For more information on New Horizons for Children, or to donate to the program, visit www.newhorizonsforchildren.org.
Two Hall County families flung open their doors and hearts this holiday season and invited five Russian orphans into their homes.
Through the international Christian-based program New Horizons for Children, Josh and Holly Trawick raised funds to fly three St. Petersburg children to Atlanta. Hearing of the Trawicks’ plans to host three children for four weeks, Richard and Muffy Magahey raised thousands of dollars to fly two more St. Petersburg children to Atlanta, where the families met the kids and brought them to their Hall County homes.
The five Russian children are part of a group of 125 kids New Horizons for Children Inc. recruited from Eastern European orphanages and transported to the United States. The Acworth-based international hosting program aims to expose the children to family life, Christianity and the English language.
On Dec. 16, the Trawicks trekked to the Atlanta airport with their own pack — their two biological children Alexis, 11, and Jackson, 10, along with Jonathan, 4, who they adopted two years ago from a Kazakhstan orphanage. Brooks, 10, Justin, 8, and Parker, 5, of the Magahey clan also joined their parents in waiting at the airport until the wee hours of the morning to welcome the Russian children.
The 10 family members were eager to learn what their new temporary family members were like.
"You hear they like soccer. You have a picture and then you have a little bio," Holly Trawick said. "That’s all you have to go on. But when you get them, you learn a lot more."
At the airport, the Trawicks greeted Valia, an 8-year-old girl, and her brothers Kolia, 12, and Sergey, also 12. The children were all taken from their mother five years ago and have lived in a children’s home ever since. The Magaheys welcomed two boys, Gosha, 12, and Denis, 13, who have been living together in the same orphanage for several years.
Muffy Magahey said the majority of the children on the flight were dispersed throughout Georgia homes, but others are enjoying their four-week visit with families in North Carolina, Tennessee, California, New York and Colorado. While the primary goal of the nonprofit organization is to expose the orphans to American family life, Muffy Magahey said about 80 percent of the program’s orphans find their "forever homes" while visiting families in the U.S.
Holly and Josh Trawick learned firsthand the types of children’s homes from which these children came.
Two years ago, the Trawicks spent seven weeks visiting orphanages in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state, searching for a child they wanted to adopt. They found 20-month-old Jonathan, who was labeled "special needs." He was kept in a closet and fed once a day, Holly Trawick said.
She said when he was 20 months old, Jonathan weighed only 12 pounds.
"Nobody can explain to you what it’s really like. We’d walk through the kitchen and have to step over a dead horse," Holly Trawick said. "There were no diapers on the babies ... and there were no sheets on the crib mattresses. All the children, when they see you, they start yelling ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ because they all know the adoption process."
She said when she first took Jonathan outside, he was terrified of the wind and the birds because he had never been taken outside before, likely because he was a special needs child. Now in the care of the Trawicks, Jonathan is receiving treatment for what doctors believe to be cerebral palsy.
He now loves the wind and the birds, his new mother said.
"I wanted to (host these children) because with Jonathan, I now have a heart for finding homes for kids," Holly Trawick said.
Her husband said when his wife suggested they take part in the program, he was supportive.
"Actually, she sold it very well," Josh Trawick said. "She said two of them are boys and they like to play soccer, so I thought, ‘Great!’"
Since the children have been living with the two families, they’ve been on outings to the bowling alley and to the Georgia Aquarium. But their favorite thing to do is go fishing in Lake Lanier. They’ll also all take trips to the dentist and eye doctor before they return to Russia on Jan. 15.
And Christmas was also a bit different for the children this year. They received a few gifts just for them.
"We kept Christmas really simple," Holly Trawick said. "We didn’t shower them with gifts. We didn’t want them to think getting is what America’s all about. We wanted to teach them the true meaning of Christmas."
The Trawicks and Magaheys have used online translation programs and extended games of charades to augment their sparse Russian vocabulary to communicate with the children. Slowly, the Russian children are learning English and learning about something starkly absent from many of their lives — compassion.
Valia said the best thing about her trip to the U.S. has been "mama," potato chips and her pink watch. Sergey said he’s enjoyed seeing a new country and being with a good family. Denis and Gosha said they like their new jeans and tennis shoes, and especially their host family’s video games.
Alexis said she was glad to share her home with the three kids from St. Petersburg.
"I really like it," she said. "I think other people should do it because it’s a place in their life they’ll remember forever."
Josh Trawick said he hopes his family will serve as a model for the children if they one day have families of their own.
Muffy Magahey said she’d like to participate in the program again.
"You can tell they’re very thankful and appreciative for what they have now and for what they’ve been shown," she said. "The other part of the experience is to show them there is life outside of the orphanage, because they do boot them out at 16. It’s to give them hope."