Adoptive families give back to Russian orphanages; Boonestock concert raises money for KidsFirst
By Brooke Baker, Times Sentinel managing editor

As their children play and nap around them, several Zionsville women convene at Dawn Ayres' kitchen table to plan the second annual Boonestock concert fund-raiser.

Boonestock, an all-day music festival featuring Tim Brickley & The Bleeding Hearts, The Spud Puppies, Henle and the Loops and The Turnipseeds, will be from 2 pm. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at Interactive Academy. Tickets are $20 for adults, and kids younger than 18 are free. Tickets information is available at www.interactiveacademy.org/boonestock.

The money will go to KidsFirst Foundation, a charity that is close to all of their hearts. They are all parents who traveled to Russia with the charity's help to adopt their children, and now they are banding together to raise money to help Russian orphanages.

"There are just hundreds of thousands of children, babies and children, who are orphaned. And most of them will never be adopted," said Betsy Pitts, whose husband Mike is the president of KidsFirst. "We do what we can back in our community because we as Americans have so much here. I don't think Russians in general have the funds or the means to give the orphanages what they need."

Ayres and her husband Jim Barber traveled to Russia to adopt daughter Meredith. "You take $14,000 in cash strapped to your body," she said. "Russia is a two-trip deal, so you go over and visit the baby and you back to get your baby."

Ayres said she knew other families who were adopting from Russia, and though she and her husband have three biological daughters, she said she "didn't feel like I was done yet."

After raising three daughters -- 13-year-old twins Stephanie and Lindsey and 11-year-old Emily -- adapting to having 6-month-old Meredith in the family wasn't hard. "Having three older girls, she was a piece of cake," Ayres jokes.

Last year, Ayres and Barber opened their home to host the first Boonestock. Pitts said the family hosts a big party every year and decided they could combine their yearly tradition with a way to help orphans in Russia.

Most of the Boonestock committee members are adoptive parents who have seen the conditions in Russian orphanages for themselves.

"They all look exactly like that," Pitts said of a photo of a severe and somber building. "They are all gray brick buildings."

She said families who travel to Russia together for adoptions form a quick bond. She adopted her daughter Jenny from the same orphanage fellow travelers Deb and Scott Rigney of Carmel adopted their son, Cooper. Mike and Betsy Pitts also traveled to Kazakhstan to adopt daughter Elana.

"You just kind of form these instant bonds with the people you travel with and meet over there," she said.

Those bonds are also formed back home, where adoptive families support each other.

"It's just like being a parent of a biological child. It's nice to have a support group, people going through the same things you are," said Pitts.

That support also helps the children, who have to deal with the rejection and loss issues that adoptees sometimes feel, said Ayres.

"They are supposed to know that as far as being adopted, they aren't the only one," Pitts said.

Ayres said it's also important for their children to learn about their Russian heritage and know where they came from, as evidenced by the eclectic assortment of books on her coffee table: "Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence" sits next to a book about a Bernstein Bears adventure.

"We've collected a lot of books on Russian heritage, and we have books on Tajikistan for Meredith. You try to collect as much about their heritage as you can to share with them over the years," she said.

KidsFirst works with about 40 different orphanages and are adding orphanages in China and Guatemala to their network, Ayres said. The foundation's founder, Ina Pecar and her husband Steve, are "committed to improving conditions" for orphans, she said.

"We probably now know 30 people who have adopted, and so far we haven't heard any negative experiences," she said.

Boonestock raised about $8,000 for the orphanages last year, and Ayres hopes to bump that number up to $20,000 this year. She also hopes the event will grow, attracting more than the 300 to 400 people who attended last year. Instead of hosting it in her backyard, this year's concert will be on Interactive Academy's lawn so there will be more room for parking and activity booths.

"We have a lot of kid-friendly kiosks this year," Ayres said, adding that there will also be a silent auction with items including a complete facial Botox, a vacation condo for a week and signed Colts' memorabilia.

The money raised will be used to buy items Russian orphanages need.

"Where Meredith was from they didn't have refrigerators, so the orphans drank sour milk," Ayres said. The money from Boonestock can help buy refrigerators, clothing, medications, toys and appliances, as well as fund structural repairs and fencing to keep the orphans safe.

Boonestock attendees can make a day of it or just stay for a few hours, and they are encouraged to bring blankets and folding chairs for comfort. In case of rain, the show will go on, moving inside to the Interactive Academy gym.

"This year there will be food and drinks available, and people can bring their own if they want," Pitts said. "Some people stay two hours, some people stay the full time."
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.