'We have a heart for them'

Updated: 2015-08-14 11:05

(China Daily)

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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.

I 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.

'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 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-year-old 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-year-old 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-year-old 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 Kvanig-Robertson, 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

 'We have a heart for them'

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

 'We have a heart for them'

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). provided to China Daily

(China Daily 08/14/2015 page20)