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    Posted September 30, 2014 by
    Lutz, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Your modern family

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    From Russia with Love


    Seven years ago as of this November my family was formed. There was no trip to the hospital for a baby to arrive, nor were there any lawyers present, nor any adoption forms. No, my family was formed in a very different way. I was hired to be the house parent for seven Russian boys (ages 9 - 13) as part of charity run by a school in South Florida. I moved in with the boys, having never met them before, and we quickly set about creating a life together for a position that was supposed to be temporary, but would turn out to be permanent.


    Then, in the winter of 2008 the economy began its rapid decent into the Great Recession. Budgets were slashed and as a result, our program was cut and I was sent to Russia with the boys to deliver the bad news to their families. Once in Russia, I knew that my life was about to change because I knew, in my heart of hearts that I could not allow the boys to stay there living in poverty.


    Shortly thereafter, I set about finding a solution for bringing the boys back to America. Together with some friends, we founded RenProject.org (a 501(c)3) and set about changing the boys’ lives.


    The first goal of RenProject was to find a school that would take the boys. We found our home at Academy at the Lakes. Mark Heller, both Head of School and a personal friend of mine, had actually reached out to me hoping to hire me for a science teacher position which was open at his school. After many emails and numerous phone calls, I told him about my situation with the boys, his response was, “How do I get those boys to our school?” So our new journey began.


    Sadly, Academy at the Lakes and my personal budget, could not support seven children, so only three were offered the chance to come back: Gleb, Max, and Daniil.


    Gleb was the oldest of our boys, an only child in Russia, he was the light of his parents’ life. They had a very difficult time letting him leave Russia to study in America, but knew that his life depended upon getting out of the corruption and darkness of the Russian mindset. Like a potted plant kept inside for the winter, Gleb needed placed out in the sun so he could thrive. As you will see, he has indeed thrived.


    Max was the second of four children and the eldest son of his family back in Russia. At the age of twelve Max had seen more of life than many of his American classmates could imagine. From the domestic beatings at the hands of his father, to his own days of stealing food so he could feed himself and his brothers. But, despite those hard times, Max always seems to be forever optimistic, contrary to his Russian roots. Max himself noted one time, “I think I was born in the wrong country.” We are a better country with him being here.


    Daniil was the youngest of our boys. He arrived at age nine. As an only child in Russia, Daniil was being raised alone by his mother; his father having left him when he was still a baby. His father’s loss was our gain. Daniil is the most compassionate and caring person I know. He is highly in-tune to the rhythms of others and is a great listener, singer, athlete, and person. Daniil makes people feel better simply by being Daniil everyday.


    The boys jumped at the opportunity to return to America and resume chasing their dreams. This was a much tighter financial part of our journey we moved away from anyone we knew and I took on various challenging jobs to pay the bills.


    Since then a lot has changed. No longer am I surrounded by dimple cheeked, thickly accented, Russian cherubs, who fill me with laughter at their silliness, but by towering, handsome, articulate young men who fill me with pride. Gleb has completed his first year at Bucknell University, which he attends on academic scholarship, with a 4.0. Max, now a 6’5” 225 pound defensive end is in the midst of his senior year with his eye on the prize of playing college football and maintaining his high GPA. Daniil is a 6’5” junior who is in the thick of AP and honors classes as he prepares for his go at his senior year. All of our boys are success stories about working hard to make your dreams come true. I am forever proud of them.


    Along the way, we added Tioma to our ranks (he is Max’s younger brother) and after arriving here four years ago in 5th grade he is now three months in to his 8th grade year. Both he and Max are hoping to expand our family by at least one more with the addition of their baby brother Misha who will be old enough to come next year.


    There is no doubt that the journey has been difficult. But, you soldier on. There are many days when the fridge and pantry are empty, but we find a way to eat and make it to the next meal. After all, helping someone reach a dream isn’t about taking the easy way, but pushing through day after day with an eye on the prize. Not to say there aren’t days when I don’t feel like throwing in the towel. There are many days where I do, but I don’t give up because our family of five actually includes many more than five as our circle of friends and fans has grown. I have people to call on to cheer me up and cheer me on. It makes a huge difference. In addition we have other folks that help us. We have a dentist that helps take care of the boys teeth, an orthodontist who helps make them look handsome, a school community that cares deeply about them, a photographer who captures their personalities for our webpage and more. We appreciate our supporters large and small as we completely rely on donations.


    All of this experience for me has been about learning and trying to do my best to be a good “dad” to these boys. What was supposed to be a eighteen month stint has turned into an eighty-four month journey and has brought the boys and I together in a way none of us had predicted. Each year, and every day we agree to continue being a family. There are no documents making me their father or legal guardian, their parents have kept all of their rights. We are just a group of people who annually agree to be family.


    Often I am told that I have been foolish or impractical for dedicating my life to helping these foreign boys. There is an invisible mandate for everyone to marry and have children, to follow the path traveled by families since the beginning of time. But, if I could go back in time, I would make the same decision each and every time. They have made me a better, more compassionate man. I have learned so much on this journey, including that DNA is not the sacred bond that holds families together, instead that bond is an amalgam of love and forgiveness.


    My American Dream is that our family can continue to grow and change the world. I would love to continue to add to our family, both adults and more children. Indeed, I have had families reach out to me offering to open their doors to a child or two, but for that to happen, we will need to have that magic moment where we go from running to flying and we are able to raise enough money to fulfill as many dreams as possible. Until then, my family will continue on its journey: a journey like no other.


    If you are interested in becoming a supporter or learning more visit our webpage: www.renproject.org.

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