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VIProfile: Karen Nixon

By Sadie Fowler

Murfreesboro native Karen Summar Nixon has a heart for service and it shines bright via her role with Adoption Assistance, Inc.

It’s fair to say Karen’s beliefs and attitude in regards to the subject of adoption were formed early on in a very positive way. As an infant, she was domestically adopted by her amazing parents, Sharon and Carol David Summar.

“I’ve always had a healthy attitude toward adoption due to my parents always being open and honest with me about how I came into their lives,” she said.

Furthermore, Karen’s career has involved several interesting aspects that tie into her passion for children and adoption. After receiving two graduate degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Karen worked on Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital’s children’s unit as a counselor for nine years followed by working as a behavior specialist in the school system for eight before she ultimately and gratefully landed in the adoption field.

Married to husband Phil Nixon for the past 21 years, with four children ranging in ages 18 down to 10, Karen says she and Phil always knew they wanted to adopt at some point.

“We felt a spiritual calling and we followed that, which led us to our daughter in China,” she said. “After working with children with various mental/behavioral disorders for many years, I decided that working in adoption might be a good fit for me due to my adoption as well as the adoption of our daughter.”

Karen has been working in adoption since 2010 and she believes her background that includes helping children deal with mental health and behavioral issues has been helpful in her work with adoptive families. Among many things, Karen’s career has taught her the value of relationships.

“Many children I have worked with have experienced trauma (even children adopted as an infant may experience trauma in utero),” she said. “Trauma can have huge implications on brain development, especially when experienced from birth to age three. But the good news is that there is so much research coming out about this and how we can help.”

Karen says helping families find the right therapies and services is crucial. Not only is the service being provided valuable but the relationships that can develop from those services with the child and family is also important.

“We are so fortunate to have great providers in our area such as Special Kids who understand that it’s not just the ‘service’ that’s important but the relationship and bond that can develop with the child,” she said.

Karen is most passionate about serving children, and her own family. She and Phil’s children are: Seth, who is an 18-year-old freshman at Cumberland University; Taylor, a 14-year-old freshman at Middle Tennessee Christian School; Madison, who is 10 and in fourth grade at MTSC; and the late Summar, who is deceased as result of a heart condition. Karen feels fortunate that her career has allowed her to serve children and their families in various capacities, with the key word being “serve.”

“I feel serving is such an important role, no matter your age,” Karen said. “My children have already found several different ways they enjoy serving in the community.”

In addition to her professional role of service, Karen volunteers at her family’s church, Third Baptist Church as well as at her children’s school, MTCS. She has also done volunteer work with NaSheville (an organization that advocates and empowers women while raising money to help support adoption, foster care, and trafficking), Bloom Design (they donate room design, furniture, etc to families who adopt or foster), and Both Hands (coordinate projects that serve widows, with donated funds going toward a family’s adoption). She also participates in the InterAgency Coalition and is also involved in several adoptive support groups for moms.

Karen feels blessed to have been influenced by many great role models throughout her life, including her grandmother and mother.

“They have both been such strong female role models, showing me the value of standing up for what is right, having a servant’s heart and the importance of putting faith first,” she said. “Both were educators and loved serving children.”

Looking more closely at her current professional, Karen serves as an adoption specialist for  Adoption Assistance, Inc., where she works with families throughout their adoption journey. Initially she helps them complete an adoption home study and later she assists them throughout the process in addition to doing placement visits after an adoptive child has come into a home.

“My role is to be the families support person, answer questions, give resource options, and sometimes be a shoulder to cry on,” she said. “Adoption is beautiful but there can be some very difficult aspects of adoption.” 

If Karen could share her knowledge about adoption with everyone in her community, there are many things she’d love to say. First, she wants people to know there are many options for those seeking to adopt or foster.

She says traditional infant adoption is always an option but there is also international adoption from various countries such as South Korea, India, China, Columbia, and others. Also, a newer option is embryo adoption, where a family can adopt an embryo (unused by a family) that a family has donated. In this case, she explains the mother can then have the embryo implanted and carry the baby herself.

Also, Karen likes to educate and remind anyone she can that foster care/adoption is always an option for families to consider. If families do not feel that adoption/foster is right for their family, she says there are many amazing organizations needing volunteers that serve these children.

In speaking to what drives her to serve, Karen says she has a few important driving philosophies by which she lives.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27),” is the first thing Karen cites when reflecting on how she tries to live her life.

Although Karen admits she is not the best about carving out downtime for herself, she says she is trying to do better by realizing everyone needs time to reboot both their physical and mental health. During her spare time, Karen enjoys gardening, travel and aimless drives in the country, especially on the countryside of Milton where the Nixon family lives.

When looking back over her years, Karen pauses as she reflects about what she wished she knew starting out in life that she understands better now. She says her best piece of advice to anyone starting their journeys in life is to not fear trying new things.

“Be adventurous and take risks,” she said.

In looking toward the future, Karen has several goals for the year ahead. “I worked with some amazing colleagues to develop a training for families/teachers/health care providers regarding several topics but the one we focused on most was the effects of trauma on children and how trauma can impact us even into adulthood,” she said. “Along with this — what we can do to help children who have suffered trauma.

Regarding this training, Karen wants to offer it on a broader scale and make it available to more families and providers.

Karen says she is grateful to live in a community where there are so many amazing organizations that serve children in a variety of ways. She encourages folks to reach out and become involved in one of them.

“Many are featured in VIP magazine and would love to have help via volunteer hours, donations of goods, and/or financial contributions,” she said. “Find one that has meaning and purpose to your family and make it a part of your family tradition to serve others in the community.”

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