Nikolay, Tatiana, and Jennifer are in many ways typical kids.
They love to experience new things, they love to share a smile or grin, and they love to be active.
But they are not typical kids. Nikolay, Tatiana, and Jennifer are orphans visiting the United States for just five weeks to experience life in a family and to publicize the plight of orphaned children.
Sponsored by Kidsave, a non-profit organization that works towards solutions to reduce the number of children living in orphanages, these three very special youngsters are visiting La Cañada and La Crescenta this summer, experiencing so much of what this area has to offer.
Part of this experience is summer camp, run by the Crescenta-Cañada Family YMCA. All three youngsters are enrolled in Y camp during their visit here.
They arrived as a group the week of July 12. Nikolay and Tatiana are from Russia, and Jennifer is from Colombia. Each of these youngsters has lived in an orphanage for at least 18 months and has never traveled outside of their native country. Records about their birth parents are not available for the media.
One of the main purposes of the children traveling to the United States is the hope that someone will adopt them and provide them a loving family, something they seem to not have truly experienced. The other purpose of course, is for them to have fun, just be a kid.
Talking to Tim Halford is like talking to a proud father. Tim and wife Kathryn raised two daughters of their own. They now have three grandchildren. And now they have two houseguests from Russia.
Nikolay and Tatiana arrived from Russia at 1:45 a.m. July 14. Tim Halford, assistant city attorney for the city of Pasadena, says that for the two youngsters it was noon, their time. They simply weren't tired. "We swam from 2:30 a.m to 4:30 a.m. The only people I felt sorry for were my neighbors at that hour," he says.
His wife Kathryn says the reason they decided to be a host family is because "God has been good to us. This is a good way to return some of that. I really want to advocate for these kids."
And to understand why one simply needs to look at their faces. Both Nikolay, 12, and Tatiana, 10, are blondes, with smiles that seem endless. Tatiana greets Kathy each morning with a hug and ends the evening with another hug; Nikolay is a little more reserved, except when it's time to go home from camp. He's the first one to the car and the look he gives Tim is always one of admiration.
Tim returns the kindness when he talks about how polite and well-mannered the youngsters are. "You could give them a pea on their plate and take a huge plate of food for yourself, and they would never complain. They're always grateful for what they get. You should have seen their eyes when we walked into the produce section at Ralphs. They simply pointed and we just bought."
Getting Nikolay to take a bath was the biggest challenge. Since at the orphanage they only take a bath once a week, he didn't see why he had to take one every night here. Finally, after talking to two translators, Nikolay relented after Tim told him, "No bath, no swimming."
Kathy, who is an attorney in private practice, talks about seeing things for the first time through their eyes. "When our kids were growing up we lived at Descanso. Now all that's new again with them. And the YMCA was wonderful."
Colombian 12-year-old seeks home
Jennifer, with deep dark eyes, is a little shy. Her dark hair frames her round face, the face of a 12-year old about to become a teenager. Richard and Lorise Rodriguez, who live in Pasadena, are kind and enthusiastic hosts for Jennifer. Having adopted two girls of their own from Russia, they understand and relate to Jennifer although she speaks no English.
Still not quite sure of all the excitement, and not quite sure what to make of her picture being taken, Jennifer does relate well to the Rodriguez's daughters, quiet 4-year-old Julia and talkative 3-year-old Anna.
Lorise Rodriguez, speaking of her own girls and the process of adoption, says with a twinge that would make any mother feel guilty, " My daughters are biological sisters. Their mother didn't want them."
When speaking of Jennifer, her voice rises and she echoes what Kathryn Halford says. "I do a lot of advocacy for adoption. I'm hopeful we might find a family to adopt her."
Even when Jennifer is here with them, the Rodriguezes maintain a busy life. Lorise is an RN at Glendale Memorial Hospital, and she and her husband Richard own a small business in Monrovia. And, in addition to a house brimming with two daughters and guest Jennifer, the Rodriguezes are hosting Adriana Roche, a 17-year old foreign exchange student from Spain.
Lorise and Richard Rodriguez used to be members of the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA. "It's a great place," she says. "We've always been very impressed with Y camp." so, she told Kidsave about the YMCA, who contacted Craig Prentice, youth and teen director for the YMCA.
Prentice and his staff of dedicated camp counselors plan and carry out more than 20 activities each week at five different sites. They organize field trips, buy supplies, cook snacks, and plan the fun.
"We knew that it would be a bit more of a challenge to have these kids involved, simply because of the language issue. But I also know we hire some great counselors each summer. Many of our counselors grew up in Y programs so they know how to include kids, how to have fun and how to reach out to others."
The next step was to figure out a way to provide the families some financial support from the Y.
"This is what we raise money for every year," says Hank Hall, active YMCA board member and chair of the Y's 2004 fund-raising drive. "We have our community support campaign in January. This year, we called it Mission: Possible and my wife Debbie and I chaired the campaign. It was a great success. We even beat the goal of $175,000. Sending kids like this to camp, that's what this money is for. That's why people give, to help out somebody else, to be sure that another child has a great time."
To help cover the costs of their camp experiences the YMCA has provided just over $1500 in financial assistance for each of these youngsters for five weeks of summer fun.
Hall says, "We chaired the campaign to help the Y. And the Y helped some kids to experience adventures be-yond their own borders and imaginations."
Nikolay, Tatiana, and Jennifer will return to their homeland later this month, remembering their great times and fun trips.