Hawaii International Child strives to help children in need of family.

Lori and Dane Felix weren’t quite sure what to expect when son Kai arrived in their lives. They were older parents looking to adopt an older child, and found Kai with help from Hawaii International Child and its China Waiting Child Program, which helps older children and children with health disabilities find a home.

He was 12 at the time, and the situation was not without its challenges. the couple encountered cultural and language barriers, for example. Not to mention the usual ups and downs of dealing with a teenager.

All of that, though, eventually changed. “Over time, you learn to love each other and you come to an understanding, how everything works,” says Lori in a video that appears on the Hawaii International Child website. “Kai has turned out to be a really great son. At this point, we cannot imagine our lives without Kai in it.”

Kai is just one of more than 3,000 children Hawaii International Child has placed into homes across the U.S. since its inception in 1975. The organization primarily works to connect children from Korea and China with families here in Hawai’i, and also has dealt with a variety of other Asian countries.

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With the help of the Hawaii International Child team, children from Africa to Asia have found loving homes with Hawai'i-based families.

Right now, it happens to be more children like Kai that Hawaii International Child hopes to help.

Adoption has changed quite a bit in the past 20 years, says Hawaii International Child executive director and CEO Kristine Altwies.

“It used to be that there were a lot of healthy infants waiting for families in Russia and China,” she says. “Now, the majority of inter-country adoptions are for older or waiting children.”

(Altwies adds that couples looking to adopt an infant may still do so domestically, which Hawaii International Child also helps to facilitate.)

It’s a shift she credits to many different factors. For one, there has been increased legislation and tighter restrictions. Countries who may have needed outside help in the past are now economically stable and independent. Bias toward adoption has decreased and it now is more widely accepted throughout the world. Social ideals, female empowerment, birth control and sex education, adds Altwies, also have contributed.

She doesn’t dispute that adopting an older child can be difficult. At this point in a child’s life, they have encountered years of home disruptions, foster homes or institutions, and any number of negative experiences that can be diagnosed as PTSD. It requires a patient and understanding family in these instances, says Altwies, but the benefits can be great- something she knows firsthand as someone who adopted an 11-year-old son from China.

“Most of the families who have adopted older kids would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Altwies, who has been with Hawaii International Child since 1991. “I could speak for a long time of the joys and the rewards.”

Altwies is, in fact, a mother of two adopted children, in addition to three biological offspring-something Altwies always knew she wanted to do, having worked with children in need of families for quite some time. “Raising the two adopted ones feels no difierent emotionally than raising the others,” she says. “I love them with the same intensity and I feel just as committed and just as surprised by them on a daily basis.”

The experience also has given Altwies a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work she does.

“It’s euphoric,” she says of matching children with families. “I know personally that it’s life-changing and it’s something that you can try and be prepared for, but it’s really hard to prepare for all the amazing feelings and experiences that you have.”It’s what keeps us going,” she adds. “Because of the amazing feelings that we have from the satisfaction of the work, we’re able to continue. We’re all grateful to be doing this work.”

Many of the staff at Hawaii International Child were adopted or are adoptive parents. In addition to its China Waiting Child Program, the organization also has a Philippines Adoption Program, Ka Makana Domestic Adoption Program and a Yoshee Embryo Matching Program. Hawaii International Child also currently is looking for females who would like to become surrogate mothers for families here in Hawai’i.

“That’s a very special program,” says Altwies. “Women who get involved as surrogates tend to be really special and enjoy the work-enjoy being that one to carry a child for someone else.”

Every aspect of her job, Altwies says she enjoys. For many of the families Hawaii International Child works with, it becomes a lifelong relationship-;and it’s working with the families in particular that really seems to give Altwies great satisfaction.

“I love the families who adopt, who are open and courageous about how to become a family,” she says. “Of course, above all, I love the children who are resilient and inspirational.”

For more information on Hawaii International Child, visit adoptionhawaii.org or call 589-2367.

Photos courtesy Hawaii International Child