Seven years ago Michaela Sims adopted her first child.
Five years ago she adopted her second.
Eight days ago she received the “Angels in Adoption” award from the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization advocating on behalf of millions of children around the world living without permanent families.
And seven days ago, the award in hand, congratulations proffered and accepted, Michaela was back at her Washington, D.C., office doing her best to make U.S. law more sympathetic to the plight of orphans at home and abroad.
It is a big task, one she said sometimes leads to the burning of much midnight oil, and one that she did not anticipate when she graduated from Daniel J. Gross High School in 1988.
Back then, after graduating in 1992 from St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and in 1996 from the Creighton University School of Law, she fully expected to provide legal representation to the poor and the indigent as a public defender.
But life sometimes has its own ideas, and when Sims received her “Angel” award Oct. 8 on the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., it recognized more than her adoption of two boys. It recognized her work on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist for adoption issues.
“Whether at work or home, Michaela’s heart for children creates stability and opportunities that a child would otherwise never gain, and that has made her an angel to hundreds of children around the world,” Warner said in a statement. “I am pleased to recognize her dedication to improving the lives of countless children.”
Sims unhesitatingly attributes her concern for children to her upbringing.
She is the daughter of Dan and Mary Jean Sims of Bellevue, who pioneered the introduction of keno in Bellevue.
Dan died in 2008 at the age of 71, but Michaela chalks up her empathetic nature to him, and to her mother.
“The best teachers are right at home, right?” she said. “I grew up in an environment where both my mom and dad were very giving people, and so I have a natural tendency to want to help.”
Her 1,200 mile journey from Bellevue to the nation’s capital began in 1997, shortly after her graduation from Creighton, when she cold-called all five of Nebraska’s federal representatives seeking an internship opportunity.
She had spent a year with the St. Louis, Mo., public defender’s office, and thought that Washington, D.C., might be an interesting experience.
U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey responded, and Sims embarked upon a 10-year education in the ways of Washington, as legislative director for Kerrey and as legislative counsel for U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson.
But the clock was ticking on her political involvement.
“After Nelson won in 2006, my husband and I had just adopted our first child and I knew I would soon leave,” she said.
The lobbying industry beckoned, as it often does for former Capitol Hill staffers, and Sims spent the six years from 2007 to 2012 working for the Bockorny Group.
A year ago, with she as the Democrat, and her partner, Jennifer Bell, as the Republican, Sims formed Chamber Hill Strategies, a bipartisan lobbying firm that deals heavily with health care law and tax law.
To which she now adds adoption issues.
“It’s been a wonderful year, and one of the great things that has happened is that we were given the opportunity to work as a lobbyist for the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys,” she said.
The academy, she said, is not a typical client.
It is typical in that it wants its voice heard in the legislative process, but it is atypical because it is a nonprofit.
Sims said she was delighted at the opportunity to advance a cause already important to her.
“As the mom of two adopted children, working with the adoption attorneys has been such an incredibly rewarding experience,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to align my professional skills with an issue so close to my heart.”
This year, she persuaded congressmen to attach to a pending immigration reform bill a reform that has long rankled adoption advocates.
Infants adopted from poorer regions of the world often have no birth record, Sims said, and so their age is frequently estimated. Sometimes, as the years pass and puberty hits, it becomes obvious that they are older than their estimated age. State laws around the country permit age estimates to be adjusted, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not recognize the adjustments, thus causing a child to have two official birthdates.
This plays havoc with their lives as the children grow older and seek official documents, from driver’s licenses to passports.
The amendment advocated by Sims would require recognition of state adjustments.
“We spent hundreds of hours on issues like that this year,” she said.
Sims said her interest in adoption issues was always present but was heightened after her marriage.
“I was always interested,” she said.
“When my husband and I were talking about starting a family and tried to have children by birth, it wasn’t working, so we didn’t hesitate.
“It’s different for everyone, but we didn’t bat an eye. It was a quick and easy decision.”