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Meet the Staff: Taryn O'Flynn

We’re kicking off our “Meet the Staff” series, and first up in our staff interviews is Taryn O’Flynn! Taryn is a mom of two, a social worker, a fun-haver, a world traveler, and has worked in a variety of roles during her nearly eight years at Choice, but was promoted to Executive Director at the beginning of the year. In this role, Taryn’s primary responsibilities are overall agency management and oversight, but she also makes sure that our advocacy, outreach, mediation, and adoption teams are serving everyone well throughout the adoption process.

In your time at Choice Adoptions, you’ve worn a lot of hats. What other roles have you filled at Choice over the years?

I started at Choice as a development director, something Choice had never had. I was living in England, and I had just finished my graduate degree. I had adoption on my heart and couldn't shake it. Funny really, because I don’t know anyone who was adopted. I’d been working in children’s mental health but was a new mom of two little boys, so that direct care work got to be a little heavy. I knew that I wanted to continue working in social work. I knew that I wanted to work with vulnerable populations, but all of the self-harm, suicidal ideation, and working with victims of traumatic, horrific abuse became harder for me as a new mom. So I was drawn to adoption, and specifically what Choice was doing. I kept emailing Gayle (my predecessor and now mentor) from England. I remember sending her emails like, “I need to come work for you. I have the skills and experience needed, and I know that this is where I’m supposed to work. Please let me bring you coffee and explain.” So after a few emails, she writes back and says, “I really admire your persistence and your drive. As soon as you get back, call me, I'd love to meet with you.” So we had coffee, and right then and there, she says, “You’re right, you need to come work for us. What would you like to do?” I told her, “I would love to do social work, but I’m also an experienced development director. If you don’t have someone who’s doing your events, fundraising, advocacy, and outreach, that’s something that I bring to the table.” That’s how I started. From there I moved into marketing. I started our social media. I revamped our website. I worked with videographers and made promo videos. I planned and executed events and started marketing campaigns. Then I was asked to assist on a couple cases because we had had an influx of birth parents and not enough advocates in the Portland area. So I took a couple of cases, and I think Gayle saw the joy it brought me to be working with clients again. So then I moved into a birth parent advocate role, and really quickly, Gayle was like, “You need to be running this program.” At that time we had maybe six advocates, so there needed to be more of a manager, and someone with a clinical background. So from there, I created what is now our birth parent advocacy program that not only cared for our birth families, but also added the outreach piece. We realized that we’re only a small agency, and the more we could link arms with other agencies, the more impact we could make, and the more help we can provide for our community.

Former Executive Director, Gayle Fidanzo (left) and current Executive Director, Taryn O'Flynn (right)

Being based in Portland, we have some amazing food! What is your favorite food or place to eat?

I think my favorite all time food, if someone’s like, “Let’s go out to eat!” I’m always drawn to sushi. Asian food in general, Vietnamese or Thai…but sushi or a poke bowl is my jam.

What is your favorite thing to do if you’ve got a 3 Day Weekend?

We get out of town. My boys and I have a camper van, and we either head to mountains or we head to the beach with our little dog. We ride bikes and light fires, we ride skateboards and we build sandcastles... sometimes we go look for Bigfoot, find the best fish taco, out on a wetsuit and wait for that perfect wave... It generally depends on where we’re at, but we are a family that gets out of town!

What is a surprising fact about you?

I’ve lived abroad a few times, even as an adult with small children. From 2012-2014 we lived in England and Ryder was a year and half when we moved. Some people were like, “You’re moving abroad with a baby? You need to stay home and live a normal life.” And I was like, “No way, man.” And we did it again in 2016 when Lennon was 4 months old, Ryder was 4 years old, and we moved to Central America for the better part of the year.

You’ve worked in a lot of different realms of social work. What is it about adoption work that you like?

In adoption, we’re a huge part of someone's "best day of their lives" and an equally big part of someone’s hardest day of their whole life. It can be tough to try and shape shift to accomodate everyone's feelings, but as an advocate, you really get to know these people and can love on them holistically; meeting them exactly where they are. I think this part is the most important. I think one of the best parts is seeing when a mother makes an open adoption plan and it's not just her baby who gets adopted, but through her adoption, she gains a family too. When a birth mom makes this sacrifice but then actually goes on to fulfill her dreams: They finish high school. They go to college, get a degree - land their dream job. Maybe they get married and start a family when they’re ready. To see them making this sacrificial adoption plan that has benefitted them and allowed them to really move and grow into who they wanted to be. That wouldn’t have been as easy or as possible if they were caring for a child when they weren’t able to. So I think being able to see those success stories reminds me why we are here, doing this work.

What are some of the meaningful experiences you’ve had in this job?

I think the most meaningful thing is when we can play a part in someone’s life where we’re that "one stable person" they need in order to really make it. We’ve worked with suicidal moms before - moms who want to terminate - moms who aren’t ready enough to make that decision, so Baby goes into foster care. We come in and remind them that they have the right to make a private adoption plan, and it’s an open adoption where they stay in control. I think the most meaningful thing is getting to play a role in someone’s life where we act as a bridge to them being able to continue, succeed, and be proud of who they are. I think a lot of times they lose hope.

I can think of so many client stories of women I have worked with who were in the pits of despair, self-harming, they deliver a baby, they place their baby, they disappear for a year, then they resurface. And I’m one of the first people they call, because they remember me as a supportive, loving person in their life, no judgment. Then they go to school and they get engaged and I’m asked to be a bridesmaid in their wedding. I had no idea it would go like that, because they were really hopeless there for a while. I could tell you stories for hours, but it’s those full-circle moments that stick with me.

What is the most common myth or misconception about adoption that you have come across?

That placing your baby for adoption is selfish. I hear a lot from clients who have had family or friends guilt tripping them saying, “You made this mess, you’d better figure it out.” Guess what, they are figuring it out, and they’re making the best decision they can for themselves and for their baby. Unfortunately, there’s still a negative stigma tied to adoption–that it’s giving up, giving your baby away because you don’t love them or don't care. That’s not the case at all. These women who are making this decision love their baby more than they love themselves, and they’re making the best decision they know how.

What has surprised you most about adoption?

The beautiful family units that are built from an open adoption. I’ve seen birth and adoptive families become so close. I’ve seen adoptive families pay for a birth mom’s train ticket to come and stay for the weekend. They spoil her and love on her, have all this family time. I love getting photos of birth mom and adoptive family and baby together. They become this unconventional family unit. My theory is the more people to love on a baby, the better! That’s what we advocate for, open adoptions that last a lifetime. I think what surprised me is that it really, really works.

Anything else you'd like to share with our community on the blog? I think that birth moms don’t get enough credit. I wish we had a platform where we could scream from the rooftops that these women are brave and selfless and that this works. I'd want everyone to know that adoption is a real, viable option for someone who isn’t in a position to parent. I wish we had a magic want to get it out there to everyone who needs to hear it. We offer a support system for a very niche market. If I had one dream it would be to get these stories out there in hopes of supporting and changing more lives, and that’s what we’re doing, here on the blog.

Any questions for Taryn? Comment below!

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