Like so many Plymouth residents, Bill and Diane Tollerud have kids ranging from 3 to 11 years old—four of them, to be exact—and, kids being kids, this past April their 5-year-old asked if they could host a child from another country. Their reaction was what you’d expect: “I don’t know about that,” Diane recalls telling him.
But this is where the story becomes uncommon: The next day at church, someone mentioned an orphan-hosting program, and the Tolleruds knew they had to get involved. After digging deeper, and just a week and a half later, they finished filling out the paperwork to host a 10-year-old boy from China during the month of July.
The program, New Horizons for Children, is the largest faith-based orphan-hosting program in the country, and to date it has helped more than 3,500 orphans in Asian and Eastern European countries experience what it’s like to have a loving family. While it’s not an adoption agency, Bill Tollerud says the program has great success, with adoption rates of “about 80 percent.” Diane clarifies that, to adopt, a family needs to work with a different agency, and New Horizons helps connect adoptive families with partner organizations.
As for the kids, they’re told they’re going on vacation in America, so they don’t get their hopes up.
“Our hope is that they do find their forever families,” Diane says, especially because the statistics for orphans in these countries are not good.
The boy they hosted will be out on his own at 14-years-old if not adopted, and the risk of human trafficking in Asian countries is high. The program’s website states that those who aren’t adopted or shown compassion before they leave the orphanage will have a hard time thriving, as 60 percent of the girls will end up in prostitution, and 70 percent of the boys will be on the streets or in jail. In Eastern Europe, 15 percent will commit suicide within the first two years on their own.
“You think of your own kids and how you want to protect them,” Bill says. “Well, [these kids] don’t have that.”
There were 292 orphans in United States host-family homes this summer; four were in Minnesota. Some of those nearly 300 are siblings who have rarely or never seen each other. “[They’re] at different orphanages,” says Diane, due to gender or funding, and “this is their chance to see each other.” The Tolleruds didn’t think they were ready for hosting siblings though, especially considering they already have four kids (the mini-van only holds so many).
“We wanted to show him love and stability, not just show him the highlights [of where we live],” Diane explains. Their goal, Bill says, was “how we can make an impact on this boy’s life ... be a memory for him,” not to mention spreading the word about the program. The more people are aware that this is an option, the more orphaned children get to experience family and compassion.
During the boy’s stay, one of the Tolleruds’ responsibilities was to provide dental and vision care for him. Eric Wang, DDS, of Brook West Dentistry and Dr. David Kennedy of Kennedy Vision Health Center provided the care for free.
The reality is that families like the Tolleruds aren’t sure they can fit adoption into their lives at the moment, but they know they want to help. The program enables exactly that. A friend or acquaintance could have met the boy and feel called to adopt him, but if not, the Tolleruds know they made a positive impact on this one child that could change the path he takes in life.
“We’re not a perfect family,” Diane says, “but we know we want the chance to serve others”, and this program helps the Tolleruds complete that mission, as well as teach their own kids that not everyone is as lucky as they are. As for their 5-year-old, now 6, who started this all: “God uses your kids to challenge you,” Bill says, “or to speak to you.”