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By: ROSALBA UGLIUZZA Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Being a parent with special needs kids means that no two days are ever alike, but Ephrata High School social studies teacher Matt White says it’s the ultimate gift.
"No matter how good of a job you did at work. No matter how bad of a job you did at work. These two are always there at the door with the biggest smiles on their face, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’" said Matt, referring to his adoptive sons 11-year-old Aidan and five-year-old Kieran. "It kind of makes you forget about the real world. It’s really nice. I look forward to those two hugs more than anything every day."
Matt and his wife Beth have always wanted to provide stable, loving home for orphaned children with special needs. A month ago, they welcomed its newest member with open arms. This summer, the couple has been hosting a child from the Baltic country of Latvia named Einars in their Lancaster home.
"He’s fitting right in to the American culture and quickly picked up on the sense of entitlement and asking for things in stores and saying, ‘This mine?’" said Matt. "It’s fun to discover him."
An aficionado of cuddling, superheroes and chocolate, Einars, 9, understands a little bit of English and has been getting along so well with his host family that the couple is planning to adopt him when his visit ends in a few weeks and is asking for the public’s help.
The family has developed two fundraising websites to assist with their adoption costs. The first is called Just Love Coffee Roasters, a program created by the company founders and adoptive parents Rob and Emily Webb in order to help struggling parents with staggering adoption costs. The company has given more $200,000 to adopting parents, non-profit organizations, and the arts.
"They use their fair trade products so that in turn they can help build self-sustaining economies for third-world countries and help them to learn how to better care for themselves and give them the resources to do so," said Beth. "We really wanted to find something that was a way not only for people to help us, but a way for us to give back as well. We didn’t want it to be all one way."
The second fund-raiser is through gofundme.org, a PayPal-type website where the minimum amount people can donate is $2. The family has a long way to go to reach its goal of $13,000.
"For the most part, Matt and I put a lot of money toward the adoption. We’re to the point where we don’t have any funds left," said Beth. "If we don’t receive the funds, we are not going to be able to complete the adoption process so we are really fully relying on God at this point to bring it about."
Getting the word out about their fund-raiser has been a challenge so the White family has set up a Facebook page focused on their mission, including information on helping orphans in Eastern Europe and ways to support families who are hosting orphans.
"We have a lot of our fund-raisers on there so that they can look through in order to find us," Beth said. "Our sphere is limited because at this point in time, we go to a very large church, but they don’t really encourage letting people know about these things because that would bring everyone wanting to jump on board. In that sense, it’s been hard for us to get the word out."
So far, the family has raised about $1,500 through sub sales with the Ephrata Area School District and another fund-raiser held at Apple Tree Restaurant in Lancaster in late June.
Matt said he and his family are thankful for the support they have received from the school district.
"The school district did a tremendous job. They’re just people giving gifts or buying subs, and it was really a productive venture," he said. "We had people buy from the high school, from the middle school, and I think from the Washington Educational Center. They really responded."
Prior to Einars’ arrival, the family gained an education about the Latvian culture from Dr. Mara Anderson, a former German teacher at Ephrata High School and a Latvian native. According to Matt, Anderson has been a "godsend" in giving them Latvian cookbooks and providing them connections to her native friends in the area in case there are any questions or concerns.
"We’ll probably take him to a Latvian service while he’s here, in addition to going to (our) church," said Matt. "There’s a Latvian church picnic which we are going to attend in August."
Einars arrived to the United States on June 28 through New Horizons For Children, an international Christian hosting program that brings Eastern European orphaned children twice a year to stay with American host families.
Beth found out about the program years ago from a female acquaintance who was in her first year of hosting an orphaned child. After researching the organization’s website and blogs, she looked at multiple pictures of the children and one instantly caught her eye.
"Einars’ picture just grabbed me right away. I can’t explain why, only the fact that he looked like Kieran," she said. "I read the little blurb (about Einars), and I knew instinctively that this was a special needs child, and I knew his chances."
Like Aidan and Kieran, Einars was born to a mother who used alcohol and drugs during her pregnancy. As a result, Einars was abandoned at birth and left in the orphan care system in Latvia.
In Eastern Europe, the children are considered "broken" and "unwanted." By the age of 16, the kids are released by the government and then put out onto the street.
"No child at that age is prepared to do that. There’s a high percentage of crime and prostitution and suicide as a result," said Beth. "These are the children that we need to reach."
Aidan and Kieran were also curious about learning about their soon-to-be adoptive brother, encouraging their mother to let him join their family.
"The boys have been 100 percent on board, and they’ve prayed for him every single day. They have not ceased it. It really has been an entire family effort," said Beth. "They asked me every day, ‘How many days, Mommy, until Einars comes? How many days until he gets here?"
According to the 2011 survey by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 1,700 European immigrant orphans were adopted by American families, 40 of them were from Latvia and 35 of them were children ages five and up. About 420 immigrant orphaned children were adopted in Pennsylvania. The United Nations estimates that between 100 and 200 million children from around the world are without parents.
"We hope to lower the statistic by one," said Matt.
As part of the adoption process, Beth and Matt will travel to Latvia in the fall to spend a couple of weeks with Einars as well as meet with social workers and the courts to see if they are deemed suitable parents. About a month later, Matt will go back to Latvia for a day to attend another court session.
"After they deemed us fit, I’ll go to Latvia with Einars and what we’ll do is that we’ll get him medically checked out at the U.S. Embassy, and the adoption will be finalized," he said.
The Whites have received a lot of support and encouragement from hosting and adoptive families affiliated with the NHFC hosting program.
"It’s a wonderful ministry, and they’ve been very effective putting children in forever homes," said Beth. "This is how we came to this point currently."
Another place where the family has received support is at the Schreiber Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Lancaster.
"Schreiber has done wonders with my two sons and has expressed great excitement to help out with Einars," said Matt.
The couple, who hope to form an orphan ministry at their church, haven’t ruled out the possibility of hosting and adopting more children, but they currently want to focus on the needs of their sons and welcoming Einars to his "forever home."
"We feel God has called us not only with helping children without parents but also special needs children," said Beth. "It’s a place we feel very comfortable."
To make a donation in either fund-raiser, visit justlovecoffee.com/whiteslatvianfamilyblend or gofundme.com/h59vc. More SPECIAL FAMILY, page A16