Two local women have opened up their hearts, and they’re hoping other families in Southwest Florida will, too.
Today approximately 700,000 Russian orphans are living in government run facilities. If the children aren’t adopted as infants, their chances of finding a new family lessen as they grow older. When they reach their late teens, and the orphanage can’t care for them anymore, the children often have nowhere to go. They have no families, no job training and no place to live, so they’re forced to join Russia’s homeless population. This is what Hosts of Hope want to change.
Jan Temkiewicz of Marco Island and Liz Mossman of Naples are volunteers with the Hosts of Hope program that bring older Russian orphans to this country for an enriching travel experience.
For two weeks, host families provide a safe, loving home with fun activities for the children, whose ages average 7 to 13 years. Ideally, host families would be interested in adoption, but that’s not a requirement. In fact, the prospect is never discussed with the children, so there’s no pressure on either. But it does give the children and the families a chance to get to know each other should adoption be a possibility.
“So many people say they want infants,” said Mossman, “but an older child has so much love to offer.”
And she and her husband, Iain, know about that love from experience. The couple adopted their two sons, Dimitry and Alex, from the program.
After moving to Naples, they had talked about adopting a child. One day on the golf course, Iain heard of a family in their area that was hosting a young Russian boy and alerted Liz. Within minutes on a Friday afternoon she had a photograph of nine-year-old Dimitry on her computer. But there was a problem. Dimitry was leaving in two days. The couple spent all day Saturday getting to know him, and in that short time knew they wanted the young boy to be part of their family.
Since the children hold visitors’ visas, they must all return to Russia once the two weeks are over. Dimitry flew back to Russia the next day, and Liz and Iain immediately began adoption procedures. A year later, after all the regulations and paperwork had been completed, Dimitry joined their family. The Mossmans decided to begin hosting Russian children in their home, and Alex, 8, arrived for a visit two years later. The couple felt a familiar tug on their heartstrings and decided to invite him to join the family, as well.
During this third hosting program, Liz met Jan Temkiewicz of Marco Island. Through an article in the Naples Daily News, Temkiewicz had learned of the program and decided to lend a hand with activities. As she interacted with the children, a friend told her she was a natural around the kids and should consider adopting.
“I’m not married, and I never wanted children,” said Temkiewicz. Until she met 10-year-old Kristina. “We were very comfortable together and we laughed a lot. After spending two weeks with her, Kristina became my daughter even before the adoption papers were signed.”
Russian regulations for adopting children are stringent. A complete home study of the prospective parents is required, including extensive background checks and fingerprinting. If all the regulations are satisfied, the parents then must appear in Russian court before a panel of officials. In the final hearing, a Russian judge will ask point blank, “Why should we give you one of our children?”
“You have to make your own case,” said Liz Mossman. “They made sure we had childcare plans, school plans, doctor plans and a plan for guardianship established.”
Since the children are older, they’re not left out of the decision process. The judge asks them if they want to be adopted. Leaving their country and the orphanages’ caregivers, with whom they’ve bonded at a young age, is a big decision, but most of the children are excited and happy to begin a new life with their adoptive parents.
Once back in the United States, language barrier is one of the hurdles the families face with an older child. A Russian-English dictionary solves a few problems, said Temkiewicz, but immersion in the classroom and school activities with other children is the key to learning English.
“Children pick it up very quickly, but you also become very good at charades or sign language,” she said with a smile.
To make the transition easier, local Russian speaking volunteers are only a phone call away when the children need to express something more than just a word or phrase. The new parents also vow to maintain interest in the children’s Russian culture.
“Kristina still reads Russian,” said Temkiewicz. “We send packages, and she writes to friends in the orphanage.”
Alex Mossman and Kristina grew up in the same orphanage and remain fast friends in Florida, even taking ballroom dancing lessons together taught in Russian. “It’s important to keep in mind,” said Temkiewicz, “that the children had a life and personal history before they came to us.”
“One of the most amazing things about adopting older children,” said Mossman, “is that they can communicate to you exactly what they felt about their previous life. This is so important in their healing process. You have to acknowledge this life before they got to you and let them know that it did matter, and it was their path to you.”
A short time ago, the three children couldn’t speak English. Today they’re all at the top of their classes academically, have made new friends and have a bright future with a loving family.
In July, four Russian orphans — all 12-year-olds — will come to Southwest Florida. In October nearly a dozen children, in ages ranging from 6 to 12, will arrive from Ukraine. The children are accompanied by a chaperone. Partnering with Adoption Associates, Inc., Mossman and Temkiewicz are doing everything they can to make these rewarding visits.
“We can only do this if we have host families,” said Mossman. She stresses that it’s not necessary for the host family to feel any pressure to adopt. To be a host, first you must be a Florida resident. Entire families with or without children and also single women are encouraged to volunteer. All persons must undergo background checks and promise to provide a loving and safe environment for the children for two weeks. They plan activities and outings for the kids to attend as a group, including swimming, boating, and visits to the zoo.
“Crafts are very popular with the children,” said Temkiewicz. “They love to make photo albums to take back home.”
There are other ways to contribute to this program without hosting. In previous years, the women have been overwhelmed by the generosity of business owners who have reached out to help. A pediatric dentist invited the whole group for a tour of his office. The kids rode up and down in the dental chairs, watched cartoons on the overhead projector and learned proper brushing techniques. He provided lunch and sent them all home with a new toothbrush and toothpaste. A Naples bead shop closed its doors for the day and invited the kids to use complimentary supplies to make beaded t-shirts. A local beauty shop offered free haircuts and styling. One individual wrote a check to pay for a day at a bowling alley for the kids. Volunteers are always needed to help plan activities and, of course, cash contributions are a great help to buy food, transportation and craft items.
Day to day life has changed for both Mossman and Temkiewicz and they’ve had to readjust their priorities. Temkiewicz doesn’t travel on the spur of the moment anymore, and plans trips only when her daughter is out of school.
“As she gets older, I plan to take Kristina to see all the parts of the world that I’ve seen,” she said. “And, of course, we will always go back to her Russia.”
Mossman acknowledges that having an instant family with two active boys takes hard work and determination, but it’s been worth it.
“Our lives are suddenly full of everything that really matters in life,” she said. “To see how our boys have grown, blossomed and changed all for the better has been the most rewarding experience for both Iain and me.”
Host families can expect to gain a valuable cultural lesson, and the Russian children can experience American family life and take home dreams and aspirations for their future, Liz said. And should the visit result in an adoption, she added, “then our mission is complete.”
To volunteer to help with the Hosts of Hope program or for more information on being a host family contact Jan Temkiewicz 394-2243 or Liz Mossman 262-6761.