With love, from Latvia: Eastern European orphans spend summer with Conyers families

Carol Bowden hasn't had children in her house for several years. Her two daughters are grown and live on their own. But for a few weeks this summer, she and her husband Steve are once again taking the role of parents — to children who have come half way around the world to experience the love of a family.

The Bowdens are hosting two teenage girls through New Horizons for Children, a Christian-based program which arranges for orphans from Latvia, Russia and Ukraine to stay with families in the United States for a five-week period.

The girls — Agnette, 16, and Lasma, 14 — arrived at the end of June from Latvia, and have settled in nicely, said Carol Bowden. The family is staying busy swimming, having picnics, riding bikes and doing crafts. They've also traveled to Stone Mountain to see the laser show and to the Augusta area to visit the Bowdens' adult daughters. Plans are also in the works for a visit to the zoo and the beach.

"I feel like a momma all over again," said Carol Bowden.

Bowden said the girls are "pleasers" and very obedient.

"I can't even get out of the car before they're already out and they've emptied it," Bowden said. "They're very loving girls."

Carol Bowden's sister and brother-in-law, Beth and David Gaddis, also hosted a child through New Horizons, a 14-year-old boy named Arturs from Latvia. Arturs has spent most of his time playing with the Gaddis' clan of eight children — ranging in age from 4 to 19.

"It ended up that it was perfect for us because we have such a variety of kids, he fits right in," Beth Gaddis said.

Gaddis described Arturs as sweet, humble and easy to please. Though shy at first, Arturs is now showing his wit and laughing easily.

"It's fun to seem him coming alive," Gaddis said. "He really is a pleasure."

The Gattises and Bowdens heard about New Horizons through their church, Crossroads Church of Walton County, where several families who attend the church had hosted families. Carol said she and her sister would take walks together on their shared family land in north Rockdale County and discuss the possibility of taking in a child.

"We prayed about it and talked about it and we felt like we can do this," Carol Bowden said.

New Horizons Director Le Ann Dakake said her nonprofit is designed to "share the love of God" by arranging for the orphans to live with families in the U.S.

"They may have experienced it very little or experienced it not at all," said Dakake of the children's time in a functional family.

The children learn about the same amount of English in the five weeks that they would in five semesters in their home country, Dakake said. They are also exposed to the American culture, which from the children's perspective is much more open, friendly and trusting than that of their country of origin, Dakake said.

"It gives them an example of what they might want to do in their own lives, in their own country, where they don't have anything to base it on," Dakake said.

Twice a year Dakake travels to Eastern European countries to interview children for consideration in the program. Through New Horizons, about 400 school age children a year travel to the U.S. for visits with host families during the summer and at the Christmas holidays.

Dakake said that about 65 percent of children in New Horizons who are eligible for adoption are adopted. Even those who aren't adopted often times maintain a relationship with the host family that is beneficial to them.

Without some kind of relationship with Americans, either through adoption or friendship, the children can fall prey to prostitutions, child trafficking, drugs and gangs.

"We are just happy when a child finds a family and a family finds a child," Dakake said.

To learn more about New Horizons, which is based in Acworth, visit www.newhorizonsforchildren.org or call 678-574-4677.