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'We have a heart for them'

Updated: 2015-09-02 07:41
By May Zhou (China Daily)

A summer stay with US families has ended for 30 Chinese orphans with special needs. All have returned to China, but a large majority of them have found families that want to adopt them, May Zhou reports in Houston.

Jack, a 10-year-old Chinese orphan, blew out his birthday candles on the last Saturday of July, surrounded by his host family in Garland, Texas.

Jack is one of 30 Chinese orphans with special needs who arrived in the United States in mid-July for a four-to five-week stay with families across the nation. Seventeen of them stayed with families in Texas. All of the children have returned to China at the end of their stay, but about 80 percent of them have found families that want to adopt them. The remaining children are still looking for a home, but "it changes daily", said Shannon Phillips, director of the orphan hosting program Great Wall China Adoption.

GWCA, an Austin, Texas-based agency, has been running China hosting programs in the summer and winter for three years. Phillips said the program, designed for Chinese children ages 5 to 12 who have special needs, has improved their odds of finding a permanent home in the US.

"So far we have a success rate of 75 to 80 percent. With each program, we learn more on how to excite people about hosting and how to find the right family for each child," Phillips said.

The program prompted Jack's hosts, elementary school teacher Jill and software engineer Thomas Johnson, into consider adopting.

"We have for a very long time wanted to adopt an orphan because we have a heart for them. Their parents, for whatever reason, were unable to take care of them. But we have the opportunity and means to do so, and we want to help," Jill Johnson said.

The Johnson's have four boys of their own, aged 16 to 22.

In February, the Johnsons read about the GWCA program on its website. "When I saw Jack's profile, I just knew this is the boy we could bring into our home," she said. "He has such sparkling eyes. I don't know what it is, but there is something about him that says to me: 'This is your son'. Something in my heart tells me that it's him."

"At one time we thought we would adopt a girl, but then we realized that we know boys well. It'd be great for him to have big brothers. The boys are getting along very well," she said.

For Jack's birthday, she went online to search for what a birthday should involve for a child from China. She ended up with a traditional US birthday party of cake, balloons, ice cream and gifts.

Even though Jack is not yet officially a member of the Johnson family, she has started to plan his future: "I want to keep his cultural heritage alive, it is part of who he is. We will get him in class to continue to learn Mandarin. Chinese is a world language that people need to learn anyway. We will figure out where he is heading, what his passion is, where he is going to excel most and encourage him in that."

Another couple, Michelle and Scott Morell, a part-time physical therapist and a leadership trainer in Allen, Texas, are looking for a US family to adopt Jay, a 13-year-old boy with a mild liver condition who is otherwise healthy.

The Morells have five adopted children between 7 and 14 years old - three from the US and two from China. They are also adopting another Chinese boy, a 3-year-old who has some colon malformation, and expect to bring him home from China in December.

"Last summer we thought that our family is done, but how can we help more? We found out about this hosting program, we figured we could help other kids to find a family. That would be something good that we have done in this world," said Michelle Morell.

Jay is not the first Chinese orphan the Morells have hosted. Last summer, they had 6-year-old Teddy, who has cerebral palsy.

"We had great experience hosting Teddy. He is smart, sweet and precious. I created a private advocacy page for him. I had a friend take professional photos of him and posted those. I talked to a lot of people. GWCA also helped to get his story out," said Michelle Morell.

Jennifer and Brad Fredrick in League City, Texas, saw Teddy's story a week before he was to return to China and fell in love with him.

"I have followed GWCA for a couple of years, but haven't chosen any child. Then I was sent Teddy's advocacy page and photos of him at the zoo, going shopping at a grocery store, playing at a lake and interacting with Michelle's children. I showed his photos to my husband, and said this is the right kid for us," Jennifer Fredrick said.

The Fredricks, who have a 6-year-old biological son, moved quickly to begin the adoption process and got everything done in 8 1/2 months. "My son Connor wanted to have a brother really bad and was really excited. He went to China with us to bring Teddy home," she said.

Cerebral palsy has weakened Teddy's left side, and he can't walk correctly. "It will take a while to improve. He is now receiving physical therapy every week. We got him new braces for his leg and are looking into surgery to correct his condition," said Jennifer Fredrick.

The Fredricks said that if it were not for the hosting program, they would not have adopted Teddy.

"I knew adoption is something I want to do. I knew all about the process, and I have been reviewing it for years, and China has always been on top of our list. However, it is intimidating to take on a child you know nothing about. On his profile, there was one whole page regarding his medical condition. If it had not been for Michelle's hosting and introducing, we would not have adopted Teddy. Speaking to her to find out about his personality really did it for us," said Jennifer Fredrick.

Encouraged by the success of advocating adoption for Teddy, Michelle Morell changed Teddy's advocacy page to "Meet Teddy's Friend" for Jay.

"Jay knows little English, only a few words. He had a transitional time, but is doing pretty good now," said Michelle Morell.

On the advocacy page, Michelle Morell updates Jay's interests and activities. "Today he put together several different circuits and one was quite impressive ... maybe he will be an engineer," read a posting on July 30.

With five adopted children and a sixth on the way, Morell admits that just doing hosting is a big change. However, "there are not many chances you can truly change a person's life. In that regard, it is a rewarding experience," she said.

Sometimes hosting can change a family's mind about not adopting. Kyle Raney, a pastor, and his wife Cassandra, a full-time mother, live in Portland, Oregon. They hosted Duo, now 9, last summer.

The Raneys didn't have money for adoption, but decided to host to help a child. However, "within the first two days, when we watched him playing with our kids in the yard, we felt such peace in our heart and realized that he is supposed to be our son. We could not let him go, we could not imagine our family without him," said Cassandra Raney, whose five biological children with her husband were 2 to 7 years old at the time. They immediately started the adoption process.

When the hosting was over, the Raneys sent Duo back to China with a photo album recording his time in the US. During the adoption process, they did video chat with Duo, sent him care packages of candies and toys a few times. "I was told he looked at the album almost every day at the orphanage, and he was telling everyone that his family in America was coming to get him," said Cassandra Raney.

The hosting helped them to get support to pay to adopt Duo: "We introduced Duo to our families and friends. They all fell in love with him and within seven months the adoption was all paid for by friends and families," she said.

Duo returned in June. He has some heart issues and dwarfism. "He is doing a lot of testing and will probably need surgery soon. It's a little scary, and we don't know what the future will hold. We just know that he's our child, and we will do whatever we can to fight for him," said Cassandra Raney.

Contact the writer at mayzhou@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 09/02/2015 page7)

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