Holly’s Story

UPDATE: So many families have shown interest in Holly that we have closed applications for her! Our China program staff has identified two families equipped to meet Holly’s needs and will select one this week. Thank you to everyone for your immediate and overwhelming response. The China program often receives referrals like Holly’s, which are designated to Holt for a short amount of time before going to another agency for home-finding. Often, we are able to match these children before we ever have to post them on the photolisting. Families who are open to adopting older children will have the most success if they apply to Holt — well before they have a child in mind. This allows our staff to immediately consider your family as a potential match every time we receive a new designated referral, like Holly’s. 

Still interested in adopting an older girl from China? We are still looking for a family for Leanne. Click here to learn more.

DOB: February 4, 2004, China

Holly* was likely less than a day old when she was found – nine years ago – at the gate of a government building in a province on the southeast coast of China. The official who found Holly brought her to the police station, where she was quickly sent to live at the local social welfare institute. Here, she was diagnosed with congenital cataracts, nystagmus of both eyes – a condition that causes uncontrollable eye movement – and weak light perception. She also received an estimated birthday of February 4, 2004 – the date she was found.

Holly was a quiet baby who rarely cried but smiled when caregivers would laugh in her presence. She showed great interest in new objects, holding them close to her eyes so she could see and study them. With the encouragement of her caregivers, she slowly built her courage and learned to walk on her own. By 4 years old, she could walk steadily – relying on light perception – and had no problem going up and down stairs, running, jumping or participating in outdoor activities like hide-and-seek. She could read simple poems and count numerals with her peers. She strived to please and sought praise from her caregivers, to whom she had grown very attached. “In a word,” wrote her social worker at the time, “Holly is an active and lovely baby.”

Three years later, in March of 2011, Holly’s social worker sat down to write an update on Holly, now 7 years old. “Time flies,” she writes. “Now Holly becomes a very beautiful little girl!” Holly likes wearing dresses and “swinging in them.” She enjoys participating in craft workshops – always beginning by carefully observing what materials she has, grouping the materials, and then starting the crafting process. Holly’s motor and intellectual development are evident in how skillfully and meticulously she crafts her pieces.

Holly is now 8, going on 9. Although shy around strangers, Holly has through the years grown more confident and outgoing. Where before she spoke softly, she now expresses herself loud and clear. Holly attends school at the orphanage, and is described as quick to learn new things and to want to do the right thing.

Once a lovely baby, Holly has grown into a truly lovely girl.

This special young lady waits for a family who has access to vision resources, has parented past her age, has a good understanding of older child adoption and institutionalization, and will be patient in helping her transition to a family.

To learn more about Holly, contact Marissa Leuallen at marissal@holtinternational.org.

*name changed

There She Is!

Five days ago, 2-year-old Hyeon-a traveled from South Korea to Eugene, Oregon with Molly Holt to meet her new family, the Odils. Welcome home, Hyeon-a!


By Ashli Keyser, Managing Editor

Eugene, Oregon — As managing editor at Holt International, I frequently receive stories from families sharing their adoption journeys. A favorite topic among the families: “the moment” — that beautiful, very emotional, moment when a family meets their child for the first time. The moment when, after months of paperwork and waiting, parents stand face to face with the child they have prayed for from the moment they saw their sweet face appear on their computer screen. In 2010, I witnessed this beautiful “moment” in Ethiopia, when ten families met their children in Addis Ababa. I sat at a distance, and watched as, one by one, children were placed into the waiting arms of their loving parents. What a momentous occasion for them, and for me. Instead of sharing the families’ stories or reading stories after the fact, I was able to see the joy of this beautiful moment firsthand. Something I will always remember. A once in a lifetime opportunity.

Or so I thought.

Three days ago, I witnessed it again. Only this time, instead of being eight thousands miles away in Ethiopia, I was about 5 miles away from my house, standing in the Eugene, Oregon airport. I stood with Zachary and Holly Odil and their four children, all adopted through Holt, as they waited for their new daughter, Hyeon-a, to arrive from Korea.

Twenty or so pink “It’s a girl!” balloons floated above the crowd of family and friends. Holly and Zachary stood behind a gray barrier and four TSA agents, waiting, growing more excited and impatient as travelers passed by.  “If I was any more happy, I wouldn’t be able to stand it,” said Zachary.   The TSA agents looked at the balloon-carrying crowd, curious, wondering what the excitement was all about. They stood, on guard, waiting to leap into action if the growing mob became too rambunctious. The guards were no match for Holly Odil though. “I don’t think the security guards like me very much,” said Holly, with a laugh, standing in an anxious manner, looking as though she might at any moment leap over the metal detectors to get to her daughter. “We are making the guards very nervous.”

Travelers arriving home hurried past the waiting group, eager to retrieve their luggage, glancing only briefly at the waiting crowd. Their obliviousness and rushed nature seemed almost unacceptable to Holly Odil, who happily handed out pink lollipops, gleefully exclaiming, “Sorry about all the excitement folks, but I’m having a baby!” Holly’s four children hovered under her feet, getting antsy.


Holly Odil (left) anxiously waits for her daughter to arrive.


And then word came. The flight that had started in Seoul, South Korea had landed safely in Eugene, finally. “Your little sister will be here very soon!” said Holly’s mother, trying to keep her grandchildren together.

“I am not going to cry,” said Holly, as she fixed her gaze toward the long hallway and waited. Continue reading “There She Is!”

To See is To Believe

In July 2012, Holt adoptive parents Diane and Ken Matsuura took their family on the trip of a lifetime. In 18 days, they visited four provinces in China. They climbed the Great Wall and marveled at the storied Terracotta Warriors in northwestern Shaanxi province. Between sightseeing, they also visited six Holt programs — including foster care in Nanchang, family preservation in Nanning, and a special medical foster home called the “Peace House” in Beijing. Although sightseeing was amazing, the Matsuura family agreed: the opportunity to see how Holt serves children and families in China was the greatest sight of all.

Interested in seeing Holt’s programs and meeting the children and families we serve in China? Join Holt’s first Vision Trip to China, in April 2013! Click here to learn more.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Seeing, as they say, is believing. To believe in Holt’s mission, all adoptive parents Diane and Ken Matsuura needed to see was a little baby girl swaddled in blankets, ready to meet her new family. That was 31 years ago. In the years since they adopted their daughter from Korea, the Matsuuras have become true champions for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. They have donated substantially to support Holt’s programs in countries around the world. In 2002, they also began sponsoring children in Holt’s care. As their sponsored children joined adoptive families or reunited with their birth families, their support continuously flowed to another child and then another. Today, they support children in Korea, China, Vietnam and India.

But it wasn’t until 2006, on a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, that the Matsuuras actually got to see firsthand how Holt uses their support to strengthen families and care for children overseas. Although they always believed in Holt’s cause, this just reinforced their dedication to serving children in need – and inspired them to do more. At an orphanage in Vietnam, they participated in a work project alongside local staff. On this trip, they also got to meet one of their sponsored children. “It was just a joy to meet that child,” Diane remembers. Eventually, this girl left sponsorship, once Holt could ensure for her – as for all sponsored children – a stable, loving home in which to grow and thrive.

Joining the Matsuuras on this journey to S.E. Asia were Holt board members Joe Matturro and Kim Hanson. This, they soon discovered, would serve another, yet unforeseen, purpose. “Kim and Joe introduced Ken to the work of the board on that trip,” says Diane. Inspired by what he saw, Ken joined Holt’s board of directors in 2008.

Ken and Diane Matsuura with Jian Chen, Holt’s program director for China.

Continue reading “To See is To Believe”

One Wonderful Family for One Amazing Boy

Holt adoptive parents Blake and Michele Haan have adopted seven children – three from the foster care system and four from India. Their youngest son, Micah, is three years old and has a condition called rare facial clefting, which has affected the development of his face. After Micah came home, the Haans put together a video to introduce Micah to the congregation at their church.

“Micah has been with us about 3 weeks now,” writes Michele. “He is an awesome, amazing little boy. He loves people and loves to laugh and have fun, but if people — particularly other children — can’t see past his appearance, they miss out on knowing Micah.”

We found their video so moving and inspiring, we just had to share it:

November is National Adoption Month! This year, Holt will focus our energy and effort on advocating for the children who often need the most help finding families – children with special needs like Micah, older children and boys. Will you join us? Click here to learn how.

What’s in a Name?

Birth to Three is now “Parenting Now!”

Holt’s long-time partner has changed the name of its organization to better reflect its range of services for children and their families.

Since 1978, Birth To Three has supported families in Eugene, Oregon, serving 93,000 since its launch. “Truth is, we’ve outgrown the name

Social workers from six different Holt countries join together in India to learn the “Make Parenting a Pleasure” curriculum.

Birth To Three, and we want to celebrate that,” says Minalee Saks, the organization’s founder and executive director.  “If someone has a 6-year-old who might benefit from Birth To Three, they might not come because they don’t know the programs we offer.”

For more than 10 years, Holt has partnered with Birth to Three to bring parenting education to our social workers overseas. In 2002 and 2003, Birth to Three brought their “Make Parenting a Pleasure” curriculum to our programs in Romania and Ukraine — curricula that helps prevent child abandonment, neglect and abuse.

Most recently, in the spring of 2011, Saks traveled to India with Jennifer Goette, Holt director of south and southeast Asia, to train social workers from six different Holt countries on how to effectively support and educate parents, part of Holt’s long-term family preservation strategy in the countries we serve.


Read more about Birth to Three’s work and recent name change here

Click here to read about Minalee Saks’ 2011 trip to India.


The Philippines Ambassadors Leave Sunday!!

The second annual Philippines Ambassador Trip kicks off on Sunday, October 14th!

This year’s team includes two adoptive parents, two adult adoptees and three Holt staff members. Over the coming week, they will participate in group activities, go on fun outings and generally get to know the 15 boys and girls, ages 10-15, in this year’s group. Just like last year, the ambassadors will then return home to the U.S. and advocate for the children they met – helping them find loving adoptive families of their own!

Last year's group of older children.

Last year’s team of ambassadors had great success in this endeavor. Today, six of the 11 children they met have families!

We have the same high hopes for the 15 older children in this year’s group. Interested in learning more? Throughout the week, the ambassadors will post blogs about the children on a password-protected site. Interested families can follow along by clicking here for a username and password.

Continue reading “The Philippines Ambassadors Leave Sunday!!”

My Moment

A mother’s last request for her daughter—a trip to her homeland

by Cherry Hedges, adoptee and heritage tour participant

Once upon a time there was a baby Korean girl abandoned in a police box in Seoul, Korea. For the next 10 months, she lived in a total of seven different hospitals, orphanages and foster homes. At 16 months of age, she was flown to America to become a part of the Kennard family, Reverend Larry and his wife Leona Kennard.

This is the beginning of my story. This beginning has had a profound effect on the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Growing up in a small Missouri town, as one of the only minority girls, was quite the experience. Because everyone around me was white, I considered myself white as well. For this reason, the discrimination that I received often confused me. I did feel special and unique in certain ways, because I knew that I was chosen to be part of a wonderful family. However, there was always that feeling that I didn’t quite belong.

Fast forward thirty years: I walked off a plane and into the Seoul airport. That feeling of not quite belonging was brushed away as I looked around and was surrounded by other Korean people. Everyone looked like me! Even though I didn’t speak the language, I blended in. It was overwhelming. I felt like I was home. This homeland trip was also bittersweet. My adoptive mom was dying of cancer. She wanted to make sure I had the experience of going back to Korea before she passed away. She gave me this wonderful gift, and for that I am forever grateful.

The homeland tour was a time for me to connect with my past and bridge the gap from what I thought I knew about Korea to what was real. My “moment” came when I stood on the corner of the street where I was abandoned, looking up at the tall building, smelling the air, and feeling like I had come full circle. More than ever, the value of the blessings of my life, the heritage of my faith and the privilege of my journey became more real to me.

My mom passed away in February. I cannot express enough how much her love, faith and life meant to me. God gave her to me and then took her too soon, but I am forever grateful that she followed His call to adopt an abandoned little girl in Seoul, Korea.

An Oasis in the Midst of Chaos

A Haiti vision trip member recounts her time at Holt Fontana Village

 by Lori Simmons, adoptive parent and Haiti vision trip member

I didn’t know what to expect as we pulled up to Holt Fontana Village. This was the first orphanage that I had ever visited. Driving to the Village was a short and bumpy ride, not far from where we were staying. The gate to enter the grounds was locked for the children’s protection. Once we entered, I saw a truly beautiful oasis. The rest of the vision trip members and I walked down a narrow path to a concrete stage where we met the children. They performed a special “welcome” dance for all of us. Music, singing, dancing and laughter filled the stage. It was truly the most memorable welcome I had ever experienced. The girls all had matching skirts and tops. You could tell that someone had spent a lot of time and energy putting this together for the vision trip members.

After the song and dance, we spent time with the children and met some of their housemothers. The children had big smiles and were excited to get to know us. After a short while, we all had children on our laps, clapping and singing. It was a very special time for me. All of the children were so welcoming and made us all feel so special, when we were really there to let them know how special they all are.

It’s clear that Peter Fontana, president of the Hope for Haiti foundation, and his wife, Shay, have put their hearts and souls into making this a unique and truly special place for children. Each home has a housemother who takes pride in both the appearance of the children as well as the immaculately kept homes. Each child’s outfit fits perfectly; their shoes match, and the girls’ hair is all so beautifully braided. The housemothers are nurturing, thoughtful, and all of the children respect them.

Holt Fontana is a beautiful oasis for children who have had a difficult journey in their lives. Thank you Peter and Shay and Holt International for all that you have done and continue to do to support these very special children.

Join us in April as we take another vision trip group to China!  Click here to learn more


Why I Forgive

An adult adoptee’s journey to forgiveness

By Juliet Ercolano

When I was only one month old, I lost my first family. I lived for five months in an orphanage in China. Because of the shortage of food, the nannies thickened our bottles with ground rice. I am told that we were kept swaddled in blankets to keep us warm, and to take the place of someone holding us. We spent many hours trying to entertain and soothe ourselves. When I was adopted, I had a bald spot in the back of my head from rubbing back and forth against the mattress, trying to comfort myself. My parents told me I cried the first time I saw a rattle shaken in front of my face. We did not have toys in the orphanage and seeing and hearing it scared me.

Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but I’ve heard the stories so many times and each time they have left me feeling angry and confused. To make me feel better, my parents often reassured me that my birth mother must have loved me very much. The orphanage told us that I was left at a crowded train station. This showed that my birth mother wanted me to be found and wanted me to have a better life.

It makes me feel sad that I don’t know anything about my birth mother. I don’t know if anyone really understands how much I wish I knew the things that most children take for granted. For years, thinking about my birth mother caused me a lot of inner turmoil, and I blamed myself a lot of the time for my birth mother abandoning me. Maybe I did something wrong that caused her not to want me. I will never really know.

I know that if I ever have a baby, I won’t separate from her for any reason at all. I will make it work somehow and some way, no matter what. I would remind my precious baby girl each day how much I love her and how important she is to me and how I’d never let her out of my sight. Continue reading “Why I Forgive”