Twelve-year-old Maria Camila, separated from her adoptive mother by thousands
of miles, smiled at her through the computer screen on a Skype call. Wearing a navy blue school uniform and large white bow in her
ponytail, “Cami” thanked her mother for a recent package and told her she had a
gift for her, too. She scampered off screen for a few minutes and came back
with a piece of paper, which she began to read from, slowly and precisely.
“Richly blessed is how I feel having a mother just like you. I
love you with all my heart,” Cami concluded at the end of the poem. Her mother,
Mary Beth Long, smiling and almost tearful, thanked her.
In March, Mary Beth and her husband, Bill, will travel to Bogotá,
Colombia, and file the final paperwork for Cami’s adoption. After a month, Cami
will become a legal part of their family — less than a year after meeting the
Longs for the first time in the United States.
“This is a journey that I’ve been on, but I didn’t realize for
many, many years,” said Mary Beth, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in
Alexandria. “This is something I was called to do as a mother but didn’t
Last July, Cami, who has spent years in the Colombian foster care
system, traveled to the United States through a program called Summer Miracles,
a collaboration between the nonprofit organization KidSave and Catholic
Charities of Baltimore. The Long family — Mary Beth, Bill and their children Mary
Grace, 10, and Carter, 13 — hosted Cami
and a chaperone in their home for five weeks. They were profiled in the Catholic Herald during an effort to find Cami a
Through Summer Miracles, children who have little chance of being
adopted in their home country between ages 11 and 14, are matched with families
who agree to host and advocate on their behalf. Before coming to the U.S.,
children first are evaluated for their ability to handle the trip and
potentially adjust to life here permanently. Families do not commit to adopt,
though many, such as the Longs, decide to at the end of the trip. During the
weekends, KidSave hosts events, such as pizza-making and painting parties, where
the children can meet more prospective families. About 80 percent of the 1,750 children
who have participated in the program since 1999 have found a family, said Terri
Baugh, president and co-founder. KidSave hopes to find hosts for 50 children
“If we don’t get them here, they don’t get families, because
nobody’s really looking for an 11-year-old,” said Baugh. “But once they meet
that 11-year-old, it changes.”
On a recent Skype call, Mary Beth Long speaks with her new daughter, Cami, who will remain in Colombia until the adoption is finalized. MARY STACHYRA LOPEZ | CATHOLIC HERALD
The temporary nature of the program makes it a little easier for
prospective families and the children to consider adoption. Some couples have
never had children and aren’t sure if they can handle the lifestyle change.
Other parents already have children and want to make sure a new member is a
good fit. Whatever the situation, “everybody’s essentially doing super
networking to draw people in to meet the kids,” said Baugh. The children who do
not find permanent homes still benefit from the cultural exchange, she said.
Adopting an adolescent from another country comes with
challenges. Children have endured trauma. There is a language barrier. The
financial cost is high. Even temporarily hosting meant visits from a Catholic
Charities social worker and many hours poring over paperwork. “It’s normal to
be nervous,” Mary Beth said. But people who feel drawn to the program should
“think about how God will stand by you.”
The Long family’s first steps toward adoption began early in
2016, the Year of Mercy, when they wanted to find a way to “share mercy” with
someone else. After learning about Summer Miracles during a neighborhood
gathering, Mary Beth immediately wanted to get involved, and Bill agreed.
Because an adoption “wasn’t a done deal,” it was “easy to relax”
around Cami, Mary Beth said. The family took a beach vacation in North
Carolina. They traveled to Pittsburgh to meet Mary Beth’s parents. Mary Grace
and Cami hit it off, to the point where Mary Beth worried about separating
them. Though Cami spoke little English and the family did not speak Spanish,
they found they were able to communicate well.
“She is really funny, has a great sense of humor. Even the fact
that we have a language barrier, humor was a great tool to break down that
awkwardness,” said Mary Beth. “No com-pren-dation,” Cami would quip in a mesh
of Spanish and English when she didn’t understand something.
The Longs also were attracted to Cami’s generous heart. “She
doesn’t have anything, but she will give you the shirt off her back,” Mary Beth
Before Cami left the United States, she had made up her mind that
she wanted to be a part of the family. The Longs took a few weeks to pray about
it because KidSave tells families “not to decide in the heat of the moment.”
After they made their decision, they went to Mass and “the homily was all about
how God answers prayer,” Mary Beth said.
Since Cami returned to Colombia, the Longs have kept in touch via
Skype. Each has learned a little more of the other’s language. On a recent
Wednesday, it took a couple minutes before anyone could bring themselves to disconnect
“Love you,” Cami said, blowing kisses at her mother through the