Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank You!!

We are pleased to announce that with your help we have reached our Holiday Project goal of $20,000!  Mandie Doak, our Holiday Project coordinator, is now in Ethiopia helping to prepare for the celebrations on January 6th.   Each child at Layla House will receive a small gift and a traditional outfit and the staff will receive gift certificates to help with their own holiday celebrations.  The whole compound will enjoy a festive day with a traditional meal.  Plans are being made to provide goats for the meals at our partner orphanages; most of them have far fewer resources than Layla so meat for the holiday is a special treat.  The families of our sponsorship students will receive extra money and the students themselves will get small gift bags with toiletries and treats that a volunteer group brought over in November. 

Our Ghana adoptive parents met and exceeded their holiday goal this year!  The celebrations there happened on December 25th and we hope to put some pictures up soon.  We work with several orphanages and have a number of families enrolled in our Family Preservation Programs.  All of them were able to have extra-special holidays because of the generosity of our parent group and their friends and relatives.  

Half of the money collected each year for the Holiday Project supports our ongoing humanitarian projects such as Opportunity House, our facility for special needs kids and the new outreach program in DireDawa.  We are so appreciative of the adoptive parents who choose to give back to their childrens' birth countries through remaining loyal to AAI.  In addition, we have many other friends and supporters who donated generously to help us reach our Holiday Project goal.  

We hope you keep following this blog as we have lots of exciting plans for 2011!  

With sincere gratitude,

Susan Poisson-Dollar
Director of Development
on behalf of the staff and children of AAI

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yay! Erin Henderson finishes her first Marathon....

and in the process raise much needed funds for the AAI Holiday project.  Thank you to everyone who sponsored her after this blog post.    Erin ran the Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Marathon in a very respectable time of  4 hours, 15 minutes and 50 seconds.  We at AAI are so proud of her and hope everyone will check out her blog posts about this amazing experience.  Erin's run also raised money for her dad's foundation that helps families adopting special needs kids.  Enjoy these great photos---her wonderful husband Josh is right beside her in the photo above--he finished the half-marathon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Holiday Project needs YOU!

The annual AAI Holiday Project is on 
and we need your help!  

Each year your gifts to our Holiday Project provide a modest celebration for all of the children in our care and our hard-working staff in Ethiopia and Ghana.  The children of Layla House and our partner orphanages in Ghana each get a small individual gift and a traditional outfit or new t-shirt.  Staff and children also enjoy a festive holiday meal with special treats and even a visit from Santa (the photo above is one of our good sport adoptive dads last year!).  Our sponsorship students get a gift bag with needed toiletries and treats as well as some additional money for their caregivers to spend on holiday food and clothing.

In addition, your gift to the Holiday Project also provides funding for AAI's ongoing humanitarian projects in Ghana and Ethiopia.   Those efforts include expanding our school sponsorship program for orphaned and vulnerable children and a new project in Dire Dawa to provide leadership training for sponsored children and to help trafficked children return to their families.   Holiday Project donations also benefit our Opportunity House program which provides medical care and therapy to special needs children in Addis Ababa.  In Ghana we have initiated a family support program which helps vulnerable children remain in their birth families whenever possible, keeping orphanage care a last resort.
Giving to the Holiday Project is easy with our online Donate Now page.  For a gift of $30 or more, you can have a special ornament card with a beautiful photo sent to someone on your gift list!  They are the perfect present for a teacher or grandparent or just someone who doesn't want more "stuff" this year but would appreciate helping a child in need.   Just make your donation and enter the name and address of the recipient in the space provided.  For multiple ornament cards or special requests, send the list of names and addresses directly to Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development.  

Thank you for helping us brighten the season for hundreds of children!  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November Volunteer Trip to Layla House

 the whole gang in front of the King's Hotel

Post and photos by Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development

I just returned from leading the first AAI-sponsored volunteer trip to Layla House in Ethiopia.  Ten brave souls joined the group and we all had a wonderful time for ten days being with the children, seeing the country and accomplishing some needed projects on the compound.  It was especially nice to have 3 people on the trip who had previously had their children escorted home and had not yet had a chance to experience Ethiopia.  Each of them was able to see the place their child lived before coming to their family and one of them was even able to establish some very meaningful birth family connections.  The married couple on the trip's adoption dossier arrived in Ethiopia the same week they did.  Though they have a wait yet for a referral, they appreciated the chance to experience their future child's country and culture and now can envision his/her surroundings when they finally get "the call."   A dad brought along his two teenage daughters and they were enthusiastic, lively members of the group and also had the chance to spend a lot of time with the birth family of their three Ethiopian siblings back home in Montana. 

Lots of kids got some special, individual attention while we were there

The group did far more than just come on the trip.  Between us, we collected enough money to purchase all the gifts for this year's Holiday Project and carried them and lots of other supplies in our bulging suitcases.  One participant raised over $3000 for the AAI Sponsorship program and created a special fund for the social workers to do additional things for some of our neediest children.  Her elementary school students also created beautiful laminated alphabet books and cute board games for the kids at Layla House.

 This boys' room got a very special mural to inspire their dreams
We hope to be able to offer this opportunity to more people in the future.   If you are interested in volunteering at Layla House, please contact our volunteer coordinator Brooke Cole.   For individual volunteers we have a one month minimum requirement.

 Some of the older kids even helped out with the painting projects
We got used to being mobbed by toddlers whenever we entered the Wanna area.

 Always nice to have extra hands around when it comes to baby-feeding time

Our group raised money for the Layla Field Trip fund too.  
One day we took all 16 toddlers to the Sheraton Hotel playground 
for fun and french fries at the cafe afterward.
Whew, we all napped well that afternoon!

 There's always a ball game going on somewhere at Layla.

 One afternoon our project was to get all the baby and toddler footprints! 
It required a complete assembly line of baby-fetchers, foot-inkers, stampers and washers to get it all done.  See the results below--a card was put in every baby's file for a future mom or dad to find and treasure.  

And of course we shopped too!  Here we are checking out the gorgeous scarves at a shop that benefits women who carry huge loads of firewood down the mountain. 

One night we joined parents in town to pick up their kids for a lively evening at a local cultural restaurant that features dancing from all over Ethiopia.
After a tough day with the kids, one volunteer dances up a storm.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Run, Erin, Run! Let's help her over the Finish Line

Our very own Erin Henderson, AAI Coordinator of Special Needs Adoptions,  is running the Las Vegas "Rock 'n Roll" marathon on December 5th.  She really wants to "run for a cause" and has chosen to help the AAI Holiday Project this year .  Let's all urge Erin on in her first marathon by sponsoring her per mile.  Marathons are 26 miles long so please use our online donation page-- and check the box marked "Erin Henderson's Marathon" to give her a big boost as she does her very first marathon. 

Read here about Erin's passions for running, her family and her amazing work to help place HIV+ and special needs children with loving families! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dire Dawa Sponsorship Students

 Merrily with sponsorship boy

AAI Executive Director Merrily Ripley traveled to Dire Dawa on her recent visit to Ethiopia.  While there she was able to meet with and interview some of our sponsorship students.  We've had about 40 children in that program but now plans are in the works to increase that number to 100 in the coming months.  Our sponsorship money helps keep orphaned and vulnerable children in school in this very poor area of Ethiopia.  We are also providing leadership training one Saturday a month to help boost the childrens' self-confidence and give them much-needed knowledge about reproductive health, decision-making strategies, etc.   Please consider sponsoring a child through AAI---your monthly donation of $25-30 helps keep several children in school and provides their families with supplemental assistance and help from a social worker.  Contact Brooke Cole here to help set up your sponsorship. 

  sponsored girl above with Merrily and in bottom photo with her mother

About Mekdes, the girl in the above photos, Merrily writes: 

Mekdes is 14 years old and has been in our sponsorship program for two years.  She is at the top of her glass of 65 students, but without a sponsorship the social worker says she would not be able to continue in school.  She and her mother live in one room with walls made of mud and straw.  Outside the door under a shade made with a plastic sheet, her mother sits in the dust waiting for customers to buy her tomatoes.  They greeted me warmly and borrowed a small stool for me.   Mekdes is a charming girl, poised and very able to communicate in English.  Her favorite subject is biology and she would like to be a doctor.  With money from the sponsorship she is able to buy a school uniform, books, pay school fees and go to the library which is not free. 

And about Wagaye, a boy in the program, she writes: 
Wagaye is 13 but only in the 4th grade.  He is an HIV+ child and has been an orphan for three years.  He lives with his grandmother’s brother’s wife; they share two rooms in a compound with three other families.  All of Wagaye’s siblings have died of AIDS and he fears he will die too, but he is receiving medication and is actually physically quite healthy.  He was so depressed, however, that  last year he had a very hard time focusing on school work and so he is repeating 4th grade this year.   He is doing better now and says he loves school and is now determined to continue and to work hard..  His guardian says he is a big help around the compound and loves to run errands.  His guardian expressed gratitude for the sponsorship making it possible for her to continue to provide for Wagaye.  

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leadership Project in Dire Dawa

AAI-Ethiopia recently sponsored a leadership training program for 40 of  our sponsorship children, all promising students, in the town of Dire Dawa where we are initiating several programs to benefit orphaned and vulnerable children.  Often our sponsorship students have poor self-esteem both because of poverty and also frequently because of the stigma of perhaps having AIDS in their family.  This program is designed to help boost their self-confidence at school and in the community.  The children meet one Saturday a month for the workshops on different topics. 

The facilitator said that the workshops covered how to be a good leader, decision-making strategies, and overcoming obstacles.  The children and staff were very appreciative and looking forward to the next session.   Here are some nice photos of the event.  We were so pleased to see so many girls participating as well.

We are expanding our sponsorship program in this very poor community and could use your help!  Please contact Brooke Cole, our Sponsorship Coordinator if you would like to sponsor students in this program.  A monthly donation of $25-30 will help keep several children in school and part of the leadership training program. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ethiopian Bright Futures Fund

AAI has recently created the Ethiopian Bright Futures Fund to provide for the children whom we have cared for but have been unable to place for adoption.  Recently seven girls who had lived at Layla House for several years were determined to be above the age eligible for a visa to the United States.  We are committed to ensuring that they have a “bright future” ---a good education and the ability to live independently—in the country of their birth.  The girls are all now attending a good boarding school outside of Addis that will help them re-integrate into Ethiopian society.  We expect to be placing several other children in this or similar situations over the coming year.  This is a group sponsorship program and donors will receive a periodic newsletter about the children's progress.  We welcome one-time as well as recurring donations to this Fund.  Please contact Brooke Cole for more information.  

Read more about these girls in this previous blog post

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Save the date!...2011 AAI Reunion..July 1-4, Wenatchee, WA

We hope many of our families can join us at this relaxed, casual reunion next summer.  Organizer Chris Little promises lots of fun and opportunities to connect with other AAI families.  Stay tuned for more information as plans develop.

July 4th weekend, Friday, July 1 - Monday, July 4th (ending before lunch)
Wenatchee Confluence State Park, Wenatchee, Washington

Group camping and hotel options, making it very affordable
Lots of free time with some planned activities including a barbecue

Easy 2 1/2 hour drive from Seattle/Tacoma airport
North Central Washington has warm and dry weather
More information about Wenatchee here and about the park here.   It's a beautiful area with hiking, water sports including river rafting, Bavarian town of Leavenworth nearby

Port Townsend, WA---Cleanest Cars in the USA

 Thanks to Brooke  Little and her family, the town of Port Townsend, WA has the cleanest cars around----and over $2000 was raised for the children of Ethiopia in the process.  Last weekend, the whole town turned out to support the Little's car wash in a big way.  In addition to Brooke who was adopted with her sister Marta 10 years ago, the Little's have four other Ethiopian children adopted through AAI.   The local paper did a nice story on their fundraising project and you can read it here.  

 Mom Chris had this to say about the day! 

Recipe for a car wash:

Take one great cause.

Add a committed Layla House alumni.

Stir in a beautiful, sunny fall day.

Mix in many helpful volunteers.

Cover with people with dirty cars and open wallets.

Bake with lots of enthusiasm.

Remove from oven after 5 hours and enjoy sending over $2,000 to kids in Ethiopia.

Last spring parents Bob and Chris Little brought five of their six  Ethiopian children back to Ethiopia to see the country and visit birth family. Read the post about their visit here.   In just two weeks Brooke and her mom will return and Brooke will remain as a Layla House volunteer for four months!   We are sure it will be a wonderful experience for her as well as for the children at Layla.

Monday, October 18, 2010

We are so proud of Erin Henderson!

 Erin and Noah, the newest addition to the Henderson clan

Erin Henderson, AAI's HIV+ and Special Needs Adoption Coordinator and mom to 12 kids (!), is about to run her first marathon.  She's the first to admit that a year ago, she never would have believed it herself.  Erin just made a vow to get fit and healthy and she took it from there and discovered that running was her favorite form of exercise.  With her busy family, she's often out in the wee dawn hours in the hills of Wyoming around her house.  A blog about "running moms" recently celebrated her achievements and we want to share the link here:

Erin's kids and husband cheering her on in a recent race

Erin shows the same exceptional drive and determination in her work to help HIV+ and special needs children finding loving families.  Here's what she has to say about her work and her family: 


I started working for Adoption Advocates International officially in January 2008 when I was hired to be the adoption coordinator for HIV+ children. It has been really exciting to watch the HIV+ adoption program grow as rapidly as it has. When we adopted our daughter, Belane, from AHOPE through AAI in 2006, she was one of the very first HIV+ children adopted from Ethiopia. At that time it was extremely rare for HIV+ children to be adopted and many people did not even know it was possible to adopt HIV+ kids internationally.

Four HIV+ kids were placed from Ethiopia through AAI in 2006. As education, awareness and advocacy grew, 13 HIV+ kids were placed through AAI in 2007, and an official program was created at the end of that year. 28 HIV+ children were placed in 2008, 30 were placed in 2009, and 32 children are already home in 2010. For the first time this year we have a waiting list of families wanting to adopt young, HIV+ children, which is a drastic change from earlier years, when otherwise healthy babies frequently waited for months and months to be matched with a family.

There are over 70 HIV+ children currently waiting for families through our program, with the majority of them being over the age of six years old.

In 2010, I also became the coordinator for special needs children in Ethiopia. AAI has approximately 20 children waiting with significant special needs waiting at AAI's Opportunity House or available through orphanages that have asked AAI to help find homes for their hardest to place children. These children range in age from infant to 12 years old and we are always looking for families open to children with long-term health needs. As the mother of a baby who has significant special needs and is from Ethiopia, I have a special place in my heart for these kids.

AAI's commitment to advocating for and finding families for the children who are the most difficult to place and yet are often the most in need of a family is one of the biggest reasons my husband and I chose them as our adoption agency in 2006, and is one of the biggest reasons I am honored to work for them and to advocate for these children.

I work from my home in Wyoming where I live with husband, Josh, and our 12 children. We have three biological sons and we have adopted our other nine children from Vietnam, South Korea, the United States and Ethiopia. You can learn more about my family on my blog where I write about my family, adoption, HIV awareness, advocacy, my running, etc., at

The whole family!

For more information about the HIV+ adoption program or waiting children with special needs in Ethiopia, you can email me at

Monday, October 11, 2010

Adopting Older Children--a great story

As many of  you know, AAI is well-known for adoption of older and special needs children. Recently we received these photos and a the following nice note from parents who adopted these  handsome older boys from Ethiopia several years ago.   


We adopted two older boys 3 years ago from Ethiopia.  Two brother ages 9 and 12.  We brought them home on a Friday,  they started school  five days later and have never looked back.  I kept waiting for some minor meltdown and it never happened.  Our sixteen year old,  Sintayehu is on the honor roll and plays varsity soccer and our 12 year old, Wondemagegn,  is swimming and playing soccer.  

We also went back and adopted their 17 year old brother Daniel.   In the  first year he was here, he started driving, working part time and is attending the community college across the street from us.  He has made friends and adjusted well.   The boys have stayed in touch with many of their friends that live in the Midwest and also as far as California.  We had a group of  them come in for culture camp and then stay a couple of nights here and then with another family that lives close by.   So just a note to let  you know that all three are doing well  and we couldn’t be prouder. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Escort Story---Part 2

Meseret's  and Endris' new parents, Dan and Vicki,  were kind enough to provide us with their account of the childrens' homecoming and some photos of them all in the first few days.  Sounds like they are all off to a very good start! 

Meseret and Endris Come Home

We started the morning very early, leaving in the dark for our local airport and knowing that when we came home that evening, we would have our two new children with us.  It felt surreal!  We arrived in Chicago after a short hour-and-a-half flight with plenty of time to get acclimated to O’Hare.  Although we were early, we were eager to settle in at the international terminal to wait for Merrily and our children, Meseret and Endris.   As soon as I saw on the video monitor that their plane had landed, my emotions kicked in, and every time I envisioned their faces approaching the glass entry doors, tears welled up in my eyes. 

As each of the seemingly countless other passengers made their way toward the doors, my heart lept.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Dan said, “Here they come!”  We all spotted each other at about the same time.  While Dan videotaped, I rushed to the kids and hugged them tightly, and they readily accepted my embrace with big smiles and wide eyes.  Such incredible sweetness! 

We quickly made our way to a nearby seating area, and Merrily filled us in on how the trip had gone.  She gave us a brief update on the kids, handed over their passports and other important documents, and gave us their few belongings, including some of their clothing and the gifts we had sent them.   Then, knowing from experience that it’s best not to linger, she said her goodbyes, and Meseret and Endris waved as Merrily rode up the escalator to catch her flight home.  Surprisingly, the sweet smiles never left their faces, although I’m sure they were experiencing a million different thoughts and emotions, and you could see a tinge of concern in their eyes. 

We took the opportunity to distract the kids by giving them the gifts we had brought—the first surprise being ring pops, which were a huge hit.  We could have quit there!  Already, we were awesome parents!  But we also had a doll for Meseret and a set of Matchbox cars for Endris, and they were delighted to play with them for awhile as we all caught our collective breath.  Eventually, we packed up o ur things and made our way back to Terminal 2, where we would depart for home.

After going through security, we headed straight for the children's play area.  The kids were already pros at the security checkpoints by now, readily shedding their shoes and placing them in the bins, as if they had been traveling all of their short lives.  At first we had the play area to ourselves, and the kids loved flying the pretend airplane and helicopter, and exploring the various nooks and crannies with wide eyes and grins.  After a while, we thought they might be hungry, so we made our way to Chili’s for some lunch.  Once we were seated, we gave the kids the travel-sized Magna Doodles we had brought for them, and Meseret immediately started writing out the words “one, two, three,” etc.  Not to be outdone, Endris then wrote down all of the numerals 1 through 10, and Meseret quickly followed suit.  Reveling in our praise, each tried coming up more feats to impress us.  They wrote all the letters in the alphabet, and made good attempts at printing their names.  Meseret also proved herself to be quite an artist.  And they ate surprisingly heartily.  Both Meseret and Endris were amazed that the clear liquid in their glasses was not water, but instead, sweet and bubbly soda! 

After lunch we made our way to the gate for our trip home, and it was apparent the kids were getting tired.  They played with their new toys until we boarded, and then hopped in their seats and buckled up like the veteran travelers they’d already become.  They dozed on the plane, and then again in the car on the way home from the airport.  They needed those cat naps to prepare them for the excited brood waiting for them at home!  The other five kids who still live at home were waiting anxiously at the door when we arrived.  We had no more than set foot in the door when Liam, our five-year-old son, hollered out, “Hey Endris, wanna play the Wii?”  He had been waiting months for this moment!  Finally, a little brother to play with!

When we showed the kids their rooms and their new beds, the exhaustion and emotion overcame Meseret, and she sat down on her bed, crying quietly.  Liana, our seven-year-old daughter, grabbed a book so she could read a story to soothe her new sister, and she ushered us out of the bedroom, saying, “Can we have some privacy, please?”  When Liana came back out of the bedroom, Meseret was fast asleep under her covers.  Both Endris and Meseret slept all through the night, as did we, finally relaxing now that our kids were home with us, safe and sound.

Having Merrily escort the kids home was the perfect option for us.  With five kids already at home, and two adults sons living nearby, life is often hectic, and needs are varied and many.  Merrily made it possible for us to balance out everyone’s needs as much as possible, and to greet the new children and our new life together with the energy and zest required in a large family.  Thank you, Merrily!  We couldn’t have done it without you! 

Dan & Vicki          

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Merrily's recent Escort Trip--Part 1

AAI continues to offer parents the opportunity to have their child(ren) escorted home from Ethiopia and, for some families, especially now that they are required to travel at least once, it makes the adoption process just a little bit easier!  For the escort, it is a wonderful opportunity to witness a new family forming.  Below is Merrily's reflection on her most recent escort trip.

Check in again next week to see photos of these two children with their new family and their parent's perceptions of receiving their children via escort. 

Two little ones traveled with me to meet their new family in America when I returned from Ethiopia at the end of September.    Meseret-6 and her little brother Endris-4, in the photo above, have been at Layla House in the kindergarten class.    I first escorted children in 1973, a group of 10 babies from Korea.  There were four other escorts, three were Korean men who didn’t know how to care for babies and Ted.  I knew this would be a piece of cake in comparison.  Since then I have made over 100 escort trips from Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Bulgaria, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia;  it is always an adventure.

We arrived Layla around 7:30pm to pick up the kids. When I arrived the children all pointed at the two travelers, as if they wanted to be sure I took the correct children.   Check-in went smoothly, but the line for passport control took longer.  When we got to the window and the documents were being examined when Endris emphatically said “shintabet,” meaning he needed to use the toilet, right away.  There was no way I could leave the documents at that point and no toilet in sight so I told he would have to wait.  However, there was soon a puddle on the floor, poor little guy. 

Fortunately, I am a frequent flyer and can use the Cloud Nine airport lounge.  We got Endris changed and settled down with juice and snacks to wait for departure time.  The children were getting sleepy so we soon went on out to the gate. Their eyes got big and round when I pointed out the aircraft waiting for us on the runway.   We were allowed to board early and the kids were soon settled with seat belts fastened and tucked in with blankets and pillows.  They slept most of the way to Frankfurt.  

Everything on the trip  was a new adventure but they began to get the hang of screening checks and using elevators.  I don’t like to take kids this age on escalators for obvious reasons.   We did try a moving walkway or two and they loved that!   Again we were able to hang out in the airport lounge and we cleaned up and had breakfast snacks before going to the departure gate and the next leg of their journey. Our documents were carefully checked at this point, even my permission from the family to escort the kids.   Once en route, the kids fell asleep again and when they awoke they played quietly with the toys their parents had sent as well as those that I had brought.   We reviewed their photos albums and named the members of their family.  Shortly before we began the descent they both began quietly crying.  I could only imagine the sad and frightened thoughts they might be having.  I distracted them with a snack and soon we were on the ground.  

The arrival procedure in Chicago usually takes about 45 minutes and when we finished, the luggage was waiting for us and we took it and proceeded through the double doors where new Mom and Dad were waiting.  The kids went right to them.  It was a sweet moment for all.  After a brief chat I left to wait for my flight to Seattle while the parents took the kids to their final destination.    I am always amazed at the faith of these little ones, going with someone they have met only a few times to travel halfway around the world for a new and unknown life.     They have known so much loss and pain but are now welcome members of a new and loving family; it is always miraculous to witness.   Happy lives to Meseret and Endris!!