By Konstantine Fekos
Thrilled about a Bulgarian court recently declaring them the legal parents of two children with special needs, Cliff and Erin Forbes of Guys Mills are in the final laps of a lifelong race to share their love with young orphans in need of a home.
While thankful for the blessing they’ve encountered along the way, the approximate year-long journey to adopt Aubrey, 4, and Micah, 3, internationally hasn’t been easy for the pastor of New Beginnings Church of God, his wife and his four children.
The Forbes are currently ankles deep in a shoe drive, the latest of numerous ideas which have funded their way to and from Bulgaria, where their newly adopted children are waiting to come home.
“We considered international adoption for 15 years,” Erin said. “We always desired to but couldn’t see how to make it work.”
With costs surpassing $30,000 in some countries, the Forbes put off their dream and focused on domestic adoption and state foster care. No permanent opportunities came to fruition, however, leaving Cliff and Erin to further ruminate their initial idea.
“People need to understand that it’s not ‘either or,’ it’s ‘yes and,’” Cliff said. “We need adoption and foster care here (in the U.S.), but the level of need is so much greater in other countries.”
In many countries, children with disabilities are often given up at birth as a result of social stigmas. The children end up in orphanages and later in mental institutions.
“We felt drawn when we realized their plight,” Cliff said. “We’re not minimalizing the need for adoption in the U.S., but it’s more a matter of life and death overseas.”
After their last foster care experience, the couple found a website for Reece’s Rainbow, an advocacy organization and adoption grant foundation for orphans with Down syndrome and other special needs.
“We found Micah in February and committed to him,” Erin said. “About two months later, a girl was added from the same orphanage. We kept those two kids in the back of our minds.”
Taking their faith in their hands, Cliff and Erin took the leap and began the long, expensive process.
“Bulgaria required two trips,” Cliff said. “We took the first one around the end of August and stayed a week. We visited them twice a day.”
Neither Cliff nor Erin had ever been to eastern Europe, but their adoption agency, About A Child, provided them with the translators and logistics they needed.
“There was a lot of anticipation getting to know and hold them,” Erin said. “It was exciting. They let us feed them and play with them. They’re wonderful children.”
Despite Micah and Aubrey’s developmental disabilities, the Forbes found them joyful and receptive, so much so that the hardest part of their overseas trip was having to leave their children in the orphanage for another several months as required by their country’s adoption processes.
“It’s a long wait when you want your kids to be home with you,” Cliff said. “And our kids are excited to have more siblings.”
The Forbes quickly turned to research and fundraising to fill the waiting periods.
Over the past year, with the help of family, friends, community and their own children, the Forbes organized several fundraisers and events to pay for the seemingly impossible $35,000 or so they’d need to realize their dream.
Notable fundraisers included a Craigslist sale of home and personal items, a car wash, crowd-funding efforts through Reece’s Rainbow and YouCaring.com, and summer craft sales. The Forbes also received generous mail-in and cash donations.
Hoping to bring Micah and Aubrey home by late January or early February, the Forbes are down to needing about $4,000 to complete their journey.
“We’ve had all we needed to fund the adoption the whole way through,” Erin said. “Then we heard about a shoe fundraiser and decided to make it our final push.”
Coupled with the New Wilmington-based Kelliher family, looking to adopt another child from eastern Africa, the Forbes are collecting used, wearable shoes to be sent to Angel Bins, a recycling and fundraising organization in California that sorts and distributes them to countries around the world.
Between the two families, the goal is a collective 30,000 pounds of shoes. The Forbes have about 2,000 pounds so far.
They also plan to donate any extra money they raise to the Bulgarian orphanage as well as the Kellihers and other adopting families.
One of the Forbes’ greatest desires is for other families to see the joys of adoption and realize they can take the leap too. The process is not easy or simple and may even involve heartache, but they believe the good that comes from it is undeniable.
“We’re not superstars or perfect parents,” Erin said. “We’re just normal people with everyday struggles. It’s doable. I hope other families jump on board.”
Although finances are usually the biggest setback for families on the fence about adoption, the Forbes feel their firsthand experience is a testament to the outpouring of fellowship, advice, donation and love that can be found in advocacy agencies and other adopting families.
“It’s easy to feel inadequate and unready,” Erin said. “There are challenges with kids’ orientation and health coming into a new way of life, but the support network takes the fear away. Every child needs a family and a permanent home, no matter what the situation.”
You can help
Anyone interested in contributing to Cliff and Erin Forbes’ adoption shoe drive can bring any size and kind of used, wearable shoes to Dairy Queen at 18392 Conneaut Lake Road in Vernon Township on Saturday between noon and 4 p.m. Ongoing drop-off locations include New Beginnings Church of God, 13226 Leslie Road, Meadville; and First Church of God, 634 Venango Ave., Cambridge Springs. For more information, contact Cliff Forbes at (814) 440-1949.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.