Foundation to grow incentives for foreign adoptions:
KidsFirst plans to boost grants to help parents bring home kids who are older or need medical help

By Chris O’Malley, Indianapolis Business Journal
A not-for-profit known for its infrastructure and volunteer support to orphanages in Russia will emphasize adoption grants for children who are hardest to place and suffer the most anguish.

KidsFirst Foundation is seeking additional funds, including business support, to help more parents bring home older children and those with special needs from Russia and other foreign countries.

Those children tend to be less desirable because of emotional and physical problems that require extra commitment beyond that of a healthy infant or toddler. Older and special-needs children also can add to the already steep cost of foreign adoptions that often run $15,000 to $30,000.

“As they get to be 5, 6 and 7 [years old], it gets to be more of a challenge,” said Mike Marker, one of the foundation’s board members.

The Indianapolis-based foundation, which has assets of only about $100,000, would like to offer individual grants of at least $5,000, Marker said. The grants could be used for all facets of the adoption, said Jill McRoberts, another member of the foundation’s board. For example, parents could elect to use the money for a child’s language classes, for travel to the foreign country, or to take unpaid leave from work.

The 4-year-old foundation has awarded a handful of grants on behalf of older and special-needs children in recent years, “but we really want to ramp that up,” said Marker, who works as a communications manager at AT&T Indiana. Just how many grants it could make will depend on funding.

Among the handful of recent grants was $5,000 last year to Indianapolis-area residents Richard and Bobbie LeMere toward the cost of adopting their hearing-impaired toddler, Irina, from Kazakhstan.

Many children who are passed over for so-called healthy infants have medical conditions that are easily correctable in the United States, said Inna Pecar, one of the foundation’s board members and founder of 8-year-old KidsFirst Adoption Services LLC, an Indianapolis adoption agency. These include cleft palates and heart defects.

The foundation sprung out of the Kids-First adoption agency, which also helps parents adopt from China, Guatemala and Kazakhstan. Noblesville businessman Arden Johnson and his wife, Carol—adoptive parents of a girl—provided seed money.

Like many such parents, they want to give back to their child’s orphanage in some way. Many are appalled by conditions such as leaky roofs, insufficient cooling and heating, and shortages of medical and even basic supplies.

While the foundation has made numerous improvements at orphanages over the years, providing everything from fences to washing machines, those can amount to “putting a Band-Aid on a larger issue,” said Marker, who, with his wife, Michelle, adopted a boy and girl from Russia.

In the former Soviet Union, more than 1 million children live in orphanages, but only about 15,000 are adopted each year. Unlike China, where parents are kept away from the orphanage, Russia often requires parents to visit. Marker recalls walking though a gauntlet of older children who likely never will be adopted but desperately tried to get the attention of those coming for younger children.

Marker said those older children often feel a profound anguish about being passed over for the younger children they help take care of.

“I am telling you, when you walk into the older kids’ orphanages and look into the faces of the older kids, you feel like nothing,” said Pecar, a native of the Ukraine. That’s often just the beginning of heartbreak for the older orphans. Although their care givers usually do the best job they can, those kids often grow up without the depth of a family’s guidance and encouragement as to career preparation—or worse.

“It’s hard to even imagine,” Pecar said. “Girls who are 16 shouldn’t have to stand in the streets prostituting.”

So Pecar also wants to direct some assistance toward helping those likely never to be adopted to prepare for life after the orphanage. The foundation is exploring ways to fund their education at trade schools in Russia, for example.

Meanwhile, basic needs are endless—things like boots and jackets for winter, ointments and diapers, and wheelchairs for children with Down’s syndrome.

“The need is just so huge I don’t know where to start,” Pecar said.

Whether to support continued assistance to orphanages or grants, KidsFirst Foundation isn’t necessarily looking for a cash handout.

Oddly enough, gifts of frequent flier miles and bonus points good for stays at Marriott hotels are of particular value. Those adopting from Russia must make two trips—the first to meet the child and the second to bring the child home. A round-trip fare easily can cost $1,700 per person. Hotels in Moscow that ordinarily cost $200 a night may double during conventions.

Much of the foundation’s support now comes from an annual golf outing at Trophy Club in Lebanon. The event sponsored by WestPoint Financial in Carmel—Jill McRoberts’ husband, Greg, is president—has raised nearly $80,000 over the last two years. The McRoberts adopted a son from Russia.

Meanwhile, the foundation is hoping to set up satellite chapters, including one being explored for Washington, D.C., said Jill McRoberts.

The exact number of children who’ve been adopted from Russia and brought to central Indiana is unclear. Pecar’s agency alone, which has clients in several states, has helped parents bring 520 children to the United States over the last several years—many of whom reside locally.

The foundation has survived, despite thin funding, by taking such measures as having volunteers traveling to Russia pay for their own flights and lodging.

For more information: www.kidsfirst-foundation.org.

Currently, more than one million children live in orphanages in the former Soviet Union. Only about 15,000 are adopted each year.
The KidsFirst Foundation has already made a difference in the lives of many children and families.