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Agency operates on a lean budget


Agency operates on a lean budget


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Americans for African Adoptions, Inc.



Donations, thrift sale finds help stretch funds to run foster homes, complete adoptions.

By Courtenay Edelhart

Indianapolis Star

Founded by Cheryl Carter-Shotts in 1986 after she adopted a starving Malian boy she'd seen on television, Americans for African Adoption has placed 306 children from Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

The agency operates with an annual budget of less than $200,000 and a staff of three: Carter-Shotts, a part-time executive director and a part-time administrative assistant.

Carter-Shotts is managing director, although she jokes that her official title should be paper pusher.

She handles visas, passports and adoption dossiers that include home studies, birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, tax returns, police clearances, reference letters and medical records.

Denisa Reberger, a marriage and family counselor and the agency's executive director, reviews all that paperwork from her home in Reelsville and is in charge of approving would-be parents.

"We do adoptions all over the nation and even other countries, so I have to rely a lot on paperwork and other people's observations," she said.

AFAA had revenue of $171,152 and expenses of $156,695 in the fiscal year that ended July 31, 2000, according to its most recent income-tax filing. Carter-Shotts' salary was $16,578.

The agency is based in Carter-Shotts' Far-Westside home but operates foster homes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Kampala, Uganda. A home in Monrovia, Liberia, will open this fall. Rebels shut down a home in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1997.

While the Ugandan government makes it all but impossible for foreigners to adopt, AFAA sponsors eight children there and is lobbying officials to ease restrictions.

Carter-Shotts opened her own foster homes to provide better care than was readily available at African orphanages, many of which are crowded and underfunded.

Children are referred to her by the government, local orphanages and individuals who know she takes in orphans and abandoned children.

Shipping supplies to the homes is costly and unreliable, so Carter-Shotts personally delivers about 2,500 pounds of supplies annually, including baby formula, toys, medicine and clothes. The deliveries take place several times a year.

On the way home, she delivers children to their new families.

Carter-Shotts plans each trip at least six months out, scouring garage sales and thrift stores for child-related items. She also hits up donors for cash and in-kind donations. The supplies are stuffed in canvas Army surplus body bags.

She tries to have at least one adult escort for every three children brought back to the United States. Escorts are either adoptive parents or volunteers, and their travel costs are built into the adoption fee.

An adoption takes from eight months to two years, depending on how quickly prospective parents submit the necessary forms to the agency and to the American and African child welfare and immigration officials who must review them.

Carter-Shotts charges clients $6,000, most of which is fed back into the organization to run foster homes that have round-the-clock caretakers. It costs $3,000 a month to run the one in Addis Ababa.

Carter-Shotts has contracted malaria at least twice and has had enough run-ins with troops that soldiers don't really bother her anymore.

"I tell the escorts to only be nervous if the AK-47s are in the soldiers' hands," she said. "If the gun's strapped to their back, you're OK."

Even before this month's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Carter-Shotts was very conscious of security.

At least one male escort accompanies her in African cities at all times, and she avoids Muslim shopping areas whenever the Middle East heats up.

Once, during the Gulf War, a Yemenite guest at the Ethiopian hotel where Carter-Shotts was staying accosted her in the crowded lobby, ranting about "lousy Americans" causing fuel shortages and thinking they were the police officers of the world.

"When he appeared to be finished and paused to take a breath, I walked up close to him, and in a very loud voice said, 'I am a Canadian,' and got in a taxi and left.

"The crowd started laughing," she said.

Despite occasional tensions, Carter-Shotts loves Africa -- the sights and sounds and people. Even though she despises flights of 16 hours or more, actually being there is a lot of fun, she said.

And she likes to think her work makes a difference.

"Somebody once told me my little efforts are just a drop in the bucket," she said. "But to the child holding that bucket, it's a mighty big drop."

2001 Sep 23