BOWIE – Growing up as an orphan from Colombia, Jean Carlos never spent his birthday eating barbecue or watching firework displays. But because of Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program, Carlos spent his 12th birthday, which fell on July 4, doing exactly that. And hopefully, it won’t be his last celebration of that kind. As part of […]
BOWIE – Growing up as an orphan from Colombia, Jean Carlos never spent his birthday eating barbecue or watching firework displays.
But because of Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program, Carlos spent his 12th birthday, which fell on July 4, doing exactly that. And hopefully, it won’t be his last celebration of that kind.
As part of the program, a Bowie family will host Carlos for four to five weeks in the hopes of finding him an adoptive family. He is just one of 17 orphan children from Colombia between the ages of 11 and 14 partaking in the program.
“These kids have been removed from their birth families because of some kind of neglect or abuse, or something has happened to their parents and they have been orphaned,” said Heather Bress, who, alongside her husband Tom, is hosting Carlos. “They have a harder time getting adopted because they’re older, and people are afraid of what kind of issues they might have.”
Prior to moving to Maryland from Michigan, Heather and Tom adopted two sons, Nathan, 13, and Zachary, 10, due to infertility complications.
Because adoption and finding orphans families is an important cause to them, they looked through several hosting programs and found Kidsave Summer Miracles. Heather said when looking through the photo listings of children, Carlos jumped out right away.
“Our boys are 10 and 13, and Jean is turning 12, so we thought it would be easy for the three of them to start bonding and playing together,” Tom said.
Now, during the five-week process, Kidsave staff, volunteers and the host families will work to find Carlos and all the other orphans families through advocacy events held throughout the month.
“We got to be known by our family-visit model, which is allowing the kids to be with a family and to experience that and understand what it’s like,” said Beth Dresing, Summer Miracles coordinator for the DMV area. “We’ve shown other agencies how to do it and we really want to spread the word, show this is an effective way to help older orphans.”
Since 1999, more than 1,750 children have traveled to the United States as part of the program, with 80 percent of those children finding adoptive families.
On July 4, Kidsave hosted a fundraising event at the Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C. where interested families could meet the host families and their children as well as past Summer Miracles children who have been adopted.
Dresing said fundraising, not just for Summer Miracles but also for Kidsave’s numerous other programs, is important because hosting each child costs approximately $7,500 to $10,000 for the five weeks.
Host parents are required to undergo training that prepares them to effectively interact and care for the children since the children typically come from complicated backgrounds. The Bresses said they also practiced Spanish in anticipation for Carlos’ arrival.
Host families are also given resources such as translators and a social worker who monitors the child’s experience and coordinates with the Colombian government. Kidsave also connects current host families with past families that have adopted children through the program, as resources to guide them through the process.
When Heather made dinner for Carlos last Sunday, she said he had a problem with the dish she had prepared. Since he speaks very little English, the language and cultural barrier made it initially difficult to figure out the problem.
“With my own kids, I would say, ‘This is what we’re having,’” she said. “But with him, I didn’t know if it’s appropriate to make him eat something if he doesn’t like it.”
To solve the issue, Heather called one of the fellow host families and discovered that Colombian kids prefer their food separated on the plate as opposed to piled together, which is how she prepared the meal.
“I wouldn’t have known that without this buddy family to tell me,” Heather said.
In fear of raising and potentially hurting the kids’ hopes, Kidsave does not tell the children they could be adopted at the end of the trip. Because of the events Kidsave puts on throughout the visitation period, other families outside the host family can express interest and spend time with the children.
The decision of which family adopts the child is ultimately up to the child and is made at the end of the five-week process.
And even though it has only been a few days, the Bresses say Carlos has effortlessly transitioned into their family’s lifestyle because of his outgoing personality and compatibility with their two children.
Dresing and the Bresses encourage any family looking to adopt to come out to Kidsave events this summer or host their own child next year.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to come together. We do something fun and something very interactive,” Dresing said. “But it also gives us an idea of how everyone is doing, to take the pulse of each family and see what’s going on.”
The list of events can be found on Kidsave’s website at http://www.kidsave.org/sm-meet-the-kids-events/.