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Orphans Pursue Summer Miracles

During six-week vacation, orphans hope for a home.

When Terry Baugh decided to adopt a child from Russia, she was appalled at the amount of older children in the orphanages waiting to be adopted who more often than not, were sent to the streets at 15 years old.

"The culture in Russia is that at 15 they are aged out," said Baugh, who adopted her now 14-year old son three years ago from Russia. "Orphanages will support the kids until they are 18, but the bulk of the kids by 18 are gone."

Baugh said most of those older orphans end up on the street, one-third are homeless, one-half of them are in the criminal juvenile system, and 10 percent of them commit suicide their first year out.

"It's the same problem with foster kids here," said Baugh. "Kids that don't have parental care, just don't have as good of outcomes."

BECAUSE OF THESE NUMBERS and because of what she saw in the Russian orphanages, Baugh created Kidsave International.

Baugh started the non-profit organization from her bedroom in California, with the hope that she could bring orphans to America to live with host families that would fall in love and adopt the children.

Through the organization's Summer Miracles program, orphans come to America for a six-week vacation, which Baugh said in its first summer, found 60 percent of the children homes in America.

This was the case for Gari Lister, who was with the group while they visited Frying Pan Park last week.

Lister and her husband, who live in the District, signed up with the Summer Miracles program three years ago to host a 10-year old Russian girl.

"We didn't imagine wanting to adopt a 10-year old," said Lister, adding after one week she and her husband couldn't imagine not adopting the young girl.

Three years later, Lister was at Frying Pan Park with an 8-year old Russian orphan and her daughter's best friend from her former orphanage, watching the children take in the new experiences.

"The great thing about older kids is you fall for their personalities," said Lister, who said they also adopted a 16-month old girl from Russia through another agency. "When you fall in love ... by the time they go back, they mean the world to you."

Baugh said the Summer Miracles program brought its 1,000th child to America last summer, and now has two headquarters, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Los Angeles with organizations in 20 cities nationwide.

"The idea was to get this on a big scale," said Baugh. "What we saw the first year was, when people see a kid in need, they adopt."

NOW THE ORGANIZATION brings orphans from Colombia, Kazakhstan and Russia to America where they spend six weeks living with host families, participating in day camps during the week, and meeting with potential parents twice a week.

Although this is called a "vacation" to America for the orphans, Baugh said for many this is their last chance.

"We have Russian girls here who are 12 and 13 [years old]," she said. "In two years they are considered 'adults,' which is astounding."

Hilary Jenkins, manager of Summer Miracles, said this year's group of children has 16 orphans from Colombia, 13 orphans from a region above Moscow in Russia and two children from Kazakhstan.

Jenkins, who was trying to round up the group at Frying Pan Park last week to partake in a Tai Chi exercise, said none of the children speak English, making it difficult at times to get the children's attention.

"It's hard," said Jenkins of the language barriers. "But you can overcome it with body language and with love."

Jenkins said there are translators and each group of seven children has an escort from home, but sometimes there is not a translator around when she needs it.

So, Jenkins spends a lot of her time with the children touching their heads and giving them hugs and kisses, which many reciprocate.

Lister, who has only had girls in her home, noted the outward affection from the little boy staying with them.

"They're amazing kids," she said. "Because they are so desperate for somebody to love them, they are willing to give so much more."

Jenkins said the children only have a short time to meet families at the Thursday and Sunday events before they head to their respective countries Aug. 21.

"The hardest part is not only the exhaustion," said Jenkins, "but also the waking up in the middle of the night worried the kids are not going to find a home."