By Sharon Allen Gilder
The summer season ushers in warmer weather and relaxation time. For Kidsave and the children it serves, it’s also a time for Summer Miracles.
The Summer Miracles program is one branch of the non-profit’s family tree focused on bringing children ages 11 to 14 to the U.S. to spend the summer with families. Founded in 1997 by longtime friends and business partners Terri Baugh and Randi Thompson, Kidsave’s mission is to be a “global voice for change … so children grow up in families and connected to caring adults.” Toward that effort, Kidsave works with “governments and communities worldwide to see that no orphan or foster child is forgotten, and every child grows up in a family with love and hope for a successful future.”
The catalyst, according to Kidsave’s website, was Baugh’s and Thompson’s trips in 1993. Baugh traveled to Russia to adopt a child; there she observed babies languishing in an orphanage without sufficient caregivers, without stimulation or the hope of adoption. Later that year, Thompson traveled to a Kazakhstani orphanage and observed older children who were being forced to leave at age 15 with no place to go. Through their research, they discovered that millions of children were growing up in orphanages around the world with no government entity officially counting them, and no global support to deinstitutionalize the children and help them grow up in families.
“These summer trips literally transform children’s lives,” said Baugh. “They go from an orphanage or a foster home where they have no chance at education past high school, and no chance for a decent job, to life with a family, education and real hope for a good future.” Experiencing family life and learning what it’s like to be part of a family with a parent or parents who care for them is another way the program makes a difference in the lives of children. Baugh, who has grown her own family through Summer Miracles, said, “It’s amazing how people come together around the kids and how most kids find families. It really gives a child hope.”
Kidsave’s Summer Miracles 2018 hopes to host 15 Colombian children for five weeks in the D.C. area. “Miracles” occur through Kidsave events where the child is introduced to the family’s circle of friends and others in the community. The families advocate for their host child to find a permanent family. Many host families make the commitment to adopt. Since 1999, more than 1,800 children have participated in the Summer Miracles program and over 83 percent of them have found permanent families as a result. If a family decides they would like to adopt a host child, Kidsave provides the family with the next steps and a list of accredited partnering agencies who facilitate the adoption.
The group’s reach has arms open wide with volunteer communities in several cities across the United States as well as globally in Colombia, Russia and Sierra Leone where local social workers are trained in Kidsave’s family visit model to increase adoption of older children. Programs have also been developed to serve children at risk in Russian orphanages, which also assist teen moms to prevent their babies from being institutionalized.
Villages of Urbana resident Amanda Mason is co-chair of the D.C. area Kidsave Summer Miracles 2018 volunteer committee. For a decade, she and her husband, Greg, have been advocates for Kidsave’s work to provide permanent homes for older children from around the world. In 2010, the Masons, who at the time were a family of six with four daughters, hosted a 10-year-old Colombian boy named Jonathan. As their attachment to him grew, they decided to adopt. In June 2011 Jonathan came home to them. “Our son is now a junior at Urbana High School. He is an honor roll student, participates in the ACE Mentor Engineering program, played varsity soccer, and ran in the Indoor Track State Championships in February,” shared Mason.
Kidsave also works with U.S. foster care agencies to assist in implementing the family visit model for older foster children and conducts a “very successful Weekend Miracles hosting program in Los Angeles, California,” added Mason.
Hosts, who must be at least 25 years old and not more than 55 years older than the child they host, can be married couples, same sex couples or singles. The vetting process includes a psychosocial home visit, a background check with fingerprinting, and child abuse clearances for hosts and anyone over age 18 in their household. Ten hours of training in May or June is required for the arrival of the children at the end of June. The sending country must also approve family participation. A $275 application fee and $2,500 hosting fee, used to offset some of the costs for the child’s participation in the program, is charged per single child or sibling group.
“Kidsave can only bring kids if we have families to host them,” said Mason. The motivation to become a host family can be as varied as the families themselves. Mason explained that for her family it was a “desire to participate in a charity organization as a family. Once we heard about Kidsave’s mission of finding adoptive families for older children who have been forgotten and unlikely to be adopted otherwise, we had a strong desire to host and advocate for a child.”