Family matters

Memorial Park's function as a meeting place was the same on Saturday, but on a deeper level.

Kidsave, a nonprofit organization based out of Culver City, chose La Cañada as the site for a weekend event where older orphaned and abandoned children could form lifelong connections with families.

"The goal of these events is to engage the families and the kids," said Lauren Reicher-Gordon, Kidsave's vice president and director of their Family Visit Program. "We do activities the families can do with them instead of just observing them."

On the surface, it's all fun and games, as adults and kids teamed up for three-legged races, water-balloon tosses and a watermelon-eating contest. Looking deeper, the ultimate goal of the event was to form bonds that would hopefully lead to adoption.

The event was arranged by Mimi Spindle, a senior at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and a Girl Scout, as part of her Gold Award project, the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.

"Part of the Girl Scouts' motto is making the world a better place," said Hilary Gregg, Spindle's Girl Scout co-leader. "I really think [Spindle] lives by that. Everything she does aims to help others. In her heart, she really wants to make the world a better place."

Kidsave's mission is to move older children out of orphanages or foster homes and into families.

"We have 500 kids in the Department of Children Family Services who need permanent families, and we need to find innovative ways to find homes for our kids," said Sari Grant, recruitment administrator for the Los Angeles Courts. "Kidsave has proven to be one of the most effective ways to do that."

Older kids are the focus of Kidsave because they are generally overlooked in the adoption process.

"Most people who are adopting want babies, and this gives the people in the community an opportunity to meet the kids," Reicher-Gordon said. "Most people don't think about the older kids because they aren't exposed to them."

Once people meet a teenager looking for a home, their perspective changes, Reicher-Gordon said.

"They are really behind closed doors, and nobody is thinking about them," she said. "We don't believe it's OK for kids to grow up without parents."

Two Kidsave programs were highlighted Saturday, Weekend and Summer Miracles.

Summer Miracles brings children ages 8 to 13, who have little chance of being adopted in their own country, to America to stay with a family for five weeks. During their visit, Kidsave staff work on finding them adoptive parents in America.

Weekend Miracles connects kids looking for permanency with host families. Host families are asked to open their homes to a child two weekends a month for a minimum of four months.

Reicher-Gordon said host families act as "super mentors." They are usually the most consistent people in the child's life because they are constantly bouncing between different foster homes.

"The kids know the host families are there because they care about them; they aren't getting paid to spend time with them," Reicher-Gordon said. "It's probably the first person in their life who has ever spent time with them without being paid."

Renae Kennedy adopted a girl through the Summer Miracles program with her husband and went on to become the program's community coordinator in Southern California.

"When [my husband and I] first talked about adopting, we never considered an older child," Kennedy said. "Kidsave has really opened our eyes to what older kids are like; it kind of blew away all of the stereotypes."

Gary Lichtig and his wife are empty-nesters. They became a host family through Kidsave three years ago, hosting four kids, and are currently taking care of two sisters from Colombia.

The Lichtigs love kids, and the choice was easy for them.

"It's really such a small sacrifice for such a huge payoff," Lichtig said.

For more information on Kidsave, and to learn how to become a host family, visit http://www.kidsave.org or call (310) 642-7283.

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