If you can fix a car, you can save a child.
That was one of many messages at Saturday’s annual Orphan Care Expo at North Way Christian Community in Pine. The expo matches people who want to help children with the opportunity to do so, whether through adoption, foster care, child sponsorship or preventing fragile families from fracturing.
Twenty-two agencies, both secular and Christian, held exhibits and workshops for 160 participants.
Bethany Christian Services, a comprehensive, international family services and adoption agency, promoted a crisis respite and mentoring program called Safe Families.
“This is for families facing a temporary crisis such as homelessness or illness, who need a safe place for the children to go,” said Connie Gamble, a Safe Families case coach. “It’s an alternative to foster care.”
Host families take the children for a limited time and mentor the parents when needed. But Safe Families needs other volunteers.
“If someone knows how to fix a car, it can help them get a job,” she said. “We need tutors, we need people to donate diapers.”
The Orphan Care Expo was created by church members who wanted to obey a biblical command to care for orphans.
“We want to connect people to foster care and to national and international adoption, and to missions that help parentless children everywhere,” said Ken Lockaton, an organizer. Many people are curious about foster care and various types of adoption, but have no idea which is best for them. The workshops present the legal, financial and emotional ramifications of each.
“We’ve had people come who aren’t sure what they wanted. But by the time they leave, they have an idea,” he said.
Kerry Lozier, 32, of Shaler, was there to learn more about an adoption process that she and her husband have already begun. They are looking for a child or a group of siblings of any race, who are younger than 10. She attended a workshop at which adoptees of many races and ages spoke of adoption from their perspective.
“It was really interesting to hear about it from an 11-year-old,” she said.
Some presenters and exhibitors assist children who aren’t eligible for adoption. The Oakmont-based South East Asia Prayer Center sought sponsors for children at its orphanage in Myanmar. Philip Cameron Ministries of Montgomery, Ala., represented teenage girls who are technically adults in Moldova.
The girls grow up in state-run orphanages that release them at 16 with $32 and a bus ticket to their hometown, said Melody Cameron, the founder’s daughter. Sex traffickers — often tipped by orphanage workers — are waiting. They tell the girls about a relative in another country who needs a waitress in his restaurant, and ask for the girl’s passport in order to get travel and work papers.
“Within 24 hours, she has been drugged, raped, beaten and sent to her destination” as a prostitute, Ms. Cameron said.
Her father, an itinerant preacher, started helping the orphanages, then realized that there was a greater need when the girls were released. The ministry currently has three “Stella’s Houses” for emancipated female orphans. They’re named for a girl who died of AIDS at 19.
The residents of Stella’s House “all go to school and get an education,” Ms. Cameron said.
But there were many types of opportunities for those who want to adopt. Adoptions from the Heart, which places 200 domestic newborns a year, was looking for parents interested in open adoptions of mixed-race infants whose birth parents would continue to have contact with them.
“They grow up knowing who their parents are, why they were placed for adoption, and they have full medical and family information. It’s better for everyone involved,” said Debbie Cohen, the district supervisor.
This was the second year at the expo for Daren Ellerbee, outreach coordinator with CASA, the Court-Appointed Special Advocates of Allegheny County. CASA volunteers represent children in the court-adjudicated child welfare system, whose interests can otherwise get lost amid large case loads and dueling attorneys.
Being a CASA volunteer may mean pushing for the child’s mother to get treatment for an addiction or it could mean pushing for severance of parental rights so the child can be adopted. It touches almost every aspect of what the Orphan Care Expo is about, Ms. Ellerbee said.
“In many ways we are court-appointed special advocates for families,” she said.
Marie Polick, 21, and her friend Destiny Santiago came from Monaca after hearing about the expo on WORD-FM. Both have volunteered for mission groups that help children overseas. They found the expo eye-opening.
“I never realized how many orphans there are in the world,” said Ms. Polick, who said she was horrified by the stories of sex trafficking.
Ms. Santiago said she better understood what an adopted relative had been through.
“The first session was on loss and grief in the child welfare system, that you can grieve for birth parents that you may never have known,” she said. “Some day I would like to adopt. But I would also like to have a career in the child welfare system.”