FAMILIES DOTE ON CHILDREN ADOPTED FROM HUNGARY

Date: 2001-07-08

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

PARENTS RECALL STRUGGLE TO BRING ORPHANS TO THE U.S. 8 YEARS AGO

Author: Jerri Stroud Of The Post-Dispatch

"Will you remember me in one year?" Natasha Tavares, 8, asked Saturday at a reunion of 20 children adopted from Hungary eight years ago.

"Of course," said Brenda Henn, one of the adoptive moms, as Natasha proceeded to ask the same question for two years, three years, four years and five years.

"Knock, knock," Natasha said.

"Who's there?" replied Henn.

"You don't remember me?" Natasha complained, with a "gotcha" glance and a laugh.

Natasha's joke was all in fun, but it brought home the reason for the weekend.

Every July, members of 26 families who adopted 28 children from Hungary in 1993 gather for a reunion. They have fun, but they also give thanks for the children that have changed all of their lives. This year, 19 families and 20 of their adopted children gathered for a three-day weekend in St. Louis.

Henn, director of the St. Louis-based Small World Adoption Foundation, was one of four women who went to Szeged, Hungary, in June 1993 in hopes of bringing the children home from an orphanage where they were neglected, malnourished and caught in a power struggle between Hungary and Romania.

With the help of former Rep. Jim Talent, diplomats and congressmen from other states, Henn and the other parents won the right to bring the childr en to the United States in July 1993. Henn's son, Alex, now 9, was the first to arrive in St. Louis on July 7, 1993.

The adoptions were "an answer to a prayer," said Jayne Oldenburg of Wildwood, who adopted Evan, now 8. She had tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant and had been on a waiting list for an adoption for three years.

Today, the children appear to be normal, healthy and more American than Hungarian. Two still have some physical problems and one suffers lingering emotional trauma from the orphanage. The children are 8 or 9 years old, and most are entering second or third grade.

Many families look forward to the reunion all year.

"This year, one of the moms got the kids to write a page about what they liked about the reunion or to tell their adoption story," said Becca Skrainka of Webster Groves. "One kid wrote, 'I feel like this reunion is half my year.'"

Six of the families are from St. Louis, and the others are scattered from California to New York.

For Joel Tucciarone of New York, the highlight of the weekend is a service Sunday, where parents remember the circumstances surrounding the adoptions and give thanks for their families.

"Some of these children would not be here" because of health problems or neglect at the orphanage, Tucciarone said. "Some of the families have had real struggles, but the children have come so far."

Laura Henn, 18, who is one of two biological children of Brenda and Art Henn, said, "These children make us somebody.

"Our No. 1 priority is giving Alex all the love and the things he would never have had" as an orphan in Hungary, she said. "All these kids have more love than they could have ever dreamed of."

Memo:
Reporter Jerri Stroud:
E-mail: jerristroud@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-340-8384

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