Category Archives: My Story

Times Change…..But do they?

28276382_10155314382716966_3287178305439075791_nThanks to our “friend” (and I use that term very loosely), Mr. Zuckerberg, we get quite often reminded of things that happened it in the past.   Some of it is hilarious – I was going to throw some examples in – but I don’t think my kids would like that.

Some of them are just, “Oh I remember when we did that!”   Some of them are not so fun – “Wow, it’s been 5 years since I broke my finger?’  (I think it’s actually closer to 9 years.)  Or “man, did you see how much hair I had 11 years ago?”

And then there are the thoughtful pieces.   If we’ve been hanging out on here for a while, you know what I’m talking about – the pieces that are designed to make you think.   There are people out there who get a lot of attention – way more than I do.   Jen Hatmaker  Bob Goff, John Pavlowvitz, Benjamin Watson, Brandon at Hony, Nicholas Kristoff, just to mention a few.   They write and people pay attention. 

Recently, due to Facebook’s “memories” I came across some writing that I did about this time of year in 2014.  6 years ago – has anything changed?  So I read through what I wrote and oh my…….

There’s a lot of changes and looking back on it, I think there’s a lot more we can learn from what has transpired since then.   I’ve spent a number of hours this morning reading through what I wrote then and there’s a lot more big and small issues that need to be given a closer look to hopefully better understand what’s going on since then and now.

I’m working on rewriting, updating and refocusing those pieces based on what changes have happened since then.

I hope you’ll join me for the walk through these times.   I think we will all understand what is happening right now.   So, join me.

Hope to hear from you on it as well.




Tom V


My kids have asked me…….

My brothers have asked me….

I’ve had friends ask me.


Why do you write? Why do you have so many words in your head that you want to put on paper (or electronic paper in the era of blogging…..?)

To quote what is probably the most popular musical/show of our time, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”  (That’s a topic for another day)

But it often brings to memory a story about my Dad and my Grandpa from when my Dad was a young kid.  I don’t know how old he was, but let’s just say he was in elementary school and one Saturday, he was “helping” my Grandpa in the garage.  Grandpa was a wonderful man and I love him to pieces but he never got above an 8th grade education and he wasn’t the most talkative person in the family.   So, on this Saturday, Dad is helping Grandpa and asking questions, rumor has it, at the rate of approximately 5 questions per minute.  Grandpa finally lost his patience and said, “HOWARD, why do you ask questions all of the time?  Why can’t you be quiet and just work with me?”  (Insert parental sigh that we all know.)

My Dad stopped what he was helping Grandpa with, looked at Grandpa and said, “But Dad, I’ve got questions!”

Why do I write?  Because I’ve got questions and more often than not, writing either helps me find the answers or it clarifies the questions.

“Because I’ve got questions……”


Hooded Sweatshirts

They don’t teach this in pre-adoption parenting classes. (At least I don’t know any that do). If you know any that do, leave their contact information and details in the comments, please!

The article below spells it out very well, but it is an area of adoptive parenting that the adoption “industry” deserves a failing grade in. Consequently, we are sending many children of color, children of color who were raised by white parents, out into the world without adequate knowledge and preparation for how the world is going to look at them.

When my youngest two children came home from Haiti, they were two and three years old. While I can’t claim any credit for it genetically, they were two really adorable toddlers. They have grown up a lot in the last 16 years. There are many people who have had an impact on that growth and we are grateful for community that has helped us raise all 5 of our kids.

A strange thing happens as kids grow up. They don’t stay looking like the adorable toddlers they were. (Okay, actually, that would be kind of weird if they did). But instead they grow up and start looking like the kind of adults the world is afraid they will become – black ones.

Because black men who are very muscular are dangerous. Right?

Black men who drive alone in their car enjoying the summer night with the music up and the windows down are dangerous, Right?

Black men who ask too many questions when pulled over for going 31 mph in a 25 mph speed limit zone are angry and dangerous because they must be hiding something. Right?

Black teenagers who go the mall with their friends are thugs looking to steal something or get in a fight with someone. Right?


And that’s where the adoption agency and adoptive families and the churches fall short. We must do a better job.

We must do a better job before the adoption is finalized in teaching white parents that there will certain conversations and certain roles that this world forces parents of children of color to have. I can teach my son how to be an adult, a husband, a father, a banker but I can’t teach him how to be a black adult, a black husband, a black father…..

Because I don’t know. I don’t know how to be any of these. Because I haven’t been those and I never will.

And that is why, not for the sake of the parents but for the sake of the kids, start doing whatever you can to help children of color, especially male children of color (though what I’ve heard, there’s an equally hideous (if not more) tragedy that can happen to girls of color.)

Maybe the best way to help the kids of color who have white parents is to get the white parents together and scare them into reality? And then get things moving for their kids to show them some of the reality of the world we live in.

Just about a month ago, my son had a headlight go out on his car. He was going to fix it “tomorrow.” Apparently his girlfriend was waiting for him. I said, “you have a choice to make. Choice #1 be home before the sun goes down. Choice #2 let’s get busy and change that lightbulb as quickly as we can and then you can go.”

“Dad, I’ll do it tomorrow, it’s not that big of a deal.”

“Son, I love you too much to let you go out and drive after dark in a car with a headlight that says, “Hey Mr. Police Officer, here I am, come talk to me.” Is that what you really want to say? Do you really want to waive a sign asking the police to pull you over at 11:15 at night and you’re a teenage young black man and you’re all alone and you’ve got a head light out.

Don’t go there.

And Dads – it’s our responsibility, whether we are black, brown or white to make sure that not only our kids but also their friends and others know the reality of “Driving While Black.” I can’t do it. But I can sure talk about it and do my best to prevent it from happening.

Oh and while we’re at it, what’s up with hooded sweatshirts? We have a rule in our family, the only place you can wear the hood up on a hooded sweatshirt is outside when the weather is conducive to them. It’s 20 degrees out, that’s perfect hoodie weather. It’s 75 degrees out? Nope, not so much. Hood off.

If you walk into a public building – restaurant, gas station, school, friend’s house and you are stepping out of the weather, the hood comes off. Not eventually. 1 step inside the building.

Why? Because if you take your hood off, people can see your face. If you take your hood off, you don’t look nearly as much like a gang banger as the white people in the gas station might think you do with the hood pulled way down. When you take your hood off, it increases the chance that the people you are going to interact with will see you for who you are – a well behaved teenage young black man. If you keep the hood on, people are going to let their theories run all over the place and before you know it, you’ve got trouble and the manager is on the phone with the cops.

I’m not saying that keeping your hoodie off when you are inside and when the weather doesn’t call for one outside is going to solve the police brutality issues. I did grow up in the all white middle class suburbs, but I’ve learned a lot since I was a kid.

And I know that taking off your hoodie certainly won’t hurt.



P.S. If you know of people who work in this or could help or you want to or whatever about it, let me know – use the comment box on the right.

Around 11:00 the Night of the Earthquake…..

About 11:00 that night….

Like I said last time, the internet was burning up the night of the earthquake in Haiti. People all over the world were trying to figure how bad it was and how people can help. Much of the traffic and communications seemed to be happening on Twitter. Those who were on the ground in the earthquake zone who were on Twitter were getting all of the attention. Different news organizations would ask questions and the answers from the people on the ground were like a front row seat to a disaster. Scary and sad and fascinating at the same time.

And then it happened, Ann Curry (then of the Today Show) posted something on Twitter to this effect, “Looking to set up an interview with someone in Port Au Prince who speaks English.” (Not everyone in Haiti speaks English). I put in a quick instant message to the stateside office (out in Colorado) and verified that there was a cell phone working at the orphanage. I then responded to Ann Curry, “I have people I work with just outside of Port Au Prince. They can talk.”

No response. At that point, I think Ann had approximately the same number of followers as the population in Chicago. I really didn’t expect a response. I mean, Ann Curry talking to me?

And then it came, @tvanderwell, Ann Curry has requested to follow you on Twitter. According to their rules, you can’t message someone directly if you aren’t “following” them. Of course I said yes.

A little later, I get a direct message from Ann (maybe it was her staff, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter) and I passed on the phone number and names etc.

7:00 AM on Wednesday, January 11, 2010 as the Today Show opened up, it jumped immediately to a live phone interview between one of their anchors (who will remain nameless) and the director of “our” orphanage. Don’t tell me that Social Media can’t accomplish good.

I don’t know how many people saw the interview but I know it made more people aware of the plight of kids in Haiti.

And I kept the e-mail that said, “@tvanderwell, @anncurry is following you on Twitter.”


Haiti – a Decade Later

Haiti – a Decade Later

I’ll always remember where I was on January 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM.

I was sitting on one of the bar stools that we had around the island in our house that we owned at that time. At that time, I was a banker and I was done with an appt outside of the office that didn’t give me time to go back into the office. So I came home and got caught up on some work stuff there instead

At that point, I was lurking on Twitter a lot. I say “lurking” because I was really only talking to a few people on a consistent basis. Most of what I used twitter for at that point was to follow a bunch of news people and organizations to keep up with what was going on in the world. Why?

Well, it was very simple (or I thought so), the market that controls interest rates does best when what it thinks will happen actually happens. So, the market thinks that oil prices are going to go up and they do, not a big deal for the market (speaking in grossly simplistic terms) because that’s what they were thinking would happen. So keeping track of those type of movements in the markets was very beneficial to my clients because it helped them with at least an inkling of what mortgage rates might do.

So, back at the ranch, I’m returning e-mails and such and I had a program called Tweetdeck running. You can specify certain twitter accounts and any time they tweet something it will show up on there. You can also specify certain names, phrases, terms etc. for it to search on. I had put in Port au Prince, Haiti – because that is the capital city of the country where two of my children were born.

I believe it was 5:02 PM on January 12, 2010 that my computer scrolled a little box up in the upper left corner that said the following:

LA Times reports massive 7.5 earthquake in Port Au Prince Haiti at 4:53 PM EST. Casualties expected to be massive.

My heart sank. I had a lot of friends there. I had/have a lot of friends who had or were adopting from Haiti. I was on the board of the orphanage – with lots of employees in Haiti – many of whom were not at work. This was bad. Really bad.

As in, God, why are you allowing this? Bad. As in, “I shook my fist at heaven and said, “God, why don’t you do something?”

Within an hour, darkness settled over Haiti but from what I’ve been told, quiet didn’t come. Sobs of grief, the cries of the wounded, the sounds of impromptu rescue teams trying to pull people to safety. All night long.

Depending on who you listen to, anywhere from 80,000 to 300,000+ people lost their lives on that day or would soon because of injuries sustained on that day.

And while the people on the ground in Haiti were working in horrific conditions trying to figure out what happened, what’s been damaged, who can be rescued and more, all night, there was another group of people who weren’t in Haiti but were burning up the internet trying to figure out how bad it was, what was needed to help and how to get there.

I remember, about 1:00 the next morning, all of the kids from the orphanage were sleeping on the driveway (imagine trying to get 90 kids to sleep on a driveway?) I was able to connect on Facebook with one of our volunteers. When they ran out of the building, she had her computer in her back pack, so she had it. She spent quite some time but located a spot just outside the main building where she could get a weak wifi connection through the router in our building (our buildings were shaken but remained standing.) She and I talked for about a half hour and the information she was able to share with me turned out to be a great comfort to the adoptive parents whose kids were at the orphanage and were worried, literally sick, about them. No one was hurt at the orphanage. We found out later that one of the orphanage’s employees lost 11 family members that day.

Finally, at about 4:00 in the morning, after spending a couple of hours on the phone with another board member trying to wrap our heads around what happened and what to do next. I fell in bed knowing that the sun would come up in a couple of hours and with it a “better” chance for those in Haiti to see how bad it was.

What they saw when the sun came up, it was worse than you could ever imagine.