Non-profit offers adoption assistance

Gift of Adoption Fund gives $7,500 grants to families looking to adopt

More options are available to families who want to adopt children, including the Gift of Adoption Fund, which has helped almost 200 families in Florida bring a child into their life.

The fund helped Cindy and Corey Schmatjen, who recently grew their family from six to seven.

"There was something in our hearts that -- I had always wanted to adopt my whole life," said Cindy. "Being adopted myself, I always knew I wanted to give that gift to another child."

Corey, a pastor in South Florida, had spent time at an orphanage in Siberia. The haunting images never left him.

"It just made a lasting impression, but immediately just warmed my heart," said Corey.

So, 20 years later, the couple's quest to adopt led them halfway around the world to a girl named Svetlana.

Svetlana spent three years in an orphanage in Russia. She has been living with the Schmatjen family for four and a half months. The family said Svetlana had never seen a dog or taken a bath until she came to the U.S.

"She's never known what it is to have a mom or a dad or a family," said Cindy.

"I would feed her three big meals a day and she would be looking for more food in the garbage and I would find her on the floor," said Corey. "So, there were those moments that were sad, like, wow."

The Schmatjen's journey through adoption was nearing $25,000 and taking more than a year when Corey and Cindy learned they would have to make a third trip to Siberia. That's when Corey discovered Gift of Adoption.

"We're like, 'I don't think we can do it financially.' At that point, we turned to Gift of Adoption and said we have a child, she's legally ours, but we need help completing this adoption," said Corey. "They reviewed our application and they said yes."

The non-profit group gives $7,500 grants to adoptive families with priority to the most vulnerable children. Svetlana qualified, having lived her entire life in a hospital and orphanage in Siberia.

The girl has been slowing warming up to her adoptive parents.

"Were there times when she wasn't comfortable hugging you?" asked Local 10's Laurie Jennings.

"It was interesting. She would hug us, but she would be really stiff," said Corey. "Like, she would want to come up in our arms when we were at the orphanage, but, just stiff, and, she wasn't cuddly... She has changed quite a bit to us. More comfortable with us, with life, with surroundings, more trusting."

The couple also offered advice to other families who are considering adopting.

"If finances are the only thing holding you back, there's help. There's help out there," said Corey.

"If they feel like this is where they are supposed to go, that they should just take the first step forward," said Cindy.

Over the past 10 years, Gift of Adoption's Florida chapter has awarded more than $500,000 in adoption assistance grants.

Click here for more information on the Gift of Adoption Fund, including how to apply.

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