[I've written here about six projects proposed for the American Express Members Project that were in the top 25 by number of votes, but were not selected by the advisory board. To celebrate the efforts of parents who got that vote out, and spotlight some worthwhile charities, I've been profiling these bypassed projects over the course of this week; today's is the fifth in the series, and you can find the others at the end of this post (and one more to come on Monday). Though they're no longer in the contest, I hope you'll consider voting with your pocketbook and making a donation.]
Project Name: Save an Orphan With Down Syndrome
Popular Vote: The project was #24 in number of votes when the American Express Members Project Top 25 were chosen, with 2,086.
Disability Addressed: Down Syndrome. Reece's Rainbow, the organization proposing the project, is an adoption ministry that advocates for waiting children with Down syndrome in international orphanages and lightens the financial burden on families wishing to adopt them. According to the Reece's Rainbow site, "By raising money to offer adoption grants on waiting children, we are able to give adoptive families the extra financial help they need to bring a child with Down syndrome home from a miserable existence in overseas orphanages. Our Sponsorship Program provides a unique opportunity for anonymous donors to contribute to the adoption journey of our families.
"These children are viewed as outcasts with no ability to learn or be functional members of society. They languish in mental institutions, hidden away from the world in shame. Even if you are not able to adopt a child at this time, you truly can change the course of a child's life by helping adoptive families afford the costs of international adoption." Families who find a waiting child through Reece's Rainbow are directed to an agency that will handle the actual adoption.
Achievable Goals: I asked Andrea Roberts, executive director of Reece's Rainbow, how the money from the Members Project would have been put to use. Her response:
"The money would have been very easy ... it goes strictly as adoption grants to help families adopt children with Down syndrome internationally. Each of our waiting children has a donation link and an account of their own, whereby individuals and businesses donate towards the adoption of a specific child. That money is openly listed on our website so potential adoptive families can see it, and know that there is financial help available. That is a big deal when an international adoption averages $20k+.
"In only 28 months, we have found families for 110 children with Down syndrome and other special needs worldwide. It is the donations that have made that difference. Being able to provide nearly full grants to all of our children would literally have meant every one of them would find a family. The cost is the number one factor in the length of time that children have to wait for a family.
"Reece's Rainbow is a completely nonprofit and totally volunteer organization. I work 70 hours a week for free. So that money, 100 percent of it, would have gone straight to childrens' grants and not to any operational expenses or salary or anything like that. It would have had nearly immediate, life-saving results."
Child of the Month: On the first of each month, the Reece's Rainbow site features a child in particular need of adoption. For October 2008, the featured child is Ginger. Her description:
"Girl, Born January 2003. SIGNIFICANT RISK, PLEASE ADOPT ME SOON!! What a darling, happy little girl! Ginger has brown hair and brown eyes. We are uncertain of the presence of any type of heart condition, but she is very active and happy and social. You will have access to her medical records at the time of your visit.
"From one of our adoptive families who visited with her in August 2008: 'Ginger is the sweetest little girl. I held her often and she loved to snuggle and cuddle! She held on to me so tight and cried when I put her down. She is non-verbal (makes sounds but no words), but she has the sweetest little giggle and she is very ticklish. I was told she can follow basic commands.'
"Ginger is facing imminent institutionalization. Your grant donations and willingness to adopt her will save her life!"
Potential Impact: In a section called Staggering Statistics, the Reece's Rainbow site shares some sad numbers: "In Central and Eastern European countries alone (this would include Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Romania, etc, but not Russia), there are more than 1.5 million children who have been abandoned by their families for one reason or another and are living in 'public care' (that's the nice way to put it). If statistically, 1 out of every 733 live births results in a child with Down syndrome, that means at any given time there are 2,046 children with Down syndrome who need families. That's just in Europe! Some do not survive because of serious medical complications ... some do not survive because of lack of medical attention, lack of food, lack of love.
"In Russia, there are over 700,000 children waiting for families, meaning at least 955 children with Down syndrome wait, languishing. In Asia (China, Hong Kong, Korea, India), there are 3,572,000 orphans, with nearly 5,000 children with Down syndrome who are unwanted. Many of those children are killed at birth. The 'lucky' ones end up in orphanages and foster care situations."
To see the happy endings to some of those stories, visit the Homecomings page of the Reece's Rainbow site and read the parents' blog accounts of their adoptions.
Personal Appeal: Roberts wrote on the Members Project page for Reece's Rainbow, "My own son was born with Down syndrome in 2002. We grieved when we learned of his diagnosis, as most new parents would. But he is growing up in a loving, supportive family. He has access to proper medical care, enough to eat, and a warm bed to sleep in. But more importantly, he was born in the U.S. and he has rights ... services provided for him to be equally educated and included in society. There is nothing for these kids in other countries. YOU are their one voice and their one hope."
How to Help: Reece's Rainbow offers many ways to contribute to advocacy for and adoption of children with Down syndrome and other special needs. One that starts on November 1 -- the start of National Adoption Awareness Month -- is the Christmas Angel Tree Project, in which any donor giving $35 or more to help sponsor a waiting child will receive a porcelain ornament with the child's photo on the back. Other ways to help include sponsoring a waiting child or adopting family; donating as a gift; or being a prayer warrior.