Category: Adoptive Parent

Adopting a teen means being “someone to stand by them”

Amy Murray has a plan, should she ever be lucky enough to win big in the lottery.

“I’d buy a big piece of land and build homes for all of them,” she says of older children who remain in foster care, waiting to be adopted. “They are at a huge disadvantage. When these kids go through what they go through, they trust no one. Sometimes they don’t even know how to articulate what has happened to them.”

In May, Amy formally adopted one of those young people.

Skylar, now 13, had a long history in foster care, Amy says. At the age of six, she had been removed from her mother’s home, when the environment became unsafe, and placed in foster care. She then lived with her birth father and his girlfriend until that arrangement became unsafe, which led to her being moved to a number of foster homes.

Caring for the medically fragile: Still just a child who needs a loving home

Becky Delp and her husband have fostered children in the past, but for the first time, they are providing care for a medically fragile child. Although she had some concerns at first, those passed quickly as she gained confidence in her ability to manage the little boy’s needs and her family embraced him.

At first, I thought: I’m not qualified, I’m not trained.

Andy* needed to be fed through a g-tube when he first came to us. He was born prematurely and spent his first six months in the hospital and then went to a special facility. He had cancer and a weakened immune system. He has chronic lung disease. He needed physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. It felt overwhelming.

But you’re not on your own. We got training through the hospital and nursing care agency. A nurse stayed at our home every night. Because Andy was under the age of three, his therapy visits were done in our home. We got great support from our Diakon caseworker. Someone was always available to help.

Caring for a medically fragile child does entail extra steps from the foster family. There are lots of appointments. With the nurse there every night, we had to get used to having someone else in our home. But the nurses quickly became like family and their expertise was priceless. As a foster family, you go with the flow anyway.

Humble and kind

Whenever the Tim McGraw song “Humble and Kind” plays on the radio, I can feel our 8-year-old roll his eyes as I remind him that these lyrics are something I hope he takes to heart:

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you / When you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around / And help the next one in line. / Always stay humble and kind.”

It’s important to us that Cayden understands that we have been incredibly blessed to have had so many people help us in our journey to become a family.

Foster-To-Adopt: God Knew My Heart Needed You

In this post, Lydia Carfagno, an adoptive parent, shares her difficult two-year journey that led to one of the greatest joys of her life—motherhood. She adopted her now-4-year-old son, Trevor, through Diakon Adoption & Foster Care’s legal-risk (foster-to-adopt) program. Legal-risk placements involve children and youths who are in the custody of a county’s children and youth services. Children are placed in foster homes with the intent of reuniting them with their birth families; however, if that does not occur, the foster family often seeks to adopt the child or youth.

Why Foster-To-Adopt?

As I was growing up, my mother worked and volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. As a small child, I witnessed my mother counseling women and providing them with the necessary resources to maintain their pregnancy. When I was young, I would tell my mother that I wanted to grow up and take care of babies that did not have mommies and open my own orphanage. I remember frequently checking our front door to see if someone left me a baby to care for!

Fast forward: I grew up and obtained a college degree in recreational therapy. As a therapist, I worked in various pediatric hospitals. Throughout my work experience, I witnessed firsthand many children suffering from neglect, abuse and trauma. Each of these children made my desire to adopt grow even stronger; however I knew I was not currently in the position to do that.

Upon marrying, adoption was something we always said we would do “one day.” We struggled to get pregnant and even experienced a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. The topic of adoption that was once on the back burner quickly became a burning desire in my heart.

It was something I believed had to happen immediately. Because of my experience in the health-care field, I was aware of “foster-to-adopt” type programs and I quickly began researching agencies.

Why Diakon?

In March 2015 we decided to take the leap into fostering and adopting. The only thing left to do was pick an agency. A lot of prayer and discussion went into our decision to begin this journey.

We had just started attending a new church. The Sunday after we made our decision, the message was about foster care and adoption. Numerous families shared their journeys that morning. My husband and I felt as if God was truly speaking to us and giving us the extra push that we needed.

As I was leaving church, I went to grab my coat off the coat rack; directly above my coat was a flyer for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.. I pointed it out to my husband and we both took it as God pointing us in the direction we needed to go. We went through Diakon’s training sessions in April and May 2015, completed our home study in June 2015 and Trevor was placed with us in September 2015.

What was it like the moment you first saw your son?

On Sept. 18, 2015, we made the best, yet scariest, decision of our lives. My husband and I were both at work when we received a phone call from the agency regarding an emergency placement. The phone call came around 12:30 p.m. We both rushed out of work to attempt to prepare ourselves for Trevor’s arrival, but all we really did was pace until Trevor arrived in our driveway at 3 p.m. in the children and youth worker’s vehicle. As they pulled in, we could hear Trevor in the back attempting to talk. It was evident right away that he had some speech delays.

My first glimpse of him, I thought: “Wow, you’re a big guy, yet so unhealthy-looking.” We were advised by the caseworkers that we should bathe him immediately. Trevor was immediately captivated by our pets and the few toys we had. I quickly coaxed him into the bathtub, which I ended up draining and refilling three times. We had to stop him from drinking the bath water and sucking water out of the wash cloth. This is also when we discovered bedbug bites all over his little body.

Although appearing confused, Trevor engaged with us immediately. He had absolutely no verbal language skills and resorted to pointing and gesturing his wants and needs. After bathing him, we dressed him (I had some 18-month clothing) and went to a department store.

I remember on the drive there thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We knew absolutely nothing about this little human. We had no idea what he liked, disliked or feared. We didn’t even know his medical history or if he was allergic to anything. We wandered through the store for about an hour-and-a-half putting anything he pointed to in the cart. As “crazy” as it probably looked to others, it all felt perfectly right.

What health obstacles did Trevor face?

It quickly became apparent that Trevor had social-emotional, developmental and health concerns. Some were easily noticeable to the lay person; however, coming from the medical field, I knew there were deeper underlying neurological challenges.

Our first obstacle to tackle was Trevor’s limited communication. He would become terribly frustrated (rightfully so) when he was not able to express himself. We immediately started teaching him basic sign language. We also set up evaluations with Early Intervention, pediatricians and various other specialists.

In addition to Trevor’s developmental delays, he had asthma (which had gone untreated) and required multiple surgeries because of medical neglect. Trevor’s days were quickly filled with various doctor and therapy appointments. Trevor made tremendous gains medically and developmentally once he was receiving all the needed services.

What prepared you for Trevor’s health issues?

As teens and young adults, my husband and I worked with individuals with special needs.

It quickly became apparent that God was using these experiences to prepare us both (years later) for Trevor. Not only did we have some experience, but our support system also did. My mom and my husband’s parents are special education teachers. This is not to say we knew exactly what we were doing. There was still a lot to learn, and a lot of scary, uncertain times. Again, this is when our faith came in to play. Trevor had his own prayer team of more than 100 people praying for him daily.

How did you cope with biological family visits?

Visits with Trevor’s birth family were definitely the most difficult part of our journey. We made a point of communicating with them as much as possible. At the start of this process, both of Trevor’s birth parents were incarcerated. Initially, Trevor visited them in jail every other week.
Once they were no longer incarcerated, Trevor visited with them at a supervised location and then eventually visits became unsupervised. This was particularly difficult as we had very little information as to what was occurring during visits. We created a communication book that we would write to one another in.

Unfortunately, Trevor’s birth parents were unable to provide stable caregiving. As with all children in foster care, the county sought other biological family members as a resource for Trevor. This process was terribly difficult because we had become so bonded with Trevor, and he was terrified to leave us. Our Diakon caseworker, the various health professionals Trevor saw regularly and Trevor’s prayer team were our support and advocates.

What is your best advice for someone looking to foster-to-adopt?

Almost everyone we come in contact with has made the statement, “I could never do what you are doing”’ or “You are better than me; I could never do what you are doing because I would get too attached.” Initially, it was difficult to find a response to statements like this.

Now, I typically respond with “I never said I could do it, but I said I would do it.” I am constantly reminding myself that God does not call the equipped; He equips those who are called. This journey has been one of the most terrifying and challenging experiences of my life. We fought for Trevor’s best interests for 689 days.

We were assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.

I know there are other men and women out there who have a deep desire to foster and adopt. Do not let fear and uncertainty stop you from fulfilling your calling. These children need love more than anyone’s need to protect his or her heart. No one should be afraid to grieve. What they should be afraid of is what happens to these children if no one takes the risk to love them.

Do you have any regrets?

Was our journey easy? Absolutely not! The past two years have been long, messy, hard and filled with grief. However, the day Trevor came into my life I knew what my purpose was. I promised him that day, and every day after, to love and protect him with everything I have.

Trevor has shown me a part of me that I did not even know existed. The day I became his mother (or “foster mom”) my life was forever changed. I found strength and grit inside me that I did not know was even possible. Sometimes God will put a Goliath in your life for you to find the David within you. God knew my heart needed Trevor. Trevor is without a doubt worth it all!

What does the future hold now that Trevor is officially your son?

Trevor is the most strong, brave and resilient little boy I have ever met. Although there are still a lot of unknowns in Trevor’s future because of the trauma and neglect he experienced at a young age, I truly believe he will overcome any obstacle he faces.

He entered our home a nervous, timid, unhealthy toddler and today he is full of spunk and joy. He loves to explore and experience all life has to offer. He is compassionate and intelligent and has just about everyone he meets wrapped around his little finger. The future for Trevor is limitless. God has great plans in store for him.

Trevor’s adoption occurred just recently so we are still in the process of figuring out what life is like without court, paperwork, caseworker visits and the dark cloud of the question, “will he stay forever?” hanging over our heads.

We are certainly enjoying our new forever family and cannot wait to see what God has planned for the three of us.

—Lydia Carfagno

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What I really want for Mother’s Day

Dear Daughters,

Each year I love the Mother’s Day gifts, silly songs and the social media “shout outs.” I really do love them and if you want to continue doing those things, I will greatly appreciate it. However, this year I want you to know what I really want for Mother’s Day.

I want you to fully embrace that you are a person of value.

You may have experienced difficult circumstances or done things you regret, but none of those decreases your worth. What happens to you and what others say about you are not the things that define you.

During the times you experience rejection and loneliness, please remember that those times will pass. Do not perceive your value based on likes on your selfies or who sits at your lunch table. Don’t ever forget that you are so much more than what people see on the surface, so never let anyone make you feel as if you aren’t good enough.

You are one-of-a-kind and God has amazing plans for your life.

I want you to know I understand you.

Yes, I know that in the heat of the moment or when I have to say “no,” the opposite seems true. But my job is to protect you even when doing so doesn’t fit into your plans.

I will pray for you and use wisdom to figure out if what you want to do is in line with what is safe and healthy for your overall well-being. I will try to include you in the decision-making process as much as I can, but I need you to trust me. I’m not being “mean”; I understand things more than you think I do.

I want you to be genuine.

Be kind. Be generous. Be courageous. Be forgiving. Don’t ever try to be someone you were not created to be. It can be tempting to behave certain ways or say things to try to fit in, but I want you to stay true to who you really are.

I want you to know what the fairy tales don’t tell you.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship because there are no such things as perfect people. I know you are bombarded with social media posts with #Couple Goals and we have watched plenty of Disney movies and “chick flicks” with incomplete interpretations of romance.

You may be holding onto those unrealistic ideas even while you have already dealt with the pain of realizing that relationships are much more complex than a two-hour movie. Do not place all your hopes and dreams on your future boyfriend and husband; he should never be the main source of your happiness. Your identity needs to come from God and loving yourself—not in a selfish way—but in a way that allows you to know your importance in this world is not dependent on another person.

So when you ask me what I would like for Mother’s Day, it is for you to fully grasp all of these things and apply them to your lives.

That’s what would truly make this mama happy…and maybe some chocolate-covered strawberries if you insist.

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MothersDay

What I really want for Mother’s Day

Dear Daughters,

Each year I love the Mother’s Day gifts, silly songs and the social media “shout outs.” I really do love them and if you want to continue doing those things, I will greatly appreciate it. However, this year I want you to know what I really want for Mother’s Day.

I want you to fully embrace that you are a person of value.

You may have experienced difficult circumstances or done things you regret, but none of those decreases your worth. What happens to you and what others say about you are not the things that define you.

During the times you experience rejection and loneliness, please remember that those times will pass. Do not perceive your value based on likes on your selfies or who sits at your lunch table. Don’t ever forget that you are so much more than what people see on the surface, so never let anyone make you feel as if you aren’t good enough.

You are one-of-a-kind and God has amazing plans for your life.

I want you to know I understand you.

Yes, I know that in the heat of the moment or when I have to say “no,” the opposite seems true. But my job is to protect you even when doing so doesn’t fit into your plans.

I will pray for you and use wisdom to figure out if what you want to do is in line with what is safe and healthy for your overall well-being. I will try to include you in the decision-making process as much as I can, but I need you to trust me. I’m not being “mean”; I understand things more than you think I do.

I want you to be genuine.

Be kind. Be generous. Be courageous. Be forgiving. Don’t ever try to be someone you were not created to be. It can be tempting to behave certain ways or say things to try to fit in, but I want you to stay true to who you really are.

I want you to know what the fairy tales don’t tell you.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship because there are no such things as perfect people. I know you are bombarded with social media posts with #Couple Goals and we have watched plenty of Disney movies and “chick flicks” with incomplete interpretations of romance.

You may be holding onto those unrealistic ideas even while you have already dealt with the pain of realizing that relationships are much more complex than a two-hour movie. Do not place all your hopes and dreams on your future boyfriend and husband; he should never be the main source of your happiness. Your identity needs to come from God and loving yourself—not in a selfish way—but in a way that allows you to know your importance in this world is not dependent on another person.

So when you ask me what I would like for Mother’s Day, it is for you to fully grasp all of these things and apply them to your lives.

That’s what would truly make this mama happy…and maybe some chocolate-covered strawberries if you insist.


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I raised needed funds … even before getting to the office

This morning, as I checked my email and chewed on my breakfast burrito, I contemplated how I had already supported Diakon Adoption and Foster Care twice today.

And it was easy and fit right in with my morning routine.

That routine is simple and probably very much like yours. The best mornings are the ones I’m the first to wake up. This gives me a chance to make a cup of coffee and collect my thoughts before the day begins as I peruse my favorite websites for the morning news.

It doesn’t take long, however, for my six-year-old ball of energy to wake and come into the home-office clutching his favorite blanket and asking for breakfast. Then it’s time to pack lunches, shower, get dressed and find my son’s missing shoe while convincing him that yes, indeed, he has to go to school today.

After the traditional morning tug-of-war with my son to get him out the door, we are off to daycare. Then I head to my office on the Frey Village campus in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

I stop on the way at Rutter’s, a local convenience store and gas station, to gas up my Jeep and pick up a breakfast burrito. I arrive at the office, greet my officemates and boot up my computer, ready to start another day of seeking grants for Diakon and its many programs.

Yet my day of fundraising had already begun!

That’s because Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a current finalist in Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars Campaign.

By taking two minutes to log onto www.ruttersrewards.com to register my VIP card and select Diakon from a list of 10 charities as my charity of choice, every time I gas up my jeep or make a purchase at Rutter’s, Diakon receives a vote.

Voting will continue through Oct. 31 and, in November, Rutter’s will tally the votes and the charities with the most votes will receive a grant for capital purchases and improvements.

In Diakon’s case, the funds requested will refurbish the family visitation room at the York office of Diakon Adoption and Foster Care with new furniture and toys. The grant also will be used to purchase safety supplies for emergency foster-care placements, including car seats and portable cribs.

Diakon Adoption and Foster Care is a program that tugs at my heart. The children in care, through no fault of their own, have experienced heartbreaking situations and trauma. What they need most is a stable, loving and permanent home and Diakon works hard to help these children find their “forever families.” Although I am not in a position right now to serve as a resource family and open my home to these special children, I do look for other ways to support the program.

The Rutter’s Vote with Your Dollars campaign doesn’t even require money out of my pocket. I just spend on things I would buy anyway—gasoline, coffee, sandwiches, a pack of gum or a newspaper. All the program took was registering my card on the Rutter’s website and using it with each purchase. I don’t even have to have my card with me. I registered my phone number with the card and I key that number into the keypad to assign my purchase to my account.

Rutter’s is based in York and has locations throughout south-central Pennsylvania. If you live near one of Rutter’s 47 locations, I encourage you to obtain a VIP card, register online to support Diakon Adoption and Foster Care and vote between now and Oct. 31.

I also encourage you to share this information with your friends, co-workers, families and anyone else with a heart open to supporting to community’s most at-risk children.

 

Tammy McCrae
Grants Officer

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Connecting with birth parents – Five easy tips

Tim and I have been incredibly blessed to have a positive relationship with our son’s birth family.

In fact, the absolute best piece of advice we received in resource family training was to be friendly with birth parents. In some cases, this is probably incredibly tough to do. But in our case, a little bit has gone a long way.

I think it’s easy to see birth parents as the enemy in the foster care system. But regardless of whatever mistakes parents have made, they almost always still love their kids. It is tough to try to connect with them, but all outcomes of success include benefit for the child, so it’s worth it!

Here are a few simple ideas to break the ice and extend an olive branch to birth parents: 

1. Introduce Yourself! We learned that in six homes, we were the first family to introduce ourselves to birth parents. Imagine being a parent and not knowing who your child was staying with. Being able to meet and greet can significantly lower anxiety for both parties.

2. Start off with a deferential statement such as, “You have beautiful children.” At this point in your foster children’s lives, you are providing for all of their needs—physical, emotional and so on. Knowing that someone else is building a strong connection with your child can be very threatening for a parent. Find a way to indicate that you still acknowledge that the kids “belong” to their birth parents.

3. Ask birth parents if there is any important information you need to know to best care for their children. Birth parents want to be heard. They (like you) are at the mercy of the court system. Decisions about their child’s care have been taken out of their hands. Even if a child has been in care for a long time, a birth parent may have something he or she wants to share with you that a previous foster parent did not pick up on. If a parent does share with you something you should do to best care for their child, follow through with it if you can, and show the parents that you have listened.

4. Take photos to visits. Your home and the child’s world are unknowns to the birth parents. By printing out pictures to give at visits, you give them a glimpse into your world. This step will reinforce that the child is happy, has toys, and so on.

5. Speak well of birth parents when they are not around. If you smile and nod to birth parents at visits, but then talk poorly about them behind their back, your child will notice. Help reinforce that you, birth parents, caseworkers, and judges are all trying to work together for the child’s safety and best interest.

Building trust with birth parents can only benefit the child. By showing that you are not the enemy, you open a conversation that can result in working together for the child.

If your foster child observes you respecting his or her birth parents, the child’s trust in you will also increase.

After all—the goal of foster care is reunification. You have the power to help make that transition a positive one for children and youths by actively communicating with birth parents.

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What about Amelia?

At times, that question—continually and casually posed by family and friends—threatened to overwhelm me. If I had been pregnant with another child, it would have been celebrated. Instead, the prospect of adding to our family through adoption from foster care was met with raised eyebrows and concern.

Our biological daughter, Amelia, was 4 years old when we began the foster-to-adopt process. There were so many fears surrounding the uncertain world of foster care. In the hopes of offering love and safety to another child, would we destroy our own child’s sense of security?

For some families, the fear that their own biological children might be hurt physically or emotionally is enough to make them steer clear of foster care altogether.

As a parent, you want to protect your own children from the harm and hurts of this world. But what if we are called to something greater?

In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 15,000 children in foster care. For many of those kids, a forever family will never come because, among other reasons, fear keeps parents away.

Instead of giving in to the worries of everything that could go wrong, my husband and I remained faithful and quietly continued to take the next steps until we were certified by Diakon as resource parents.

In October 2014, we received the call for an emergency placement for six-year-old twins. The workers had little information to go on. After several calls and emails back and forth to gather what information we could, we stepped out in faith and said “yes.”

That evening, Kaitlyn and Davien arrived at our doorstep. They were physically thin and emotionally fragile and came to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We had little time to prepare our daughter, and we worried that her whole world was about to be turned upside down.

Instead of complaining about sharing her clothes, she happily helped pick out a pretty nightgown for Kaitlyn. As the weeks went on, our daughter’s bedroom was fitted with bunkbeds and a dresser for Kaitlyn. Her playroom was turned into a boy’s bedroom for Davien. The twins were calling us “mom” and “dad” and still there were no signs of jealously, no fights, no harsh words. Amelia was even calling them her brother and sister long before we dared.

My husband and I were amazed by our daughter. Instead of being emotionally scarred by the changes, she has been enriched. This January, we finalized the twins’ adoption in court. For Amelia, it was just another day. After all, they had been her brother and sister from the beginning.

~ Amanda Merrell
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

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When a generation gap is no gap at all

For many people, the idea of having a 7-year-old child and a grandchild at the same time, even if the grandchild is quite young, may seem out of the ordinary.

But that is where God’s will has taken us.

My wife, Shirley, and I have two adult children, Leigh Anne and Ken—and two younger children, Savannah, 9 and Autumn, 7, both of whom joined our family through adoption. Our family grew in size when Leigh Anne and TJ were married last year and blessed us with our first grandchild, Maeve, this year.

Shirley and I were empty-nesters. We never thought our path in life would change in the direction it did. But, in the fall of 2007, God presented us with the blessing of becoming parents again.

Savannah, at the time less than 3 months old, needed someone to provide love and protection. God placed this challenge and blessing upon our hearts, and we began a journey that encompassed every emotion you can imagine.

In the spring of 2009, Savannah’s two-month old infant sister, Autumn, was in the same situation. We knew again we were being led, and so doubled our blessings by deciding to rear the two sisters together.

Amazingly, we have no “generation gap” our family! Both our 30-plus-year-old children love and adore their younger siblings—and those strong bonds flow the other direction as well. Our son, who lives in Japan, just had his annual two-week visit with us and we had the opportunity to spend time with his Japanese girlfriend. On their last day in the U.S., instead of sightseeing, both said they wanted to spend their day with his sisters.

Leigh Anne is program director with a county CASA office. CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children. She has been especially supportive as we followed this path. She, along with the wonderfully dedicated staff members of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care, have continually raised our awareness of children in distress and in need of fostering, of CASA volunteer support, and how best to navigate the sometimes-convoluted path to adoption. In fact, the three sisters adore one another and can’t wait for their next sleepover weekend.

Though fostering and adopting can take a long time, a great deal of effort and certainly patience—plus a mountain of paperwork—we encourage others to take the plunge because providing a safe haven for a child at risk is an incredible experience with indescribable rewards.

Diakon has been especially important in our forever family as program staff stepped forward to provide support and acted at times as intermediaries. They were instrumental in refocusing county services on the best interests of the child. In fact, Diakon was our “ace in the hole” when things looked bleakest, and we can never express just what that meant to us.

And when Diakon learns of similar situations, their dedicated family advocates are always there to help create forever families.

Our lives have been enriched with the gift of two daughters, and we pray that our story encourages each of you to support Diakon as it continues efforts to expand to serve more children and youths at risk.

Moreover, please pray for the forever families who have made a life-changing commitment to a child in need. Pray for the children not yet out of the chaos of neglect, waiting for a foster family to give them love and safety. And pray for those who are considering stepping up, that their “pros/cons” list makes their path clear for them.

Diakon stands on the wall for children at risk.

It is for this that we pray for expansion of Diakon’s resources to provide the foundation and support for forever families. Can you help equip this vital program for its mission? Foster, adopt, volunteer, or give in support—it all makes a tangible difference in the lives of waiting children and youths.

Kenneth G. Mertz, II
Chief Investment Officer at Emerald Advisers, Inc.
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

Editor’s Note: Ken is participating in the Chef Challenge at the 2016 Dining with Diakon event to raise money for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. You can click here for more information.

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