Haiti Holidays 2017

Can you believe it is that time of year again?! Haiti Holidays is up and running for the third year in a row, and I am so excited to see what these next two months bring! If you have been following my journey, then you might remember some of the photos below.

First Haiti Holidays

Second Haiti Holidays

As much as we have appreciated receiving donations over the past couple of years, the amount of supplies has grown so much, that we no longer have a place to store items until I travel. So, this year we are asking only for monetary donations and gift cards (Walmart, Target, Amazon). That way I can purchase items before my trips and pack them up immediately. I am headed back to Haiti on November 30th, so any gift cards or monetary donations that I receive prior to this trip will be used to purchase peanut butter, flip flops, medicine, formula, diapers and powdered milk. If there is something specific you are wanting to donate, please contact me prior to mailing the item(s) to our office so I can make sure we have space!

You can also order a Haiti Holidays t-shirt (via the link below) which helps give back to the orphanages as well. The saying on the back of the shirt is in creole and means, “Some things are worth the wait. The shirts are available for purchase starting today (November 1st) until December 1st.

Order Your Haiti Holidays Shirt or Donate Today!

The donation drive will run from today (November 1st) until January 1st.

As always, thank you for helping me, help them! #haitiholidays 

-Hilary Clemons, Senior Adoption Counselor/Orphan Care Team Leader

Resources

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National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month! Did you know that 140 million children worldwide are estimated to be orphans? This month, our focus is to spread awareness for the children who are waiting to be adopted. Every child deserves a loving family to call their own and to feel wanted and needed. Together with your help, we can raise awareness about adoption and ensure these kids find their forever families.

Here is a sneak peek of what’s coming this month:

  • Featured Waiting Children
  • Answers to the top questions about adoption
  • Information about the most common special needs in adoption
  • Reasons to adopt an older child
  • Family adoption stories
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • And more!

Stay tuned on our Facebook pageChina adoption blog, and Children of All Nations blog for the latest adoption information!

Resources

– Learn more about our adoption programs
– Visit the China Waiting Child Photo Listing
– Visit the CAN Waiting Child Photo Listing
– Contact an adoption specialist

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Halloween Photo Contest 2017

Fall is in the air, pumpkins are everywhere, and it’s almost time for Halloween! We would love to see how your family celebrates the spookiest time of the year. Our annual GWCA/CAN Halloween Photo Contest starts today and ends Thursday November 2nd. Send photos of your little witches and ghosts to kim@saeglobal.org to participate in our contest! Here are the categories for this year:

Most creative

Spookiest

Cutest

Coolest

Silliest

Best group costume

We’ll share all submissions and announce the winners on November 3rd. Click here to check out previous contest winners. We hope you have a safe and fun Halloween weekend, and we can’t wait to see all of the adorable costumes!

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The Ripple Effect

Have you ever heard the phrase “the ripple effect” and how one thing that you do can create a chain reaction for other individuals and ultimately impacts those around you? That is exactly what ended up happening for two girls living in Haiti through my discovery of one simple photo on our server…

I stumbled across this photo one day on our server while I was still working in the dossier department and had no idea at the time that one day I would be taking over the Haiti program. I remember turning to my co-worker who had worked here for several years and asking about them. When she did not know much of their story, I walked down to the CAN room to ask the current Haiti case manager more about their story.

This photo, the one you see below, is the exact photo I found two and a half years ago. This photo forever changed my life and eventually ended up changing theirs…

As I walked down to the CAN room and began asking questions about these two girls, some statements were made to me that broke me to the core. “They have been available for adoption for a while but not many families want to adopt older children”, “if families want to adopt from Haiti they want little ones because you can still get young children from Haiti.” I walked back down to my office and could not get over what I had just heard. Families adopted older children all the time. I knew this because I was the one doing the paperwork for the adoptions. I saw it all the time, and why had no one moved forward with them? Days passed and even months passed and I was constantly checking to see if they had found a family, and the answer was always no. Everyday I prayed for these girls and asked God to bring them a forever family. The family I knew they deserved. I still did not know much about them, but ever since I first saw that photo I could not get them out of my head.

Six months had passed since I started working in dossier, and I found myself at a standstill. I had always worked in direct care so moving into an office type setting was hard, and I was really starting to miss working one on one with clients and children face to face. I did a lot of soul searching and decided it was time that I started looking for another job. I was offered a job with a different company and came into work with a heavy heart to give my notice. However, God works in mysterious ways, and clearly my work here was not finished just yet… One of the managers told me that a position was opening up in the office and that I would be a great fit. Also, with my background, it seemed like something I would enjoy a little bit more. The position was an International Adoption Counselor for Children of All Nations, and this position meant that I would have an opportunity to match children from various countries with their forever families and counsel families through the process. I was immediately intrigued. I said I would like to take some time to think about it, but by the next day I was sold. They offered me the position with CAN, so I packed up my current office and moved down the hall. I was ecstatic for this new opportunity and role. I immediately wanted to be trained to take over Haiti.

As we began training I quickly realized how difficult Haiti was… The program had no structure, the timelines were long, and current families had been waiting for what seemed like forever to be matched. Even though I tried my best to stay optimistic, I was feeling a little discouraged and overwhelmed. As I learned more and started to develop my own internal structure, working with the country continued to get easier everyday. Haiti was also in the process of transitioning into becoming a Hague country, and even though this would mean the country itself would eventually have more structure no one really knew what that would actually look like moving forward. With the changes happening in country, cases stuck in IBESR (the central adoption authority) and the idea of hiring a new rep on the horizon I proposed a trip to Haiti… my first time ever traveling there. The trip was approved, and I immediately went back to the same photo of those girls. I was going to meet them.. face to face.. the girls I had been praying for for over a year now.

I arrived in Haiti, and below are some of the photos I took with the girls. Meeting them for the first time was like seeing old friends, and we hit it off from the very beginning. They both spoke English fairly well so I had an opportunity to learn various things about them. Some of the things that I learned about them was that they both loved the color red, one wanted to be an English teacher while the other wanted to be a pediatrician, they both could not wait to have a car and they liked to have their nails painted. I spent time with them every day, and when it came time to leave Haiti I was a mess. The oldest clung to me and asked me to come back for her birthday and if I could not do that then when could I come back. I told her, “this is not goodbye this is just see you later.” A tear streamed down her face, and she gave me the biggest hug she had given me all week.

I got back to Texas and was beyond determined to find them their forever family. The advocacy began, and I was constantly talking to individuals in country about their paperwork, working with marketing to promote older child adoptions from Haiti, and even using my own personal social media for outreach. While the search continued I needed them to feel special, important, and cared about so we mailed them birthday cards (see photo below).

I came into work everyday praying this would be the day I got the call… a family specifically wanting older children… from Haiti. The advocacy continued, conversations were had but no one seemed to be ready to pull the trigger and move forward. Then, just like that, my prayers were answered.

I answered the phone and the woman on the other end went on to say that they were interested in older children, potentially siblings and from Haiti. I was on the edge of my seat and blurted out, “I am not sure if you would be interested but I met two older girls while I was in Haiti.. They are amazing.. I have been trying the entire time I have been back to find them a family.. Would you be willing to think about it?” Immediately, the woman answered yes and said that after everything I said about them she had to take a look at the two girls I spoke so highly of. And just like that the family applied, contracted, and sent an email that included this: “Thank you so much. I couldn’t sleep last night because of our excitement and the weird path that led me to you. I’ve got chili bumps!!!”

I had found them a family.

And, not just any family.. The family I know that I had been praying for. I was beside myself… There are a lot of times when you are working in the adoption world that it feels odd. A lot of things you do, the advocacy, that extra email or phone call all impact the life of a child that you typically have not met. But YOU are changing their life. And sometimes it is really hard to wrap my mind around what I do, and with their case specifically I could not even formulate words; I still can’t.

Time passed, the family completed their dossier, and we suggested the match to IBESR. This is not something we are typically able to do, but since the girls were older we knew we had more of a chance of IBESR saying yes. IBESR told our rep in country and the creche director that they agreed on the match and would issue the referrals, so we waited and waited for the paperwork to come through.

Four months later, we had a match.

Before the family was able to travel, another trip to Haiti was approved for me, and I was going to get to see the girls again. It had been over a year since I saw them last, and I started wondering if they would even remember me. I felt very emotional going to Haiti this time. I was traveling alone and seeing kids again that were now matched with my families. I had so many thoughts running through my mind, but I just kept coming back to the girls. I arrived in Haiti and all the fear and worry I felt before was instantly gone–I was in my happy place and my heart was full.

We pulled up to the orphanage and so many of the kids remembered me and then I saw the two sisters… They immediately ran over to me and hugged me. It was like no time had passed at all. I was able to spend time with them everyday, and I even had an opportunity to tell the girls more about what all I do and about their family. After the girls had a few days to process and continue to ask me questions about their family, I asked the girls if they would like to “meet” their family by Facetiming them. They immediately said yes, and so I set up the call. As we went upstairs to find a quiet place for us to call the girls said, “Can we call them mom and dad?”, “Is it weird if we tell them we love them?” A million thoughts were running through their minds, and I could tell they were nervous. I grabbed both of their hands and said, “You can say whatever you want. You can call them whatever feels comfortable. This is your family. They chose you. You have nothing to be nervous about.” They both smiled and I pressed the call button.

My week in Haiti came to an end, and I was devastated to leave. There was so much great work accomplished in one short week, but it never seems like enough because the work that needs to be done is never finished. I stopped by the orphanage to say my goodbyes, and with tears streaming down my face I got in the truck to head to the airport. All of a sudden I heard children yelling my name from the porch, the truck doors opened and I felt a lot of movement in the back of the truck. I wiped my eyes and looked around and there were a handful of children who decided they were going to go with me to the airport. One girl climbed into my lap and tears continued to stream down my cheeks. She said, “Why are you crying? Because you are sad to leave us?” I nodded my head yes and gave a her a big squeeze. She went on to say, “You do not have to go. We want you to stay.” That did it. The tears became a waterfall, and I was officially a big emotional mess.

We pulled up to the airport, and I gathered my things to head inside. All of the kids jumped out of the truck and grabbed me, and then I looked up at my girls… Both of them had tears in their eyes and then they handed me the letters below. As I began to walk towards the airport, I waved back at them both and said, “Keep your heads up. Your family will be coming for you soon” and I walked into the airport.

The adjustment coming home from Haiti is always hard for me. Not only do I miss the people and the country, but the transition from life in Haiti to Texas is like night and day. Some of you that have also traveled to Haiti or other impoverished countries may have similar struggles. The realization of all the material items that we have that are a common “necessity” here in the U.S. that are unknown objects in Haiti is unreal. And of course, the work becomes more remote, as I am no longer on the grounds and able to push things along on my own or alongside our staff in country. It is an odd transition, and it usually takes me a couple of days to shake the feeling.

After a long weekend of rest I was back at work on Monday, and I was ready to take on the week. Calls were made, itineraries were finalized, flights were booked, and the girls family was ready to travel. I think we were all a variation of excited/nervous. How would it go? Was everyone prepared? How would the girls do when they finally saw them face to face? There were so many thoughts running through my mind and then I got a call from the family. They were at the airport waiting to go to Haiti. I told them I would be praying for them and the girls and I could not wait to hear how everything was going.

I anxiously awaited to hear from them and then I received the following photos and a message that stated, “After five minutes they became part of our family. Thank you so much. We love you.”

This has been such a long journey for these girls. They have waited so long for someone to come for them and for a family to call their own. It takes a village to make each adoption happen, and I know that God’s hands have been guiding theirs this entire time. It will still be a little while before they get to come home with their forever family, but we are through the toughest part and I cannot wait to see how much they thrive when they do get to come home.

We may have been separated by two different countries, but I believe we were always destined to meet and be a part of each others lives.

 Hilary Clemons, Haiti Adoption Specialist

Resources

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Hurricane Harvey: Help Us, Help Them

While Hurricane Harvey has brought devastating floods to many areas of Texas, we have been very fortunate and are happy to announce that our Austin office has not been impacted. We are safe and operating under normal business hours. Our thoughts are with our friends, families, and fellow Texans who have been impacted by the hurricane.

That being said the team at GWCA/CAN/SAE are gathering donations for Central Texas Food Bank and Austin Pets Alive to be allocated to our friends in need all over southern Texas. If you are local we encourage you to donate to the above organizations or you can bring your goods here and we’ll deliver them for you.

If you would like to participate, please bring whatever of the following:

  1. Canned Foods
  2. Anything from this list for cats/dogs (note that they do not need any dog food or dry food anymore.)

We appreciate your support and our continued thoughts go out to all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

GWCA/CAN/SAE Address:

248 Addie Roy Rd. Suite A102

Austin, TX 78746

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Meet Katie!

1. What is your job title and description here at GWCA/CAN?

I am an International Adoption Counselor here at Children of All Nations! I work with families during the inquiry phase, referral phase, and send them through the travel phase. I manage our Latvia and Burundi programs – additionally, I will also help manage Latvia Hosting for this coming winter program. Prior to working as an International Adoption Counselor with CAN, I worked with the GWCA Post-Adoption Team.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

It’s hard to choose just one aspect of my job that I enjoy the most, so I’ll tell you my top favorites. I love talking with inquiring families about the international adoption journey and helping educate them more on what all it entails. Adoption is a topic everyone is aware of, but few begin the process knowing the ins and outs of how it all works. As one can imagine, some of the best days are when I’m able to match kiddos with their forever families! There’s no greater joy than being able to match a kiddo or sibling group with a loving family with just a little bit of advocacy. I have the opportunity to share incredibly courageous kiddos’ stories and make sure their voices are heard and they aren’t forgotten.

3. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

Although the ups far outweigh the downs, it doesn’t make the hard days any less difficult. I get to work so closely with our wonderful families, which also entails being with them through all of their struggles. Having to make sure families have realistic expectations, give families not so good news or sometimes not being able to give any news is the hardest. Although this might be the most difficult aspect of my job, it’s one of the most rewarding in the sense that I get the opportunity to be side-by-side my families during the highs and lows of their adoption journey.

4. Why do you love adoption?

I love adoption not only because it’s been a part of my life for so long, but the idea in its self is beautiful and inspiring. It’s one of the most incredible things to see daily how a family bond and love can surpass race, culture, religion or background. Although there are many kids orphaned across the world, there are also multitudes of families waiting with open arms to embrace the child they have never met who lives thousands of miles away.

5. Fun facts about Katie:

  • I’ve traveled to more countries than I have US states
  • I speak German
  • I’ve been playing the piano since I was 7 years old
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7 Haiti Spots Left In 2018 Program!

There are only 7 spots left in CAN’s Haiti Healthy Track program for 2018, and they’re filling up quickly! Families in the 2018 program will be able to submit their dossiers as early as October of 2017, so now is the perfect time to get started!

Our Haiti Healthy Track program is for families who are interested in submitting their paperwork to be matched with a younger, medically healthy child. If your family is open to adopting an older child, a sibling group, or a child with medical needs, then our Haiti Waiting Child program may be a better fit.

Each year we’re given a limited number of spots to fill for each of our Haiti adoption programs. These spots typically fill up very quickly, so we encourage families to get started right away when they’re ready to begin their journey.

If you’re interested in learning more about CAN’s Haiti adoption program, our program specialist, Hilary, would love to speak to you! She recently returned from a trip to Haiti where she was able to visit the creches that CAN works with, meet the children, and work on program development. For more information, contact hilary@childrenofallnations.com or visit our website today!

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Thank You, Summer Interns!

As the summer comes to an end, we are preparing to say goodbye to two incredible volunteers who have helped us immensely — our summer interns! These incredible interns have truly gone above and beyond over the past few months to help out with our agency’s programs. While we are so sad to see them go, we are very excited to see what their futures hold!

Thank you so much for all of your hard work this summer, and good luck with your future studies!

Internship opportunities at GWCA, CAN, and SAE!

Are you a junior or senior in college? What about a graduate student working on a master’s degree? GWCA, CAN and SAE offer internships to students in various fields of study to provide hands-on experience in international adoption and cultural exchange. This is incredibly beneficial for students interested in pursuing careers in international studies, communications, marketing, social work, psychology, sociology, and business. What’s the best part? Internships can be custom-tailored to your specific major and specific area(s) of interest!

**Note: These internships are unpaid. If you or someone you know is interested, please submit a cover letter, resume, and availability to: info@childrenofallnations.com.

Learn more about our internship opportunities: CANGWCA | SAE

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Kendra Scott Haiti Fundraiser

UPDATE: The order form for this event is now available (see below)! If you do not live in the Austin area or you will not be able to make it to this Kendra Scott location at the time of this event, browse online and email the attached order form to hilary@childrenofallnations.com by Monday, August 14th!

Click here to fill out the event order form!

Save the Date!

On August 15th our agency will be teaming up with Kendra Scott for a fundraiser to benefit one of our Haiti Orphan Care projects!

The Cause

This orphan care project is very near and dear to our hearts, as the money raised will go towards helping three incredible brothers (The G-Triplets!) in Haiti find their Forever Family. We have been advocating for these three brothers for many years, yet sadly the costs associated with processing three children’s adoptions at one time have caused an unfortunate roadblock for many interested families. Without this obstacle, it’s very likely that they would have already found their family.

Throughout our time advocating for the G-Triplets, several members of our staff have had the opportunity to meet them. We have also heard from several families who met them while traveling to Haiti, and everyone says the exact same thing — these boys are INCREDIBLE!

The three boys told our reps in Haiti that they’re all best friends who dream of becoming teachers or pastors when they grow up. By working together we can bring them one step closer to having a family of their own so that one day this dream can come true. This is our chance to make a difference in their lives!

The Event – Kendra Gives Back

This event will be taking place on August 15th from 6pm-8pm CST at the Kendra Scott located at 1400 S. Congress Avenue, Suite A-170, Austin, TX 78704. During this time, 20% of all proceeds will go towards helping the G-Triplets come home. If you’re interested in participating, all you have to do is stop in and make a purchase!

Live somewhere other than Austin? No problem! Browse online and email the order form below to hilary@childrenofallnations.com by Monday, August 14th and your order will be processed at the time of the event.

Kendra Scott Order Form: Event Pre-Order Form

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Bear Sighting – A Father’s Journey to Latvia

I play Ice Hockey almost every day of the week, I wished for a son who shared my love of the sport and Latvia ended up delivering more than I could ever imagine.

I remember waking up at 4am to meet the in-country social worker in the lobby of my hotel.  It was her that was going to take me on the long 5 hour drive from Riga to meet Maksims in an orphanage directly east, only 10 miles off the Russian boarder.  I remember the icy road narrowing as we left the city toward the countryside into a small two-lane highway lined with trees so covered in snow they were about to snap.    It was the middle of January in the coldest place I had ever been on a journey of a lifetime.   I was speechless but filled with excitement of finding my son.

1

Photos:  On the way to the orphanage, the views, the road!

I had read about Boy #23 on the ministry of children’s waiting list and inquired about him, asked for a photo which ultimately lead to me asking to be matched to him.  A match that allowed me to be invited to the country to meet Boy #23, Maksims.  This orphanage was so remote that I later learned that they do very few adoptions per year, sometimes only one.  In fact the day we showed up at our scheduled time to meet Maksims they didn’t actually think we’d show up so they didn’t prepare Maksims or keep him out of school that day.  We waited while the director of the orphanage checked my paperwork, my passport and called for Maksims to return from school to meet a visitor.  Latvian’s are very formal, very proud and very direct.

The time had come for me to actually meet Maksims, a Russian speaking 7 year old boy that had no idea why I was there.  I quickly learned that the orphanage children know, are taught or find out that America is the “golden ticket”.  This close to the border it’s common for children and adults to speak Russian and Latvian however they speak very little English.  I was always with my attorney or social worker assigned to me by CAN while in Latvia and both speak English as act as translator.  We sat in the orphanage director’s office looking out at the snow covered fields that led to snow covered forests waiting for Maksims to arrive.   The orphanage was only a few years old and the facility was welcoming, painted a happy color of yellow on the outside and arcitectually a great design where modern meets traditional.  I remember thinking, “This looks like an ivy league dorm”.  For some reason it gave me great comfort to know that the children were in a place of warmth, love and security.

2

Photos:  The orpahage

The door opened slowly and he came in, head down but smiling, timid and shy,  he just found out that someone from America was here to meet him.  It was his day!  I have to stop to tell you that whenever a car pulls up at the orphanage and strangers get out their is a frenzied excitment that follows.  Children from all over the inside of the orphanage press their faces in the windows to see who it is, and wonder, “are they here for me?”  To experience this sight is one of the most sad, humbeling and moving moments of my journey as they are “the waiting children”.  It made me proud that I had gotten to this point, confirming my choice to adopt a waiting child with special needs. I wanted to change the life course of a child, forever.  I had found out on the ride that they wanted me to be very careful if I should decide to select Maksims.  My attorney who did not make the long 5 hour ride had seen Maksims in a hospital once near Latvia and said he may have more issues than I would want to deal with.  It sounds harsh but it’s their job to make sure it’s a good fit for both sides.  Since she had witnessed Maksims first hand I was even more causious  than normal.  During our visit he seemed fine.  Since my attorney was not there I had no idea what she was speaking about, this kid was fantastic.

Bear 7

Photos:  On the left was taken the day I met my son in the orpahnage on January 23rd 2012. The photo on the right is what he looked like in July of 2012 just six months later, as an American.

I was asked to bring a present for the boy as an “ice breaker” and I had decided based on his age that a small $7 Lego car would fit into my suitcase, I even brough a gift bag all the way from the USA to wrap it in.  He loved it and we sat there building it and playing with it together for over an hour.  He was so determined to put that car together thorough the visual directions to show me he could do it.  The pride he had when he finished was a smile ear to ear.  We made a game of rolling it back and forth, came up with rules like if you hit an extra piece (not used in the car) while rolling it to one another then the other person got the piece.  Remember we could only communicate with smiles, made up sign language which we really laugh about today.   It’s hard to describe but we connected in such a way, making rules for a game, totally understanding each other, we had nothing to worry about.  I knew without a doubt,  this was my son, he called me Papa from that day on.  Even the orphan director was impressed with our skills to communicate.   My in-country social worker the attorney had sent me with became nervous since the attorney was certain I would not select Maksims based off what she knew.   I was sure.  I did not see anything even close to what she saw and had heard about of this boy.

An few hours later we arrived at the Orphan Judge chambers with Maksims, my social worker and the orphan director to plead our case that I wanted to take the boy into my custody for the next 3 weeks while the courts checked in on us in Riga.  We made great progress with the judge, she agreed to “think about it” overnight and asked us to come back in 2 days.  I was the first single male to adopt from the country and they needed time to process the thought, ask their team opinions and deliberate on the case.  Lucky for me I had taken a small photo album to Latvia to show extra photos of me, grand-papa, my sister, the house, the children’s bedroom, the dog, my friends, basically my life in 30 or so photos.  I highly suggest doing this to anyone on this journey, Maksims could not stop looking at the photos the entire 3 weeks we were there.  In fact we added photos of him and I to the book so he became part of the photo story and part of the family.

It was a long 2 day break, several hundred miles back and forth from Riga to the orphange but our day in Orphan court was here.  We arrived at the orphanage, sat in the same office as before, delivered cookies and sweets to the director (a custom of courtesy) and chatted before going to see the orphan judge over the region.  This time my attorney came with me since she had not “officially” met the boy I wanted to adopt, the boy that was a troubled soul and perhaps more than I could deal with.  She was stunned, regretful and saddened that she had given me so much information.  It was not the same boy  she had seen and since Maksims is not a common name in Latvia, she was mistaken.  We each learned 2 different lessons that day, for me it was follow your heart.  I know she was just trying to protect me but I can’t tell you how many times on that long ride to the orphanage I that I thought, “should we stop”, or “what do I know, she’s a smart attorney.”  I felt bad for the attorney, she felt even worse but I did feel protected and that I had someone watching out for me.  His real profile from the Latvian website on waiting children was not very good so it was very possible that he could have been a poor choice.  Below is the profile that lead me to want to meet what eventually became my son, a professional would also have the same opinion as my attorney.  It’s a profile of what many consider much more extreme than “mild delays”.  Ironically the high F scores would have scared most off just reading the profile however at the time I had no idea what they meant.   After the inquiry I received a photo and asked to be matched and the country agreed to match us.

#23. Boy born on February 7, 2004:

  • boy has brown eyes and light brown hair. Child is friendly, open, hardworking, helpful, responsible, responsive, is not aggressive, but sometimes has a lack of self control, is emotionally labile, can be rude, but in general he doesn’t engage in arguments, conflicts, but sometimes can be stubborn. In September 2010 he started to study in the 1st grade of the local elementary school, school results are good, he can read, write, count, but still he has learning problems and it is possible that he will need to be educated following the special program. Boy has difficulties to concentrate for very long time, he is hardworking and loves taking part in different activities, but because of his unstable attention and low capacity to concentrate quickly looses the interest and starts to disturb others. Boy loves singing, watching TV (cartoons) and enjoys playing with others. Boy often is ailing (cold, rhinitis, etc.). His development, as well as his weight and height, doesn’t correspond to the normal of the age, at the moment it corresponds to the 4 years old child;
  • there is no information about pregnancy and prenatal development of the child;
  • medical diagnosis – delay of physical development, behavior troubles in the early childhood;
  • diagnosis of psychiatrist – light cognitive troubles without somatic troubles (F 06.70), mixed specific learning troubles (F 81.3), troubles of activity and attention (F 90.0), hyperkinetic troubles (F 90.1);
  • further treatment – anemia treatment;
  • by a court judgment, the mother has been deprived from custody rights in January 2009, mother is alcohol abused, she did not provide the appropriate living conditions for their children. Mother has never visited child, she has never shown interest in his current well being and in his future, the oldest sister has visited him once;
  • child has one adult sister, the decision of the orphan’s court on separation of the children in case of adoption has been made.

The orphan judge agreed and even commented that we look alike, we had won them over.  The man that physically removed Maksims from his home was on the panel.  I’ll never forget him, Maksims was the first child he had to remove from a home and he held a special place in his heart since he saw what the journey the child had been through.  Maksims was 3 at that time  of removal, left alone in a home to fend for himself for several days repeatedly.  His mother, an alcoholic and unable to care for her children, had become a common story you may hear over and over.  This man saved my son’s life, he saw our connection over the course of my stay and advocated for the pairing and several months later showed up in court to make sure the final verdict was granted in the major court.   I’m still in contact with the office of the orphan judge that first gave me custody, sending them photos and updates.  Now and then I’ll receive a message back in broken typed English that they love the photos, they love that he’s happy and can see it in his eyes.

We went back to Riga for our 2 weeks of living as a family with the Latvian courts checking in on us, making reports and meeting with the attorney.  It all sounds complicated but the attorney and in-country social worker arranged everything.  I just had to be ready to have company that was scheduled or be picked up in the lobby of our hotel when asked. He began calling me Papa immediately and felt totally comfortable with me as his dad.  The time passed quickly and Riga is a wonderful city to be “lost” in.  We stayed in Old Town Riga and you can walk easily everywhere and enjoy sight seeing through the 750 year old city with cobble stone streets.   It did take me some time to get used to the cold, seemingly unfriendly nature of the Latvian people however I was happier than ever before and in one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world.   During this bonding time we went to the grocery store, clothing store, museum, circus, parks and doctors getting check ups.   Looking back at the time its a wonderful memory and a perfect process for the bonding period.  Ultimately I was granted the approval to take Maksims back to the USA.

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Photos:  My father took me to the circus every year so I wanted to do the same for Bear, our first outing in Riga. We did lots of shopping at the local stores and sometimes we just had “kid” fun blowing bubbles.

During the stay in Riga I had changed his name to Bear and moved the Maksims to the middle name. I wanted him to have a name I picked to celebrate his American life and honor his Latvian/Russian name as the middle.  It was easier since he didn’t speak English and worked out just fine, he embraced his new name and for the first week or so I called him Bear Maksims, later dropping the Maksims.  I picked Bear after hearing the story of what he went through, his lineage is Russian, his birth parents are suspected to be Russian and the Bear is a sign of Russia’s pride,  strength, power and endurance.   The Russian national hockey team often uses the skating bear as a symbol for their team, it was a perfect fit and he was starting to blossom as a kid.

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Photos:  The name Bear, A new dog “Finn” and learning to swim.

Once in America we spent the next several weeks visiting doctors, trying to find out what the profile said were the issues.  Doctor after doctor we visited, nothing seemed to be out of the normal.  Bear’s  pediatrician has 2 boys near the same age, both on the small side and similar behaviors.  It was comforting to know that he was checking out to not have anything severely wrong or what had been implied.  Even non verbal IQ test was given to provide a baseline of where he was in the learning process and his capabilities.  I finally stopped going to the doctors offices when my pediatrician said, there is nothing wrong with this boy, he’s on the small side of normal, no learning disabilities and everything seems fine, stop coming!  I had hired a private tutor for him to study and catch up on the basics, we arrived in America on Valentines day so the school year would be out shortly in June and this time would allow us to play “catch up” on his education and socialization.  He was tutored a few times a week for school.  His love of sports was soon uncovered as he watched Papa play Ice Hockey and shortly after several games asked if he could play hockey too. Of course I said yes and hired him a private hockey coach to start.  Today he has 4 private hockey coaches, loves the game as much as I do and we share the love of the sport, it’s in his blood.

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Photos:  The Latvian took to the ice like his Papa, hockey is in his blood.

With summer coming to an end, school looming in the near future and a boy who could now carry a conversation in English, we were all set.  Since Bear turned 8 in February he was supposed to go into third grade a battle was beginning with the public school system.  He needed to be in 2nd grade from all accounts from the experts but the system said due to his age he should be in 3rd, a battle I eventually won.  I had desperately wanted him to attend my private church school however the more I researched the situation the more I had to accept that the public school system was more equipped to handle “English as a second language” and I decided to put him into the local public school.  I was devastated but realized that it was the best decision I could have made.  This was about what would be best for him vs. what I thought about the public schools, which ended up to be wrong.  Even today I’m thankful I made that decision, he thrived, got attention and experts with adopted children and his growth excelled.   Don’t get me wrong, there were challenges at first.  He didn’t know how to behave in a classroom situation but shortly learned.   I was strict and didn’t tolerate bad reports, bad behavior but wanted him to know what the expectations were in school.  I think you could say that we both learned a lot early on in our school days of the 2nd grade.  He entered the 2nd grade in August of 2012 and he started to blossom as a young boy, the speed at which he was learning was amazing, even to the teacher.  I always believed that to be a teacher you have to love the art of teaching, love children and boy-o-boy did we get lucky!  Ms. H was the perfect choice for Bear’s first teacher, a young 2nd grade teacher who loved exactly what she wanted to do,  which was teach.  There were rough patches, several daily reports of “yellow faces” which meant, not so good but early on in the process the “green smily faces” were praised with great joy.  A few months later we were getting green smiley faces every day. His test scores were on par with his grade, for the most part he was a normal 2nd grader, and happy. This is a boy who just a few months ago could not speak the language, not write and had not been taught how to act in a classroom.  In December we celebrated him being awarded student of the month for his grade.  And yes, I’m one of those parents who proudly put the bumper sticker on their car that says, My Kid Is Student Of The Month!

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Photos:  Halloween at school as Huckleberry Finn then at night a Power Ranger with Papa.  Later Bear told me I had my mask upside down!  We can’t forget about soccer in the summertime.

There are highs and lows of the process, you will need to be strong.  I honestly could write a book, I never get tired of telling the story. There are so many facets of the story I have not gone into but I think the basics are covered. If you’ve read this far you must be ready to start your journey. You will have so much to talk about. When I arrived in Latvia for the first time I created “Bear Sightings:” for the start of my Facebook entries that always were attached to a photo for my family and closest of friends to follow and support us.  Everyone close to me knew what we were doing all along the way. Even today I still start all my Facebook posts as “Bear Sightings:” so everyone knows what to expect, a story about an amazing kid that changed my life.  There are times you will remember forever, like at Christmas when he received a letter from Santa confirming that Santa knew where his house was located and he received his request for toys and game plus something for Papa.  Bear said, “he finally found me for the first time”, we celebrated what Bear considers his first Christmas.  Seeing an under weight, neglected boy become a confident, athletic, well mannered playful boy who can’t sit still in church  … well there are no words that can give you the emotions you will have during the journey.   We live today as a happy family and I recently entered back into the Latvian “waiting children” program to find 2 more “special needs” brothers for Bear to be the eldest sibling in our family. We play more ice hockey than I’d like to admit to and cherish the moments each day brings us. If you are lucky, you will get assigned to an amazing domestic social worker like I did.  They are the unsung heroes that fight for these children everyday. She made the difference in my decision to get back into the Latvian program with CAN and find more sons.  For us, the journey continues.

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Photos Top Row:  First floor of the house lit up at Christmas time so Santa could find us, it’s referred to as

THE HOUSE OF HUCKLEBERRY.  A King in the Church pageant.

Photos Bottom Row: A letter from Santa and Christmas morning with Papa.

Adopting families always ask me for any advice or words of wisdom.  I would have to say the following:   1) Don’t wait until you have all the money  completely saved   2) Follow your heart but make sure you are listening to what it is really saying   3) It’s okay to say “no” to a match, even if you’ve met the child and it just doesn’t feel right        4) Take tons of photos, especially together   5) Share and write about your story

Huck

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Photos Top Row:  On the porch after church & a long day at practice

Photos Bottom Row:  Father and son on a “set”, 3 generations of hockey players (myself, Bear and Grand-Papa)

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