Something magical happens every July on Long Island: Regular families suddenly morph into multicultural families. This phenomenon lasts about one month, and only a handful of families participate.

These families experience excitement, elation and joy, along with some frustration and concern. Often many of these feelings mingle as everyone adjusts to their larger family status. And, at just about the time they get used to their new family, it is time to revert back to the original state. How does this occur each year? The Bridge of Hope for Russian Children summer hosting program makes it happen.

The process starts when a group of orphans ages 6 to 13, along with chaperones, journey from Russia to America. Crossing more than a half-dozen time zones, the travelers take a three-and-a-half-hour car ride and two, ten-hour flights to reach their destination.

The summer hosting program has run every year since 1997. Bridge of Hope is a cultural exchange program in which Russian orphans find respite from their ordinary lives, transitioning into campers at various American summer camps. They live with host families, which provide the child’s wardrobe and cover camp costs, for nearly one month. Families are also tasked with finding the child a great local day camp in which to enroll.

Families in the tri-state area, as well as in Washington, D.C., and Chicago participate in the Bridge of Hope program. Because the well-being of the children is of utmost concern, the preliminary paperwork for entrance into the program includes a background check and a mini home study conducted by a local adoption agency. This ensures that there is proper supervision and space for the child in the host’s home. Once paperwork is completed and approved, hosts are matched with campers. While families may request girls, boys or siblings on the hosting application, host families for boys and siblings tend to be in highest demand.

The children fly to America with a backpack holding a change of clothes and great anticipation for a summer filled with playing, swimming and living in a “real” home.

From Monday through Friday, each child in the program attends day camp. In the evenings and on weekends, kids enjoy living in a family setting with their hosts. For many of these children, this is the first time they have lived in a home with parents, siblings and pets.

Both children and their host families learn a great deal from the Bridge of Host experience. Many host families speak only English, but they may arrange for a Russian translator to help explain scheduling, house rules and daily events. This assists campers in understanding what they will be doing while stateside. Other hosts learn basic Russian phrases, provided phonetically by the hosting agency. Either way, pantomime and pictures go a long way to assist with communication.

Some host families become so attached to their host child that they look into potential permanent adoption. In many cases, the children who attend summer camp are able to be internationally adopted. Host families that end up permanently adopting their host children generally attend a picnic that is held during the program. The picnic allows campers to see their friends and chaperones to check in with the children involved in the program.
After their time in the northeast or midwest, the children fly back to Russia with their chaperones.

At the very least, children who attend summer camp gain a magical and memorable experience in the United States. Some even leave with an adoption plan in place for a new forever family in the future. There is no doubt that lives are changed for the better through Bridge of Hope’s summer hosting. Nobody is the same after participating, and everyone is greater for the experience.

Bridge of Hope is now recruiting families for its 2011 summer hosting program. If you’d like more information about becoming a host family, contact BOH Long Island coordinators Debra Servinskas at [email protected] or Marisa Bernhard at [email protected], or national director Patrice Gancie at [email protected]. Applications for summer hosting are typically submitted by the end of February or early March. Donations are accepted in lieu of program participation. Call (301)587-4400 for further details.

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