lolo is the more standoffish of the bunch and prefers that affection — and everything else, for that matter — comes on her terms.
Valencia, Kerby and Laurencia are most comfortable staying in the same room, although they sleep in separate beds.
“From what I hear, they don’t ever want to have their own rooms. That’s just not what they’re used to. Kerby doesn’t mind the pink room,” Christopher said with a chuckle.
While the children’s English is very limited, the family is quickly learning to communicate with each other in other ways, and with the help of technology.
“We use Google Translate, but we call it Giggle Translate,” Mindy said. “Valencia reads some French, so we go back and forth between French and Creole so that I can get my message across.”
Adopted children generally learn their new family’s language quicker, but because the three kids speak to each other, their English-learning is slower, Christopher explained.
“At dinner we have two different conversations going on,” he said.
The Mohrs have found that it really takes a village to raise their children, and technology has allowed that village expand.
Mindy found an online community of people who have adopted from Haiti.
“It is phenomenal. You can throw out any question, and people have been there,” she said.
She even used FaceTime with friend in Haiti to help her figure out why one of her children was upset.
“I had one that was just angry as a wet hen and crying … we got it all worked out,” she said.
A woman from their church is from Haiti, and she has come over often to help the Mohrs talk to the kids and teach Mindy how to do their hair.
This fall, school will be a challenge, but the trio is excited to attend and be around other children, Christopher said.
“Academically, they’re not even kind of ready, and I believe in the Clovis district you can only start one year back,” he said.
Although Mindy homeschooled her children for two years, the plan is for the kids to head to Clovis Unified schools in the fall. She plans to work with Valencia, Kerby and Lolo as much as she can over the summer and find them tutors.
Mindy’s biggest advice for those interested in adopting is, “Don’t have expectations,” she said.
While she and Christopher were prepared, she thinks their biological children had a picture in their head of what their new family would look like.
“They were like, ‘Oh awesome, this is going to the brother I always wanted, or the little sister who is going to play dolls with me.’ And all of a sudden when that’s not happening it’s like, this is not what I signed up for,” Mindy said.
But watching all six kids play a pickup game of soccer in the backyard, it’s very apparent that the children enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s 90 percent more amazing than I thought it was going to be,” Christopher said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more just challenges, but it’s been really really neat watching all six of the kids come together. I mean, they’re siblings, so there’s going to be issues, and there’s a huge cultural shift. But it’s really neat so come downstairs and see one sitting on the other one’s lap just watching TV or playing.”
The Mohrs talk about what it would have been like to adopt just one of the children instead of all three, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They are each other’s support,” Mindy said.
Christopher currently co-owns Troxell & Mohr Physical Therapy in Fresno. View the original Fresno Bee article in full at the LINK.
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