Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kids from Russia Give Local Couple a Whole New Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kids from Russia Give Local Couple a Whole New Life

Article excerpt

ON THIS BRIGHT, cold March morning, Liz Alexander is sitting on her checked couch addressing New Year's cards. Into each oversized envelope she stuffs a red card with a snapshot of her two smiling, bright-eyed children, Lisa, 10, and Henry, 5.

In the photograph, taken on the doorstep of their pretty white house in Ladue, Lisa holds Henry on her lap, her arms snug around his waist. They appear to be ordinary siblings - relaxed, happy and completely at home with one another and the world.

This ordinariness is, in fact, quite extraordinary. Only a few weeks ago, Lisa and Henry lived in separate orphanages in St. Petersburg, Russia. Lisa had been reared in the orphanage since infancy. Henry lived in his orphanage for about three years. With the months of waiting, paperwork and emotional upheaval behind them, the Alexanders seem a remarkably well-adjusted family.

"They laugh and play like siblings," Liz said. "They scream and yell like siblings, too."

Liz, a real estate agent, and her husband, David, a travel agent, began the adoption process last year through the Small World Foundation. Two Russian immigrants, Drs. Viacheslav Platonov and Yelena Kogan, set up the foundation here in 1991 to give three orphanages in St. Petersburg financial help and identify candidates for adoption. The agency charges about $20,000 for each adoption - less for older children - a portion of which goes to the orphanages.

With the collapse of the Russian economy, more poor families and unwed mothers have turned to orphanages to care for their children. After infancy, Russian children have little likelihood of being adopted by Russian families, and Russia has no foster care system.

Once orphans reach the age of 15, they are literally turned out in the streets to fend for themselves.

"Their outlook is bleak," said Brenda Henn, who coordinates the agency's Russian program. "Many of the girls become prostitutes. A lot of boys turn to crime. American families who adopt these children are literally saving their lives."

The Alexanders first saw Lisa and Henry on videotapes. As home movies go, theirs would crumble a heart of granite. Lisa, a gangly ballerina in toe shoes, wears a homemade pink dress and matching poof of chiffon in her long, blond ponytail. …

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