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about us

Hands Across The Water (HATW) is proud to part of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families, the National Council for Adoption, and to be Hague-accredited through the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity. HATW has been annually recognized by the Human Rights Campaign for supporting and serving LGBT youth and families since 2011.

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our story


HATW Staff, December 2019

Hands Across The Water, Inc. was founded in 1999 by Jim and Kathi Nelson initially as an adoption education resource organization.


As adoptive parents themselves, the beginning focus of the organization was to facilitate the pre-adoption and post-adoption support through education and information. The agency continues to provide supports to families long after their “cases” have been closed.  Services and activities are provided to meet families’ ongoing and changing needs, such as behavioral health counseling, parent and teen support and recreational groups, specialized trainings and social events. 

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Between 1999 and 2008, the agency primarily focused on completing adoptions and supporting this population of children and families. 


Today the agency has expanded its approach to provide more holistic services to strengthen families including parent education/prevention programs, foster care, adoption (international, infant and state ward), pregnancy counseling and behavioral health programs. Over the past 20 years, HATW has supported and empowered thousands of children and families in our community, state, country and across the globe through inclusive, strengths-based services.  

The agency has experienced significant growth over the past 20 years, from 4 staff members to 47 employees, two locations and a more than $3 million budget.  


In 2021, Hands Across The Water served over 1200 individuals. 

our mission

Hands Across The Water supports and empowers children and families through inclusive, strength-based services.

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our vision

We envision a community where every child is valued and has a safe home and loving family where they can thrive.

our beliefs

HATW follows a non-discrimination practice and does not establish our screening criteria for employment, or service provision, based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, age, height, weight, familial/marital, status, disability, military service obligation, veteran status, or an y other basis protected by federal, state, or local laws.


HATW is committed to providing all youth and families served a safe, healthy, inclusive, and affirming environment.


our legacy

Hands Across The Water is dedicated to the families we work with, even long after standard services are 'over'. Read some of our family stories here to learn more about Hands Across The Water's commitment to children and families.




Katie Page Sander earned both her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology (1995) and a Master of Social Work degree (1997) from the University of Michigan. She has twenty-two years of experience in the field of child welfare, including direct practice, supervision, training, community organization, program management, and policy development. Her work spans across the fields of foster care, adoption, youth development, parenting education, Wrap-around programs, prevention services, and family and youth advocacy. 


In addition to adopting two children through Hands Across The Water (once internationally and once through the agency's Waiting Child program), Katie held numerous positions at HATW since 2002 before having the honor of becoming the agency's Executive Director in 2016. 

our board of directors

Rick Modglin-Green, MA

Rev. Rick Modglin-Green is currently serving as pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Findlay, Ohio. Prior to his move to Ohio, Rick served for ten years as associate pastor at Central Woodward Christian Church (DOC) in Troy, Michigan. Rick was ordained in November 2000, planting and pastoring Praise Fellowship until fall 2011.  In December 2012 the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) accepted and affirmed his ordination. 
Rick holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western Kentucky University, as well as a certificate in religious studies from Samaritan Institute and a master’s degree in theology from Trinity Theological Seminary. Before he dedicated himself to the church full-time, Rick worked in the field of accounting.

Rick joined the Board of Directors of Hands Across the Water in 2011, as a representative from the LGBT community who is also an adoptive parent. He says “My family has been blessed by adoption and I sought a way to give back to the community. It has been a privilege to serve on the board of Hands Across the Water.” Rick and his husband Wes have been together since 1995 and were married in a private ceremony in New York in 2013 by a Disciples of Christ colleague.  Their young son served as ring bearer for Daddy and Papa’s wedding.


Belinda Needham, PhD

Belinda  Needham is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan.  Her research focuses on health disparities, biosocial interactions, and aging and the life course.  She teaches courses in social epidemiology and research methods.

Belinda earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Texas A&M University in 1999, a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001, and a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006.  She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in population health at the University of California, Berkeley/San Francisco in 2008. Prior to attending graduate school, Belinda worked as a social worker in Austin, Texas.

Belinda became a parent in 2005 when she and her husband adopted their son from Korea.  She joined the Board of Directors of Hands Across the Water in 2017, after her son attended a teen adoptee group. Belinda values the commitment of HATW to providing lifelong education and support for children and families and is grateful to have the opportunity to serve on the Board.


darlene helzerman, ba

Darlene Helzerman is a certified public accountant, and has worked in the non-profit industry for more than 20 years.  She worked in public accounting for 15 years, with a focus on non- profit clientele.  Darlene previously worked at the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security in internal auditing, hospital finance, and accounting. She currently serves as an Accounting Manager with Trinity Health. Darlene earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Michigan in 1993. 

After assisting Hands Across The Water with a several accounting projects, Darlene was drawn to the organization's mission as well as the passion, professionalism and kindness of its dedicated staff.  Upon completion of her assistance with the accounting projects, Darlene joined the HATW Board of Directors in 2018. 



Mary Gladstone-Highland, CNP, CFRE
vice president

Mary Gladstone-Highland is a Certified Nonprofit Professional with seventeen years' experience leading organizations. Mary is a graduate of the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She holds a Master of Public Administration and a Certificate in Advanced Study in Conflict and Collaboration. She is also a Certified Fund Raising Executive and has raised over $4.5 million for numerous organizations over the past five years. Mary is skilled at analyzing large amounts of information to find creative solutions to complex problems. She strives to use an asset-based approach in every situation. Mary's family became complete with the adoption of her daughter. She says, "I'm honored to join the HATW board because I love how HATW supports families of all identities as well as the care and respect they provide to birth parents."


Julie Roesch, LMSW
Board member

Julie Roesch holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Family Studies, as well as a Licensed Masters of Social Work designation. She has professional experience as a child and family therapist in community mental health settings and served on the staff of HATW for 22 years, initially as an adoption assessment specialist, but also as International Programs Coordinator and Behavioral Health Supervisor. Julie and her husband are the parents of two adults who were adopted internationally as children. 

Julie was drawn to serve on the HATW Board of Directors following her retirement due to her strong commitment to supporting and empowering families. Between her historical and institutional knowledge of the agency, her experience as an adoptive parent, and this commitment she is uniquely positioned on the Board.  

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Julius buzzard, BA
Board member

Julius Buzzard holds a bachelor’s degree in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. In addition to serving currently as executive director of Growing Hope in Ypsilanti where he was previously program director, Julius has worked as a family teacher at a residential school in Illinois, teaching social, academic and independent living skills to young people. Some of his work in the community includes service with Black Men Read, the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council and the Washtenaw County Black Farmers Fund. 

Julius’ personal and professional connections to the foster care system and adoption process and his unwavering belief in the agency’s mission and vision are what compel him to serve on the board of Hands Across The Water.


William Grenawitzke, MBA
Board member

William Grenawitzke is currently a venture capitalist in Ann Arbor, MI focusing on bringing new medicines to underserved patient populations.  He holds a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan.  He also holds a master’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology and an MBA from Yale University.  William has spent 20 years bridging biopharmaceutical research and finance.
William is originally from southeast Michigan and recently moved back with his wife to raise their two daughters.  His interest in HATW is deeply personal, being adopted himself, and understands the impact that adoption holds for everyone involved.  He joined the board to support HATW’s mission and help others in the adoption process.

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Victor DiGiovanni
Board member

Victor DiGiovanni is a Bachelor of Social Work student at Eastern Michigan University, whose journey through foster care and adoption has uniquely shaped his perspective. Victor's personal experiences drive his passion for making a difference in the lives of others, making him an invaluable addition to HATW's Board of Directors.

Having been in foster care himself and adopted through Hands Across the Water, Victor understands the challenges and triumphs of the system firsthand. His commitment to advocacy led him to work with the non-profit organization Royal Family Kids for six years, where he has served on the leadership team for the past three years.

Victor's professional background includes being a direct care worker for a residential foster home in Michigan, providing hands-on support to those in need. Currently, he serves as an on-call crisis responder and success coach at Our House in Ypsilanti, demonstrating his dedication to creating positive change in the community.


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