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Texas Adoption Story

 

We (innkeepers Mike and Cathy Dillon) went through an organization called Kidsave International to adopt two new Russian children in the summer of 2002. It has been one of the most fabulous experiences of our lives! The following is the text of a speech Cathy made in Austin in early 2003.

I am a huge believer in Kidsave, and tonight I'm here to tell you why. Kidsave is a non-profit organization dedicated to getting children across the world out of institutions and into loving homes. It began in 1999, working mostly with children in Eastern Europe. Its flagship program is called Summer Miracles, and it raises funds to send older orphans (ages 5 - 14) to the U.S. to spend a summer with various host families. Nationwide, it is organized into some 25-30 city-based volunteer chapters, including Austin and Houston. While here, the kids attend local day camps and participate in many fun and cultural activities with each other and their summer families, which allows everyone to get to know each other in a homelike environment. The goal is to find each child an permanent adoptive family while they're here.

Sometimes the coordinators have to do a bit of juggling to find the right child/family fit, but we're proud to say that so far, some 96% of the summer kids have now returned to live in America. Austin's first year was in 2000, when 12 kids came to Austin and all were adopted. Similar numbers have come each year since then, and with only a rare exception or two, all those kids are now proud new Texans.

And here are my three--Tatiana, Alexey, whom we adopted just last July, and our older daughter Sarah who we adopted at birth on Valentine's Day 19 years ago. So why, with our only child grown enough to head off for college, would we have ever wanted to bring on two more? Well, the answer is that they fell in our laps because of Kidsave, and we just couldn't resist! When Sarah was growing up, we always wanted more kids, but to be honest, we were just too darned busy working and raising her to put the work into finding them! Also to be honest, her birth story is so awe-inspiring that deep in my heart I felt like no child could ever measure up to it, or to her or our love for her, so for over 15 years we just didn't do anything. When it began to sink in that she would soon be leaving home, though, that began to change. We just weren't ready for "family life" to be over yet! We hadn't had our fill! But then what, since there was no way to contemplate adopting an infant, and adopting an older child seemed impossibly stupid and dangerous....? Well, I'm here to tell you that for people in just such a position in life, God created Kidsave.

Three huge reasons for this: First and least important, but it mattered to us, this program is cheaper than normal adoption agencies. For one thing, Kidsave is not an adoption agency; it just identifies kids and then facilitates getting them together with the families who can adopt them. So for the most part they work directly with local governments and orphanages, cutting out the hugely expensive agency fees in the middle. Older children are not as in demand, so the local governments don't hijack you for the same stiff fees as they do for infants. Also, a serious part of the cost estimates you'll receive won't be fees...it will be for travel. So you can mentally charge off that part to "vacations" instead of "adoption", and just go with it and have fun

Second, because Kidsave is all about adopting older children who are probably not saddled with the same horrible abuse and neglect baggage as those available in the states. Kids in public care in Russia are almost universally there because ofeconomics. The country is so Third World...so poverty-stricken. If one or both parents die, which is what happened to our kids (they had only been in the orphanage 6 months when Summer Miracles picked them for the 2001 program) other relatives can rarely afford to take them, so they enter a "Dietsky Dom". Now, while in the "Dom" they are for the most part adequately cared for, with serious supervision and education (shheeesh! they go to school 6 days a week), if only marginal nutrition, clothing, and love; and they all seem to have a fairly great amount of fun with each other. But at 15, they "graduate" out onto the streets, and this is where the economic realities of Russia today come crashing in again,because there is NOTHING for them out there!

This is where the picture gets really ugly. One in three orphanage graduates become homeless; one in five winds up in jail; and one in 10 commits suicide. The girls often stay on the streets (HIV is rampant) and the boys are usually draftedinto the army and sent off to Checchnya or wherever. It is just so sad to think of all that wasted potential.

Third and and here's the real clencher, you get to LIVE WITH a child before you take on the permanent committment to bring him or her into your family! Think of it, ya'll......where else in all the world of child-rearing is this luxury available to you? If you adopt an infant, if you adopt through regular agency channels, even if you give birth naturally, you basically have no say in the selection process....someone else actually picks the child and earmarks it as yours, and then THAT's IT! You're stuck! For life!

With this system, however, you know them well before you're ever asked to commit; yet the child's feelings are protected because they just think they're here for a fun summer vacation. So if an adoption never occurs, they return home without ever knowing the difference.

So let me tell you about how our kids came to be ours. Actually, we were the third family to host them. There was some kind of friction at their first hosts' home; and the second hosts loved them but couldn't adopt anybody. They came to us with less than a week left to go before the Kidsave flight returned them to Russia and the almost certain fate that I described earlier.

I first found Kidsave on the web late one night in March 2001. What struck me was the short-term, open-ended nature of it all--and hosting a child for a short time, I thought, we could easily do despite our advancing age :). So I responded,and then completely forgot about it, until months later I was standing beside a lake in Yellowstone during our summer vacation, and Mike's cellphone rang. It was that year's Austin coordinator, saying that she'd had a couple of host families back out and could we possibly take a child for the month? In priniciple, yes, I said; but wewere thousands of miles and two weeks away from home...what to do? No problem, she said, just come up to Austin for one of the weekly get-togethers when you get home, and see if you might be interested in getting to know any of the available kids. So I did, and met these two, and when they arrived for a five-day visit, it was the highlight of our summer.

Fiesta Texas, Schilitterbahn, tubing, new friends, they helped us at our bed and breakfast inn (now that they can talk, it turns out their mother was a caterer in Russia, so they were right at home in the kitchen!) catching bugs which Russia has very few of....great fun! They didn't know a word of English then, but it was obvious they were very smart, energetic and interested in everything, and sweet, helpful, and well-mannered besides. They didn't smile much (we've since discovered that's a Russian thing; it is such a somber society compared to ours), and a couple of times I heard them crying when they were alone. Since their parents had only recently died, we knew there would be some emotional rough spots, and their sadness was just tugged at your heart.

 

But we loved having them around. We couldn't drag them out of the water each day.....we loved hearing them chatter (and sometimes holler) at oneanother in Russian......they ate everything I cooked which was an amazing experience after having just raised a picky teenager...even the language barrier was and is a great learning experience. The breakthrough came one day during lunch....."what kind of sandwich do you want--ham (oink oink), beef (moo moo) or chicken (cluck cluck, flap arms, chicken dancing around the kitchen!) By the time we took them to the airport, Mike and I had decided that if we got the chance, we would invite them to come back and live with us. Luckily, there was a Kidsave interpreter at the airport, so heart in throat, I told them what we were thinking, half expecting them to say Thanks Anyway.....but the miracle was that they had been wanting us to ask! So here came these huge excited smiles, the first ever, and Tatiana threw her arms around me. So our last vision of them was walking backward down the gangway to the plane, clutching new dolls and toys, tears in everybody's eyes and waving until they rounded the bend. That was Aug 21 of 2001. (more...)

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