Thursday, June 19, 2008

Urbana, Ijamsville families to help find homes for orphans

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Natalie Gipson carries a picture of Isaac, a 9-year-old Colombian orphan who likes football, movies, swimming and books.

Though Gipson, a mother of three children, has not met Isaac, she and her family are preparing a place for him in their Ijamsville home for when he arrives at the end of the month.

For five weeks this summer, the Gipsons will host Isaac with the intention of finding him an adoptive family.

The family is participating in Kidsave’s ‘‘Summer Miracles” program that matches orphaned children, ages 8-12, from Colombia and Taiwan with American host families.

During the program, the orphans not only experience family life and American culture with their host families, but they also attend events organized by Kidsave staff and volunteers that bring the children and other host families together. These events give families who are interested in adoption the chance to meet and interact with the children.

However, Kidsave is not an adoption agency, and the orphans must return to their countries at the end of the program. Families interested in adopting children in Kidsave programs must go through a registered, licensed adoption agency.

Kidsave is a Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.-based child advocacy nonprofit with a mission to end harmful institutionalization of children living in orphanages and foster care.

According to the organization’s Web site, more than 1,400 children from Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe have participated in the Summer Miracles program and 93 percent have found homes in the U.S.

Aside from Summer Miracles, Kidsave runs a family visit program for older children in foster care in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Gipson’s sister-in-law, Amanda Mason, will also host a 9 year-old Colombian girl this summer in her Urbana home. The women said their families are the only ones in Frederick County to participate in the program, which has attracted families around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Gipson and Mason said they have no intention to adopt the boy and girl they will host, though they are open to the idea in the future. Rather, the Summer Miracles program is a chance for them to give back and make a difference.

‘‘I was looking for something to feel good about and put my time into,” Gipson said this week.

By next summer, they want to establish a Frederick network of at least five host families for Kidsave and a volunteer committee.

Mason, a stay-at-home-mom of four children, said she found Kidsave through an Internet search in January. When she lived with her parents before she married, Mason said her family helped raise foster children.

‘‘It’s something we’ve [my husband and I’ve] always talked about,” she noted.

In preparation for the arrival of the children, Mason, Gipson and their families had to undergo a background check, medical testing for HIV and tuberculosis, and a home study conducted by a social worker.

The cost to bring one child to the U.S. on the Summer Miracles program is $8,000, of which the community must raise half, Gipson said.

Much of this cost pays for the child’s travel visa, weekend events, the host family’s training and travel fees for the children and their escorts. The adult escort spends several nights with the child and host family.

Gipson and Mason said they are in the middle of training with Kidsave staff to learn more about the program with other host families, child psychology and ways to set up their homes to teach the orphans how to live in a family.

Families also have access to translators and social workers if problems arise during the five weeks. In addition, Isaac and the other children traveling to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will have emergency medical coverage. Host families are also required to submit weekly reports to Kidsave and obtain permission from staff to take the children on family vacations.

Gipson and Mason are encouraged to talk about the Colombian children they will host with friends, neighbors and everyone they meet, and enroll them in activities with other children. But they are not allowed to talk about adoption with the orphans, who are only told that they are on a cultural exchange program.

Mason said she has signed up her host child for swimming lessons and Gipson noted that she has planned day trips and a week at the beach.

The women said that most people and extended family members they have talked to about their involvement in Summer Miracles are curious, though some have had different reactions.

Though she is a bit nervous about the experience, Mason hopes she can help others put a face to children living in orphanages and foster care.

‘‘Once you meet them you see they’re a normal kid who happens to be in an orphanage,” she said.

On the Web

Visit or call 1-888-KIDSAVE for information.