FRANKFORT – Having fostered children and participated in foreign exchange programs, Amy Doty assumed a summer of hosting two orphan brothers from the Ukraine would be a meld of both experiences.
“It wasn’t,” Doty said.
Doty, a nurse at Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center in Joliet, is used to adding kids to her family – she and her husband, Kirk, have nine children. Four are biological and three are adopted. Doty and Kirk have guardianship of the last two.
Also, Doty’s grandparents had fostered more than 200 children, and Kirk is one of six, so a house full of kids didn’t daunt them. Kirk even had shoulder surgery in July. The orphans arrived June 16 and will leave Aug. 8, Doty said.
“It was a way to put our faith in action,” Doty said of orphan hosting. “As a believer, I try to instill in my kids to be examples.”
Nor was the challenge the language barrier, thanks to phone apps, volunteers from Love Cradle – the nonprofit organization that oversaw the orphan hosting – being a phone call away, and a caregiver from the Ukraine who rotated her time among the hosting families.
Doty was surprised how easy it was to communicate with boys – Denys, 12, and Andrii, 10.
“They’re pretty smart,” Doty said. “How much English they’ve picked up in the last five weeks and how well they are able to communicate with us – it’s pretty impressive.”
No, it was the nuanced habits these brothers had acquired from living in a Ukrainian orphanage. They were easily overstimulated, for instance, and didn’t understand all property was not communal property, Doty said.
Denys and Andrii didn’t know how to hang a towel, that special machines launder their clothes and that they didn’t have to cling to favorite garments because they would get them back once they were clean.
“They would wash their clothes while they were in the shower,” Doty said, “and come out dripping wet with their clothes on.”
Second Place gets involved
Doty learned about orphan hosting through a member at her church, Sharon Robertson of Monee. Robertson is the orphan hosting coordinator for the Chicago area.
Robertson said she became aware of the orphan situation in the Ukraine in 2011 after her daughter participated in a mission. Robertson’s daughter championed one of the orphans, who was not adoptable at the time, Robertson said.
So Robertson went online looking for Christian orphan hosting programs, found Love Cradle and since has hosted that child several times. While adoptions occasionally do happen as a result of the orphan hosting – Robertson is in the process of adopting that little boy – it is not the goal of the program, she said, which also is called a reverse mission trip.
The goal, Robertson said, is to give the orphans hope and to learn that life offers more than their orphanage experiences. Even when hosting families do not adopt, they often choose to stay connected with their orphans through email, Skype and sending gifts, Robertson added.
“Some people said it’s cruel and horrible to bring them here and then send them back,” Robertson said. “But my daughter said they feel privileged to be chosen to go. It almost gives them status in the orphanage.”
Robertson said she approached Joe Dascenzo, the pastor at Second Place Church in Monee where she and Doty attend, to discuss ways the church could get involved.
Dascenzo said he wanted to do more than present the opportunity to members; he wanted the church to support them in the journey by providing resources – materially and spiritually.
For instance, Doty said that while orphan hosting appealed to her and Kirk, they didn’t have the money for the program fees – just under $3,000 a child, which included the cost of transporting them – but someone in the church anonymously donated the cost, Doty said.
The church hosted some events, including a baseball game and a birthday party for the five orphans. Church members helped out with the kids on days the hosting parents had to work, he added. Dascenzo even took some of the kids fishing.
“One of them caught a big bass,” Dascenzo said, “and his face lit up.”
Less is more
Doty said simple and low-key activities worked best with Denys and Andrii – restaurant dinners, interacting with the two donkeys and four rabbits on Doty’s five acres, Vacation Bible School, trips to parks, and family Bible study complete with two children’s Bibles in Ukrainian that Doty had ordered online.
But there was also poignancy in watching her children engage the orphans, Doty said, even if only simply shooting basketballs. This was especially true, she added, with her former foster children.
“To see that come full circle with the kids has given them perspective because they have – somewhat – been there in some form,” Doty said.
“That was a neat thing.”