I remember the day back in early December when I first "met" Michelle Zoromski, the donations coordinator for Reece's Rainbow. I had just begun my iPod fundaiser for Olga...I had no idea if we would see anything come in, and at that time Olga had a little over $70 in her grant fund. I was so moved by Olga's beautiful little face and her plight, when I first read about her on Stephanie's blog, that I felt a desperation to do something to help her. I plotted for days about how Sam and I could rescue her, spent many hours crying and praying and begging God and my husband to make a way for us to adopt her. When I realized (through the very practical counsel of my husband) that there really was no way we could financially qualify to even begin the adoption process, I determined to find a way for somebody out there to do it.
Maybe I couldn't be her mama, but through a little effort and a lot of prayer, I set my heart to finding a family for Olga.
One night, while searching the internet for ideas on how to do that, I stumbled across Adeye Salem's blog, and read her words in "The Most Important Post I Have Ever Written." I read how God had miraculously used Adeye's blog to save a little girl, Julia, who previously had no hope of ever being rescued. I decided if God could do that for Julia, He could do it for Olga.
I blogged from my heart, offered up our little unopened iPod, and the next day...the donations started rolling into Olga's account. Stephanie and I emailed back and forth frantically, trying to figure out how to get current totals to post. We didn't have any idea how the Angel Tree project worked on RR, and we were confused about why Olga's totals appeared to be rising steadily and then dropping back down.
I contacted Lisa Peele, whom I had just interviewed, and asked if she had any idea why the totals were fluctuating. She put me in touch with Michelle Zoromski...and the rest, as they say, is history.
Michelle explained that the money was still in Olga's account- it was just being transferred to her Angel Tree fund (and displayed on that page, rather then the page I had been sending people to.) She also told me that she had been emailing back and forth with Molly, Olga's Angel Tree warrior all day, wondering where all the new donations were coming from. I was so excited to hear how much we were shaking things up at Reece's Rainbow...little did I know we were adding to - make that multiplying- the hours Michelle spent recording donations, with our little fundraising efforts!
Over the past 4 months I've probably exchanged over 500 emails with Michelle...I know, because I just searched through them, preparing for this interview:) I knew she really loved me when she gave me her cell phone number...I sneaked away during our Pure Love Giveaway to a marriage retreat, and I really really wanted to know how Peter's fund was doing in the 24 hours I would be gone. True to her word, Michelle kept me updated and somehow managed to keep me sane through it all!
I am so thankful for her friendship, and so happy to be able to post this interview...Michelle, you have a heart of gold, and I am blessed to know you:)
Interview with Michelle Zoromski
Michelle Zormoski, her husband Brian, and daughter Lilya
How did you decide to adopt internationally?
Adoption was never really in my plan. I was never one of those people who thought they'd adopt someday. I thought adoption was for people who were unable to have children, and why would I take a baby away from someone who couldn't have their own, when I could? My view of adoption was very, very limited.
Then, in 2007, our twin daughters were born. We had two older children already, and we were thrilled about having identical little girls. I had a wonderful pregnancy, and we had no warning that we'd lost Lydia. I had a routine ultrasound at almost 38 weeks, and she was just ... gone. Finding out after birth that the girls both had Down syndrome ... well, that was hardly bad news, we were just so relieved to still have our Ruby.
I always felt like Ruby was jilted, that she was meant to grow up with a sister with Down syndrome. When we found Reece's Rainbow online, it was like an answer to that problem -- and we instantly discussed it, "Someday we should adopt a baby with Down syndrome!"
In November 2009 there was a little girl appearing on many blogs, as she needed a family, immediately, to keep her from being transferred. Brian & I talked about it, but we just weren't ready. Yet, I couldn't get her face out of my mind -- she seemed to have so much potential, and a spark in her eyes! I would lie in bed at night & think, "How can we do this? Is this crazy?" I emailed everyone I knew online who had adopted through Reece's Rainbow & asked them questions -- I had a deep suspicion that if Andrea Roberts from Reece's Rainbow knew I was out here, I'd be hooked in. I really believed that once I made contact with her, we'd end up starting an adoption (and that's pretty much what happened!)
A couple days later, it was announced that this little girl had found a family, and I was so relieved, so happy for her family. And yet, we'd had a major shift in our plans -- Brian & I were no longer talking about "A baby, someday," but we were talking about an older girl, who needs us NOW. We were horrified by the thought of these little ones being sent to institutions ... I still can't think about it, really. It makes me physically ill to think about these little ones taken from their baby homes, the orphanages where they've lived their entire lives, and put into an institution with only their most basic needs met. It's got to be traumatic for them.
Brian & I separately looked at the list of girls with Down syndrome who were ages 3-5, and we both picked out the same girl. There were a dozen different girls we could've adopted, yet we both knew we wanted Lilya. Her little picture with her pretty oval face, and her bio said she was a twin, abandoned at birth for having Down syndrome. We lost a twin named Lydia, and found a twin named Lilya.
That was it. We were instantly frantic about committing to her, getting our homestudy done -- all the other obstacles were no longer a big deal. She was our daughter, and we were going to go get her.
Can you describe your adoption process? What did you enjoy the most about it- and what was the most difficult aspect of it?
It was amazing when Lilya became a real person for us, and not just a few photographs. She was everything we imagined and more -- much like when your new baby is born, and they're new yet familiar at the same time? That's how it was with Lilya.
The hardest part of the adoption was the unpredictability. I like to plan, to know what's next. We had to give that up and just go with the flow -- when would our paperwork be done? When it was done. When would we travel? When we got a date. How long would we be gone from home? WEEKS ... but our paperwork did get finished, and we were given a date to be there, and we had tickets that we could change the dates. We learned to be prepared for anything.
I wouldn't trade that travel for anything, though. We were able to visit Lilya for weeks before we brought her home. She trusted me, she knew I belonged to her when I took her out of the orphanage. She might not have understood that she'd never be going back, but she was comfortable leaving with me. We got to see where she lived, what her life was like -- and we got to experience firsthand what it was like to be thrown into a completely different culture without knowing the language, and only knowing a couple of people for help. That really gave us some insight into what it must have been like for Lil, moving into our house!
One of the things that's made the biggest impression on me since we first met Lilya and the other children at her orphanage is that these are simply children. There is so much discussion about adopting "older children" -- and that's just not worded right. They're in desperate need of finding families because of their limited futures, and it's sad that they're labeled as older -- because that's just one more obstacle. Even though they may be 5 or 6 or 7 or 9 -- in reality, they're kids! I hope more people will see that, and realize that "older children" really need families.
Reece's Rainbow has such an amazing support group, just "built in"...what has your experience been, as far as connecting with other adoptive familes?
The Reece's Rainbow community is unique -- not only are there people advocating, fundraising, praying for and adopting children, but these are children that large parts of the world simply overlooks. It was through RR that we were able to prepare ourselves; we were able to email with families who had actually been to this very same orphanage, and had met Lilya. What a gift that was! We found out that her orphanage took wonderful care of the children, and that the process was often longer for adoptions in this region.
Also, no matter how many adoption books you read, special needs adoption is rarely discussed. With the Reece's Rainbow families, almost everyone has a blog and you can follow the process from commitment to adoption and watch the children settle in and just thrive.
How did you start "working" for RR and how are you able to do ALL that you do...on a volunteer basis?
While we were in the midst of the adoption (the waiting part), I mentioned to Andrea that I would love to help with RR if she ever needed me -- preferably somewhere behind the scenes, maybe with the website. She mentioned that she really needed someone to help with donations. Well, that's what I did at my last job! I used to work at the local homeless shelter, and I handled their donations & paid the bills. So, once we got Lilya home & settled in, I emailed Andrea and told her to put me to work.
Also, my husband is a very patient man :)
What do you think keeps Reece's Rainbow afloat?...based on your experience, is it many people giving small donations, or large donations, or a combination of both.
I think it's STEADY donations that keeps RR moving. It's the people who routinely donate $10 to a family fundraiser, and $25 to a waiting child, and then $100 to another family -- it's people donating whatever they can spare, again & again. Really, if every one of the people who visited RR donated $20 a month, that could do amazing things! And when people fundraise (like you have been doing) or donate large grants to a couple different children, that really helps motivate people to advocate more, and bring in new families.
Have you seen a lot more donations come in this past year, or has this been a typical year?
The growth of Reece's Rainbow is astounding. I began helping this fall, and then the Angel Tree fundraiser raised $300,000 in two months (November & December). Now, there's a steady stream of kids finding families, and utilizing those funds. It's going to be a very busy year, and I couldn't be more excited! Personally, I hope to see all 180+ kids who were on the Angel Tree in 2010 adopted in 2011. Now that would be truly amazing.
What suggestions do you have for those who want to run their own fundraisers or giveaways? What are other types of fundraisers do you know of that have been successful?
I know how hard fundraising can be. I'm a fan of blog auctions, but I know those don't work for everyone, especially new bloggers. I do believe if you're going to have a giveaway, you should request a specific amount to enter, or you get a lot of $1 donations. And, while every dollar does help ... the PayPal fees are harsh on donations under $5. Basically, we pay around $.34 for a $1 donation, and $.41 for $5. So, when people ask me, my personal opinion is to ask for donations of $10 to enter a drawing.
Many families have had success having fundraiser in their communities, but there's no set formula for that, either.
Most families have more than one fundraiser throughout the process. The hard part is getting the word out -- the more people that know about your fundraiser, the more that can donate ... and the more people who learn about Reece's Rainbow in the process!
You and I have discussed the "God's will/God's bill" type of thinking. Obviously not everyone who adopts has a pile of cash sitting in their bank account waiting to be used on something (although there are some who do!)...so what is your personal philosophy about entering the adoption process on a wing and a prayer?
Realistically, if we waited until "Someday" like we had planned, we would have missed out, and Lilya would be in an institution. That horrifies me. I'm so glad we jumped in, even though we didn't have the money in our hands when we started. I do think it's reckless to jump in without a back up plan, though, or the finances to cover the beginning stages.
Fundraising is hard; I hate asking people for anything, let alone money. And really, why were we adopting if we didn't have the money? It seems irresponsible in some ways, but it's so important to get these children home, and FAST. (Plus, it gave me something to focus on while we worked on paperwork...) We were fully prepared to take out a loan to get us to Lil, but we were lucky enough that we didn't need to. We had enough saved up for the initial costs (homestudy, paperwork, etc). We had an auction on our blog, we sold some stuff on Craig's list. My mom sold some old jewelry, and I did, too. I cashed in all the savings bonds my Gran had bought me when I was a little girl. We had friends & family make donations to Reece's Rainbow for us -- and then, we received an anonymous gift of $10,000. The generosity of people, the way people came together to help us bring our daughter home? Blew me away.
In the end, we spent less on adopting Lil than we spent on our mini-van. It's just scary when you think about coming up with that much money in such a short time period. But, I'm glad we went through that. I'm glad we had to look around us and sell things we didn't need and cut back on expenses and really prioritize what was important -- because that was part of the journey of bringing home Lil.
Tell us about the RR yahoo group- how much did that help you when you were adopting? I see your name there all the time (*yes, I'm stalking you, Michelle!)- how do you keep up with everything?!
While we were adopting, I wasn't that active in the Yahoo group. I really enjoyed the weekly chats, though -- there's a chat group for people in the adoption process for different countries on different nights. It was a great way to get more information about the process from other families who've been there, too.
I always did skim through the Yahoo group, but didn't post much before -- but I didn't have much to contribute, really. Now that we've been there, done that (and now that I'm helping with donations) there are questions that pop up that I can quickly answer. I know (firsthand!) how stressful every step of the process can be -- all that waiting! All that money!! So, I'm happy to help when I can, to alleviate a little bit of that stress.
What do you think is the best strategy for helping the kids on RR if you are not in a position to adopt right now.
Advocating and fundraising. The waiting children need a voice, they need someone to help them find a family. The Reece's Rainbow community has grown so much in the past few years, but in order to get all these children home, it needs to grow even more.
I usually suggest focusing on a waiting child, and doing what you can for one or two children -- maybe that's a one-time donation, or a monthly donation, and blogging or posting about that child on Facebook. I'm always amazed how many people find a child through a post on someone's blog or seeing their picture on Facebook!
Do you think you will adopt again?
Yes, I do think we will. I don't know for sure, but we talk about it. It's definitely an option.
If you would like to read more about the Zoromski's, you can do so here on their family blog, The Zoromski Chronicles. And while you're there, leave her a comment telling her what an amazing mama she is- parenting four children and doing all she does as a volunteer... someone needs to buy that woman a crown!!! :)
And now for a little plea from my heart..
This little guy over on my sidebar, has been heavy on my heart...
Artem has been waiting for a family for too long. He has over $4,200 sitting in his grant fund, and his time at the baby house is running out...he turns five this June. This breaks.my.heart.
Please- would you spread the word that Artem needs a family? That grant fund would make a big dent in his adoption. I've seen God move mountains for these children- can you trust Him to do the same for you? Would you consider rescuing Artem? He deserves a life. No child should be facing what he is facing. If you are not able to adopt him, would you post his sweet face on your Facebook page or blog? Would you email your friends and family and ask them to consider rescuing this precious boy? At the very least, would you pray for him to find his forever family soon, before it's too late?
Then the King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'. Matthew 25:40