‘We have a heart for them’

A sum­mer stay with Amer­i­can fam­i­lies is end­ing for 30 Chi­nese or­phans with spe­cial needs. All will re­turn to China, but about two-thirds of them have found par­ents who want to adopt them, May Zhou re­ports in Hous­ton.

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I‘Your son’

In Fe­bru­ary, the John­sons read about the GWCA pro­gram on its web­site. “When I saw Jack’s pro­file, I just knew this is the boy we could bring into our home,’’ she said. “He has such sparkling eyes. I don’t know what it is, but there is some­thing about him that says to me: ‘This is your son’. Some­thing in my heart tells me that it’s him.”

“At one time we thought we would adopt a girl, but then we re­al­ized that we know boys well. It’d be great for him to have big broth­ers. The boys are get­ting along very well. They go swimming, play bas­ket­ball and just have a blast,” she said.

For Jack’s birth­day, Jill John­son went online to search for what a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion should in­volve for a child from China. She ended up with a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can birth­day party — cake, bal­loons, ice cream and gifts.

Even though Jack is not yet of­fi­cially a mem­ber of the John­son fam­ily, she has started to plan his fu­ture: “I want to keep his cul­tural her­itage alive, it is part of who he is. We will get him in class to con­tinue to learn Man­darin. Chi­nese is a world lan­guage that peo­ple need to learn any­way. We will fig­ure out where he is head­ing, what his pas­sion is, where he is go­ing to ex­cel most and en­cour­age him in that.”

Be­sides trips to doc­tors for check­ups, Jack’s sum­mer stay has in­volved a great deal of swimming in a pool and trips to mu­se­ums and parks. Jill John­son also plans to take him to her school to see what an Amer­i­can school looks like. “We will also take him on the trip to the Univer­sity of Alabama when my son goes back to col­lege,” she said.

Michelle and Scott Morell, a part-time phys­i­cal ther­a­pist and a lead­er­ship trainer in Allen, Texas, are seek­ing an Amer­i­can fam­ily to adopt Jay, a 13-year-old boy with a mild liver con­di­tion who is oth­er­wise healthy.

The Morells have five adopted chil­dren, 7 to 14 years old – three from the US and two from China. They are also adopt­ing another Chi­nese boy, a 3-year-old who has n Gar­land, Texas, Jack, a 10-year-old Chi­nese or­phan boy with med­i­cal is­sues, blew out his birth­day can­dles on the last Satur­day of July, sur­rounded by his Amer­i­can host­ing fam­ily, the John­sons, in­clud­ing their four sons, 16 to 22 years old.

Jack is one of 30 Chi­nese or­phans with spe­cial needs who ar­rived in the United States in mid-July for a four- to five-week stay with fam­i­lies across the na­tion. Of the 30, 17 stayed with fam­i­lies in Texas. All the chil­dren will re­turn to China at the end of their stay, but about two-thirds have found par­ents who want to adopt them. The re­main­ing chil­dren are still look­ing for a home, but “it changes daily,” said Shan­non Phillips, di­rec­tor of the or­phan host­ing pro­gram Great Wall China Adop­tion (GWCA).

The Austin, Texas-based agency has been run­ning China host­ing pro­grams in the sum­mer and win­ter for three years. Phillips said the pro­gram, de­signed for older Chi­nese chil­dren ages 5-12 with spe­cial needs, has im­proved their odds to find a per­ma­nent home in the US. In ad­di­tion to host­ing chil­dren from China, GWCA has sim­i­lar pro­grams for older chil­dren from the Philip­pines, Ukraine and Latvia, with or with­out spe­cial needs. Phillips en­cour­ages any­one who wants to find out more about these chil­dren to con­tact her at shan­non@gwca.org.

“So far we have a suc­cess rate of 75-80 per­cent. With each pro­gram we learn more on how to ex­cite peo­ple about host­ing and how to find the right fam­ily for each child,” said Phillips.

Jack’s hosts are Jill and Thomas John­son, an ele­men­tary school teacher and a soft­ware engi­neer, re­spec­tively. The pro­gram helped to prompt them into adopt­ing.

“We have for a very long time wanted to adopt an or­phan be­cause we have a heart for them. Their par­ents for what­ever rea­son were un­able to take care of them. How­ever, we have the op­por­tu­nity and means to do so, and we want to help,” said Jill John­son. some colon mal­for­ma­tion, and ex­pect to bring him home from China in De­cem­ber.

“Last sum­mer we thought that our fam­ily is done, but how can we help more? We found out about this host­ing pro­gram, we fig­ured we could help other kids to find a fam­ily. That would be some­thing good that we have done in this world,” said Michelle Morell.

Jay is not the first Chi­nese or­phan the Morells have hosted. Last sum­mer they had 6-year-old Teddy, who has cere­bral palsy.

“We had great ex­pe­ri­ence host­ing Teddy. He is smart, sweet and pre­cious. I cre­ated a pri­vate ad­vo­cacy page for him. I had a friend take pro­fes­sional photos of him and posted those. I talked to a lot of peo­ple. GWCA also helped to get his story out,” said Michelle Morell. Spe­cial adop­tion

Jen­nifer and Brad Fredrick in League City, Texas, vice-pres­i­dent at a credit union and an as­tro­naut trainer for the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion at the NASA John­son Space Cen­ter, re­spec­tively, saw Teddy’s story a week be­fore he was to re­turn to China and fell in love with him.

“I have fol­lowed GWCA for a cou­ple of years, but haven’t cho­sen any child. Then I was sent Teddy’s ad­vo­cacy page and photos of him at the zoo, go­ing shop­ping at gro­cery store, play­ing at a lake and in­ter­act­ing with Michelle’s chil­dren. I showed his photos to my hus­band, and said this is the right kid for us,” re­called Jen­nifer Fredrick.

The Fredricks, who have a 6-yearold bi­o­log­i­cal son, moved quickly to be­gin the adop­tion process and got ev­ery­thing done in 8 1/2 months. “My son Con­nor wanted to have a brother re­ally bad and was re­ally ex­cited, he went to China with us to bring Teddy home,” said Jen­nifer Fredrick.

Cere­bral palsy has weak­ened Teddy’s left side, and he can’t walk cor­rectly. “It will take a while to im­prove. He is now re­ceiv­ing phys­i­cal ther­apy ev­ery week. We got him new braces for his leg and are look­ing into surgery to cor­rect his con­di­tion,” she said.

Teddy has been a mem­ber of the fam­ily for a cou­ple of months now. “He is ex­cep­tional, he didn’t have any tran­si­tional is­sues and took to my hus­band and me im­me­di­ately. He gets along with my son Con­nor very well. Un­like most other adopted kids who usu­ally grieve for the life they lost and go through a tough tran­si­tional pe­riod, Teddy just em­braces the change and loves it. A trip to the gro­cery store is fun for him. I hated gro­cery shop­ping but he made me want to go,” Jen­nifer Fred­er­ick said.

Ac­cord­ing to her, Teddy was en­rolled in Sun­shine Kids Academy learn­ing English three days a week at the or­phan­age and is very good at math and English. “He can com­mu­ni­cate with us fairly easily. In the first month af­ter his ar­rival he was learn­ing four to five new words a day, three weeks later he was think­ing in com­plete English sen­tences. He’s re­ally smart and very in­tel­li­gent,” she said.

“He is up for any chal­lenge. He is tak­ing swimming lessons, about to start karate lessons, and is ex­cited to start sec­ond grade in late Au­gust. He lets noth­ing hold him back. Peo­ple have com­mented on how he al­ways has a smile on his face.”

The Fredricks said that if it were not for the host­ing pro­gram, they would not have adopted Teddy.

“I knew adop­tion is some­thing I want to do. I knew all about the process, and I have been re­view­ing it for years, and China has al­ways been on top of our list.

“How­ever, it is in­tim­i­dat­ing to take on a child you know noth­ing about. On his pro­file, there was one whole page re­gard­ing his med­i­cal con­di­tion.

“If it had not been for Michelle’s host­ing and in­tro­duc­ing, we would not have adopted Teddy. Speak­ing to her to find out about his per­son­al­ity re­ally did it for us,” said Jen­nifer Fredrick. Page change

En­cour­aged by the suc­cess of ad­vo­cat­ing adop­tion for Teddy, Michelle Morell changed Teddy’s ad­vo­cacy page to “Meet Teddy’s Friend” for Jay.

“Jay knows lit­tle English, only a few words. He had a tran­si­tional time, but is do­ing pretty good now,” said Michelle Morell. Ac­cord­ing to her, Jay is a very re­spon­si­ble child. She said he was put in charge of watch­ing over a blind girl and her lug­gage on the same host­ing pro­gram dur­ing the trip, and he did an ad­mirable job and is good with younger chil­dren.

On the ad­vo­cacy page, Michelle Morell up­dates Jay’s in­ter­ests and ac­tiv­i­ties. “To­day he put to­gether sev­eral dif­fer­ent cir­cuits and one was quite im­pres­sive. He had taken apart a re­mote con­trol car (with per­mis­sion) and made a cir­cuit that used the car to power a flash­light bulb. I love science and love the in­ge­nu­ity of his cre­ation. And his faced just BEAMED when I told him how proud I was of him and how smart he is; maybe he will be an engi­neer,” read a post­ing on July 30.

With five adopted chil­dren and a sixth on the way, Morell ad­mits that just do­ing host­ing is a big change. How­ever, “there are not many chances you can truly change a per­son’s life. In that re­gard, it is a re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said.

Some­times host­ing can change a fam­ily’s mind about not adopt­ing. Kyle Raney, a pas­tor, and his wife Cas­san­dra, a full­time mother, live in Port­land, Ore­gon. They hosted Duo, now 9, last sum­mer.

The Raneys didn’t have money for adop­tion, but de­cided to host to help a child. How­ever, “within the first two days, when we watched him play­ing with our kids in the yard, we felt such peace in our heart and re­al­ized that he is sup­posed to be our son. We could not let him go, we could not imag­ine our fam­ily with­out him,” said Cas­san­dra Raney, whose five bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren with her hus­band were 2 to 7 years old at the time. They im­me­di­ately started the adop­tion process.

When the host­ing was over, the Raneys sent Duo back to China with a photo al­bum record­ing his time in the US. Dur­ing the adop­tion process, they did video chat with Duo, sent him care pack­ages of candies and toys a few times. “I was told he looked at the al­bum al­most ev­ery day at the or­phan­age, and he was telling ev­ery­one that his fam­ily in Amer­ica was com­ing to get him,” said Cas­san­dra Raney.

The host­ing helped them to get sup­port to fi­nan­cially pay to adopt Duo: “We in­tro­duced Duo to our fam­i­lies and friends. They all fell in love with him and within seven months the adop­tion was all paid for by friends and fam­i­lies,” she said.

Duo re­turned in June. He has some heart is­sues and dwarfism. “He is do­ing a lot of test­ing and will prob­a­bly need surgery soon. It’s a lit­tle scary, and we don’t know what the fu­ture will hold. We just know that he’s our child, and we will do what­ever we can to fight for him,” said Cas­san­dra Raney.

The Raneys said they would never have adopted an older child if it were not for the host­ing pro­gram. “It gave us the op­por­tu­nity to re­al­ize that it’s won­der­ful to adopt an older kid, it takes away the fear, and it puts a name to the face,” said Cas­san­dra Raney, adding that the ex­pe­ri­ence with Duo has led them to seek the adop­tion of a 10-yearold Chi­nese girl, who has cere­bral palsy and hy­dro­cephalus and is not part of the host­ing pro­gram.

The Raneys hope that another Chi­nese child will also be good for Duo, who has had some bumps ad­just­ing to his new en­vi­ron­ment. “We will take Duo with us to bring this girl home when the process is com­pleted. We will also use this op­por­tu­nity to visit his old friends at the or­phan­age,” said Cas­san­dra Raney.

Jean­nie Kvanig-Robert­son, a school teacher host­ing an 11-yearold girl with a mild liver con­di­tion in Bur­ton, Texas, also doesn’t have the money to adopt, so in­stead she chose host­ing. How­ever, she has fallen in love with the girl she calls Shaynie.

“I watched a video and hers was the first I saw. I thought she’s just pre­cious and chose her. I have al­ways had a heart for kids who don’t have a fam­ily,” said KvanigRobert­son, a sin­gle mother with two adult chil­dren and a teenager daugh­ter.

Be­sides doc­tor check­ups, she has taken Shaynie to meet her friends, to a swimming pool and to horse­back rid­ing. She said she wants to adopt Shaynie but can’t af­ford the as­so­ci­ated adop­tion fee. “I wish the fee was more af­ford­able,” said Kvanig-Robert­son, who in­di­cated that she will seek a home for Shaynie if she can’t find a way to adopt her. Con­tact the writer at mayzhou@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Jack, who stayed with the John­son fam­ily in Gar­land, Texas, blows out his birth­day can­dles while sur­rounded by the John­son’s sons (from left) Aaron, Jared and Caleb.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Duo (cen­ter), adopted by the Raney fam­ily in Port­land, Ore­gon, en­joys a sum­mer day blow­ing dan­de­lions in a field with his sib­lings, in­clud­ing Jude (left) and Evy (right).

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