- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

A dozen sports trophies glitter next to a neatly made bed in Sergei Goldstein's room. "This one's for hockey, that one's for basketball and those are for soccer," the 12-year-old counts them off, but only after being asked.
On the walls behind him are shelves where stuffed toys fight for space. A state-of-the-art computer sits in an alcove.
One room over, 10-year-old Ziggy Goldstein displays his colorful sketches of Spider-Man flying through space to make a rescue. A video of the webbed superhero lies nearby; Ziggy says he loved the Spider-Man movie.
Just three years ago, Ziggy (then known as Kostya) and Sergei had never watched a movie. They didn't speak a word of English, had never bought toys never set foot in a shop, in fact. They had never played basketball, soccer or hockey.
In 1999, the boys lived in an orphanage in Bologoye, Russia, where meals meant kasha or potatoes and weak tea instead of milk, where sausages were a rare treat, and fruits were almost unheard of.
Today, the orphanage is an unpleasant memory for Sergei and Ziggy. Thanks to Kidsave International, a nonprofit group that makes it possible for Americans to adopt older children from orphanages in Russia and Kazakhstan, both boys now have a nurturing father, and a chance for a happy future.
Kidsave is the brainchild of two friends, Terry Baugh and Randi Thompson.
Nine years ago, Ms. Baugh, who runs a public relations firm in the District, decided to adopt a child and learned that the process could take years in the United States but could be much quicker in Russia.
While in that country to complete the adoption process for her daughter, Dasha, Ms. Baugh was shaken by the images she saw in the orphanage.
"The children would be sitting in these playpens and nobody was playing with them,'' she said. Even more disturbing was the fate of the youngsters after they leave the orphanage at age 16: Within a year, one in five ends up in jail, one in five is homeless and one in 10 commits suicide.
Determined to do something for these children, Ms. Baugh and Ms. Thompson, who adopted a child from Kazakhstan, created Kidsave. From the onset, they decided to focus on older children from Russia and Kazakhstan who had little hope of being adopted.
Two years ago, The Washington Times wrote about Kidsave's Summer Miracles program and met the children who visited the Washington area that year. Most, including Ziggy, found homes in the United States.
In its first three years, Kidsave has helped place 850 children in American homes.
Hosts select the children on the Kidsave Web site (www.kidsave.org), where they can find a picture and brief description of the child. They then help raise the $5,000 needed to bring them to the United States. The children spend six weeks here, during which the family members have a chance to decide whether they want to adopt the child.
This year, 159 children visited 17 cities and towns around the United States as part of Kidsave's Summer Miracles program. Most of the children are older, 15 to 17 years old, though there are some as young as 3.
Roughly 40 children stayed with families in the metropolitan Washington area. So far, 131 children have been placed and five are waiting to hear from host families who are considering adopting them.
There is no way of telling which families will adopt and which won't. "Families have different levels of tolerance. Some expect more than others do," Ms. Baugh said.
Since she first brought Dasha, 10, back from Russia nine years ago, Ms. Baugh, a single mother, has adopted two other children: 12-year-old Constantine and 9-year-old Luda. Asked whether she has any children of her own, she says, "They are my own I just didn't give birth to them."
The more the merrier
In Fredericksburg, Va., one young couple took a second mortgage on their house so they could take in two girls and a boy.
Jim and Lorraine Geraghty hosted Sergei, then 7 years old, in the summer of 2000. They had initially thought of adopting a younger child in the United States, but learned of Kidsave from television. After Sergei arrived, they knew within a week that they wanted him to be part of their family. The fact that he was the same age as their biological son, Devin, also made it seem right, Mr. Geraghty said.
The Russian boy, in turn, took to them immediately. He started calling Mr. Geraghty "papa" the day after he arrived and quit carrying around the knapsack he had brought with him a security blanket the children usually hold on to for days.
That year, when Mr. Geraghty went to Kazakhstan to complete the adoption process for Sergei, he met Yana, 10. The dark-haired, almond-eyed girl captured his heart.
"You go there and see these buildings full of beautiful kids, and the only thing wrong with them is that they are too big to be adopted," Mr. Geraghty said. On the same trip he met Deanna, a talkative 5-year-old. "Deanna decided she wanted us to be her family."
After she had Devin, Mrs. Geraghty learned that medical complications would prevent them from having any more children. But as Devin grew older, the couple wanted another child.
They have had some struggles. At first, the adopted children grouped into a threesome, leaving Devin out. "The girls would only speak Russian. We tried to tell everyone they have to get along, but when they played they wouldn't include Devin," Mrs. Geraghty said.
The couple worked on the problem: When the children left Devin alone, his parents would play with him. Because the children were attached to their new "papa" and "mama," they would rush to join them.
In a month, things turned around.
"Now they are just typical children. They play together, they fight. But they are all very supportive of each other," Mrs. Geraghty said.
An elusive dream
The ending is not so happy for some of the children.
For one boy, especially, it has been a rocky road. When he arrived in Washington two summers ago, the 9-year-old was rejected on sight by the host family because he has a cleft lip.
That summer, two other families came forward to adopt the boy who cannot be identified because he is enrolled in Child Protection Services. One, a couple from Prince William County, backed out two weeks later; the other, from Nebraska, went through the adoption process and eventually brought him to the United States.
The boy was abandoned at birth and raised in a Kazakh orphanage. He was named by nurses in the hospital where he was born. He told Kidsave volunteers that for Christmas, he wanted a name given to him by his parents.
His new parents in Nebraska gave him one. But after he lived with them for a few months, they too decided to back out.
The boy, says Ms. Baugh, is living with a family in Maryland that wants to adopt him. The family has his guardianship. They declined to speak with The Times.
So far, five families have backed out of adoptions after going through Kidsave.
Because they become U.S. citizens when they are adopted by local families, the children are absorbed into the foster care system after the host family has rejected them, Ms. Baugh said. She added that Kidsave has so far done better than the national average for disruptions, which ranges from 9 percent to 13 percent.
While the rejecting family is not banned from adopting in the future, "it does become harder for them because child welfare will take a closer look at such people before letting them adopt," she said.
For the boy from Kazakhstan, the continuous rejection has not been good, Ms. Baugh said, but she hopes there will be a happy ending this time round. "This is a solid family. I was very concerned when I first heard about him, but I feel better now that I know this family really wants him," she said.
To avoid feelings of rejection, the children are not told during the summer trip that they could be adopted. "We can't send some children back knowing some have families and others don't. Children can use it against one another," Ms. Baugh said.
Still, the children are old enough to sense what is happening, and they form strong attachments almost immediately to the host families.
"Most summer camp programs try to protect children by not telling them about the adoption, but most children know," says Janice Goldwater, executive director of Adoptions Together Inc., a Silver Spring-based agency that offers pre- and post-adoption counseling.
Family first
Some visiting children have siblings, and Ms. Baugh says it is important that they are adopted together. "The children have strong family ties, and to rip those connections apart is not fair to them."
Beltsville resident J.P. Lazzeri and his wife, Diane, adopted three siblings one boy, two girls last year. Then this year, Mrs. Lazzeri gave birth to their daughter, Alexandra Katherine. "We even gave her a Russian name," Mr. Lazzeri said.
This year, the stay-at-home dad is working as camp director for Kidsave. One hot afternoon, he flips hamburgers while the children play Foosball.
One of his daughters, 11-year-old Elena, is chatting nonstop in Russian with children she knew back at the orphanage. She tells them stories about her school in Calverton and her 13 Barbie dolls. She has been here six months but already speaks English well.
The children clearly enjoy this vacation of a lifetime that involves six weeks of summer camp where they all get together in the daytime to tour the cities they live in and eat at restaurants, before returning home to their host families in the evenings.
They are given clothes, toys and boundless quantities of food. They absorb information like sponges and in a few days have already picked up some English words.
Most say they don't want to go back. Nina, 11, shakes her head vigorously when asked about returning to the orphanage. "No, no," she says emphatically.
The parting is difficult. Children cling to their host families when they leave. Some need counseling after they go back to the orphanages before they return to the life they have there.
For the children who remain in the United States, Kidsave helps parents meet with groups that offer post-adoption counseling, although it is ultimately the family's responsibility to seek help.
Living in America
Those who are adopted do not take long to assimilate, although the first few months are often tough.
They don't speak English, and because the quality of schooling in the orphanages is poor, most children start from scratch.
Two summers ago, when Kostya arrived for the Summer Miracles trip, he was an introverted 8-year-old who relied on Sergei, who had already lived here for a year, to translate from Russian to English. Despite the two-year age difference, the two boys had been best friends at the orphanage.
But the language problem was relatively easy to conquer. "We signed," says Bill Goldstein, the boys' father. "We got by."
Mr. Goldstein understood the boys' struggles and the cultural differences of living in America. He also knew what it was like not having toys, or clothes. He himself came to the United States with his parents from Israel at 7 years old. "My family was poor," he remembers.
Today, he owns a travel agency in Montgomery County and a spacious home. Single at 50, he decided it was time to have children.
Mr. Goldstein knows the importance of family. Most of his parents' siblings died in concentration camps like Auschwitz. He says he did not want his branch of the family tree to end with him.
He learned of the Summer Miracles program through a friend who knew Ms. Baugh. When he visited Russia to adopt Sergei, whom he hosted in 1999, he asked the boy whom he most wanted to bring along. Sergei pointed to his best friend, Kostya. After adopting Kostya, Mr. Goldstein gave him his father's name, Zigman, or Ziggy.
The children, Mr. Goldstein says, are a parent's dream. They love fruits and vegetables, they make their beds first thing in the morning a habit acquired at the orphanage and keep their rooms neat. They are grateful for everything they get.
Moving on
But the present is not always perfect. Not when the past creeps in.
The children were so undernourished that they looked years younger than they were and wore the same clothes without washing for days, sometimes weeks. The quality of schooling was so poor that even 10-year-olds could barely recite the Russian alphabet.
If children were caught lying, they would have their tongues pulled. "That hurt. That hurt a lot," Sergei says, wincing.
Many of the children carry memories of life at the orphanage, of families that might have visited them, friends they left behind.
Sergei and Ziggy left behind a friend, Nikita.
"In American he would be called Nick," says Sergei, smiling. "I want to meet him someday. He is still at that school," he says. He pauses, then adds, pensive but realistic: "I don't think I'll see him again."
The children sometimes make up stories about their parents, or believe in ones that are made up by orphanage workers to shield them from the fact that their mothers were prostitutes or drug addicts who abandoned them.
Adoptive parents say they know these deep-seated issues might resurface as the children grow older.
"You deal with them as they come up," Mr. Goldstein said.
In the beginning, the main problem is getting the children to adjust to school. Schools help with specialized programs, but parents have to work really hard, too, to bring them along.
Sergei, now in the fifth grade, is two grade levels behind at the private Jewish school he attends, although he is catching up. But Ziggy, who is in the third grade at Chevy Chase Elementary School, is already an honor-roll student.
"The most important thing is having a family," Mr. Goldstein said. "The rest can be overcome."
For now, Mr. Goldstein is enjoying the rewards of a delayed fatherhood.
"Everyday is like a flower blooming. You see the children evolve into whole different people," he said.
The boys are enjoying the sense of belonging. They play computer games together, work on projects, watch cartoons on TV. They remain good friends, then?
The normally quiet Ziggy responds: "We are brothers."


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