PRESTON: An Update + Video

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

THANK YOU to every one of you who has shared Preston’s story with the world. As of today more than 40,000 people have viewed the blog post about his urgent need for a family.

Please keep sharing! So far no one has stepped up for Preston. There have been many, many inquiries by email, Facebook and Instagram, but no one has taken the leap.

I can not emphasize enough that this is a race against time. A family must step up NOW. If you are one of those interested families, I’m sorry to rush you…but hurry up! 🙂

Certain questions about Preston have been asked several times, so I will answer them here.

Why can’t Preston’s current family adopt him? There is no doubt that Preston’s current caregivers love him immensely. They adore him and he is a genuine member of the family. They also went into this committing to care for him for one year, and now have passed the two year mark. They never took Preston in with the plans to keep him forever. His current family saved his life. They nursed him back to life and have sacrificed SO MUCH because of their great love for him. Their hearts will break to see him go. But they are not, and have never been, his permanent plan.

  1. Much like in the US, after a certain length of time in transition, a child’s case must move to a permanency plan. Preston’s time in transition has run out. His permanency plan is adoption- either domestic or international. He can not legally stay in his current situation.
  2. Ukraine does not allow single parent adoptions. He currently lives with a single woman and her adult daughter. Neither of them are legally allowed to adopt him.
  3. Both members of his current family have expressed more than once that they believe Preston would do best with a father in the family. He lights up around men and you can see he longs for that relationship that a father can provide. His current home can not provide that for him.

How can it be best for Preston to leave his country, culture and language and be adopted internationally? This is a question that is not easily answered in one paragraph of a blog post. So, so much in that question.

For sure, bringing Preston out of Ukraine into a family culture and language that is completely foreign to him will be very difficult on him. FOR SURE. There is no denying it. I am a huge advocate of keeping kids in their home culture whenever possible. The USA and other western countries are wonderful and have many amazing resources that we do not have access to further east, but I definitely do not believe that the USA and other western countries are the best place for every child.

So why do I advocate for Preston to be adopted out of Ukraine?

  1. I advocate for that because no one in Ukraine has stepped forward for him.
  2. Preston would greatly benefit from medical resources (therapy, medications) that are simply not available yet in Ukraine. He has so much potential, but lack of consistent therapy and doctors up-to-date on the latest in helping children with CP hold him back significantly. His CP is basically untreated at this point.
  3. He is a very smart boy, but Ukraine does not have special education, so he is unable to attend school. This breaks my heart because I KNOW he is so capable. There are no resources here for home education- least of all education of a child with any special needs.

We love Ukraine. Heck, we moved our entire family here, permanently. I am not some random person who is not personally invested into this country and her people. We have given our lives to being sparks of change here. So let’s get that straight: I love Ukrainian people. I am committed to Ukraine. I also am raising children and adults with significant special needs here in Ukraine and I face every day what it means to live with people in a culture that does not accept them. Change is coming slowly, but it is extremely difficult to  live in Ukraine with people with special needs. I’m not just talking about lack of accessibility, which is a big problem, I’m talking about the attitude of the society as a whole. Life here is an uphill battle for our guys every day and I’m not going to pretend that life would necessarily be better for Preston here.

If a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that love him and are ready to fight for him then OF COURSE it is better for that child to stay in Ukraine with his family. That’s not even a question. On the other hand, if a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that does not want him (like Preston) or feels they can not care for him and they give that child to the State, then it is in the child’s best interest for us to look as far and wide as we can until we find someone who will love and care for him.

Those are hard words to write, but it’s my love for Preston and thousands other just like him that compel me to point at the elephant in the room and not ignore it. If Preston is not adopted he will return to the institution where he nearly died, so no, when it comes down to him losing his language or losing his life, I will not say it is best for him to stay in  Ukraine.

If you have more questions about Preston or adoption please don’t hesitate to ask! I am happy to talk with interested families.

I wrote extensively about his needs here.  You can give a tax deductible donation to Preston’s adoption grant here.

Thank you for your continued advocacy! Please keep it up! Let’s find our boy a family.

I know I wrote some strong words about Ukraine. Of course there are many exceptions to this and a few of them come and work at our house every day. They fight alongside us for our guys and they, and others like them, will be the ones to change their country. 

URGENT- Family Needed

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

Hello Dear Friends.

I’m coming to you today with an urgent need. My heart is heavy and I’m pleading with you to share, pray, and consider how you could play a part in this story.

Remember “Preston” (formally known as ‘Baby A’)? I wrote a detailed blog about him here. To jog your memory, he was dying at the institution in October 2016. We went there in the night and after calls to people in high places of Ukrainian government, he was rescued and he lived. He now lives with a wonderful family in our church and is available for international adoption.

We just learned that Preston has 6 months to be adopted or he will be returned to the Institution.

Friends, this simply CAN NOT happen.

Life in the institution almost killed Preston. He was hours from death when we came to him that October night. I am certain returning to that place would be a death sentence for him.

He is so smart, so beautiful, so social. He is a part of a family now and he is adored. Preston has blossomed in family life and we just can’t let him be orphaned again.

Due to personal circumstances and Ukrainian law, Preston cannot remain in his current living situation. He is loved very much, but all involved know international adoption is the best plan for him.

So I am asking you to please DO something to help our boy. Do not just read this and move on. Imagine your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, safe in their bed at home one day and the next day left alone in a mental institution. What would you do to prevent that reality? I know what I would do. I would shout. I would share the story. I wouldn’t give up and I wouldn’t shut up until they were free. Preston is no less worthy of that effort.

Here are ways you can help:

1. Share this post far and wide.

2. Donate to Preston’s adoption grant. The donations are tax deductible and help remove the financial burden of the adoption process for the family that chooses him. Donate here.

3. PRAY! God knows and sees our boy. May His will be done.

4. Consider if you could be Preston’s family. Why not you? Do not assume this is someone else’s YES. Maybe this is your YES. Please consider.

Help me shout for Preston! He can’t speak up for himself. We are his voice.

Read more about Preston here.

BeLOVE[d]

Please email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org for more information about Preston or the adoption process.

The Lonely

Yesterday we got Anton and Ruslan’s medical histories from the institution. Oh my heart. Twenty plus years of their life, summed up in doctor’s chicken scratches on paper yellowed from time. We know the basics of how they spent the last 20 years. They sat on benches inside in the winter, and sat on benches outside in the summer. End of story. The medical files are the only hints we have of any significant life events outside bench- sitting.  They are our glimpse of our boys’ past- those, and a photo of each boy from time gone by.

My heart leapt and sank when I saw the photos. My babies! Oh my dear ones, I’m so sorry you had to wait so long. I’m so sorry you had no mama to comfort you, no papa to guide you. I’m so sorry you endured such abuse and neglect when you could not defend yourselves. You were so young, so small. My heart is broken for the little boy left at Romaniv alone and afraid.

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Ruslan, age 10

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Anton, age 16

Our life here is a full one; full of responsibilities and full of people. But our life here is also a lonely one. Our lives are completely absorbed with the care of people whom the society has thrown away. Our time, energy and love is wrapped up in people who are not accepted in this country. Our work is isolating. Couple that with language barriers and cultural difference, and then add the distance from loved ones…sometimes the loneliness of this life threatens to overwhelm.

The other night I was rocking Evie to sleep in a quiet, dark room. My thoughts were wandering and all of a sudden I was completely overwhelmed by loneliness. It washed over me like a giant ocean wave. I’d never felt anything like it. Evie wasn’t asleep, but I had to leave the room, lest my mind wander to a verrrrrrry dark place. I wept as I longed for family and friends far away. I lamented my lonely and often isolated existence in my Ukrainian village. I wished for the peer relationships with other moms that are non-existent at this time of my life when I need them so badly. If there ever was a “woe is me” moment- that was it. Not.pretty. Yikes.

I share that story not to bring pity on myself or to fill my inbox with messages from concerned friends, but to share what I am learning from it.

The feelings of loneliness I have are only the tip-tip-top of the iceberg of the loneliness our guys lived with their whole lives. In Anton, Ruslan and Boris we are seeing the effects of how 30 years of utter aloneness and helplessness shape a person. The effects are devastating. In my own loneliness, which greatly pales in comparison to the life they have known, God is granting me greater empathy and compassion for the boys I love so dearly.

I may feel alone, but-

I am surrounded by my family who love and care for me. They were abandoned by their family.

I chose this life that I’m living, and the sacrifices that come with it. They had absolutely no choice or agency in their situation. They were completely helpless. 

I have always been taught, and have always known that I was loved by God first, and also by many people. They had no one to teach them or comfort them. 

I have hope. I know that this work, this life is exactly what God has asked me to do and I trust that He will give me the grace to do it. They had no reason to hope. They lived in hell and were prisoners, innocent of any crime.

I do believe and trust that God comforted them while they were in the institution. I believe that He fathered them in ways we could not see. His word says that He is a Father to the fatherless, so I know it has to be true. At the same time, there is the reality that they were abused and neglected in every way- for decades. I can’t explain that paradox. I know both sides to be true and I guess I just won’t be able to make sense of it this side of eternity.

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Boris, age unknown

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Baby Vladik

Jean Vanier, a great man who has spent his life living with and loving people with intellectual disabilities, said “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”

Ruslan, Anton, Boris, Vladik. I weep over the many years they had to taste that loneliness. I look at the pictures of them as little ones and wonder at what could have been, had they not waited so long.

In Ukraine alone, there are thousands of children and adults who are helpless and alone in institutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you have room at your table for one more? Do you have love in your heart to give? Could you reach out and give of yourself so that one more soul could know the love of a family? No child, no adult should be alone and if you have the ability to help, then by all means- do it. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. If all that is standing in your way is your desire for your own comfort, then it’s time for something to change.

Adoption is messy and uncomfortable and hard. Let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to not adopt. Like 500% easier. But this life isn’t about doing what’s easier. It’s about chasing hard after Jesus and running the race full-on till the race is complete. If you are alive, then your race is not complete. If running hard after Jesus means laying down your life so that another may truly live, then just go ahead and do it. If adoption is meant to be your YES and you are still saying NO, please reconsider. Someone is waiting for your yes, and the sooner you can get to that someone the better. If adoption isn’t supposed to be a part of your race, that’s perfectly okay! Just figure out what your YES is and get busy doing it.

In this month of November, this National Adoption Month, please consider again if adoption should be your YES. Consider again how you can make space in your heart and home for the lonely. Consider laying down your life so that others may live. Say YES!

BeLOVE[d]

BeLOVE[d]

I remember that night as clear as day. I remember the night we drove to the institution, knowing only that one little boy was dying and we had to do something about it.

He was new to the institution, having arrived the week before from the baby house. He was sick upon arrival and was quickly sent to the hospital. The hospital said there was nothing they could do for him: “His brain is dying”. So they promptly sent him back to the institution to die. We had seen him just the day before, and although we had never met before and had no baseline, we didn’t think he looked too concerning. I’m an RN with many years of experience and I never would have imagined that the next night he would be on his deathbed. He looked pale, stiff, eyes with circles under them from exhaustion, but many of our boys look like that and they are not actively dying. I thought he looked fragile, but I did not fear for his life.

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The first day we met

I was wrong. Because now that I know this precious, precious boy I can look back and see how very ill he was that night. He was a shell of a boy. His body was there, but his soul was just barely hanging on. The boy we saw that day should have frightened the heck out of me. He was oh so sick. We just didn’t know.

Late at night, the day after we first met him I was contacted by some ministry friends who told me that he was dying and the nannies didn’t expect him to live through the night. I was shocked. What???  I just saw him! How can this be? A few of us from the team rushed to the institution late in the night to see if there was anything at all that could be done to save his life.

It was a fight. It was a battle I’ll never forget. I remember standing on the sidewalk outside the Isolation Hall. All around us was dark, save the moon above us, the four of us were discussing/arguing about what to do next. We were panicked and knew time was not on our side. In the end we had to pull connections at the very top of the Ukrainian government to get our boy to the hospital. But, God made the way and to the hospital he went. From the local hospital he went to a regional hospital, then to a hospital in Kyiv- creating waves at every stop.

His story reached many people all over Ukraine. Top Dogs in the Ukrainian government took a big interest in his story and a fight for life became no longer just about him- but he began to represent the thousands just like him: forgotten, neglected, deemed unworthy, deemed a waste of time and resources. News stories were broadcasted and people rose up in outrage. This little boy whose life was miraculously saved that night in a rural institution became a type of poster child for orphan reform. His life became a voice for the voiceless.

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In the hospital in Kyiv

Eventually our little one, we’ll call him “Preston” was released from the hospital and went to live with a sweet family from our church- an older mom and her two adult daughters. The plan was that he would live with them for a short time while his birth mom decided what she wanted to do: take him home, or sign away her rights and release him for adoption (returning him to institutional care was never an option any of us considered). The weeks turned into months and the months turned into a year, and the family fell in love. Preston has become a member of the family and he loves them just as much as they treasure him. And oh, how he has thrived in the light of their love.

The time has now come- the time we anticipated and dreaded all at once. The time has come to find our Preston a forever family outside of Ukraine. Mom decided that she is just not able to give him the care that he needs and deserves and she has signed away her rights. Our sweet in-between family, as much as they adore Preston, recognize that he will never be able to live up to his full potential here in Ukraine. He needs therapy and medical attention that is simply unavailable here. They cry just talking about me writing this blog post, but they love him enough to let him go.

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So, I’m turning to all of you, asking for help. The time has come to find the family that is perfectly suited for our boy. I am absolutely confident that they are out there.

Let me tell you more about Preston. He is 7 years old and has lived most of his life in family. He lived with his mother and father until they felt they couldn’t care for him anymore, and then he spent a year and a half in institutional care before moving to live with the family. Because of that, he does not have the institutional behaviors you see in our boys at Romaniv. He has endured trauma, there is no doubt about that, but he has also known the love of a family and has been very well-loved at that!

Preston has Cerebral Palsy and this is his great challenge. He is not able to sit up, stand, or walk independently- but he sure wants to! He tries to mimic people and say words, but does not speak fluently. He is not toilet trained at this time. His muscles just do not listen well to his brain, so his ability to feed himself or do much independently is limited. He is so smart. He understands everything and knows what he does and doesn’t want. Don’t let his disability trick you- he is fully alive in there and I can’t wait to see what he has to say once he is given more ways to communicate. Other than his CP diagnosis, he is a fairly healthy boy. He gets the occasional respiratory infection, but he is growing and developing in a healthy manner.

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He wants to stand and walk so bad!

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Preston enjoys cars and trucks and toys of all kinds. He needs some help to play with them, but he does like to play. He loves to watch cartoons and to color…he enjoys age-appropriate activities, he just needs help in order to engage. His arms move unpredictably and the spastic nature of his CP makes intentional movement extremely difficult. He absolutely needs consistent therapy.  Preston is social and likes to be with people. He is firmly attached to his current family and it’s easy to see how he loves them. He prefers them over anyone else and cries when he is separated from them. He even sleeps in their arms! I told you he is well loved. 🙂

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Preston is now available for international adoption and we are actively seeking a family. This adoption will be different than any other Ukrainian adoption I know of, because Preston will be adopted while living in his current family- not from an institution. The high-ups in the government who personally care about him have worked to make that exception possible. The adoptive family will be well-supported in Ukraine as many, many  people have a very personal interest in Preston and his well-being. He is loved by many. The Ukrainian portion of the adoption will be well-supported by the government. The current family is an absolute wealth of knowledge and would love to be a support to the adoptive family in whatever ways the family wants.  In other words, if you step off the ledge for this one you will not be alone. We are here for you and our love for Preston compels us to do anything and everything we can to make his adoption a success.

Saying yes to adopting Preston is no small decision. He will require a lot of care- especially in the beginning as he will be separated from everyone he loves. His care is physically demanding too. He’s getting to be a big boy and he can not care for himself at this point.

But, oh the joy. Oh.the.joy!

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Out of the many thousands of children in institutions all over Ukraine, God chose this one. He plucked Preston from his deathbed in the dead of night from an institution in the middle of nowhere and saved his life. He was mere hours away from dying- this beautiful, amazing, smart, happy boy was almost lost to us. But no. God saw him and acted. God has used Preston’s life to be a voice for others and I believe He will continue to do that.

He is one special boy and I have no doubt that his adoptive family will be blessed beyond measure by his life.

Will you help share him with the world?  Please share this post and please pray about your own response. Are you the family that is missing their son?

You can view Preston’s profile on an adoption advocacy site here.

If you have any questions about Ukrainian adoption in general, or more specific questions about Preston you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I will be happy to talk with you. Videos can be made available to interested families. 

Winds of Change and a Voice

A couple weeks ago at church, a friend introduced us to her friend, who then met Vladik, and this story began.

The friend we met, Vera, is a local activist here in Zhytomyr.  She is involved in some local politics and has a passion for children and adults with special needs. She is particularly passionate about developing inclusive education in our city.

“Inclusive education is based on the simple idea that every child and family is valued equally and deserves the same opportunities and experiences. Inclusive education is about children with disabilities – whether the disability is mild or severe, hidden or obvious – participating in everyday activities, just like they would if their disability were not present. It’s about building friendships, membership and having opportunities just like everyone else…Inclusion is about providing the help children need to learn and participate in meaningful ways.” source

Inclusive education, as a general practice, does not exist in our city, nor throughout the rest of Ukraine. There are places where inclusion is more possible than others, and of course I can’t speak to the whole country or to every school, but in general it is not practiced. Here in Zhytomyr, at this point in time, inclusive education is only available to very few children with disabilities, and generally it is only available to children who’s parents have fought, and continue to fight, a very hard fight to make it possible.

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At a press conference about inclusive education

The schools and school system in our city are simply not set up at all for children who need extra help.  We have learned that just from having our own non-native speaker children in school here! Our kids’ “special need” was that they lacked language, and the schools just were not sure at all what to do with them because they didn’t fit the mold.  It is not the fault of the teachers, or even the schools themselves, it is the fault of a social system that has spent decades hiding those who are different. If children with special needs do not exist in a society, then there is no need for society to adapt for them. For many years it was the practice to institutionalize people with disabilities, but that is slowly changing.  More and more Ukrainian families are choosing to keep and raise their children. As more children with special needs are living at home, the need for education and inclusion for them is becoming more and more apparent.

This is not an issue isolated to Ukraine. All developing countries must face this issue at some point. In the US we have come a long way, but we really didn’t start addressing the issue of inclusive education until a few decades ago. So this is not me pointing a finger at Ukraine- as if the Ukrainian people are alone in this injustice; this is me knee deep in the fight for my son, here in Ukraine.

Now, back to the story. 🙂 Vera, our new friend, had heard about Vladik, about where he came from, and about the fact that he attends school. She was fascinated by it and asked if we would be willing to speak to the local news about our quest for education for Vladik. We agreed to meet, a bit leary in the beginning, but open to a discussion. We want to be very careful with how we expose Vladik to the news. His story is painful and tender and deserves to be shared in it’s entirety. Vladik is too precious and he has fought too hard to be reduced to a sound bite that induces guilt or pity. In my opinion, he deserves a standing ovation!

We met with Vera and agreed to share Vladik’s education story, but we wanted to make sure the focus was about how he is thriving, and not only about where he came from. She agreed, and two days later our boy was cheesin’ it up for a camera crew, charming them all with his awesomeness.

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We thought he would be nervous, but boy were we wrong! He absolutely loved the camera! He proudly showed how he gets ready for school, how he knows which bus to take and where to walk. Most of all, in my very biased opinion, he showed that he is a wonderful boy who is valuable and smart and deserving of an education, just like every other child. Here is the video:

When we decided to adopt Vladik, we felt like the Lord was telling us that Vladik would be a voice for those who have no voice. At that time we thought maybe that meant that someday Vladik would become a speaker who would share his story with others, many years down the road. And maybe that is still going to be true someday, but, wow have we been surprised how God has decided to use Vladik as a voice already!  Here in his own country! Vladik is not necessarily being a voice with his words and speech, but with his life, with his joy, with his courage. He is showing his own people what is possible. He is showing how someone who was locked away for all of his childhood is still capable of learning and growing and changing, if only given the chance. He is a voice of hope for all of the children left behind.

The follow-up to the short news story about Vladik was a live interview on a local evening TV show. Gosh, I wish I would have realized it was going to be live before we got there. That was a bit of a shock! Ha! Anyway, we survived. 😉 In the first half of the show Vera interviewed Jed and me, along with one of the teacher’s from the kids’ school. We got the opportunity to share why it’s important to us that Vladik go to school. In that we were able to naturally share about his value and his worth as a human. It’s important for Vladik to go to school because he is a child and he wants to learn! He wants to be with other children and have experiences and gain independence and learn new things. He was robbed of so much in his life and we, as his parents, are obligated to help him grow to his fullest potential- however that may look like. It is our privilege to fight for him and the ones who will come behind him.

The second half of the show was what rocked my world. Vera interviewed a foster mom (our friend who fosters sweet “Baby A”) and three local mothers of children with special needs. Those moms shared about their experiences with fighting for inclusion in schools, and they said so many things that needed to be said- by Ukrainians, not by us foreigners.   They spoke about the first need being an inclusive society. Inclusive education is not possible without an inclusive society. They spoke about the value of their children and their desires for them being the same as every parent’s desire for their children. We were cheering them on (literally clapping and bouncing up and down in our seats) from the green room.

Many parents of children with special needs in our city, and throughout this country keep their children at home almost all the time. They are afraid to take them out because society as a whole does not accept them. Whether that means inaccessible public transportation and buildings, or just basically unaccepting people, the results are the same. It’s easier and less painful to just stay home. We have experienced this feeling many, many days here in Zhytomyr. Sometimes I get a horrible sinking feeling in my gut when I know we are about to go somewhere with Vladik. I know the stares and the finger-pointing and the mocking will come. I know that all my kids, including Vladik will hear it. I will wonder at his understanding and my heart will break for him. I know I will need to steer clear of groups of kids because that is when the staring is the worst. I know the cruel comments will come and I will wonder how to respond. It has become our reality- and yes, some days it seems like it would be better to just stay home. Vladik is loved at home. He is safe and understood.

BUT change will not come without exposure. People can not learn if they are not given the opportunity. Vladik, with his sparkling personality and loving, cheerful nature is the perfect person to teach others. To know him is to love him. If we keep him at home, hidden away, we are contributing to the problem, not being agents of change, as God has called us to be. Vladik loves to go out! He loves adventure and going on buses and seeing new things, meeting new people. If he is brave enough to face an intolerant world every single day- and do it with joy, then we can do it too.

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Our boy is a voice. In his own, unassuming way, he is standing up for all the families and children hiding in the shadows. As one of the local moms in the interview said in encouragement to families watching “Come out! Come out! Don’t hide anymore.”

The winds of change are coming. May God open and change hearts and may He receive all the glory.