From Russia, with love
Liz and Iain Mossman made a bold move several years ago when they sold their home in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island, and moved to Naples year-round. Their motive was simple.
Now in their 40s and after 14 years of marriage, they hadn't been able to conceive a child.
They wanted children and were ready to try adoption, so they moved to their normal winter destination in Naples to provide a more stable environment for a prospective child.
In Jan. 2003, Iain Mossman happened to be playing golf with his friend, Moe Kent, owner of the Hideout Golf Club in Naples. Kent asked if the Mossmans planned to return to New York for the summer. Iain told him of their plans.
Kent immediately called his wife, who knew of a Russian child being hosted in a Naples home as part of a camp program. The boy would be returning to Russia soon, sent back to life in an orphanage, if someone didn't come forward to adopt him.
That very night the Mossmans met Dimitry, then 9, a blond-haired, blue-eyed wonder they immediately fell in love with. He was such a dear, they said, you'd never guess he'd been abused and neglected in Russia.
Dimitry was shy with the couple at first, but then he leaped up into Liz Mossman's lap as if he knew he belonged there.
The next day, the Mossman's signed papers to adopt Dimitry, but he wasn't able to come live in their home for another year because of the intricacies and bureaucratic way the foreign system is set up.
"Adopting from Russia is not for the faint-hearted, but it's worth it in the end," said Iain Mossman, as he smiled fondly at his bright-eyed boy.
Now the Mossmans and other Naples residents are working to bring more Russian children to Naples in hopes of finding them homes. The Family Hope program is a project of the Arizona-based adoption agency International Family Services (IFS), said Morgan Bates, director of the agency in Arizona. The program has been in place since for five years and has brought more than 200 children to Arizona and more than 500 around the country.
The agency works with orphanages in Russia, which select 20-30 children to come to the U.S. for two or three weeks. The children live with advocate families that host them while they are here. The children participate in daily programs that help them learn basic English ? and they have fun exploring what American life is like.
For example, the children coming to Naples in July as part of this year's camp will have outings to the beach, the movies, bowling, a pool party and more. This will be IFS's first program in Florida, Bates said.
The camp will be based out of the First Presbyterian Church in Naples weekdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and will allow the children to speak to their advocate families through translators. Advocate families need to be able to provide transportation back and forth to the church each day and, if possible, stay around as often as possible to get to know the child they are hosting.
Also needed are families to house the adults who accompany the children to the U.S. from Russia ? translators and sponsors for each day's activities.
"Our hope is that couples who haven't been able to have their own children or couples whose children are grown, or even those who are looking to supplement their own families, give our program a try," Bates said. "These are wonderful children."
"The more time I spend around these kids, the more my heart opens up to them," Liz Mossman said. "It's important for people to realize when they are taking these Russian children in, they are saving lives."
When children living in orphanages turn 16, they are released from the orphanages, put out on the streets to fend for themselves, she said.
Dimitry's story of his life in Russia is in stark contrast to the comfortable, loving home he lives in now.
He looks up at his mom, as he lovingly calls her, and tells her of how his house in Russia smelled bad, how men tried to get him to smoke cigarettes, how he had to deal with drunken men who scared him.
"Dima has some bad memories," Liz Mossman explained. "He was not fed, he was not kept warm, he was not sent to school, he was left alone at home when he was very young."
Dimitry said he thought he'd have a better life in the orphanage, or children's home, as they are sometimes called. "But I did not like it there," he said. He lived in the orphanage from the time he was 6 years old.
"Kids didn't go to sleep, they always jumped on my bed," he said. "It was annoying because they were laughing at me. They picked on me and beat me up."
One of the advantages of adopting a Russian child through a camp program is that families only have to make one trip to Russia. The interaction at the camp (like one in Naples in July) counts as one of two required visits. The second trip is for the court date when the adoption becomes official. That's when the child can come back to the U.S. with his new parents or parent (single people can also adopt Russian children).
The Mossmans had to wait a year from the time they first met Dimitry before they had their court date. In the meantime, he had to return to the orphanage in Russia.
When he got back to the U.S. at age 10 he managed to learn English in about four months. He had a tutor who attended school with him at Lake Park Elementary to help translate the lessons, and he also had a private tutor. Now 12, his English is great, and he's a typical kid. He doesn't seem bitter or angry from his younger years.
"Mom, can I go play now?" he asked politely, after having been turned down about 10 minutes earlier when he made the same request. "You really want to go play with Tom, don't you?" his mother asked. "Yes," he answered. "Oh, go ahead," she said.
"Thank you so much, mom," he said excitedly, but still ever so politely.
People who adopt Russian children get a $10,000 tax break, but the reality is that it costs between $24,000 and $28,000 to adopt a child from Russia (which includes the cost of the trip for the court date). Mossman estimated it cost $26,000 to adopt Dimitri. She also says she hopes to adopt another Russian child, perhaps out of the group that comes to Naples in July.
There is some help out there to finance the cost of adopting a child, though. One outlet was established by Naples resident Murray Wise in 2003, soon after he and his wife, Valerie, adopted twin Russian children.
Wise established the Oxford Adoption Foundation, which makes zero-interest loans for the first three years to people who want to adopt Russian kids. The foundation also provides some grants. And it was Wise who contacted IFS to bring the camp to Naples in July. (To access the foundation Web site, go to www.oxfordadoption.com.)
"So many of these great kids just need a break, they just need a home, they just need an opportunity," Murray said. "There are an estimated 700,000 children in Russian orphanages."
Murray and Valerie Wise got involved when they received something in the mail asking for families to share their homes with Russian children in the fall of 2002. The couple, in their 50s, with four grown children of their own, decided to host Russian children on a whim.
After all, it would only be for two weeks. When twins David and Diana came to live with them, they fell in love.
They were heartbroken when the twins had to return after a two-week stay. They missed the children so much they made a trip to Russia just to visit them.
David and Diana, now 9, don't have horrible memories of life in Russia, but they know they like it in the U.S. better. The twins apparently were two of six children whose parents dropped them off at an orphanage one day, just abandoning them.
Diana, with her cute shoulder-length strawberry-blonde hair, remembers that she thought she was just being dropped off for the night. Her parents never came back.
The two don't remember any abuse, but they did have to live without hot water in the orphanage. David, with blond hair and freckled face, simply said life in Russia was scary, although he said coming to the U.S. was scary, too.
"The beds in America are much softer than they were in Russia," Diana said.
When David and Diana (names the Wise's chose for the two) first came to the Wise's home, Diana's name was "Luba" and David's was "Vova." As the children learned to speak English, Murray Wise used to keep cue cards in his pocket with the Russian words for common terms he'd need to communicate with the children, such as "lunch," "dinner," "hello" and "goodbye."
Valerie Wise said they also played a lot of charades. They had hand signals for, "I want to go swimming," or "I'm hungry," and other things.
Murray Wise, though he still works in agricultural real estate, said he's a much more involved father in his 50s than he was with his four biological children.
"I love Diana and David like they're my own. I never think of them as someone else's children; they're our children," he said. "It's probably made Valerie and me younger in some ways."
Valerie Wise thinks one of the reasons her heart goes out to children living in Russian orphanages is because she lived in a foster home in the U.S. from the time she was 12 until she was 18. She's still in touch with her foster mom.
"She was someone who reached out to me, and it feels good to reach out to other children who need a hand."