Becky Weichhand, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), has passed away at the age of 36 after a battle with cancer.
“We have lost our vibrant leader and dear friend,” CCAI said, in a statement issued today. “Becky is so deeply missed and we share in grieving the loss of a tremendous individual who touched the lives of so many, and will continue to do so through her legacy of love and grace.”
“She never thought twice about loving others, but she did think twice about how she loved,” said Keri Richmond, a friend and former participant in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “She was the most intentional person in each of her relationships. Her impact and legacy are far-reaching because of the way she cared so authentically for others.”
“She was a very capable, very committed and passionate advocate for children in need of families,” said former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who helped co-found CCAI in 2001, in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “And she was willing to share that with members of Congress, the State Department, the White House, or anybody else who would listen.”
Weichhand was CCAI’s fourth executive director. The organization was established as a nonprofit by Landrieu and three other leaders of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, which in 1998 had hired Kerry Marks Hasenbalg as a full-time staffer. Hasenbalg remained with the organization until 2005, succeeded by Deanna Carlson Stacy.
Kathleen Strottman took over CCAI in 2008. Weichhand served as policy director under Strottman, and took the helm of CCAI in 2014.
“She learned the ropes from one of the best leaders on Capitol Hill,” Landrieu said. “We’ve been blessed to be led by some terrific young, highly-skilled executive directors, and Becky fit that description.”
“She believed that every young person deserved to have a forever family and fought for that both domestically and internationally,” said Amnoni Myers, an alumnus of the FYI program. “Her work ethic was mind blowing; and I admired her grit and determination to do whatever she could to help anyone around her.”
CCAI advises members of Congress on issues related to private and international adoptions, as well as adoptions from foster care. It is best known for its Angels in Adoption program, which honors adoptive parents and other leaders in the adoption community, and its Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), which places current and former foster youths in Capitol Hill internships.
The annual policy report compiled by the FYI interns has become a must-read for policy advocates in the child welfare space.
“Becky was an amazing advocate, she had the drive and passion,” said Daryle Conquering Bear Crow, a member of the 2012 FYI class, in an email to The Chronicle. “During my internship year, I had the joy of teaching and learning more about ICWA [the Indian Child Welfare Act], and with her mentorship we were able to come up with my report. Becky was always, always SMILING, her love and passion to inspire others will be deeply missed.”
“She fostered family among the FYI’s and didn’t let that feeling stop when we graduated from the program,” said Richmond, who is now a policy specialist for the law firm Arnold and Porter. “Becky went as far as to let me move in with her not one time, but on two separate occasions. She gave a key to her home and her heart without being asked to do so.”
A memorial to celebrate Weichhand’s life will take place November 30 in Washington, D.C., with a separate celebration planned in December in her hometown of Saint Joseph, Michigan. The D.C. event will take place at the Miracle Theatre, and will also be streamed online at www.ncc.re/becky.
“Those who knew Becky knew just how special she was,” said Nicole Dobbins, an advisor for Casey Family Programs and former executive director of Voice for Adoption. “Her kindness and her passion shined through in her work on behalf of children and families, but most in her genuine relationships with people. She was an incredible colleague and friend; her impact has been felt by many.”
Director of Programs Kate McLean has been serving as acting head of CCAI since Weichhand left on medical leave. Landrieu, who sits on CCAI’s advisory board, said she expects the board to make some announcements soon about the next steps for the organization.
Correction: This article has been updated to note that Weichhand was the fourth executive director of the organization, not the third.