KIDSAVE: Over 1,000 Happy Endings
By Dr. Ellen Fitzenrider
In August of 2004, I took the three-hour drive up to Northern Virginia with my four-year old daughter Katherine in her car seat. I was on my way to an unusual picnic. Several weeks before I had found out about an organization called Kidsave. In short, they sponsor children residing in orphanages in Russia, Kazakhstan and Columbia for a 'Summer Miracles' program, a program where the children get to go to day camp and special events to have some good old-fashioned kid fun, but, most importantly, to live with a family for six weeks. Many of these children have never before had the chance to live with a family. While they are here, potential adoptive parents are given the opportunity to get to know the children (and vice-versa), either through hosting a child for their stay, or attending one of Kidsave's many events, such as the picnic I was on my way to. Host communities are located around the country, from California to New Hampshire, Texas to Montana, and, in between, New Jersey, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Atlanta, Ohio, Connecticut, Missouri and Michigan.
The children in Kidsave's program range in age from 5-17. In the world of International Adoption, this is the age range where children have little hope of ever finding a 'forever family.' Most people considering adoption want infants and young children, because of the desire for a baby or through fear about whether an older institutionalized child will be 'normal' or if an older child would be able to fit in with their family. Kidsave tries to lay these fears to rest. Families and children get to meet and get to know each other. And, if a family is not a host family, the child can even stay with the family for several days to two weeks.
"At this age," says Hilliary Jenkins, manager of the Summer Miracles program, "it's all about personality. Some families host with the plan to adopt their child if everything works out. Others host to give the children the opportunity to meet a family at one of the many events or in their community. Once those children are here and we get to know them, when we meet a potential adoptive family, we try to match them with a child that we think will be a good fit."
So around noontime, as I parked my car in the lot at Riverbend State Park, I saw families and children heading towards the picnic shelter. Around me, in addition to English I heard Russian and Spanish as hot dogs and cake were consumed, balls were kicked around, faces painted, and balloon animals constructed. Some of the kids were children adopted in previous years who got to visit their old friends again from the same orphanage and acted as translators with their fast teenage English.
This might be the last chance for most of these children. Statistics show that for children growing up and being released from institutional care, 1 in 3 will end up homeless, 1 in 5 will turn to crime and 1 in 10 will commit suicide.* Right now, this 'Summer Miracles' program is a dream come true.
Katherine sits down to eat chips next to Masha, a beautiful 12-year-old Russian girl with short blond hair and sensitive brown eyes. She is shy as we exchange names. She is not yet matched with a family, I am told later. Nor is Gulsum, a 7-year-old Asian girl from Kazakhstan who helps to figure out the air pump to blow up the balloon animals.
Masha - 12 years old
Gulsum - 7 years old
One of the unique things about Kidsave is that they have programs in home countries to promote mentoring, fostering and support for children remaining there. They also have expanded their program to promote 'Weekend Miracles' programs to children in US foster care.
Those at Kidsave have three goals:
- To put a face on a big problem -- the plight of children worldwide living in orphanages and foster care.
To test and promote successful models for change focused on one result: moving children out of orphanages and foster care and into permanent families.
To work to encourage governments to change their policies that perpetuate the damage caused by lack of a nurturing parent.
Those models for change are:
- Mentoring which puts a safety net under a child, giving one permanent connection to a grownup,
- Short visits with families who use their circles of friends to help a child find a family. Personal advocacy is also supported by advocacy through the media, thus creating greater exposure and participation of children in foster care,
- Family support, to train and support host families and keep newly formed family units together.
Working in combination, these elements have the potential to revolutionize the way government systems support children without parents and dramatically decrease the number of children in the world who grow up without a parent. Remarkably, since 1997, Kidsave has found homes for over 90% of the children participating in the Summer Miracles program. That's over 1000 children.
Back at home, my mind stayed to Masha and Gulsum more than a few times. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Hilliary: all of the kids that I met at Riverbend park that day were matched. Her e-mail was followed by a letter from Edgar Zoz, who with his wife Stephanie met and fell in love with Masha shortly after that picnic. He is running in the Baltimore Marathon on Saturday, October 16th, and taking pledges to donate to Kidsave.
"Not only am I running for Kidsave, I am running in honor of Masha and other institutionalized children in the hope that they too can connect with a loving family. My fundraising goal is $6000. This is the amount it takes to bring one child, like Masha, to the United States for the Summer Miracles program. I invite you to join me in this effort by making a tax-deductible contribution to Kidsave. Any amount would be appreciated, but please consider pledging $1-5 for every mile I run."
Contributions can be sent to the following address:
Marathon Run for Kidsave
904 Laredo Rd.
Silver Spring, MD 20901
For more information about Kidsave and the Summer Miracles program, to make a donation or to look into starting a Summer Miracles program in your community, check out Kidsave's website at http://www.kidsave.org/.
* Harwin, J., Children of the Russian State, Avebury, Aldershot, 1996, in Children at Risk in Central and Eastern Europe: Perils and Promises, Economies in Transition Studies, Regional Monitoring Report No. 4, UNICEF, International Child Development Centre, Florence, Italy.