They arrived at LAX International airport on a warm summer day in early July, brimming with enthusiasm and excitement, peppered with some apprehension.
Two beautiful sisters (one tween and one teen) came to the U.S. for the very first time from their native Colombia, hoping, at the very least, to enjoy a memorable month-long vacation, but praying, mostly, to find and connect with a loving adoptive family who will open their hearts to offer the girls a home.
“We’re Catholic and we have a lot of faith,” 12-year-old Nallerly told The Tidings during a meet and greet adoption picnic event in Yorba Linda one week after their arrival. Donning a bright, multi-colored bow in her hair as she sat on a park bench next to her shyly smiling sister Camila, 14, the bubbly and sociable Nallerly discussed how faith helps her get through each day and face the unknown.
“I pray before I eat, I pray every morning when I wake up, and before I go to bed at night — and I also pray when I’m scared,” she said. Their faith, added Camila, together with their mutual love of art and music are their daily companions.
Nallerly and Camila are two among more than 20 children from Colombia — all between the ages 10 to 15 — who are currently spending four weeks with volunteer host families in different communities across the U.S. They are part of the “Summer Miracles” program launched by Kidsave, a not-for-profit organization that operates domestic and international programs in Sierra Leone, Russia, Colombia and the U.S. to help find new permanent homes for older “forgotten” children.
“Kidsave works to create change so that older forgotten orphanage and foster kids grow up in families and connected to caring adults,” explained Delta Ninow, assistant manager for Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program, to The Tidings. “Since the program’s inception in 1999, more than 1,730 children have traveled to the United States, and more than 80 percent of them have found permanent families.”
According to Kidsave, more than 8 million children are in orphanages globally, and in the U.S. alone 640,000 children are living in foster care. Children who grow up without parental care can develop learning disabilities, experience growth delays and have diminished intellectual capacities, leading many to drop out of school, end up in prison or become homeless.
The organization’s primary mission is that “every child grows up in a family with love and hope for a successful future.”
Fifteen-year-old Yerly knows first-hand about the transforming power of love and family. She participated in the Summer Miracles program at the age of 7, and was adopted by an Oregon couple, changing the course of her life forever.
“I’m grateful for this organization; I don’t know where I would be without them,” said Yerly, who is also a native of Colombia. “I’m just so grateful that I got adopted by the best people ever. I’m thankful to them for everything.”
Nallerly and Camila already seem to feel at home in the U.S. and have yet to experience a pang of homesickness.
In addition to Kidsave events, their busy days have included artistic activities, getting to know their host family, playing board games together, bonding with numerous family pets and happily attending Mass — “In Colombia we only get to go to church during holy week,” Camila explained.
“Everything is very good,” said Nallerly. “It’s been fun and nice being here.”
For the girls’ host family, the Lloyds — consisting of host mom Yvette, her husband Tim and their son Timothy — opening their home to visiting children seeking adoptions (through Kidsave, Nightlight Christian Adoptions and others) is a way of life that is strongly supported by their faith.
Self-described devout Catholics, Yvette and Timothy are long-time members at St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda and the entire family participates in faith-based activities.
“We’ve always enjoyed hosting children — they are such a blessing, and it’s so humbling for us to have them be a part of our family,” said Yvette, an attorney with her own law practice and part-time university instructor.
“We believe that by serving as a host family, we are able to carry out the commandment to serve as good Christians to others and to take care of orphans, as espoused in James 1:27,” she said.
Yvette described faith as the driving force in her family’s many volunteer activities, which also include parish ministries, such as St. Martin’s Youth Leadership, the Legion of Mary, children’s liturgy, adult Bible ministries, home visitation ministry and eucharistic ministry to the homebound and sick.
“We believe that our volunteer activities allow us to be the face of Christ to others,” said Yvette. “We pray that through our volunteer activities, we will inspire others to come to know and love our Savior.”
“Without host families like the Lloyds we could not operate this program and these children would have little to no hope of finding an adoptive family,” said Delta Ninow of Kidsave. “Host families provide a safe, nurturing home for these children during their visit. They get to know the kids well and become their biggest advocates.”
Upcoming meet and greet events in Southern California with Nallerly, Camila and three other boys and girls include: a pizza party on Saturday, July 18, 1- 3 p.m. at Maria’s Italian Kitchen in Agoura Hills; a bowling bonanza on Sunday, July 26, 2-4 p.m. at Palos Verdes Bowl in Torrance; and a BBQ bash on Saturday, Aug. 1, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at a host family home in Santa Ana.