as seen on LAX to LA Harbor
By Carley Dryden, Staff Writer

Kidsave Colombian Orphans in So. CaliforniaPolliwog Park in Manhattan Beach never meant much to the Avinas, who live four hours away.

But last year, it’s where they first met their daughter.

“I knew right away,” Toni Avina said.

Johana was a Colombian orphan “on summer vacation” in the United States with a host family. Yes, it was a vacation — her first plane ride, first trip to the beach, bike riding, visiting the Santa Monica Pier — but her trip had a more pressing, albeit understated, objective. Johana was part of Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program, which brings orphans from Colombia to the United States for five weeks in hopes of getting them all adopted by the end of the trip.

Each weekend, Kidsave, a nonprofit devoted solely to finding homes for children, holds events across the L.A. area that allow all of the host families and orphans to hang out together and gives potential parents a chance to meet the children in person.

“I call it ‘dating,’ ” said Cheryl Paller, who has hosted several Colombian girls in her Malibu home.

During those weekend mixer-type events, the families can play volleyball with the kids, eat pizza, go bowling and watch them interact with others. They discover facets of their personality they would never have gleaned from the dossier handed to them by an orphanage.

Last summer, during an event at Polliwog Park, George and Toni Avina met Johana. The Avinas have two grown children and a 9-year-old son, Niko. They told themselves if they met a child that fit the family well, great. But if it didn’t happen, that was OK too.
“We had no pressure to adopt,” Toni said.

When they arrived at the park, Niko and Johana took off running together.

“I said, ‘That’s it.’ We saw her laughing and smiling and playing. When I saw her I thought, ‘I can’t teach joy. If they have joy, if they have a thirst for life, you can help them,’ ” Toni said.

Johana lived on the streets until she was 10, then went into foster care. The last week of March, she became an Avina.

The family came back down to Manhattan Beach from Paso Robles last weekend for one of this summer’s Kidsave events, hosted by the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club.

This year, seven Colombian orphans, ranging in age from 11 to 13, are in the Los Angeles area until the end of July. If they are not adopted by the end of the trip, they will return to their orphanages or foster homes. Those who are adopted still must return to Colombia until the process is completed, typically within a year or less.

Kidsave CEO and co-founder Randi Thompson said the idea is not to give the orphans a Disneyland experience.

“The idea is to give them a family environment, to give them the opportunity to meet interested adults,” she said. “When you have kids that are 11 to 13, it’s hard to wrap your arms around (adopting them).”

The nonprofit’s goal is to find every orphan a family during their trip, but not all are good candidates for adoption, she said. Sometimes they bring a child back three different times before they find the right match.

Children in the program do not have serious physical or emotional issues, Paller said.

“Sometimes when children come from too traumatic of a situation, they’re not really going to adapt well here,” she said. “We want the program to be successful.”

At the event on Saturday, Colombian girls and boys ran around the park with their American peers, squirting each other with water guns, tossing buckets of water on each other, pulling each other aside to share a joke. A language barrier is hardly an obstacle for children. They sprinted around all afternoon, giggling and shouting. The seven in need of adoption don’t speak English. Most of the

Colombian orphans in the U.S. for five weeks in hopes of getting adopted had fun in Polliwog Park with other orphans that have since been adopted. (Photo by Chris Miller)
host families don’t speak Spanish. But they can communicate.

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Our thanks to Carley Dryden and for helping the kids!

Learn more about Summer Miracles and visit the Summer Miracles Events page to see upcoming ‘Meet the Kids’ events in So. California.