For years, Shad and Noelle Roach of Apex wanted to add to their family through adoption. But they’re still waiting.
“We went through the process of earning our foster-care license and receiving a license to adopt in the U.S.,” says Shad Roach, a fifth-grade teacher at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex. “However, after a good period of time, we were never matched with a child.”
The couple has a 9-year-old son, Colby.
They recently discovered Marina’s Kids, a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania that matches host families across the nation with Ukrainian orphans twice a year for visits.
Host families must go through training, background checks and interviews, and they must make a $2,500 donation to help with travel expenses, visas and passports.
In July, the Roaches hosted 13-year-old Lera and 11-year-old Vitalik for three weeks.
And they all pretty much fell in love.
“The moment we met them, they both gave us big, genuine hugs and smiles,” says Noelle Roach. “The kids were so gracious and brave. Can you imagine traveling halfway across the world to stay with a family you’ve never met?
“The second morning they were here, Lera woke me up in my bed with a huge hug and kiss. And one night after I had spent much of the night awake with him, Vitalik used a Google translator to make me a handwritten note that said, ‘I love you very very much!’”
The goal of such programs is to give children experiences they wouldn’t have in the orphanage.
“Orphaned children do not get a good foundation for family and miss out on things like how we treat each other, how we love and what families do to have fun together,” Shad Roach says. “Hosting a child gives him or her a chance to know that there are good people in the world.”
At first, the Roaches had big plans for those three weeks – maybe a trip to Carowinds amusement park or Great Wolf Lodge. In the end, the couple opted for simpler activities.
“We’ll never forget Lera’s surprise that the ocean was salt water,” Shad says. “We wanted to give the kids family experiences. Experiences that we take for granted, like having someone tuck us into bed at night or putting a Band-Aid on a boo-boo, were what they seemed to enjoy most.”
Bedtime was turned into an hours-long event of reading and bonding. The kids even liked to do chores, fighting over who got to vacuum.
Soon, though, Lera and Vitalik had to go back to Ukraine.
Noelle Roach sprung into action and created an online fundraising campaign in an effort to raise money to bring Lera and Vitalik back to North Carolina for good.
“We have friends who have followed this story every step of the way for many years now,” Shad Roach says. “Many mentioned that they wanted a way to help, so we set up a fundraising site where friends could donate or share our story with others. We have been touched beyond words by everyone’s well wishes and support.”
International adoption has become more difficult. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin took steps to ban the adoption of Russian orphans by American families. Adoption of Ukrainian children under the age of 5 is forbidden.
“Much of the difficulty comes from trying to navigate through two governments’ set of laws, two different languages and cultural issues,” Noelle Roach says.
It all takes time, and there are no guarantees.
“The biggest challenge that we face, on top of the financial hurdles, is the fact that all adoptions in Ukraine are considered blind adoptions in the sense that they will not hold children, and you must travel over to select the children once you are in the country,” Shad Roach says. “So at any time between now and when we can get both governments to process our paperwork, someone else could come in and adopt Vitalik and Lera.”
Through it all, the Roach family worries about the possible fates for the children if they age out of the Ukraine foster system. On the fundraising site, youcaring.com, Noelle shares what she’s learned – 60 to 70 percent of orphans turn to a life of crime or prostitution, and 10 percent will commit suicide before their 20th birthday.
“We are dedicated to bringing these two amazing kids back to our family, no matter what,” Shad Roach says.