By C.J. Barbre

This is a story you want to come at from the kid's point of view. Sasha is his name, which Kaycie Swenson says translates into Alexander in English. If Sasha is adopted he will move half the world away from most all that is familiar.

At age 7 that can be scary, no matter how loving his new family. The best news for Sasha is that his 4-year-old brother is part of the deal, but little brother didn't get to come on this visit to the United States.

Sasha didn't participate in the interview about his whole future because his native language is Ukrainian.

Frank and Kaycie Swenson live in a modular home near the foothills in the Lindsay Zip code and Strathmore school district. They have been married five years. Kaycie, 30, is a substitute teacher at all levels in the Lindsay school system. Frank, 31, is a mechanic at Faggart Buick in Porterville. Kaycie grew up in the house next door. Frank hales from Anaheim.

Kaycie said she had toyed with the idea of adoption after her only pregnancy four years ago ended in a miscarriage at seven weeks. "Adoption here is expensive," she said, seated in her cool, cozy living room on a hot August afternoon, with the blinds closed against the heat. Sasha alternated his attention between playing with toy soldiers and cars on the couch and watching "The Planet's Funniest Animals," on television.

The Swensons need to come up with $20,000 to adopt the two boys. One website promoting adoption of Ukrainian children quoted the cost at $5,000 per child and $10,000 in legal fees. This is still a lot of money, so Virginia Loya is holding a dinner and Casino night on Aug. 28.

"I've done a lot of adoption searches [on the Internet] and you've just got to find what works for you," Kaycie said. And then, perhaps divine providence stepped in. The Swensons attend the Grand Avenue United Methodist Church in Porterville. The church was hosting a group of 10 orphan children from the Ukrain for a three-week visit to this area. Kaycie said the intermediary company is Adoption ART of Illinois. She said the family that was supposed to take Sasha into their home backed out. "Sasha literally fell into our laps," she said. They were asked by the church to have Sasha stay with them until other arrangements could be made. "I went back and said I don't want to do it for a couple of days. If we're going to do it I want to go all the way."

In a phone interview, Grand Avenue United Methodist's Pastor Don Roulsten said there were two families in his church that have adopted children from former Soviet Union countries. "One has adopted three and has a heart for these children." He said she started going on the Internet and working with Adoption ART to bring children to the U.S.

"These children are brought over and people who are considering adoption host them in their homes with the idea that hopefully a match will happen and adoption will be the result," he said. Pastor Roulsten said at least eight of the 10 in the current group would likely be adopted. He said there are three churches in Porterville trying to find parents for kids in orphanages in the former Soviet Union including Grand Avenue, Living Word and Westfield Christian. They all happen to be Methodist but he said that is immaterial. "It's not Christian oriented, that's not the purpose," he said.

"They bill it to the children as a dream vacation. For kids in orphanages in the former Soviet Union, it's certainly a drastic change." He said the next step is for the adoptive parents to go to the Ukrain to go through the official adoption procedure. "I understand that some of the parents will be able to go over as early as October, and one is talking about February of next year." He said most of the children are in the 6- to 8-year-old age range. Pastor Roulsten said he believed the decision as to which children were chosen to come to America was base on how long they had been available for adoption in their country of origin.

Assuming everything works out as planned for the Swensons, Kaycie said Sasha, whom she already calls Alex, will start school in the first grade. She said he has never attended school because schools in Russia don't start children until age 7, and not until age 8 if they are in an orphanage.

"He's super smart," she said. "We haven't done a lot with him and the other day, in the pool, he counted to seven." Kaycie said at first Alex was "laid back," or one could say reserved or perhaps even scared. "For a while I felt like he didn't care where he was." She said sometimes he cried, but without tears. "They're not allowed to cry [in the orphanage]." She said Alex can manage to pout, "but it never lasts long."

Kaycie said she isn't concerned that Alex has any emotional problems. "I worked in a group home for severely emotionally disturbed girls, and there's nothing like that."

Kaycie did not know why Alex and his brother are in an orphanage. She said their is no foster care in the Ukrain so all children without appropriate adult care have to go to orphanages. She said the children could have parents who were deceased, abusive or who abandoned them for whatever reason.

She agreed, "There's risks in adoptions," regarding possible unknown health factors but said none of the children that came to their church had no health problems. All had been tested for AIDS and HIV, for syphilis and TB. They had all had age appropriate immunizations and none had hepatitis. One boy did have a club foot, but that could be repaired.

She said Alex loves to swim in a neighbor's pool. They don't have their own. "He has no fear. These kids have absolutely no body fat. In the orphanage they just get soup and bread. When he sinks to the bottom, I panic, but it's not a problem." She said that he started using a kickboard in the pool for more flotation.

Kaycie believes that Alex has acclimated well. "Last week I called one of the Russian ladies about him getting a haircut. He wanted nothing to do with Russian." She felt this was a sign that he wanted to be American. She said that at her birthday party the previous weekend Alex was speaking Russian while playing with another boy who was speaking English and they were getting along well.

Kaycie and Frank have not given up on the notion of conceiving a child. She is going for infertility treatments in January, "So I could also get pregnant." But they still want to do the good thing, the right thing. "They say boys are harder to adopt, and siblings harder still."

The group from Grand Avenue United Methodist spent their last day at Disneyland, all of the children and most prospective adoptive parents. Pastor Roulsten said part of the motivation was that children from eastern block nations have so little compared to children in the U.S. He said 16 more of these children were coming from Russia to Hanford next week.

Casino Night at Virginia Loya's to support the Swenson adoption:

Dinner will be from 6-8 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to midnight there will be casino games with musical entertainment. Dinner is $25 a plate. There will be door prizes and a raffle. The grand prize is two nights in San Simeon for two, two tickets to Hearst Castle and a dinner voucher. For reservations or information call Virginia's Hair Salon at 562-3200.

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