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Orphans from Ukraine find open homes and hearts in local families

May 29, 2008, 0:00 3398 Author: Amber Baker www.reporterherald.com After three trips to Ukraine during the adoption processes for their three children Kris and Clarke Stoesz recognized the desperate situation of many of the orphans there. This experience really opened their eyes to the children that are left behind

Before Kris and Clarke Stoesz started the Ukraine Orphan Outreach, the Berthoud couple had long desired to adopt several children. They had two biological children, who were teenagers, but they wanted to expand their family. “We always wanted a large family,” said Clarke. “But both of us worked full time, and day care was so expensive.”

When they decided to adopt, they found themselves drawn to the plight of the older orphans of Ukraine. “We thought to adopt from China at first, but God led us to Ukraine,” Kris said. The Stoeszes found Ukraine appealing for many reasons.

The chief reason is the no preselection clause, which means they were not matched with a child immediately after being approved. Instead, they were able to visit Ukrainian orphanages and meet the children in a group and select a child from the group.

At $18,000 per child — and only an additional $3,000 if two are adopted at the same time — they also found it more affordable than adopting from other countries, which can run more than $30,000.

Also, they appreciated that the Ukrainian government doesn’t attach additional fees.

In 2003, the Stoeszes brought home their newly adopted daughter, Natalie, who was 3 at the time.

They had initially intended to bring back two elementary-age children from Ukraine.

But Natalie stole their hearts.In 2005, they adopted 7-year-old Luke, now 10, and his 9-year-old biological sister Rhya, who is now 13.

None of the children spoke any English when the Stoeszes adopted them, but they picked it up rapidly, the parents said. “They picked up about 15 words a day,” Clarke said. “The language barrier wasn’t even an issue,” Kris said.

Heart for the Orphans

Before the adoptions, the Stoeszes were orphan advocates, cooperating in various organizations’ summer hosting camps. After three trips to Ukraine during the adoption processes for their three children, they recognized the desperate situation of many of the orphans there. Of Ukraine’s 100,000 orphans, only 10 percent are actually parentless. The rest have been given up by parents who were unwilling or unable to raise them, Clarke said.

After a child reaches the age of 5, his or her chance of being adopted dramatically decreases. At 16, the youths are thrust out on their own.

With no family support and no training or education, 60 percent of girls turn to prostitution, while 70 percent of boys have run-ins with the law and end up incarcerated, Clarke said. About 10 percent later commit suicide. “The experience was life-changing,” said Kris. “It really opened our eyes to the children that are left behind, and we have it in our hearts to hopefully help as many of them as we can.” “We feel really strongly as Christians it’s our obligation to do as James 1:27 says and care for the orphans,” Clarke said. To this end, the Stoeszes teamed up with Angie and Eric Carman of Loveland and in 2007 formed their own nonprofit organization, Ukraine Orphan Outreach.

Both couples had hosted orphans for cultural camps sponsored by different organizations and thought they could plan a better trip, said Angie Carman. “We had never thought about Ukraine orphans before this time,” she said. “Just spending two days with those kids changed our lives.” Angie said what tugged on her most was “the fact that the girls are sent out to the streets with around $40 and no skills at the age of 16 to 18.” “We felt like we had the means of providing them so much more in life,” she said.

Angie and her husband are waiting for the Ukrainian government to allow them to travel there and choose their child. They hope to bring home a 15-year-old girl.

Heidi and Felix Roge of Longmont also recently joined Ukraine Orphan Outreach as board members. The Roges, who were not able to have children, are adopting Zina, 12, and Rimma, 11, whom they met during a cultural camp sponsored by Ukraine Orphan Outreach.

“We fell in love with these two girls,” Heidi said, adding that the rest of the children impressed her, too. “They were incredible, well-behaved, loving children that pray to become part of a family.”

Camp Connection

In an effort to raise awareness of the older orphans’ plight and eventually find them loving Christian homes, Ukraine Orphan Outreach has begun hosting cultural camps. The ministry hosted its first camp in December 2007 and will host another July 28 to Aug. 15 of this year. This year, the orphan outreach will bring out eight children between the ages of 10 and 13. They all come from an orphanage in Kershon, which is near the Black Sea.

The orphanage chooses which children to send based on who is most deserving of the opportunity and who would best handle the trip, Kris said. The plan for the camp is to keep the group together in one home instead of dividing them up into different homes.

The Ukrainian embassy does not favor individual children staying in separate homes, because it could lead to disappointment if the family does not decide to adopt the child, Clarke said.

“It’s just about being in a family setting and showing them love,” Clarke said of the camp setup. “We’ll find all kinds of ways to have fun with them.” They plan to do all activities as a group. Daily outings will include swimming, playing games in the park, trips to Estes Park, the zoo and museums, picnics and more, Kris said.

Having the children together constantly as a group rather than dividing them up into different homes lowers the expectation of gaining a mom and dad, Clarke said.

“It’s just more of a hope than an expectation,” he said.

The goal is to give the community face time with the children, Clarke said, and ultimately connect a child with a new family.

But even if an adoption doesn’t happen, the hope is to establish long-lasting pen-pal relationships with children and families.

“They love to get those letters,” said Kris. “They love to know someone cares about them and is thinking about them. That’s what our goal is — to give these kids hope and something to look forward to.”

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