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Agency brings older Russian children to suburbs for adoption


By Kimberly Pohl

After struggling with fertility issues, Michele Martin and her husband found themselves intrigued by adoption but unsure they’d have the stamina for a newborn as a working couple no longer in their 20s.

Then they read a magazine article about a three-week summer camp program that brings older children from Russian orphanages to stay with host families in the U.S.

Four years later, the Inverness couple are proud parents of two boys and a girl on the verge of their teen years.

“They’re so wonderful, I don’t think we could have done a better job raising them ourselves,” Martin said. “The whole experience has been great.”

Martin will be among those sharing their story at an upcoming informational meeting for the Bridge of Hope for Russian Children program. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at St. Simon’s Church Parish Hall, 717 W. Kirchoff Road, Arlington Heights.

Founded in 1997, Bridge of Hope is a division of the Cradle of Hope Adoption Center in Silver Spring, Md. Executive Director Linda Perilstein said the primary purpose is to provide an American cultural experience for Russian and Ukranian children ages 6 to 13 living in orphanages.

“It’s to give them a break from institutional life, and give them a chance to experience a family setting,” Perilstein said. “Some haven’t lived with family for a long time, if ever.”

Of course, the program also introduces the children to prospective adoptive parents.

Older children are traditionally much more difficult to place than newborns and toddlers, but about 90 percent of the more than 650 orphans who’ve participated in Bridge of Hope have been adopted by either the host family or someone familiar with the program, Perilstein said.

The children come to the U.S. for three weeks, usually during the summer. Families enroll them in local summer day camps, and everyone in the program, including translators, counselors and past host families, attends a few get-togethers. A translator accompanies the kids on the plane and is available during their stay.

While most Bridge of Hope host families live on the East Coast, St. Mary’s Services in Arlington Heights began facilitating the program five years ago in Illinois. International adoption coordinator Michaelyn Sloan said the majority of adults are most nervous about language barriers, but the kids communicate surprisingly well. Some couples use iPad translation programs on top of the inevitable games of charades.

The biggest challenge, Sloan said, often is behavioral.

“Coming into a family life in America can be quite a shock,” Sloan said. “Everything is communal property in orphanages, but families have boundaries.”

When Martin’s oldest son visited in 2008 from the Birobidzhan orphanage in eastern Russia, he was 10 at the time and took her hand by the time they left the airport. The only issue they faced was his reluctance to eat, so they turned to a Russian grocery store to find familiar foods.

“The hardest part was when he burst out crying because he didn’t want to go back,” Martin said. “You become attached.”

The Martins quickly started the burdensome adoption process and sent him regular care packages until they could bring him home nearly a year later. They later adopted a 10-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother.

“The documentation can be daunting, and you have to have patience,” said Martin, now co-chair of the Bridge of Hope program in Illinois. “But we decided this worked out perfectly.”

The Russian program is open to married couples with or without children and single women 35 and older. No more than 45 years can separate the child and a host parent. Hosts must complete a home study and criminal background check.

2012 Jan 27