Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photos By Michael Alexander
(Clockwise from top right) Luisa Fernanda Saray Gomez poses with her host family Michael Madda, his sisters Danielle and Nicole, and their mother Susan.


Georgia Families, Colombian Children Link Lives

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 6, 2009

This may be the summer that changes 10-year-old Luisa’s life.

The Colombian native has spent July with the Madda family in Cumming as they work to find a family interested in adopting her.

Catholic families are among the half-dozen hosts in metro Atlanta opening their homes last month to give nine orphans the chance to create unforgettable memories.

Ten-year-old Luisa Fernanda Saray Gomez plays with a Frisbee in the driveway of the Madda’s Cumming home. Gomez, a native of Bogata, Colombia, also enjoys riding the bicycle and she shows adroit moves around the basketball hoop. Photo By Michael Alexander

Thanks to the nonprofit Kidsave International, the youngsters from Colombia are visiting the Peach State. Not only is fun on the to-do list, but also the possibility of a new start.

Kidsave helps older children who have little chance of being adopted in their native country. They come to the United States for the summer and the program asks hosts to advocate for the children by reaching out to friends and business connections, contacting couples hoping to add to their families.

The kids arrived in Atlanta on July 2 and left Aug. 4. Their weekly events were open to adults interested in meeting the children and possibly adopting.

This is a first for the Madda family. Their initial plans to work on a service project in rural Mexico fell through, so welcoming a child in need was a good alternative.

“God has been so good to our family. In turn, how could we not help somebody else,” Susie Madda said.

What the family of five, who are members of St. Benedict Church, Johns Creek, didn’t plan for was the close ties that grew so quickly.

“That’s the part I wasn’t expecting—the emotional attachment,” said Madda, sitting on a folding chair watching the kids ride bikes. Her eyes welled up talking about the prospect of putting Luisa on the plane back to Colombia.

“Now I am on a mission because this girl is fantastic. You see this smile,” she said.

Madda, a stay-at-home mom, has sent e-mails to more than 250 friends, promoting the program and being a cheerleader for Luisa. She asks her friends to spread the word about the basketball-loving young girl. A little reserved at first, Luisa “has a smile that is melting,” said Madda.

 At the same time, she said she knows her efforts are up against a stigma facing older children who await adoption. There is discrimination against the older ones, even though they are great, she said. “She is extremely bright.”

The family has bridged the cultural gap pretty easily. The Maddas’ older children, Nicole and Dani, get to practice the Spanish learned at Pinecrest Academy. Susie gets by with “patchwork” Spanish and the help of a Spanish-English dictionary. And the family has added more beans and rice into their diet for the summer, but Luisa has taken to eating American food, like pizza. She also joins the family for daily Mass.

Nicole, who is 12, said she was glad to have Luisa around.

“It’s been more fun because she’s older,” she said.

But from the beginning, Nicole has been concerned about what happens if nobody moves to adopt her.

Luisa Fernanda Saray Gomez, 10, second from left, kneels in the pew with her host family (l-r) Danielle Madda, 10, her brother Michael, 22 months, their mother Susan, and her sister Nicole, 12, during morning Mass at St. Brendan the Navigator Church, Cumming. Photo By Michael Alexander

Susie said she is working her connections hard, but the family knows it faces the tough prospect of putting Luisa on the plane to return home.

“If she doesn’t have a match, should we be considering it?” the mother asked herself. “I’d love to keep in touch, to know that she is happy.”

Since 1999, more than 1,500 children have traveled to the United States as part of Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program, according to the organization. Some 93 percent have found families who adopted them or are pursuing adoption. Kidsave is not an adoption agency, but puts families in touch with its partner agencies.

Kidsave also has a Weekend Miracles program for children in the United States. It links older foster care children with adults interested in creating lasting relationships with children and helping them find an adoptive family. That program is only available in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Participating in Kidsave’s Summer Miracles does not mean a host family must adopt.

Mary Gleason, who is the program coordinator here, said it is designed so people curious but unsure about adopting can test the idea by hosting for five weeks. People should know by helping for the summer, they have already changed the life of the youngster, she said.

“It is not for everyone,” said Gleason, a parishioner at All Saints Church in Dunwoody who has two daughters adopted through the program. “But every family that has done this, it has been a life-altering event that they never forget.”

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