Published: January 24, 2017
Myriam Avery built on her Pacific Oaks College master’s thesis to open an international adoption agency. Today, this proud alumna is bringing hope to children who wait around the globe for a family to call their own.
Myriam Avery is no stranger to adoption.
At 10 years old, she was adopted by a stepparent. She knows firsthand how profound the life commitment of unconditional love was for her and her family. But it wasn’t until she landed a job at an international adoption agency in her early 20s that she began to see the crisis of what she calls “the waiting ones”—children who had been abandoned, some with special needs, left at the mercy of poorly funded institutions and a scarcity of families able to give them permanent homes.
“It changes you,” says Avery, explaining that it was an interest in serving this population that led her to pursue an M.A. in Human Development at Pacific Oaks College. “Typically orphanages in these countries are run by well-meaning people, but the caretakers are uneducated and in survival mode themselves. There’s a disconnect in who’s taking care of these most vulnerable kids.”
Avery began her education at Pacific Oaks with the dream of someday opening her own adoption agency.
“I was probably one of a very few students who was not in the education field,” she recalls. “Looking back, I really appreciate how flexible they were with my class schedule while I was trying to juggle work, school, and children. They supported me every step of the way.”
Her journey was not an easy one. In addition to having two young biological sons, while at Pacific Oaks, Avery and her husband adopted Sophie—a 2-year-old girl in China with a heart condition. She almost gave up after taking a hiatus but was determined to push through to the finish line.
While flying back and forth to China, Avery also began working with Pacific Oaks’ faculty member Lu Pilgrim on her thesis, “An Ethnographic Study on International Adoption.” Meanwhile, young Sophie was about to undergo life-saving heart surgery.
Avery is the first to admit she thought she knew “everything” about international adoption. However, her thesis work at Pacific Oaks taught her otherwise. “I remember telling Lu, ‘I’m not going to learn from this. I know everything there is,’” she recalls. “She just kept pushing me. Lu wanted me to think outside my comfort level and do this research on the history of adoption.”
That meant going back in time, back to the early 20th century days of the “orphan trains” in the United States, back to the baby airlifts from Korea—historic events that had more influence on the state of adoption today than she realized. “Looking at the timeline, the first orphans were orphans out of poverty, and interestingly enough, that really hasn’t changed.”
Shortly after receiving her master’s degree from Pacific Oaks and publishing her thesis, Avery founded Agape Adoptions, where she serves as executive director. The Washington state-based 501(c) 3 tax-exempt child placing agency and charitable organization specializes in finding permanent homes for orphans around the world. Agape means “unconditional love” and Avery says that is what motivates and inspires her as she continues on this journey.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” says Avery, who adopted another daughter, Chelsea, from China in 2015. “I’ve always wanted to have my own agency. It’s a passion of mine and being able to help children and families is really profound. It’s not always easy but at the end of the day, we help kids find permanency.”
Through Agape Adoptions, Avery is able to put her master’s thesis research—along with Pacific Oaks principles of inclusion, anti-bias, and social justice—to work for the good of the world’s children. In addition to domestic programs, Agape currently offers international adoption programs in China, Haiti, Bulgaria, Romania, and Uganda with a commitment to placing children who have special medical needs, like her daughter Sophie.
While most of these special medical needs are manageable and can be overcome, in the countries where the children are abandoned or orphaned, a lack of medical resources—and sometimes even social stigma—leaves them at risk.
“I am convinced children’s lives are saved because of adoption,” Avery says. “I know my daughter’s was. I think that’s why I love doing what I do, and why I can’t imagine doing anything else.”