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2016 Robert J. Winn Family Education Award Winner Michelle Albrecht:

My husband and I always felt a calling to adopt. So, we initially started through the foster care system. And when we didn't get a permanent placement where we were able to finalize to adoption, we switched to international. And through a very long journey, we went through Russia. They closed, and then to Ukraine. And when we got on the plane, we had no clue who we were gonna be bringing home to call our child.

And then when I got there, we got a referral for Nadia, and as soon as we met her, we knew. My daughter actually is without eyes. She had her eyes removed in infancy in her home country. And probably the biggest challenge is overcoming the trauma of losing them. She's a very motivated and spirited child, so she's very good at overcoming things, but needs some guidance. Her blindness is her least limiting factor in her life.

I think figuring out how to connect with her since she couldn't see us, and have, make sure she knew where we were and who we were, and help her get around and learn our house, was our biggest immediate obstacle, because we wanted her to feel safe and at home. And without any sight, that was just an obstacle that we kind of took and overcome daily.

I first learned about Hadley shortly after coming home. I remember in Ukraine discussing with my husband the importance for braille and Nadia learning braille. After coming home, there was an online support group through Yahoo and through Facebook. And it was through one of those that another parent had recommended Hadley as an easy and fast way to learn braille. Nafisa Keels was my favorite Hadley instructor. She was my first, so that's probably why; because she made that big initial contact, initial impression. I had her for introduction to braille and for the contractive braille.

She just was there at a point in my life where I was a new mom. So, you know, a lot of people would say, "Oh my goodness, you adopted a child who's blind?" And I didn't get that reaction. I just got acceptance, “okay, well, here's what we're going to do. And here's the braille, and here are the contractions, and you can do this, and she can do this.” And it was just a nice big support. And I don't even know if she realized it, but she just was there with every response to assignment I submitted.

I felt almost as an equal, where I'm learning from a peer, and not someone who is under the teacher. I felt as an equal who just learning from a peer. And that's just a nice experience.

Hadley courses are free, and it's a huge thing in our family. Adoption is quite a pretty price tag, so. Not that we complain, but there was a lot to go into it financially and time wise. Additionally, when my husband was unemployed, we didn't have to stop our learning and our children's learning, because we were still able to take our courses. And still give our children what they needed. Even when times were tough financially. By taking Hadley courses, I'm able to educate my daughter, whom I homeschool due to all her needs. And my son who is new to the English language. And it's just an amazing experience, because you're giving not just to me, or one person or one school, but really to the whole world.

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