Terry Baugh traveled to Russia in 1993 seeking to adopt a child. But her journey yielded much more than a new member of the family.
While she had traveled internationally, and had witnessed children in poverty and despair in the past, she admits that she was ill-prepared for what she would see in the large, cold orphanage she visited.
Ms. Baugh clearly remembers seeing a large playpen with five toddlers sitting inside.
“Their heads were shaved, they all looked identical,” she recalls. “They just sat there and stared; they didn’t move around, and they didn’t crawl. They were like these little zombies, because they had no stimulation.”
After returning home, Baugh shared her experience with her business partner, Randi Thompson, who was also an adoptive parent and had witnessed troubling conditions in an orphanage in Kazakhstan – including children aging out of the facility and winding up on the streets.
The pair, moved to learn more, discovered that orphanage neglect can lead to psychological and other problems, including stunted development – and also found that no organization was focused on securing permanent homes for these children.
Baugh and Ms. Thompson were compelled to find a way to help. They founded Kidsave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding permanent homes and families for children in orphanages. It also seeks to help often-forgotten older orphans and foster children grow up in a family environment and connected to adults who will provide care and nurturing.
Having read about an adoption agency that had brought 13 Russian children to the United States for a summer vacation – during which each had found families ready to adopt them – the marketing duo wondered if they could broaden their approach to have a larger impact.
They raised money to bring children to the US and, in 1999, the first summer vacation of Kidsave brought 177 children to America. By the end of the six-week program, 97 percent of the children had found adoptive families.
“We knew that there was something much bigger than us happening,” Baugh says. “When people saw children in need, many literally fell in love, [and] others were compelled to help.”
The successful summer launch led to the creation of Kidsave’s Family Visit Model, a program that has since been successfully tested and implemented in Russia, Colombia, and the US as a way to help older orphanage and foster children find families to take them in.
The program facilitates short-term visits with families either for a summer or even a weekend, and has been successful through finding in-country adoptive families as well as families ready to adopt in places like the US, Canada, and Europe.
To date, nearly 1,800 children have been given summer vacations through Kidsave, with roughly 8 of every 10 children being matched with an adoptive family.
Kidsave estimates that it has also helped some 15,000 children find families in their own countries.
The goal behind their efforts, Baugh says, is to address the shameful neglect suffered by millions of foster children and orphans around the world, who often suffer severe consequences from their time spent in such facilities.
Baugh credits the support of individual donors and private foundations that have assisted in the cause, as well as the “volunteer army” that helps with recruitment and programming.
The cause is personal for Baugh: She has three adopted children of her own – now ages 22, 23, and 25.
Kidsave is able to foster connections between the children and their potential future families, she says.
“This problem of kids in orphanages, warehoused around the world – most people don’t know about it. They don’t act on it,” she says. “[But] when these kids are in front of you, they change your lives.”
This summer’s program is under way. Baugh says that there are children visiting the US right now who are hoping to find an adoptive family.
“We have still got a lot of kids who need families, who are only here for two more weeks,” she says.
• For more information visit www.kidsave.org.