There is no place like a home holidays

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WRENS, Ga. --- The week before Christmas, 9-year-old Stepan examined each ornament he hung on the tree.

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Heather Mahaffey helps Russian orphan Stepan hang ornaments on her family's tree. Stepan, 9, is visiting from the St. Petersburg area through a program called New Horizons For Children.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Heather Mahaffey helps Russian orphan Stepan hang ornaments on her family's tree. Stepan, 9, is visiting from the St. Petersburg area through a program called New Horizons For Children.

His little fingers played over the imported ceramic orbs, Victorian-style angels and handmade plastic spoon ornaments.

As Marianna Mahaffey, 8, handed each decoration to Stepan, he paused every so often to admire a favorite and uttered a series of words in Russian before reaching up to hang it from the boughs.

The American family Christmas is new to Stepan and 11-year-old Sergei, not only because they have never been in the United States during the holiday, but also because neither has a family of his own.

Guests of two Wrens families, the orphans from Russia are in the U.S. as part of an Atlanta-area program, New Horizons For Children.

Stepan is staying with Tyler and Heather Mahaffey and their children, Mason, Mercer and Marianna.

Sergei is spending the holiday with Danny and Lisa Stom and their children, Jared, Hayden and Elena.

Though they live in different orphanages in Russia, both Stepan and Sergei are from the St. Petersburg area. They flew together from Moscow to New York to Atlanta, along with about 120 other New Horizons participants.

Their host families picked them up Dec. 16 and they will be with them until mid-January.

"It's really amazing how well the kids communicate without words," Mrs. Stom said. "They laugh and smile and grunt in the right direction. (Sergei) has said some English words, and we hope we'll all be speaking more the longer he is here."

The Mahaffeys heard about New Horizons in October through the Stoms, who adopted Hayden and later Elena from Russia.

"When Tyler told me about the program, the kids and I went online and saw all the children who could participate this year," Mrs. Mahaffey said. "By the end of the evening we had picked out the children we wanted to host. I immediately wanted to do it."

Mrs. Stom, who serves on a Web board for other adoptive parents, heard about the program through her contacts there.

"We always wanted to be able to do something more for the children that were left behind," she said. "Once they are past a certain age, they are just sort of overlooked by potential adoptive parents."

Online profiles of the children give basic information about them, including what they want for Christmas.

"A lot of them just said they wanted to have families," Mrs. Mahaffey said. "It was really sad. I think it got to our kids, too, when they realized how simple some of these kids' wishes were."

The Mahaffeys chose Stepan.

"He's so funny and loving," Mrs. Mahaffey said. "He'll just run up to me and blurt out all these words -- in Russian, of course -- throw his arms around me and smile."

Russia has about 700,000 orphans, Mrs. Stom said.

"When they turn 16, they have to leave the orphanage," she said. "Most of them are homeless. There are no jobs available. We have read that the suicide rate for these orphans is something like 15 percent. They just don't have any hope. Others turn to crime, selling drugs or prostitution."

The New Horizons program is designed to give orphans -- ages 8-15 -- a taste of American culture and to introduce them to the love of Christ and an American family at Christmastime.

"We want to let them know that there is hope," Mrs. Stom said. "We don't want them to give up when they get out of the orphanage. There is a way of life that is joyful, and Jesus gives them that hope."

The host family pays for the child's visa and airfare, chaperones and a pediatrician. The children are screened to determine whether they can handle the visit physically and emotionally.

"They've got to be pretty brave," Mr. Stom said. "Think about it: to travel more than 30 hours away to a place where you don't speak the language and then move into a strange home with a group of people you don't know for a month."


For information on New Horizons For Children, visit

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crazyoldman 12/30/08 - 09:48 am
Don’t get me wrong this is

Don’t get me wrong this is real nice what these people have done although; there are many many American not to mention CSRA children living in different orphanages and in poverty and worse that have needs and wants. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for these folks kindness but, we Americans already shunned American manufacturers and bought all the imported products and look at the mess that has caused across our great nation. Businesses filing bankruptcy, Factories closing, Many many Americans out of work yet, we continue to support other countries by buying and selling their products and adopting their children. Come on now, wake up America……..

wise ole man
wise ole man 12/30/08 - 11:29 am
I'm just glad this was not

I'm just glad this was not another expose` on the Deans!

TheGeorgian 12/30/08 - 05:02 pm
Wise Old Man said, "I'm just

Wise Old Man said, "I'm just glad this was not another expose` on the Deans!"

To which I'd like to add that I am glad it isn't an article on a discovery that James Brown has 255 more children and claimants to his estate.

Crazy Old Man mentioned area orphanages. We haven't been in the area long so it would help if he (or someone) mentioned the names of these institutions and made suggestions as to how people could help area kids. I suspect that some of us simply lack necessary information.

crazyoldman 12/30/08 - 09:39 pm
You can contact the

You can contact the Department of Family and Children Services at:

520 Fenwick Street P.O. Box 2277
Augusta, GA 30903-2277
Phone (706) 721-3000

crazyoldman 12/30/08 - 09:47 pm
As part of an effort to help

As part of an effort to help Georgia’s foster children make a “lifelong connection,” the Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Family and Children Services (DHR DFCS) is partnering with a nationally-renowned private foundation that specializes in helping child welfare agencies find permanent homes for more children.

jhb 12/31/08 - 01:24 pm
What a beautiful story. I

What a beautiful story. I love to see the Lord working in such a way. Knowing one of these families, I know they have already touched the lives of many local children (& adults for that matter). How God is now using them in other areas of the world humbles me. I am thankful to know families that are open to His call in their lives.

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