Christmas is coming early for three Indiana County families — on Sunday, to be exact.
That’s when Stephanie and Bryan Wilkins, Dana and Dave Mattini, and Dorah Rice will meet the three orphaned children from Northern Europe who they will open their homes to this holiday season.
The meeting will take place at Dulles International Airport in Sterling, Va. From there, the children will be on their way to Indiana, where they will spend four weeks with their host families. The kids, who range in age from 12 to 18, are coming to visit through the efforts of New Horizons for Children Inc.
The Christian-based organization connects orphaned children with host families three times a year, when the orphanages where they live are closed for holidays or summer breaks.
According to information from New Horizons, once children age out of an orphanage program, they are at high risk for lives of homeless, crime or prostitution.
Having the chance to stay with a family in the United States can give them a new perspective on life and give them skills — such as better English language abilities — that can help them to make a better life for themselves.
While New Horizons is not an adoption agency, there are times, according to the organization, when children do end up being adopted by American families.
All three are from Northern Europe, as well as their chaperone, who will split her time between two hosts, also in the Indiana area.
For Dana Mattini and her husband, Dave, the Christmas season will begin on Sunday when they welcome Samanta, who just turned 18.
The family is holding off until she arrives to decorate for Christmas. They’ve not put out anything yet except an Advent calendar for their 17-month-old son, Aaron.
During her time here, Dana Mattini said, they want to “allow her to experience everything that she possibly can, from beginning to end.”
When it comes to gifts, she and her husband don’t want to go overboard. But there are plenty of other ways they plan to give.
“We want her to know people care about her, and no amount of stuff can compare to that,” she said.
“She’ll be a part the family from the moment she gets here to the moment she leaves, and beyond.”
When the West Lebanon couple learned about the program through the others who are hosting children, they began to fundraise, asking loved ones and church members to help with the cause. They also, she said, had some savings that helped cover expenses.
Hosting families are responsible for raising the several thousand dollars needed to cover travel costs and basic necessities for the child.
The program is about more than the basics, however.
“It’s about providing them with hope for a better life, whether it’s here in America or in their home country,” Rice said. “It’s about making them know they’re valuable.”
And she would know.
In the summer, Rice, an Indiana resident, hosted a 9-year-old boy through the organization.
“I just fell in love with him and fell in love with the whole program,” she said.
In the months that followed, she became a volunteer with New Horizons.
She also worked to help her friends, Stephanie and Bryan Wilkins, bring a child here for Christmas.
The couple, who live with their two children in Rayne Township, will play host to 12-year-old Vadims.
While Stephanie said she would have never imagined she’d do something like host a child from a foreign country, she formed a strong connection with Rice’s summer guest.
“Just seeing his face light up when he would understand something or see something he really liked, it was more fulfilling than I excepted,” she said.
“I started to feel really sad that he was going to leave and more touched than I thought I’d be,” she said. “(Rice) suggested that I (host a child), too.”
She, her husband their children, Roan, 9, and Rachel, 11, are eagerly anticipating their holiday guest’s arrival.
“They are really excited. My son, especially, because he’ll have somebody to play video games with,” she said. “He drew pictures of them playing video games with him.”
While Rice was focused on fundraising for Vadim’s visit and supporting the efforts of the Wilkins family, she saw Elvira, a 16-year-old orphan, on the New Horizons website.
“As soon as I heard her story, I was just done,” Rice said. “I was like, this girl needs to be here.”
Though she doesn’t know much about the girl’s situation, Rice, the mother of a 9-year-old son, Izaak, does know already that they have something in common.
Elvira wants to either go into business for herself or be a teacher.
Rice, who runs an English education company for home schooled students, does both.
She hopes to be able to help the girl succeed.
“She’s fighting for herself, she’s not giving up on herself,” she said. “She’s still taking steps to make her life meaningful, despite a hard life.”
Like Rice, Dana Mattini has already found a special kind of connection with Samanta.
She has two art degrees, her sister is a beautician and a friend owns a salon, so she was delighted to learn that Samanta has a love of art and aspires to become a hairdresser.
“There’s too much lining up here for it to be coincidence,” she said. “There are too many things falling into place.”
If things continue to fall into place, there’s a chance that the family may help Samanta return to the U.S., live with them and attend school on a student visa, if that is her wish.
“We want her to understand that this could be her life,” she said.
How to help:
Anyone interested in donating to any of the families can make a donation via Rice’s blog at www.hexagonalpeg.wordpress.com. Donors can designate which family the donation can go to or the donation can be split three ways.
Other donations, like gift cards for clothing and supplies, can be sent in care of Dorah Rice, P.O. Box 1451 Indiana, PA 15701. Donations can be designated for a specific family or divided equally.
For more information:
Contact Dorah Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.newhorizonsforchildren.org or check out the blogs of Rice — www.hexagonalpeg.wordpress.com and Mattini — http://fibersgirl.wordpress.com, where they share their stories.