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Blended families celebrate Christmas

December 19, 2008, 10:00 5126 Author: Angie Cochrun gazette.net Two families that have added adopted children are Gary Frey with Alina, Andrew, and Brendan, and Lisa Lewis with Natasha, Jeremiah, Igor, and Lindsey. The children will spend their first Christmas together this year in the United States

Two families that have added adopted children are Gary Frey with Alina, 11, Andrew, 10, and Brendan, 15 and Lisa Lewis with Natasha, 14, Jeremiah, 15, Igor, 16, and Lindsey, 20, at Mount Airy Christian Academy

The Lewis family of Mount Airy might have a smaller Christmas tree this year, but it has a larger family, thanks to the addition of two Ukrainian teens to their brood of three biological children.

The family is one of two at Mount Airy Bible Church and Mount Airy Christian Academy that will spend their first Christmases with adopted Ukrainian members.

Lisa Lewis said family Christmas traditions, such as Christmas dinner at the family's house and a "small" Christmas tree of 17 feet, are carrying on.

"We use a ladder and whoever wants to, stands on the beams," she said.

The Frey family of Mount Airy is also spending its first Christmas with new member added by the summer addition of Andrew, 10, Alina, 11, and Olga, 14, to their two biological sons.

Alina and Andrew said they are looking forward to their first Christmas in the United States.

The two were recently in a Christmas school program, the first they have been involved with, said Igor Lewis, 16, who translated for the younger children. "We don't have this program in the Ukraine," he said.

Lewis, adopted this summer with his sister Natasha, 14, explained that Christmas is not as important as New Year's is there. Gifts are given on New Year's and Christmas is celebrated in January.

Alina said she was excited for Christmas, but responded with "nothing" in Russian when asked what she wanted for gifts.

Mount Airy Christian Academy counselor Tonya Cherry listed off ideas.

"Toys?" she asked. A radiant smile broke across the little girl's face.

"Clothes, books?" Cherry suggested. Alina stared at the floor.

"Music?" Cherry offered. The smile returned.

When asked if Christmas this year will be different, dad Gary Fry laughed. "Mine has been different for three years," he said.

The family has been hosting children from orphanages the past three Christmases as part of a hosting program called Frontier Horizon. The Frey's became involved with the program in 2006.

Through Virginia Beach-based Frontier Horizon, families can host an orphan from Ukraine or Nicaragua for a period of time during the summer or at Christmas time, according to its Web site. The program is not an adoption agency, but adoption sometimes occurs.

The Frey family, originally composed of Gary and wife Patricia, with sons Garrison, 19, and Brendan, 15, has added Alina, Andrew and older sister Olga.

Frey said the family first fell into the program when a friend of a friend called three years ago and said there was a little girl with no place to go.

Son Garrison was set to graduate from high school, younger son, Brendan, was entering high school, Gary was being treated for active Lyme disease and the family was planning an extensive camping trip.

"Before my brain could click in, my heart said ‘Yes,'" Frey said.

He said the family, at a height of busyness and change the summer of 2006, wasn't sure how they would add in two little girls who spoke no English, but trusted it would be ok.

"Somehow God would show us the way," Frey said.

The two girls, one of them Olga, came that summer for the hosting program. What started out as a mere "Yes," has turned into a passion for Frey, who has volunteered and invested extensive money and time into spreading the word about the plight of the eastern European orphans.

The process that led to the Bob and Lisa Lewis deciding to add to their three biological children, college students Lindsey and Ben and high school student Jeremiah, was initially started with encouragement by the Frey family.

"They asked us if we were interested," Lisa Lewis said.

The Lewis's eventually decided to add Natasha and Igor to their family. Lisa Lewis said the kids were transitioning well.

"I think it's the teachers, the coaches, the staff," she said. "I think the male presence helps."

Teachers Brenda Swiegert and Stephanie Finch, who have Andrew and Alina, said the two are doing well in class.

"I think it's been a gift to all of us," Finch said.

Frey said he thinks the Christian school helps a lot, citing not size, but mission. "It's a very strong Christian based school. Teachers are not here location based, but more as a calling," he said.

Cherry agrees. "I think a lot of prayer went into this process," she said.

The families travelled to Ukraine to retrieve the kids this summer. Gary Frey, who is involved with Frontier Horizon, said he has been there at least six times in the past three years.

As Frey talked, Andrew trotted up and reached for a hug. Grey hugged him, and the satisfied little boy turned to explore other distractions.

Frey, who has visited a half a dozen orphanages, said human trafficking is a huge problem.

"In Eastern Europe, it's bigger than the drug trade," he said, adding that children are put out of orphanages at the age of 16, and tricked into jobs in other countries, having their passports stolen. "No passport, no rights," he said.

He listed the adoption process as trying. "Our country doesn't make it easy and their country doesn't make it easy," he said.

Alina approached her father with an art project as he listed statistics of the Ukrainian Holocaust, where 8 million to 10 million were starved by Stalin, devastating the country. Frey paused, and turned to praise the drawing, a profile of the girl's face. She smiled. Frey said there are still hosting spots available for a group of children coming Dec. 20.

When Frey is asked how many kids he has, he answers promptly. "All total we have five ... this year."

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