There was cake, ice cream and orange-and-green candy bugs that were gleefully grabbed by the children attending little Mark Worth’s birthday party Oct. 15, but perhaps the flavor that will most be appreciated as the 3-year-old child grows into adulthood will be the taste of freedom.
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Mark, son of Tara and Mike Worth of Shingle Springs, was celebrating his third birthday, but it was the first party the toddler has enjoyed, having spent his young life in an orphanage in Ukraine until the Worth family made him one of their own.
“They don’t have birthday parties at the orphanage in Ukraine,” said mom Tara, 37, who watched as her mother, Marian Schneider, scooped up young Mark and carried him over to a Spider-Man bounce house, part of the party that included several other adopted children in attendance. One of them was Alex, 9, who not only was adopted by the Worths, but is the older brother of the birthday boy.
Until Mike and Tara decided to adopt them, the boys had never met one another.
“They were in separate orphanages,” explained Mike. “We were given the opportunity to adopt them both.
“It was remarkable to watch as they first met.”
That happened seven months ago, after a six-week stay in Ukraine by the Worths that was well worth the wait, according to the couple, both of whom are lifelong residents of El Dorado County.
“We never anticipated how Alex would respond to seeing his little brother for the first time,” said Tara, her eyes misting a bit as she recalled that amazing day in March.
“Alex had been told about his brother and when he met him he went up and took his face in his hands. It was very moving,” she said.
Grandma Marian said the care expressed by Alex since that time has continued, to the joy of the boys’ new family.
“He’s totally attentive to his little brother, always looking after him,” said Schneider. “I’ve watched as he wraps his brother in his own jacket to keep him warm.”
The Worths have two biological children, Gage, 11; and Myah, 9. The home-schooled kids are happy to welcome their new brothers into the family home, said their older brother.
“Hello, my name is Gage,” said the young man as he reached out a confident hand in greeting. “It’s fun to have them with us,” said the 11-year-old when asked about his new siblings. “I used to play with my sister, Myah, and still do, but now I have them, too. Alex likes to do air soft-shooting, which is like a Nerf gun,” said the engaging Gage.
Marian and Mark Schneider drive a vehicle with a back window filled with stick-on cutouts of kids — 23 in all. Two of Tara’s siblings have adopted children, Marian explained, and even though 11 of Marian and Mark Schneider’s 23 grandchildren are adopted, adoption was not something any of the Schneider kids set out to accomplish.
“Just the other day, one of the 11-year-olds (grandkids) said something about one day adopting a child from China,” said Marian. “I didn’t even blink an eye, it’s just natural conversation in our households these days.”
Mike Worth said the decision to adopt the two Ukrainian boys didn’t just happen, although it was spurred by something as innocuous as an e-mail.
“We get a list of children who are eligible for home schooling, kids from other countries. The list is connected with our church, Gold Country Baptist in Shingle Springs. We had taken in two girls from Ukraine last summer (2012) and really enjoyed having them.
“People don’t realize that there still are orphans in homes who are in desperate need,” he added. “We really enjoyed having our two biological kids, and as our faith in Christ strengthens, it became a mandate to adopt.”
Tara said it was surprising how quickly things moved, once they looked into the e-mail regarding possible adoptions.
“After we received the e-mail, I said to Mike, ‘Let’s pursue this,’ and it was remarkable how quickly the opportunity came up for Ukraine,” she said.
It helped that the Worths have friends in Ukraine who could help them understand what to expect, and the six-week stay there to work out the finer points of adoption were handled with little trouble.
“If you decide this is what you wish to do, you don’t have to stay there the whole six weeks,” Tara added. “You can fly in, then fly home and wait, that sort of thing.
“But we wanted to begin assimilating the boys into our family right away, so we stayed in that country.”
Tara warned that she and her husband don’t want to make the adoption process seem too easy, however, explaining that it is “not for the faint of heart.”
“But it has been an amazing blessing,” Mike said. “We are pretty busy,” he conceded, then added, “but our strength is in getting and staying organized.
“They’ve fit right in,” he said of Alex and Mark, both of whom have been given middle names of Michael.
The Worths said they had looked into adopting children in the United States, but that effort had gotten few results by the time the e-mail came that prompted their overseas trip last March.
And, judging by the determined look in Tara’s eyes as she speaks of them, the two Ukrainian girls who were guests of the Worths a while back still may find a permanent home in Shingle Springs.
“We want to get the girls, who are ages 6 and 13,” said Tara. “It was so hard to send them back to the orphanage. There simply are more opportunities for children growing up here, in America.
“The Soviet countries are still spiritually depressed, dark countries. Often the kids from third world countries can be violent, wounded souls but we have been blessed. These two are happy, easy to please,” she said, wrapping an arm around Alex’ waist as the boy ran up after playing in the bounce house.
Those wondering why Americans are able to adopt in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent mandate against it should understand that Ukraine is no longer under Putin’s rule, Mike explained.
“There are 140,000 children available now for adoption in Ukraine,” Mike added. “It takes generally under a year for the process to be completed, whereas here in the United States that’s just not the case.”
However, Mike emphasized that he and his wife feel that the rapidity with which they were able to add their two new boys to their home was the result of “God pushing us toward His goal.”
Tara’s mom Marian said there is a worldwide movement, particularly among churches, to adopt children in desperate need.
“I think we all need to recognize that this is a global, worldwide community in which we live,” she said. “Another (Gold Country Baptist) church member just got back from Kenya, where they adopted five children,” Marian said, smiling.
Asked whether she and husband Mark (the birthday boy’s namesake grandpa) ever spoke to Tara and her siblings about adopting kids once they grew up, Marian said no.
“That’s one of the reasons it has been fascinating to watch this movement, to watch this dream come to us,” she said, wiping a couple of ice cream cone crumbs from the tiny face of little Mark, a brand-new American whose eyes simply sparkled behind his wire-rim glasses on his special day.
The Worths said they are not certain of Mark’s and Alex’ backgrounds, saying they were told little about their mother.
As the kids played with their brother and sister and scads of cousins during the warm autumn afternoon, it was remarked to Marian that perhaps Mark will think every day will be as joyous and fun as his birthday, that this sort of celebration of life is the norm.
“Actually … it is,” said Marian, watching as her daughter Tara gathered her brood for a family portrait on a green lawn in front of the sprawling house.
The Worths said they received gracious help and support from their church and advised those interested in pursuing adoption in third world countries to contact Laurel Boylan at godswaitingchildren.com.