By Karen Billing
A Carmel Valley couple is hoping to give an orphaned Colombian child a chance to find an adoptive family this summer. Suzanne Bacon and Jared Jacobsen are participating as a host family in the Summer Miracles program of Kidsave, an organization that brings older orphanage and foster kids to the United States to give them an opportunity to become a part of a loving family.
Bacon and Jacobsen will host 12-year-old Sebastian for a month starting Aug. 1.
Sebastian is just one of 31 Columbian children who are coming to the country with Kidsave this summer. The number of children who come are determined by the families who volunteer to host them so every spot truly counts.
“I do feel like we’re making a difference,” Jacobsen said. “We’re looking forward to giving someone that opportunity. It was especially attractive to me because they’re older kids who are getting to the end of their childhood; it’s a last chance to have a family.”
There are just seven children coming to California and only three to Southern California — Jacobsen and Bacon are the only San Diego family participating as a host this summer. The biggest group of children (16) will be in the Washington DC metro area and the rest dispersed throughout the country, according to Delta Kirkland, the Summer Miracles program assistant manager.
While the children are in the U.S. they will be attending weekend advocacy events and families interested in meeting the kids are invited to attend and get to know them.
Kidsave, with offices in DC and Los Angeles, was officially founded in 1997 and the first program year was 1999. This is Kidsave’s 16th summer presenting the Summer Miracles program. The program has brought children from Russia and Kazakhstan in the past, but now focuses its efforts on Colombia.
Many children live in orphanages in Colombia, as they have lost parents due to civil conflict and HIV/AIDS. Others are abandoned due to extreme poverty, parental drug abuse or arrest, or are left without homes after serving time as child combatants.
“We saw a need in Colombia, especially for ‘older’ children,” Kirkland said. “It’s challenging in any country to find adoptable families for older children…The kids in our program go up to age 14, so this is really the last opportunity they have to find a family.”
In Colombia, orphans are emancipated from the child welfare system at age 18 and many leave orphanages without an education, unable to support themselves and with no caring adult to guide them.
Kidsave is not an adoption agency, but it coordinates with highly accredited agencies as well as the Colombian government to work as advocates for people who are looking to complete the adoption journey, Kirkland said.
Kirkland said there have been many happy success stories over the years.
“Seventy-five to 80 percent [of the kids in the program] have found families so it’s a very effective family visit model,” Kirkland said.
One host participant last year, Adam in New York, adopted 13-year-old Cristian in November 2013 after his one-month stay in the summer. He said Kidsave was an extremely powerful volunteer opportunity, the process was amazing and there was no doubt that Cristian was the son he was meant to have.
“My heart melted the first time that I was called father,” Adam said on the Kidsave website.
Another success story, Galina from Kazakhstan, lived in horrible conditions in an orphanage after her father overdosed and her mother was not fit to take care of her.
“No child should have to live this way. Not when there are other options. Not when there is hope,” Galina wrote. “Kidsave was my hope.”
Galina visited the U.S. in 2003 with Summer Miracles and was adopted as a 9-year-old. She said that, for the first time, she felt love unconditionally. Today she is a freshman at Pepperdine University.
Jacobsen and Bacon do not have any children of their own and have lived in Carmel Valley since 2002.
Bacon works at UC San Diego in the alumni and community engagement department. She has been involved in nonprofit organizations such as the Friends of the Carmel Valley Library and Survivors of Torture International. Jacobsen is a former teacher and filmmaker, who also does statistical educational research.
The couple also lived in Mexico for a year in 2003-04 on a sabbatical where they taught English and worked on improving their Spanish.
Jacobsen found Kidsave as he was researching adoption and different programs and told his wife that if they didn’t do this, it was one less kid that would get to come tot he U.S.
“We’re both fluent in Spanish and have always felt connected to that part of the world. I thought it would be a great fit,” Jacobsen said.
Bacon had never heard of a program like Kidsave before, but was open to the experience of being on a life-changing journey right along with Sebastian.
“It was another adventure for us to do while staying here in Carmel Valley and a great way to help someone,” Bacon said.
The couple knows Sebastian’s personal story but are not allowed to share it with the media. They’ve been told he loves soccer and he takes piano lessons.
“He is doing well in school but he struggles with English so we’ll be able to help him with that,” said Jacobsen, who is also a big soccer fan.
Sebastian will celebrate his 13th birthday at the end of August while he is in San Diego.
“It will be our first children’s birthday party that we’re planning,” Bacon said.
While San Diego has plenty of attractions and things to do, they don’t want to overload his schedule and aim to make him feel as comfortable and “at home” as possible.
“We want to make sure we don’t over-stimulate him, we want him to see what everyday life is like,” said Bacon, noting there will probably be some time spent at the library and in a summer camp.
Kidsave will host advocacy events for the Southern California children for interested families to meet them; one is scheduled for Aug. 16. Find out more by visiting the web site at www.kidsave.org.
The organization is always looking for more volunteer families like the Bacons so they can bring the opportunity of family to more children. With Summer Miracles, the host application can take some time so Kirkland said she’d love for any interested host families to get started with the application process in the fall. Visit www.kidsave.org