• Sweet Hope
  • Because every child deserves a childhood.

    In 2004 I sat in front of a computer endlessly searching for information about international adoption. Little did I know what that path would lead to. As I gathered more and more information about the country we would eventually adopt from I also prepared myself for the worst that could possibly happen. In the end my husband and I spent two long years adopting a son from the Russian Far East. This is not a tale of that story, but rather one that followed, eight years later.

    On a sunny June morning our car pulled up to a small yard surrounded by a large iron fence. As we drove through the gate fear and anxiety overtook my senses. It is only now that I can look back at photographs to take in the whole picture of the surroundings. Outside of the large carved wooden door laid a small play yard. This yard was the sole outdoor space for the one hundred fifty children that lived within Baby Home #1 in Khabarovsk, Russia. The yard contained a rudimentary swings, a rusty monkey bars and a lopsided slide. A small ‘playhouse’ was in need of a new roof and weeds grew up in the sandbox. There was no grass and the recent late Spring rains created large puddles that would later attract large mosquitoes in the humid Summer heat. The few play structures lacked everything that would be considered joyful to a child.

    At the time I walked through the play yard it did not occur to me that this is where my child may spend a portion of his time. After all, the child I was going inside to meet was only nine months old. I had no concern for the small toddlers that called this place home.

    Nine months after our foray into the play yard at Baby Home #1 we learned that the child we met there found another home with a Russian family. This news was devastating, but our adoption coordinator assured us she still would help us build our family. We were told that we would not be matched with another child from this same facility. The mental pictures of the play yard vanished as we looked to another Baby Home.

    In early April, 2005, we awoke to a fresh blanket of snow. We were once again in what we were now considering a second home, Khabarovsk. This time we were to meet a new child. This time we were traveling to another Baby Home. The sun rose higher in the sky and the snow began to melt. The melting snow flooded the streets and cars looked like small watercraft. We watched from the grimy car windows as pedestrians on the sidewalks shielded themselves from sprays as cars sped by. We turned onto a small side street, drove through a lake of a puddle and then made the final turn onto a pot holed dirt lane. The towering Birch trees had no leaves and through the bare branches we could see the entrance to Baby Home #2.

    Our driver stopped in front of the building. This time we did not walk through a play yard to reach the front door. Instead we walked under the sloped roof of the portico and stepped into the entry vestibule. The temperature was stiflingly hot and we quickly shed our coats and gloves. A caregiver ushered us into a tiny room and a short time later a tiny toddler was brought in to meet us. The tow headed child had a look of terror on his face as he was placed into my arms. Slowly he warmed to our presence. We broke the ice with small toys like a little truck and a container of bubbles. Later in our visit we were allowed to take small walks up and down the hall. It was during one such walk that a group of two year olds passed us. I stepped aside to let the little ones pass and as they did each one turned to me and made attempts to grab my pant legs. Each one cried out, “Mama! Mama!” hoping that I was the Mama they were waiting for.

    The little faces were abandoned, with no one other than a woman in a white coat to love them. The children rocked themselves to sleep because there were simply not enough arms to hold all of them. No boo-boos were kissed. No bedtime stories were read. They lacked the one basic thing every child needs. A childhood.

    Four months later we returned to Baby Home #2 to complete the adoption of our son. On a balmy August afternoon we returned to the shelter and were given the opportunity to play outside with our child. The caregivers ushered us into a small play yard with a small slide, a rusty monkey bars and a bench. Although he as nearly two, our son did not seem to know what to do with structures as simple as a slide. We once again played with bubbles and made attempts to teach him to throw a ball. We quickly realized that there were a number of little eyes paying close attention to our actions.

    A group of three year olds were having their outdoor time. The second play yard held a much larger play structure, but it looked as if it could topple over at any moment. Boards were rotten and metal parts were full of rust. The children elected to hit each other with empty plastic bottles or peer through the fence rather than laugh a play chase. The caregiver made attempts to engage the children, but with such a lack of equipment it was difficult. Soon swarms of mosquitoes drove us back inside and I once again quickly forgot about the tiny play yard.

    In the six years since my last visit to Khabarovsk my husband and I started a charitable organization. The Sweet Hope Foundation was born out of a need to help families with the large expense of adoption. We quickly realized that it was not only adopting families that needed help, it was the children that needed assistance too. We raised money and sent it to Baby Homes to do things as simple as put on a Christmas party for the children. One year the caregivers held a giant birthday party for everyone. The children’s basic needs of food, housing, and clothing are met, but there are few resources for anything else. Children are placed in these facilities due to abandonment, neglect, abuse or a whole host of other reasons. The children face the most difficult times in their lives and have little to call their own. Their lives are not joyful as a child’s should be. The one solace they may have is in outdoor play, but the structures available to them are bleak and unsafe.

    It was not until 2012 that I returned to Russia. My son had been a US citizen for 6 years and my purpose for the return was not adoption related at all. I was a mother, but my connection to the tiny faces that peered through the fence or the hands that grabbed my pant legs would not let go. I was drawn to the children who’s only source of love was a woman in a white coat. I needed to do something.

    Through a relationship with the Slavyanka Women’s Society in Khabarovsk I was introduced to the Khor Village Social and Rehabilitation Center. In 2012 I was fortunate enough to visit the shelter. As I walked through the solid steel gate I opened my eyes to a large play yard with space for children to run and play. However, the scene was much like the previous two Baby Home’s I had visited, dire. I asked the staff of the shelter what they most needed for the children. I expected answers such as clothing or books. Their reply, “A playground.” They had everything to meet the needs of the children, but they could not give them the one thing the children needed most. A childhood.

    It was at that moment that I realized that there is one thing Sweet Hope can do. We can blanket the world in playgrounds and ensure every child has a childhood.

    I left Khor Village with a promise. I promised them that I would build them that playground, and I did. One year later a brand new playground was installed in their play yard. I could hear the laughter through the photographs they sent. I asked what more they needed. The reply, “The teenagers are jealous. They would like a sports court.”

    Now here is where things take a turn. You see, I had the money for the sports court. Sweet Hope was given a small grant by a local church to build the court, or at least a portion of it. We were only waiting on specific details from the shelter before we ordered it. Our plan was to order it in the Fall so that it could be delivered by Spring. Unfortunately, bad things happen.

    In October we discovered that our entire bank account was empty. The person we entrusted with our funds felt the need to take them. Nearly every last cent of what we worked so hard to earn was gone. Not only was the money gone, our hope of building the sport court was gone too. The person that took our money did not just take funds, she robbed children, who are facing some of the most difficult moments in life, of a basic human need. This is a person that I trusted. This is a person whom I thought was a friend, but I was wrong. I blame myself everyday for not discovering the loss sooner. I shoulder the fault for not being able to deliver what I promised. At the same time I am hurt. I want the children to know there is someone out there who is more than just the woman in the white coat. I want the children to know someone loves them and cares. I want them to know I see their pain. I cannot take it all away, but I can do one thing. I can help them forget for just a small minute. I can help them remember that they are just children and that laughter is the best medicine.

    This Giving Tuesday please consider Sweet Hope. You are giving more than just money. You are helping to give children a childhood.

  • Elle's World
  • Visiting friends

    I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful this trip has been. There is a bit of a fear factor of being so far away from home is a seemingly treacherous place alone, but underneath it all it is very safe and welcoming. You just have to get past the fact that it is not customary for Russian people to smile. Although, I’ll write about that more later.

    I am not sure how much or where I have spoken about how I came to know the woman I am working with. So let me start from the beginning and by beginning I’m going to go to her beginning of the story. It may end up being on the long side, but it is well worth the read.

    Galina Potopova is the woman I am spending my time with. During the Soviet Union Galina worked with the Russian Peace Foundation. In fact she was the president of the branch for the Khabarovsk Territory. She did this job for 40 years. In that time she had the opportunity to travel all over the world and work with various governments to further the mission of the foundation. The Soviet Union was not all that bad. However, after perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union the Peace Foundation closed and Galina and her colleagues found themselves in a whole new world. Prior to that, Galina visited the United States in the late 1980s. While she was here she met a number of people and one such person was named Bobbi.

    Bobbi was a business woman in the Olympia, WA area and the two of them developed a friendship. After the fall of communism and travel between the new Russian Federation and the United States was permitted, Bobbi visited Galina in Khabarovsk. Bobbi saw firsthand what life was like for the people undergoing a change unlike anything the world had ever seen. She came back to the United States and began telling everyone she could about her journey. She was invited to speak at a luncheon and this is where I come in.

    My late mother-in-law, Bev, was very good friends with Bobbi. Bev asked me if I would like to attend this luncheon with her. I agreed and I sat there captivated by the stories of what life was like in a place I had only ever heard about on the news. Those who remember the Cold War know that Russia was the enemy and they were not to be trusted. Bobbi showed photos of the grocery store, Galina’s flat, Galina’s dacha and other bits of day-to-day post-soviet life. I was hooked, but I was only 16 years old at the time.

    Bev began working with Bobbi in a new non-profit organization called To Russia With Love. While Bobbi and Bev were creating To Russia With Love, Galina was in Khabarovsk creating the Slavyanka Women’s Society. To Russia With Love and Slavyanka arranged exchanges between the two cities. Business women from Olympia traveled to Khabarovsk to teach their counterparts things as simple as advertising. During the Soviet Union there was no such thing. Russian business women came to the US to see their new skills in action.

    Soon thereafter the two organizations arranged for a group of doctors to visit hospitals in the Seattle area. One such doctor was named Evelina. Evelina was a founding member of Slavyanka and the head doctor of the Children’s Hospital in Khabarovsk. She also happened to stay in Bev’s home while she visited the US. I had the opportunity to meet the Russian doctors while Derek and I came home from college over a weekend. My time with them was brief, but it is one that I will always remember.

    Later, the two organizations arranged an exchange of a different sort. Galina knew a woman named Tamara. Tamara was the director of a musical group called Mlada. The Mlada choir traveled to the US and performed all over the South Sound area, and even at the top of the Space Needle. Tamara and her son Anatoly stayed in Bev’s home. I was fortunate enough that I was deemed the group’s videographer and I traveled around to various performances and recorded the concerts. The intoxicating music is something that I will never forget.

    The exchanges eventually stopped, but my memories of those events never faded. Bev kept in occasional contact with Galina and when Derek and I began the process to adopt Oleg it was almost as fate had stepped in when we learned our agency worked primarily in Khabarovsk. It was almost a dream come true that I would be traveling to a place I had only dreamed about. In fact, the whole time we were in Khabarovsk the first time we were in a daze. It may have been the reason we were there, but I know there was something bigger.

    Derek and I visited with Galina, Tamara and Evelina on that first trip. We saw Galina and Evelina on our second trip. As the focus of Sweet Hope shifted to assisting the orphanages directly, I again contacted Galina for her assistance. She was more than happy to help us. In 2008 Sweet Hope picked up where To Russia With Love left off. Only this time a younger generation was at the helm (on the American side) and our focus was slightly different.

    Now we come to the present day. I am once again in Russia. This time my purpose is so very different than the last. I am not preoccupied with the rigors of an international adoption. I am here to see these women, to further the mission of the organization I’ve created and to meet new friends.

    On Tuesday I was able to visit with Evelina. Galina told her all about our encounters in Khor. We sat around our lunch table and toasted to our wonderful, amazing, dearly beloved Bev. We know that she was right there with us.

    Today, I visited with Tamara. I saw photos of the now grown Anatoly. We talked again about my travels to Khor. Tamara came up with a brilliant idea. However, I’m not going to share that one with you quite yet. It’s big. But as we ate our lunch we once again toasted Bev and honored such a fine woman.

    My last stop of the day was to the building where Mlada practices. I was toured around the building (which is a cultural center for this part of the territory). I learned about the former Amur Navy. I learned about the artwork that is taught in the building and given wonderful little gifts. And last, but certainly not least I was able to watch a little bit of a Mlada rehearsal. Right before we were supposed to leave I asked the girls to each say their name and help me with something a little special. I hope you like it.

    I hope you will take a moment to help Sweet Hope this season.

  • Elle's World
  • My experience at Khor Village

    There are very few things in life that compare to the emotional journey of international adoption. I am sure everyone has something in their lives that has effected them so profoundly that it is truly life changing. It just happens to be that spending time in a Russian orphanage during the process to become a parent was mine. I distinctly remember walking up and down the hall with Oleg and a little group of children walked by and they all started calling out, “Mama! Mama!” as they saw me. How can that not change you?

    Many people asked me if the reason I was coming to Russia was for another adoption. It is not. I would love the opportunity to adopt again, but Russia is not the country for us the second time around. Just as I knew in my heart that my first child was in Russia, I know that my second child (if he or she is out there) is not here. It made it only slightly easier to walk into a shelter full of orphaned children. It still was not easy.

    We started our journey at about 10:00 a.m. Galina arrived to pick me up at the hotel and with her was another Galina (the president of the Slavyanka Women’s Society) and Irina, a local journalist and my Galina’s best friend. I needed to exchange money first so we headed to a bank. The first bank was closed so we found another. The second bank was open and I gave them my passport and the cash I wanted to exchange. it was taking forever and Galina came back into the booth (in Russia the banks have little booths you do your transactions in). The teller explained to her that she could not find my country in her computer system. I knew the Republicans were pissed about the election, but I didn’t know they set out to wipe out the whole country. I didn’t need a receipt so she exchanged my money and we were on our way.

    It is about an hour and 30 minute drive to Khor. Galina explained that Khor is not really a village, but it is not really a city either. She could not think of the exact word in English. Also, I should mention that the true letter for translation for the town is Hor (in Russian it is written Xop). The X in Russian makes a Kh (a hard h) sound and on google earth it is spelled Khor.

    When we arrived we found the director’s office and set down our things. The facility is laid out exactly like Oleg’s baby home. I flood of memories came rushing back. The facility is well taken care of and many of the rooms and areas have brand new energy efficient windows. They told me they spend a good deal of the money they receive from the government on the upkeep of the building.

    We were shown around every nook and cranny of the facility. There is a sewing room where the older children are taught how to tailor and make clothing. They take great pride in the work they do. We visited the music room where they have a room full of costumes they use for holidays and such. Of course they made me play dress up and took photos of me.

    At the end of a hall was the large lunch room. We happened to be there during lunch time. We walked into the room and all of the children were seated having their lunches. I was introduced as a friend from America and in unison all of the children said, “Zdrast-veets-yah!” It was utterly heart melting. I could have stayed in there and interacted with the children for hours. I wanted to photograph each and every one of them so no one felt left out. I wanted to talk to the older ones and ask them about their hopes and dreams. I wanted to hug each and every one and tell them that things may suck with their parents, but there was someone in the world who loved them and cared about them. It breaks my heart. No child should be put in the situation they are in.

    The Khor facility is quite unique. They are a temporary shelter for the children. There are 76 children between 2 facilities. There are 52 in the main facility and 24 in another. The children all live here for a short period of time. Sometimes it is as little as 3 months. Typically the children return home when conditions improve. Over the course of a year the facility will care for roughly 300 children. There are lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and doctors all working to not only improve the lives of the children, but to help the families through whatever situations put them in the path of the facility.

    Many of the children are in Khor because they have been removed by the government due to alcoholism in the home. The staff at Khor will care for the child during their stay, but they will also seek rehabilitation help for the parents. They work with the parents to get sober and to teach them what it takes to be a good parent. Many times this works, but occasionally a child will return to Khor and they start the process all over again.

    I am the child of an alcoholic parent. I know first hand what this disease does to a child. I experienced it. I’ve watched my brothers and sisters struggle through it. It is not something I wish for any child. Ever. The staff at Khor genuinely care for the children here. They make the money they receive from the government go very far. However, there is one very important piece of the puzzle missing. The piece is play.

        There is artwork everywhere in this facility. Artwork by the staff, by the children, everyone. What is missing are toys. There are empty shelves. There is a large play yard with very little to play with. There is very little joy here. I asked the vice-director what they needed most. A play structure. Over and over again, a play structure. It is a very large piece of the puzzle that will greatly improve the lives of the children who pass through the doors of Khor.

    In years past we have given children Christmas. We have given them birthdays. As we move into the season of giving I’m asking you to look deep inside of your heart and to please consider giving to Sweet Hope. This year you will be helping to give a childhood to nearly 300 children who need nothing more than for one moment to be a child.

  • Sweet Hope
  • Travel Plea update

    Do you ever have one of those days when you should be doing something but you can’t because there is something else going on in your life that takes up the majority of your brain cells? I know anyone who has been through an international adoption knows exactly what I’m talking about. When I last left off I was asking for your help to purchase a plane ticket to get me to Russia on behalf of Sweet Hope. Here is what has happened since then.

    I have received a number of donations from very generous people. If I could hug you all I would. Honestly.

    I also got an email from a very dear friend that said she would make sure I got on that airplane. I’m about to hop in my car and drive to her house and hug her too… only she lives in San Diego and the price of gas is too much. (Although, I might send a Sweet Hope board member to deliver the hug for me since said board member lives not far from said donor.)

    Plane ticket. Check.

    I then received an email from Galina. I have not willed my email to bing in a very long time. Galina says:

    Hi, Lisa. I am very glad to receive your letters. We shall be glad to meet you in Khabarovsk.

    Holy hell! This is going to work!

    Then my elation turned to a pit in my stomach of worry.

    Now it is a lot of new emigration of rules:
    Now, if someone invites in privat case and places the visitor with itself home, they should direct the invitation 2-3 months prior to arrival, and before it to collect very many of the documents and then to register the visitor in emigration office.

    To translate translated Russian:

    If a visitor travels to Russia and intends to stay in a private residence (which I intended to do) they must have a letter of invitation issued 2-3 months prior to the visit. This is so all the proper immigration paperwork can be registered. All foreign travelers to Russia must have a travel visa.


    Galina then put me in contact with a lovely lady named Anastasia. Anastasia will offer the letter of invitation (a requirement to get a Russian Visa) free of charge. This is only a small savings, but it is a savings. However, I will now have to pay for a hotel.

    So now I’m sure you are thinking, why does she need to go in November? Logistics. If I stay with Galina I need 2-3 months lead time. 2-3 months from now is December (chocolate making and Christmas) or January (Russian holidays). I also have a “real” job. That job requires that I work like mad March – July. There is no way I could take time off during that time. This leaves February. The average temperature in February is -11C. The average temperature in November is -3C. This may not seem like a big difference, but after many months of -14C and -16C the city becomes a frigid frozen popsicle and traveling to outlaying areas (Khor village) is almost impossible. November is the best option at this point. A November trip will also allow Sweet Hope to start off 2013 on the right foot. We can move forward with real and lasting good.

    I’m not done begging.

    I received an email from someone asking what I would do if I got to Khabarovsk. I’ll be honest, at the time of the email I wasn’t 100% sure. I hadn’t heard from Galina. As it turns out a few email exchanges last night helped everything fall into place. There are a few reasons for this trip.

    I would like to visit Khor Village orphanage. Talk to the director and find out what her area of most need is. We know that the children are in desperate need of a new play structure. I want to see the conditions of this facility. I want to learn first hand about the children that live there.

    I also asked Galina if I could visit a facility that I called Korsakovo Orphanage. Galina informed me that there was no orphanage in that village. She called the government directly (this is why Galina is my contact). If there was no orphanage then how did this website exist, I asked. The answer to this was a bit shocking.

    There are two kinds of facilities in the Khabarovsk Krai (and possibly all across Russia). There are ORPHANAGES and there are CHILDREN’S HOUSES. Children’s Houses are funded by the territory (Krai). They receive more money (and attention). They are better run and the children are better taken care of, because they have money. Then there are orphanages. Orphanages are funded by the village and are very poor. They receive little if any attention and the conditions for the children are bleak. Mirnoe Village and Khor Village are ORPHANAGES. Korsakovo is a CHILDREN’S HOUSE.

    Galina told me she would take me to the Korsakovo children’s house if I wish. Her meaning was that, they don’t need help as much as other facilities. I told her I would like to visit anyway. I also told her that I would like to visit orphanages that house the same aged children as Korsakovo. I want to see the difference. What can Sweet Hope do to help the children in the orphanages? If there is already a system in place for older children to succeed in life how does that reach the children in the poorer orphanages? These are all questions Sweet Hope needs answers to. This same principle is true for the younger children. What services do the younger and disabled children get that the ones in poorer village orphanages do not get.

    There is urgency. These are the lives of children. Look at your child today. Remember that you kissed him goodbye as he got on the school bus. Realize that you read him a bedtime story. You kissed her boo-boo when she fell down. You rocked her to sleep. You helped your son pick out a college. There are hundreds of thousands of children on the other side of the world who have never had that simple gesture of love. Now is your chance to make a difference.

    I am begging you. You can’t see the tears streaming down my face. You can only make the decision for yourself. This is not a trip for me to sightsee. I’ve been to Khabarovsk 3 times. I don’t intend to visit the tourist locations there. I’ve been there. I’m going to visit children. Children who live in an institution with nothing. Please visit the Sweet Hope donate page and help make a difference. Your donation is tax deductible. We will take any amount you can offer.

  • Sweet Hope
  • A unique opportunity

    Over the past few days Sweet Hope has been on my mind more than usual. It all started with a post I made on a Facebook page for adoptive moms. After the post I was contacted by another mom who is involved in a non-profit that works in Vladivostock. She happened to mention a man that recently moved to Khabarovsk to work with youth there.

    I was then looking at another website of a non-profit that works in Khabarovsk. They happen to facilitate vacation bible schools in the krai, but they also provide services for the children in various orphanages in the region. I noticed on their website that one particular orphanage for older children is in desperate need of men to be role models to the children there.

    Then I found information on yet another website of an organization that does work in Khabarovsk. They had a link to a website that this one particular orphanage created. It has information about the facility including profiles of all of the children that live there (there are only about 32 kids). The children want nothing more than to have parents. Now Sweet Hope is not an adoption agency. We never have been. But what struck me about these children is that each one of them had dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. (There were quotes from each of the children) The children wanted to be teachers, police officers, artists, chefs, carpenters and many other things. However the likelihood of these dreams coming true is slim.

    Sweet Hope does not exist to make candy. We are not a candy company. Truffles and caramels are something we do as a fundraiser. Over the years we have developed a “brand” of the chocolate company. Our goal, going forward, is to shed this label.

    My dream for Sweet Hope is to help children like these. I have always had 2 goals for Sweet Hope. The first is to help older children who are about to age out of the system. I would like to assist with technical training programs for these children so they have life skills and trade skills. I want to give them a chance to stay out of trouble. The other goal is the provide therapy for the younger children with disabilities. So many of the children have some kind of physical or emotional disability. With just a little bit of individualized attention a child’s life could change.

    The hurdles we face when it comes to these ideas are ones of finances and distance. For the first time in 6 years we have the opportunity to jump those hurdles. As of this morning (October 3, 2012) fares to Khabarovsk are extremely cheap. Well… if you call $1700 cheap. Normally flights to Khabarovsk have been upwards of $3000. Sweet Hope happens to have a little bit of money saved. Our original intent with the funds was to purchase donor database software after the first of the year. It was never enough to purchase a plane ticket and visa to Russia. When I did the math this morning we are only $400 short of getting me on a plane.

    I will say that I have not discussed this with any of our board members. However, I know that as a board we agreed for a goal of getting me to Khabarovsk. We all know how very important this trip is. Sweet Hope cannot move forward without this trip. We have lofty goals for this organization.

    We cannot begin to create programs without knowing EXACTLY where the area of most need is. This is a very unique opportunity. I am asking, if you have the means, please consider making a tax deductible donation to Sweet Hope for this purpose. We are so close to helping the dreams of so many children (and me) come true.

  • Sweet Hope
  • Sweet Hope 2012

    **This post was originally written at Sprouting Off and then moved here. If you are not new to Life of Elle then move along to the voting part.**

    This is a little out of my comfort zone.  I’m used to readers knowing all about this.  Let me give you a little background.

    My husband and I (and a group of awesome volunteers) started a non-profit foundation.  This organization has been around for 6 years, but in 2012 we officially became a bona fide non-profit.  That’s not part of the story, but it’s a BIG deal so I have to put it out there.

    So non-profit.

    This little foundation exists to make the lives of orphaned children better.  The organization is called Sweet Hope.  You can read more about it here.

    Right now we raise money and send it to an orphanage in Far East Russia.  We have supported 3 different orphanages over the years.  Hopefully this year (like last) we will be sending our funds to a facility in the Village of Khor, Russia.  The facility is a rehabilitation center for children who are left temporarily without parents.  In 2011, Khor cared for about 200 children and about 80% of them were returned to their parents.

    In the past Sweet Hope has purchased needed supplies like a refrigerator, carpets, paint for the walls, chairs, stethoscopes, oxygen machines and we’ve provided the resources for children to have Christmas and birthdays.  We have also developed a partnership with an organization called the Slavyanka Women’s Society.  It is a group of professional business women who have now taken patronage over the orphanage Sweet Hope supports.

    Sweet Hope has an annual fundraiser.  The fundraiser raises the money that we send to the orphanage.  In addition, Sweet Hope also gives need based grants to families adopting.  The money for those come from this fundraiser too.

    So what is this fundraiser?  Why chocolate and caramels of course!  You thought it would be vegetables didn’t you.  Wrong!  This is way better.

    Sweet Hope needs your help.  In years past I have given people a say in what flavors Sweet Hope makes.  We make 7 different flavors of chocolate truffles (and by make I mean I make them all by hand, in my kitchen).  We also make 5 flavors of caramels (but you don’t get to vote on those).  In the 7 flavors of truffles there are 3 that are constant.  We always make plain chocolate, candy cane and caramel sea-salt.  The remaining 4 are chosen by our customers.

    In years past we have taken nominations for new flavors.  Our customers have become very creative over the years.  This year we decided to take a simpler approach to this.  I made a list of the flavors (besides chocolate and candy cane) that we’ve done in the past.  We are taking the top 8 best sellers and putting them to a vote.  Those 8 will be narrowed down to 4 and we will make those 4.

    This week is vote week.  You have until Friday, October 5th to cast your vote.  You are able to vote more than once.  The poll is located in the sidebar ——>.  I’m encouraging, no… begging you to please vote.  Here are the descriptions of the flavors available for voting:

    Apricot Sage – Cream and butter are infused with fresh sage then combined with Dark chocolate and apricot brandy to make the ganache.  Truffles are coated in Dark Chocolate and topped with candied apricot

    Mocha – Dark chocolate centers infused with locally roasted Valhalla coffee, coated in dark chocolate and topped with a coffee bean

    Spicy Jamaican – Chocolate ganache combined with Bacardi rum, vanilla syrup and chili powder, coated in Dark Chocolate and finished with freshly grated nutmeg.

    Hazelnut – Chocolate ganache mixed with Nutella spread, coated in dark chocolate and rolled in toasted hazelnuts

    Orange Ginger – milk chocolate centers with a hint of fresh orange zest coated in milk chocolate and dusted with ginger powdered sugar

    Raspberry – Raspberry milk chocolate centers covered in Milk chocolate sprinkled with shaved Dagoba Roseberry Chocolate

    Pumpkin Spice – Milk chocolate centers mixed with Pumpkin Butter and spiced coated in Dark Chocolate and topped with candied orange peel or dusted with nutmeg.

    Chili: Dark chocolate centers kicked up a notch with ground red pepper flake and coated in dark chocolate topped with chili chocolate shavings

    Ok, Please vote.  


  • Elle's World
  • We did it!

    Eight years ago I was researching grant opportunities for families wanting to adopt a child. I found a website that had a long list of charitable foundations that offered such grants. It is what propelled us into the realm of international adoption. I thought that with saving, hard work, a little fundraising and the possibility of some grants that international adoption would be feasible. Armed with that information I told Derek of my idea.

    It took convincing, but he agreed and we journeyed down that path. As we went along that list of potential grants got shorter and shorter. We didn’t live in the right state. We weren’t adopting from the right country or with the right agency. We weren’t willing to write a “salvation statement.” Jesus died for our sins. Isn’t that salvation enough? “By grace you have been saved by faith.” A statement as simple as that wasn’t going to fly with the ultra conservative set.

    I was discouraged. I wanted a child. Money stood in my way. I vowed that once I had my child home I would do something to make a difference. I would help those families where money stood in their way too. I would do it without prejudice.

    I started making candy. I sold the candy to anyone who would buy it. I expanded the scope of my giving. Not only did I give to families (we’ve helped 3 children come home so far) I gave to the children. The children left behind who may never find a forever family. I sacrificed my time, my life for these children and families.

    A few years ago I roped some friends in to helping. I twisted their arms and asked them to serve on a board of directors. I promised that it wouldn’t be all boring meetings. I would provide the occasional yummy snack and they could drink Derek’s scotch. They agreed.

    I found a lawyer willing to provide legal advice for free… and the occasional glass of scotch.

    I filled out paperwork, wrote checks and crossed my fingers. It took me almost a year to fill out the seemingly endless IRS Form 1023. International adoption paperwork was easier than that form. I was paranoid. I thought surely it would be rejected. I was meticulous. Finally, after the board threatened me, I sent in the form. That was in December.

    On January 12th I received word from the IRS that they had gotten the application (and cashed my check) and I would be hearing in approximately 90 days.

    I went out to the mailbox today to collect the 2 days worth of mail only to return to my front door to find out I locked myself out of the house. It was about 15 minutes before Derek was supposed to come home for lunch so I waited in the warm greenhouse rather than wandering the neighborhood to find a neighbor home so I could use their phone. While I waited I sorted the mail. There was a letter from the IRS.

    The United States Internal Revenue Service has deemed that Sweet Hope Foundation qualifies as a tax exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization! This is nearly the last hurdle we have to face in this process. It is by far the biggest. This means that the donations you make to Sweet Hope are now tax deductible. It means that we can apply for grants. It means the world.

    I want to thank all of our supporters through the years. I want to thank the board for telling me I didn’t have to be perfect.

    We did it!

  • Sweet Hope
  • In a heartbeat

    I’m not sure if I shared this with anyone or not.  After I finished the great candy-a-thon last year I asked my dear friend Willow if she would come over and take photos.  I had packed 740 individual boxes of candy.  That was a feat.

    Willow was so kind and at 9:00 on a Tuesday night she came over and made us rearrange our entire family room to get the shot.  It took us a good 20 minutes to haul in all of the boxes and set them up.  She snapped a few photos and most of them were quite humorous.  One turned out to be the best.

    Why did I do that?  I knew that I would probably never make 4700 truffles again.  It was ridiculous.  I wanted to document that achievement.  However, I never shared the images.

    I was going through a few files on my computer and came across the photos she took.  The first thing I thought (besides, wow, I’ve lost a ton of weight) was holy crap that’s a lot of boxes.  It was.

    I don’t want to do that again.  I simply can’t make 4700 truffles and 2600 caramels and still keep my sanity.  I’m ok with less.

    Would I do it again if I had that many orders?

    In a heartbeat.

    This is me with all of the boxes.

    You can’t see all of the boxes in the first photo… So here is what 740 boxes of candy looks like.  Yes…  I would do it again

  • Sweet Hope
  • Christmas

    Last year at this time we had sold $1500 worth of Sweet Hope candy.  This year $500.  I’m not counting the large corporate order we had last year.

    I have suspicions about why the sales are so bad.  I will cop to the fact that yes… we raised prices for the first time in 5 years.  We had to.  Chocolate prices had gotten to the point where we weren’t making as much as we had before.  We also took your suggestions and switched to a better box that will keep your truffles neat and tidy during shipping.  Real honest to goodness candy boxes.  We’re also going back to the hand tied bows.  The sticker just didn’t cut it last year.  Yes, things have changed, but why no sales?  I don’t know.

    Here’s what I do know.

    I received an email from Galina this week.  She said that our little orphanage in Mirnoe is being merged with 2 other orphanages.  We don’t know why, we don’t know where, we don’t know how many children or what their ages are going to be.  All we know is that it is happening in December.  Galina contacted the local government.  She didn’t get any details, but did learn that all of the things Sweet Hope has purchased for Mirnoe will be transferred to the new facility.  As soon as she knows the details she’ll let me know.

    She said that Slavyanka is going to give the children a Christmas party this year.  It is something that will help these kids during the transition.  Imagine being a child that has been moved around, or lost everything, or never had anything and here is yet another change.  Somehow the idea of Christmas makes it better.

    Since she doesn’t know how many children or what their ages are she is asking for our help.  This year Sweet Hope’s funds will give children Christmas.  This won’t be the first time we’ve done this, but this year feels so much more important.  Just one small thing in the life of a child can make a huge difference.

    So I’m asking you.  Will you please consider giving to Sweet Hope.  Purchase a box of truffles or caramels, or simply make a donation.  It makes a difference in the life of a child.

  • Sweet Hope
  • Seven

    I stare at this photo and wonder.  I wonder what their life is really like.

    I know.  I know it’s not good.  I know that this is not how children should be raised.  I know they should have someone to kiss them goodnight.  I know they should have someone to read them a bedtime story.  I know that a birthday party should happen because they are turning 7, not because someone sent money.

    This past week I was asked to tell the story of my son’s life prior to becoming a member of our family.  I haven’t had to do that in a long time.  I thought about what that looked like and remembered that he’s not the only one.  There are millions of children around the world in that same situation.

    This photo only shows 7 faces.  Seven out of the near 80 that live in this orphanage.  Eighty children who do not know that someone should read them a bedtime story.  Eighty that have never had anyone kiss them goodnight.  Eighty who had a birthday party last year only because someone sent money.  It may have been the only birthday party they’ve ever had.  They had to celebrate it with 80 other children.

    Sweet Hope is more than just selling candy.  It is more than just sending money to a place in a far off country.  As Sweet Hope grows so does our ability to really make a difference in the lives of these children.  We will still send money, but we also need to personally speak to the director of this orphanage.  We need to work together to come up with a plan to truly make a difference in their lives.  We have ideas.  We just need the resources to do it.