Russian kids greet '2nd mom'
Utah picnic reunites adoptive children with operator of orphanage
Author: Angie Welling, Deseret News staff writer
When Karen Banks tucks her daughter, Allison, into bed each night, Allison looks up at her mother and says, "Mom, we're never going to lose each other again, are we?"
Looking into the big eyes of her 5-year-old daughter, Banks answers, "No, we're not, because we love each other too much."
The nightly exchange stems from the time before Banks adopted Allison from a Russian orphanage. Allison says she was "lost" in the orphanage and her new mother found her and brought her home to the United States.
The same goes for Roger and Julie Taylor of Salem, Utah County. The Taylors "found" Roman, 10; Luisa, 9; and Dasha, 7, in the Artyom Children's Home in Vladivostok, Russia.
The Banks and the Taylors, along with more than 250 other families, found their children through Focus on Children, a Wyoming-based international humanitarian aid and adoption agency. Focus on Children provides adoption services to families across the United States, and although many of the children come from Russia, some come from Ukraine, Romania and Samoa.
More than 100 adoptive families came together Saturday at Focus' annual picnic at Riverview Junior High and park. Many traveled from Alaska, Georgia and Chicago to be reunited with one special guest -- Raisa Mamadjanian.
Mamadjanian runs the orphanage in Vladivostok and is responsible for placing countless children in U.S. families. The Artyom Children's Home, in the far east of Russia, houses approximately 200 children waiting to be adopted.
"Every child has one common dream -- to have a mother and father," Mamadjanian says through an interpreter.
Many of the children, like Luisa and Roman Taylor, remember Mamadjanian fondly. They run to embrace their "second mother," a woman whose eyes well up with tears as the children surround her.
"You can see by the tears in her eyes now how much she loves them," Roger Taylor says as he watches Mamadjanian stroke his daughter's hair and speak to her in quiet Russian. "We think the world of this lady."
One year ago today, Roger Taylor remembers, he and his wife were in a Russian court finalizing the adoption of the three siblings.
Allison and Roger Seielstad traveled from Georgia to reunite their 18-month-old daughter, Molly, with Mamadjanian. The Seielstads traveled to Vladivostok to bring Molly home in May 1999.
Focus on Children encourages parents to travel to pick up their children rather than let an escort bring them to the United States, director Danalee Thornock says. That way, she says, the parents get a feel for where their children were born.
"We're all made up of parts, and one of their parts is the country from which they came," says Thornock, who has two adopted sons from Russia.
Focus on Children tells parents to "keep your children's culture alive, value it and make it part of your life."
The Taylors say they will one day return to Vladivostok with their children. They will go back to Mamadjanian's orphanage, a woman who the children still thank in their nightly prayers.
While their memories of their second mother may one day fade, Mamadjanian says it is not because they don't want to remember. "It's not that they forget, it's that they're just so happy here."
The Utah group Mothers of Utah for the Children of Russia is working to help children in Russia be happy, too. The grass-roots organization works with Focus on Children and has traveled twice to Russia with supplies and funds for orphanages there.
Sonja Jorgenson, one of the Utah mothers, attended Saturday's picnic and was impressed that so many families had made such a difference in so many children's lives.
"These are just average, everyday people who decided that something had to be done," Jorgenson says. "It's the average person who really makes a difference."
To contact Mothers of Utah for the Children of Russia, log on to www.mucr.org. Focus on Children can be reached at 1-307-279-3434.
Caption #1: Marcia Coats and Luisa Taylor visit with orphanage director Raisa Mamadjanian at Utah picnic.