New Milford family hosts Colombian orphan for the summer
Updated 2:38 pm, Wednesday, July 27, 2016
NEW MILFORD — Over the last month, Brandon Leguizam has gone deep-sea fishing, spent time on the New Jersey shore, attended pool parties and played soccer in the yard.
His July mirrors that of many 11-year-olds, but for Brandon, an orphan from Colombia, this summer has been anything but typical.
Brandon has been staying with Tom, Rita and Matty Napoli as part of the Kidsave Summer Miracles program, which helps place older children in foster care and orphanages abroad with U.S. families for the summer.
Brandon is one of six kids staying in Connecticut, New York or New Jersey and will be in the U.S. for one more week before returning to Colombia.
“The kids come up and spend a summer with you,” said Tom Napoli on Saturday while at a Kidsave “fun day” held at John Pettibone park in New Milford. “While they’re doing that, you’re advocating for them.”
Napoli and his wife, Rita, learned about the Kidsave program from the agency through which they adopted their son, Matty.
Once Brandon and the five other children return home, their Colombian host families have priority in adopting them. But if that doesn’t happens, events like Saturday’s can introduce children to other families who might be interested in taking them in.
“At a minimum, they are experiencing the U.S.,” said Cathee Gelman, who helps coordinate the program in the tristate area. “Just having the exposure to the food, to camp, the things we do here is life-altering. We would love to get them adopted.”
Ivonne Droz, who also helps coordinate the summer program, has hosted children each of the last two summers. Through her experience, she has witnessed how spending time in the U.S. can help change the kids’ lives.
She recalled one former participant who was adopted by an American family and has since flourished, acclimating to American culture, learning English and becoming an accomplished athlete.
“Just seeing her motivation, just seeing her happy,” Droz said. “She’s so proud of being where she is now; you can really see the difference.”
Matty, 11, was adopted by the Napolis at birth. He said he has enjoyed the summer with Brandon and the two have spent time playing soccer and video games, among other summer activities.
“I think he’s enjoying it a lot,” Matty said. “He’s always happy and smiling.”
On Saturday afternoon many of the children, host families and those interested in adoption gathered for a picnic. The kids played soccer and enjoyed the playground while the adults chatted about their experiences.
The gatherings take place each weekend in the communities of the host families, including Greenwich and Port Chester, N.Y.
“It’s great for host parents, because they all have questions,” Gelman said. “It’s great for the kids because they get to see other kids who are going through the same things and it’s great because we can have families who can meet kids.”
For more information on the Kidsave program visit www.kidsave.org.
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