By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Anne Mahoney could not peel her eyes away from the scene she was magnetically mesmerized by in her back yard.
Here, in the heart of a warm, summer afternoon, 15-year-old Reilly was comfortably reclining on a lounge chair as she stared high up above at the sky, while a radiant smile enveloped her face and an overall sense of peace surrounded her.
“When I asked her what she was looking at, she just said the sky,” recalled Mahoney. “That was really all I had to hear to know what this summer means to her.”
It’s a special summer for Reilly, made possible by a unique organization named Kidsave, whose mission is to secure families for older children for adoption. That dedicated commitment is steered by an unwavering belief that orphans and children all over the globe deserve to thrive with the support and love of a caring family. For older kids in particular, who are faced with aging out of foster care, the prospects of achieving that goal can diminish as time moves on. However, thanks to the connections forged between Kidsave and families like Mahoney’s, brilliant pieces of light and hope exist.
For Mahoney, who resides in the Town of Newburgh and learned from her parents at a young age to have “a heart for service,” Kidsave- which brings children from Columbia (ages 9-15, and can go as low as age 7 with a sibling) seeking a home to America with the platform of exposing them for potential adoptions- was an immediate, natural fit. The life-altering discovery came five years ago with a simple Google search for host-exchange programs in her home for children.
“I love children, and really wanted to open my home to them in some way,” explained Mahoney, who along with her husband Eric Rodriguez and 15- year-old daughter Amelia, is now in her third summer hosting a child- this year Reilly- for a five week session through the Summer Miracles Program.
Each one of those ventures has filled her family’s hearts with an inexplicable amount of joy and gratitude. As with witnessing the genuine sense of awe that overcame Reilly simply by looking at the sky, each day is filled with similar blessings.
“Seeing these kids experience things they have never experienced before in their lives- such as seeing a dishwasher work, going to a carwash, visiting a grocery store and seeing there are options, and when you ask them what they want, to see their face light up- is absolutely incredible,” explained Mahoney.
Those magical gifts are further born through being a part of a family unit for the first time. Reilly, in orphanage care for over half her life, immediately developed a “sisterly” bond with Amelia. Despite the thousands of miles that separate their native countries, the duo has been enthusiastically discovering their shared, universal language of swimming at the beach, devouring lots of s’mores and ice cream, voraciously reading, playing with the family’s two Yorkie mixes: Banjo and Scout, marveling at the night sky light up with a colorful entourage of fireworks on the Fourth of July, and of course, just simply sharing in the journey of being teenagers.
“It’s cool to have someone else in the house to learn about each other and our cultures,” said Amelia who taught herself Spanish during the heart of the Pandemic, making for communication with her friend much easier. “The whole experience has allowed me to feel really grateful for what we have here.”
Amelia is not alone with feeling that genuine appreciation. Reilly, who spoke through a voice translator, wore a pensive look, as she reflected upon what the experience of being a member of an American family has meant to her so far this summer.
“I like most all things we have done and trying out new things like eating my favorite foods-peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and quesadillas-as well as seeing fireworks and the ocean and the big waves for the first time,” Reilly said. Thinking deeper, she added, “I just feel so much freer here.”
Another thing Reilly enjoys is the weekly Saturday gatherings with her fellow Kidsave Summer Miracle’s friends who are also spending part of their summers in Tri-state homes. Whether getting together at a bowling alley, a pool, or in the case of this Saturday, August 6, for a local event- filled with delicious food, fun games and plenty of laughter and bonding- at a Wappinger’s Falls locale, Summer Miracle’s children can share their experiences; while people interested in meeting them, have the opportunity to learn more about Kidsave, contemplate becoming a host family, or discover details about adopting an older child from Columbia, have a real-time platform to do so. This critical advocacy piece, involving these types of events, is yet another way people can get involved in this forever lives-changing opportunity whose rewards are immeasurable.
“What we are really doing is showing Reilly what a family is and what it’s like to be a part of that unit, really being nurtured and cared for,” said Mahoney. “We are happiest when we are helping others, and who would know that you can directly impact the life of a child without a home in another country.” Pausing for a moment, while looking over at the content Reilly reading her book next to her, she added, “It’s different than giving a donation or a pledge; it’s saying here is my home.”
To learn more about how you can register for Saturday’s Wappinger’s Falls event or become a host family through or advocate for the Summer Miracles Program, call Madeline at: (310)241-3083. To find out more details on Kidsave, log onto: kidsave.org.