ISS-USA…The best job I have ever had.

One never knows who one will meet at lunch.

Allison Blake, ISS-USA Board member, former Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and currently CEO of Child and Family Agency of SE CT sat down to lunch at a local community organization in Madison, Connecticut and started chatting with the woman on her left. To her surprise, she too was also a social worker, an alum of the very same place where Allison had earned her PhD in social work, and most intriguing of all, Joan talked about the “best social work job she had ever had,” which happened to be where Allison was serving on the board of directors, recently elected to serve as the Vice Chair.

“Working at ISS was the best job I have ever had”

Joan Rappleyea graduated from Fordham University with a Master’s in Social Work in 1964. She was granted a scholarship to attend Fordham from Catholic Charities, and so upon completion of her degree, she went to work as a social worker at a Catholic Charities foster care program. While Joan learned a lot about foster care, she, like those who have come both before and after her at ISS, had a thirst to put her social work degree to work in a larger context. So, in 1965, Joan became part of International Social Service-USA which was then located on 46th street in Manhattan, right near the United Nations Plaza.  From 1965-1969 Joan was part of ISS-USA’s 15 person all women team, (with the exception of the executive director, who was male). Joan, assisted with intercountry adoptions at ISS-USA.

Joan recalled a busy office and a gigantic learning curve. She assisted with matching of children available through intercountry adoption, mainly from South Korea and Vietnam to parents in the United States. Joan was incredulous at how little ISS charged for its services back then — 300 dollars. Joan believed ISS should have been charging three times as much. The greatest number of children were placed from Korea and Vietnam years before Korea became the industrialized country of today. Abandoned children in Korea were picked up from the streets and placed in cribs in the hospital. The healthiest were selected by agencies and placed in Korean foster homes where they were loved. There were many tears at the airports from the children and their foster parents as the children traveled to join adoptive families.

Joan left ISS in 1969, due to her husband’s work as an engineer, and took on various social work jobs in Massachusetts, North Carolina and in Philadelphia. Joan and her husband eventually returned to NYC and to ISS-USA in 1973. During her absence, ISS-USA had consolidated its work with the Traveler’s Aid Association of America in 1972, becoming Traveler’s Aid International Social Service of America.

When Joan returned to ISS-USA, she was promoted to an intercountry adoption supervisor. The Vietnam war ended in 1975, and ISS-USA and others assisted in Operation Baby Lift. ISS-USA already had matched 100 children of the Baby Lift with families. With the help of ISS board members in San Francisco, ISS arranged for the adoptive parents to pick up their children. Joan recalls with amazement flying out to the Presidio in San Francisco and beholding a sea of cots and crying children. More than 2700 children came to the United States during that time.

Just like the events of today, ISS-USA has a long history of emergency response, and is currently assisting U.S. citizens and dependents on U.S. citizens returning from Afghanistan as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grantee for the U.S. Repatriation Program. ISS-USA has been providing assistance in this program for the past 25 years.

ISS-USA by the early 1980s was wrapping up its work in intercountry adoption and advocating for the creation of global standards and best practices, eventually to become the Hague 1993 Adoption Convention. ISS-USA continued to facilitate an extremely small number of intercountry adoptions with its network member partners, ISS Japan and ISS Hong Kong. One of Joan’s very favorite trips was to visit ISS Japan. Her colleagues there showed her a fun night on the town and incredible hospitality which the Japanese are known for. She also recalls visits in the U.S. from ISS Hong Kong’s affectionately known “Dragon Lady.”

Joan describes the special relationships she had with her fellow colleagues and members of the board. Rosalind Harris was President of the ISS-USA board during Joan’s tenure, and Ros took Joan under her wing and brought Joan to children’s committee meetings at the nearby UN. Our most recent newsletter featured Ros Harris, who passed away back in April 2021. Joan also befriended several colleagues and kept in touch with some of them through the years, one of her favorites was a woman named Dani, whose parents were both foreign diplomats.

Joan left ISS-USA in 1976 to take a job in rural Pennsylvania, as the Director of a Children’s Bureau. There she led a staff of 27 and completely reformed the agency to a hard working organization using best practice to protect children. She recalls one family she worked with for years, that struggled with pervasive sexual abuse between the father and every child in the household. Joan put as much effort into helping families overcome trauma, as helping the organization become well-performing. But eventually it was time for Joan to move on, and she decided that it was time to leave the field of social work and pursue a career in real estate. Joan left the organization much stronger than when she found it, and was very pleased that one of her staff, someone whom she trained and mentored, went on to lead the organization.

Joan has worked many places and contributed to the well-being of thousands of children throughout her career in social work. If you ask Joan about her work at ISS, she will say with a twinkle in her eye, “that it was her favorite.”

Thank you, Joan, for your service at ISS-USA. You are among a small but mighty, almost entirely female group of social workers and case mangers who have worked tirelessly throughout our almost 100 year history to empower separated families to find one another and overcome obstacles to remaining together for the well-being of children. Once an ISS-er, always part of our family! It was absolutely a privilege to connect with you, Joan!

Julie G. Rosicky, CEO