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A Colombian orphan finds a forever home after her visit to the U.S.

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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 realize.” 

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 permanent family.  

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 this summer. 

“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.”

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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 said. 

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 the call. 

“Love you,” Cami said, blowing kisses at her mother through the screen. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017