Reunion gathers Liberian children

Date: 2008-11-16

By JASON ALEXANDER
Times Herald

Maria Luyken said she mostly sees frowns on children's faces in Liberia.

However, the West African Support Network founder and director observed only smiles on Saturday.

Several families who have adopted children through the network, including five from Port Huron, gathered for a reunion at Griswold Street Baptist Church in Port Huron Saturday evening.

"When they are in Liberia, if you see them, they are sad. Their heads are down and you think they will never smile," Luyken said. "They come here and it's a complete change. All happy. They are outgoing. That is what love does."

On Saturday, there were hula-hoops, soccer balls, Frisbees and children running around with smiles on their faces.

They also were treated with pizza, pasta, pop and other goodies.

"I think it is really important for the Liberian kids to be around other interracial families. It doesn't matter what family they are in, there is a special place for them," said Alissa Cummins, 31, of Port Huron, who has two biological children with her husband Scott, an adopted son from Korea and an adopted brother and sister from Liberia.

Cummins noticed some of the older children recognized some of the younger ones from the orphanage.

"I think it brings a lot of memories back for them, both good and bad," Cummins said. "I think it's a great opportunity, though, and it's exciting that there are so many people from this area."

Gary Mose, who adopted Garblejay, 5, with his wife Stacey, had met a couple of the adoptive families from Port Huron, but got a chance to meet all of them at the reunion.

"I wish we could have done it earlier. I'm glad we are doing it now. I hope we are starting a tradition," Gary said. "I think it is important for the kids as they grow older to form bonds so they have a connection and they can explore their heritage."

The network provides services to people of Liberia and helps them recover from wars that have afflicted the country.

The organization has brought more than 300 children to the United States and Canada during the last five years.

"I feel very blessed to be here and to see the end result of the work," said Luyken. "In Liberia, it's such a struggle to get them out. It's great to come here and see what is happening to them. It's great to see so many people in the same city."

· Contact Jason Alexander at (810) 488-7741 or jalexande4@gannett.com

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