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3-week program looks to unite orphans with adoptive families in Utah

3-week program looks to unite orphans with adoptive families in Utah



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SALT LAKE CITY — For many orphans in eastern Europe, life outside the care of an orphanage holds little to hope for.

"It's pretty tough to survive," said Rob Jolley, a lobbyist who lives in Draper. "Their futures aren't really bright, unless someone steps in."

Jolley is that someone, at least for a group of 11 children from Ukraine.

Through a partnership of their orphanage and a Ukrainian adoption agency, he brought them to the United States this month for a three-week summer camp that unites them with host families in the hopes that a bond will grow, leading to adoption.

"Eight look like they may have found adoptive families here," Jolley said. "It's not likely that they all will. That typically doesn't happen."


It's pretty tough to survive. Their futures aren't really bright, unless someone steps in.

–Rob Jolley


Likely or not, it doesn't stop Jolley from trying to help. During the camp, the children participate in daily activities from rappelling and swimming to lessons in English, trips to the Clark Planetarium and learning American games like dodgeball.

Other than a stray word picked up here or there, the children speak no English. But that language barrier evaporates as the children create a relationship with their host families, said Jodi Wilson, who organized the camp's schedule.

"Most of the kids have been so starved for individual attention," Wilson said. "It's just amazing, especially in such a short time. With a few hours or a few days, they create a bond."

The children stay with their hosts, who include them in their family meals and activities, and rejoin the group for the day's routine, unless the families have special plans for the day.

"They will leave Utah with very sweet memories," Wilson said.

All of the children, Jolley said, were placed in the orphanage after their parents passed away or had their parental rights terminated. At the age of 16, they graduate from the orphanage and are sent out into the world with little more than spare change in their pocket.

Too often, they turn to a life of drugs, crime or prostitution to survive, he said.

"Even if they don't fall prey to human traffickers, they still face some tough times," Jolley said.

Jolley and his wife have adopted three children from eastern Europe. Their first, from Russia, they met seven years ago through the same hosting process Jolley is currently organizing.


Most of the kids have been so starved for individual attention. It's just amazing, especially in such a short time. With a few hours or a few days, they create a bond.

–Jodi Wilson


Last year, Jolley and his son returned to Russia to visit his friends from the orphanage. Of that group of 12 boys, they were only successful in finding eight.

"Four of his friends were doing very well. They were in school, they had jobs," Jolley said. "Four that we were able to track down were in prison, and another four the orphanage had lost track of."

The summer camp ends Aug. 8, at which point the children will return to their orphanage in Ukraine. For some it will merely be to wait until their adoptions are finalized and they can return to Utah. For others, it will be a return to an unknown future.

While people incur costs in the process, Jolley said foreign adoption is not particularly complicated. Adoptive parents must take part in a home study program, submit an application, appear in the foreign court to obtain an adoption referral and secure the necessary documentation.

The time between the first day an adoptive parent appears in court and when they bring their child home can be around 40 days, Jolley said — a long time to stay abroad but potentially cheaper than the alternative.

"It can be very expensive to travel back and forth," Jolley said.

Programs like the summer camp are good, Jolley said, in that they allow parents to see how the child fits in with the family and to start the adoption with a pre-existing relationship.

Wilson said this is their first year organizing the summer camp. They've learned a lot, she said, including things they could do differently. Though she and Jolley haven't spoken about it in official terms, she says this likely won't be their last time planning a camp.

"It just keeps growing," she said. "I definitely think there's room for more hosting ability."

Email: benwood@desnews.com

Benjamin Wood

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