Kelly Lukens wasn't always the self-confident adoption advocate she is now. The 21-year-old Bonner Community Scholar at The College of New Jersey knew she wanted to help people through education, but it wasn't until she first traveled to China to work with the Shepherd's Field Children's Village—a foster home for children with special needs—that she discovered her passion for helping children find their forever families. Since that first trip, Kelly has been to China two more times, started the blog Mission 25:40 to get the word out about SFCV children looking for homes, and become much more confident in her abilities and gifts. She's not totally sure what the future holds, but she's certain she wants to keep teaching and working to keep families together. Read our conversation with Kelly below find out more about this amazing work!
Name: Kelly Lukens
College: The College of New Jersey
Major: Education for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing; Elementary Education; English
Minor: Communication Disorders
Graduation Year: 2017
Her Campus: What is your favorite part about working with the children in China?
Kelly Lukens: My favorite part about working with the children in China is being able to witness how the children have transformed over the years. The foster home that I work with, Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village, is a foster home for children with special needs, which includes (but is not limited to) serious illnesses, physical disabilities and mental disabilities. At SFCV the children are able to receive medical care, physical therapy, an education and so much more than what many of the children were not able to access at their government-run orphanages. The care and love they receive helps them reach their full potential in life. Through my work as an adoption advocate, I have been blessed with the opportunity to see the transformations continue when children are finally home with their forever families.
HC: How has your time in China changed you?
KL: The biggest change I’ve experienced is that I now have more faith in myself. Before China I was very self-critical. It always weighed heavily on me when people told me I was good, but not good enough. I was always smart, but not smart enough; I was fast, but not fast enough; skinny, but not skinny enough. I think that this is something a lot of young people my age can relate to. There is so much emphasis placed on doing better than the person next to us that we forget that as long as we are doing the best we can, we are doing just fine. The children I work with in China have taught me that your abilities and circumstances are not what define you. You are defined by your attitude in life. You are defined by the way you treat others. And most importantly, you are NOT defined by the way the rest of the world sees you. The work I have done in China has helped me to understand that I am capable of doing great things, and allowing others to define my abilities was holding me back from realizing that I was capable of making a difference in the world. I am able to go through each day knowing that I am strong, capable and fulfilled through my faith in Christ, because I watched the children of China do the same. I am no longer afraid to fail because if I do, it will be an opportunity to learn and start anew, rather than a chance to allow the naysayers to keep me from continuing to try and make the world a better place.
HC: What advice can you give to collegiettes who are working hard towards a dream?
KL: I’m a big believer in planning things out one step at a time. If you have a big dream, look at others who have accomplished what you want to do and learn from their successes and mistakes. If you break down what it will take to get where you want to go in life, your dream will transform into a realistic plan. It’s also important to remember that things are never going to go the way you plan, and when that happens it’s important to not give up, but instead figure out how to readjust your plan from your new position.
HC: What inspired you to start your orphan advocacy program?
KL: Serving others is a big part of how I live out my faith as a Christian. During the school year, I work as a Bonner Community Scholar at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). As a Bonner I mainly work in the education system in Trenton, New Jersey, either as a teacher in an after school program or as a coordinator between TCNJ students and students in primary and secondary grades for community engagement. I have loved serving as a Bonner Scholar, and it has taught me that there is always a way to help others, no matter your resources. During my second trip to SFCV I knew that I could not go home and wait until I had enough funds to return again. I thought about ways I could really help impact the children’s lives from afar. What better way to help care for orphaned children than to help find forever families? So another intern from SFCV, Caroline, and I launched our blog Mission 25:40 in the summer of 2014. The name of the blog comes from Matthew 25:40, “Truly as I say to you, as you did for the least for these, my brothers, you did it for [God].” We wanted to not only help find homes for the children we love so dearly but also to glorify the God we believe in, so the name was a natural fit! Since 2013, we have seen seven of the children we have advocated for be matched with forever families! We have connected with most of the families and were either able to help them begin their adoption journey or provide additional information (like pictures or stories), about their soon to be son or daughter. It has been an absolute joy to see families brought together, and we can’t wait to continue to help bring together more in the future!
HC: Who is your role model and why?
KL: My role model is my mom. She is the strongest woman I know. She does not allow others to step on her, and she is not afraid to try new things. For almost a decade my mom served as a member of the education board in my town, and she worked tirelessly to make sure that equal education services were provided to all students and families in our area. This past year her hard work was recognized and she was asked to step up and join our town’s council. She is now the only sitting councilwoman, which means she has an enormous amount of pressure to not only represent our town, but also stand as a proxy for all women in our area. I am always impressed by my mom’s willingness to fight for the rights of others and to improve the conditions of our town. I am proud to be the daughter of such an amazing woman, and I hope to have her drive and determination to help others.
HC: Describe the feeling you had when you went to China. Were you nervous? Scared? Excited?
KL: Over a two-year span I have been to China three separate times, and each experience has conjured different feelings. The first time was a mix of terror and excitement. I had never been away from my family before, let alone to a different continent, country and culture that I had only read about. I quickly fell in love with China and its culture that is so different than the white American culture I had known all my life. My second time to China brought pure joy. I was so thrilled to be back working with the children of SFCV. There was also a bittersweet feeling of not seeing some of the children who had been there my first time. Several had been adopted and gone home to their forever families. It’s wonderful to know they're with people who will love and care for them for the rest of their lives, but it’s also a bit sad to know that you may never see them again. My third time going to China I was a bit nervous again because I was going in the winter, whereas my first two trips had been in the spring/summer. It was my first time away from home for Christmas and New Year's, but when I arrived at the gate of SFCV it felt like being at a second home. Now as I await to return again for my fourth trip, it is a mixture of eagerness and anxiousness. I have been away for over a year now and I’m sure so much has changed during that time! I am excited to see those smiling faces again and to be able to serve SFCV in whatever capacity I can.
HC: What are your goals for the next five years?
KL: My goals over the next five years include graduating college first for undergrad with a major in elementary education and English, graduating with my master's degree in education for the deaf and hard of hearing, getting a job as a teacher of the deaf so I can build up my knowledge and skills to help me eventually set up schools for the deaf in other countries. My goal is to help keep families together instead of children being turned over to the government because the families feel that that is the best option to get their child an education and brighter future. If there are educational resources nearby, hopefully families will be able to stay together and have the ability to create a supportive community for deaf children.
Catherine is an ambitious twenty-something woman living in Rock Hill, South Carolina where she attends Winthrop University as a mass communication major. She is the President and Campus Correspondent for Her Campus at Winthrop, which she co-founded in November 2014. She has also been a member of the Winthrop chapter of the Association for Women in Communications, and is currently the President of the Society of Professional Journalists chapter at Winthrop. Since being involved with Her Campus, Catherine received an internship at Her Campus Media in Boston, MA. She also currently works as a Chapter Advisor for the company and writes about Grey's Anatomy each week for the site. Because of Her Campus, she has also received writing positions at many publications throughout her 3 years at Winthrop. Outside of her busy lifestyle, Catherine enjoys relaxing with her friends on the weekends and having Sex and the City marathons. She can't live without her dog, family, Cosmopolitan, friends, Starbucks, Instagram, The Bachelor, Grey's Anatomy and of course Chick-fil-A. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @cathclowe!