ST. MARYS – When Janet Wolfe received an email earlier this years from an acquaintance who was trying to raise funds to host an orphaned child from Eastern Europe through New Horizons For Children, Inc., she was less interested in helping them fundraise than she was in also potentially hosting one of the children during the five-week-long summer program.
"It all happened pretty quick," Janet explained. "I had gotten her email, I think it was like Monday night, and Tuesday I tried to get some information about it and I was kind of striking out. I had found the website, but you had to get clearance before you could look at all the pictures and bios of the kids. So I was waiting for an email back and I didn't get it Tuesday, and so then I called Wednesday and I talked with somebody but she said that Friday was the cutoff date."
The deadline meant that Janet had to make a decision quickly in order to host a child this summer, and she also had to talk that decision over with her husband, Ken, and their five children.
"Ken and I talked that Wednesday night and we decided to do it. We talked to the kids Thursday, and we put Valentyn, our host child, on hold Friday, so it all happened rather quickly," she said.
Valentyn turns 15 today and will be entering the eighth grade this year. He arrived in the United States on June 27 and will return to the Ukraine on Thursday.
The Wolfes explained that they have been told that children like Valentyn are typically allowed to stay in the Ukrainian orphanages until they turn 16 or graduate from 9th grade; after that, they must leave the orphanages and fend for themselves.
"The prospects for these kids if nothing happens is, I don't think 'grim' is too strong of a word," Ken said. "They're not going to have many opportunities at all."
A number of these youth get drawn into a world of alcohol, drugs, and crime.
"They're not able to manage their lives and make decisions as adults yet, but they have to make those decisions, and they often make bad decisions. It's a cycle of bad choices, and this program is just an attempt to give them something to try to break the cycle," Ken added.
New Horizons For Children, Inc., a Christian-based international hosting program, is working hard to break that cycle by trying to help these children find "forever families" to adopt them or to at least immerse them in an English-speaking setting so that they can better develop their foreign language skills and improve their chances of being able to get a better job or accepted into a trade school.
As a Christian-based program, it also strives to broaden their knowledge of Christianity.
"It's to introduce the kids to Christianity, if they've never heard of it, and just kind of [let them] know that they are a part of a bigger family and that we all have the same Father and we're all kind of brothers and sisters in Christ," Janet said. "Just so they know they're never alone, I guess is how they phrase it. So they know they're not alone, they are part of a bigger family."
She noted that many of the children are "not necessarily orphans because their parents have died."
"A lot of these kids [come from situations where] their families just couldn't afford them. The economy is so bad that they've had to put them in orphanages. Alcoholism is a real problem over there too, and for some kids that's the reason they're in the orphanages. It's not necessarily that they don't have any family, it's just that no one could really provide for them," Janet said.
She added that hosting the children during the five-week program also can help them find someone here in the United States who would adopt them.
"A lot of times it helps them find what they call their 'forever families,' whether it's with the family that actually hosts them or by way of getting to meet many other people and families out there," Janet said.
Janet remarked that while she was unsure how things would go initially when her family brought Valentyn home, she has been "amazed" with how normal everything has seemed.
"I don't feel like we have a visitor, a stranger, in our house," she said.
She added that her children have "all just really taken to him, and it's a very natural feel at home."
"I definitely second that," Ken said. "It happened without really trying that hard."
Hosting Valentyn for the past five weeks has been a learning experience for the family, particularly when it came to the language barrier, the Wolfes said. While Valentyn had taken English classes in school in the past, he was not very fluent in the language when he arrived at their home.
"We think our four-year-old still hasn't realized he doesn't speak English yet. He's always over there yakking away at him. He doesn't quite understand why he doesn't answer," Janet said.
She explained that translation programs on the family's smartphones have been a big help in aiding in communicating with Valentyn.
"The smartphones have apps for translating, and that's been very, very nice," she said. "Every now and then you say something and you show him the translation and he gives you a weird look and you're, 'Okay, that must not have translated quite right,' but for the most part that's been super. And he really has picked up a lot of English in the last five weeks. I've noticed now sometimes when I say something into the translator he answers me before he even reads it."
Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, July 31, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.