Finding home a world away
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Most teenagers are apprehensive at the thought of eyeglasses, braces and spending time with family – but for 13 year-old Viktorija Vanhoy, it’s a dream come true.
“I wanted a family,” Viktorija said shyly, “and I like having the things I need.”
For the majority of Viktorija’s life, living in and out of foster homes in Latvia was reality but never her idea of normalcy. Mike and Julie Vanhoy of Huntersville officially adopted Viktorija on July 28, a year after the adoption process began. Now an American citizen, Viktorija is quickly adjusting to her new lifestyle, taking in every new opportunity and experience she can.
But the Vanhoys said the $40,000 adoption was not an easy process, and without their faith in God, it would have been easy to feel defeated.
Something worth waiting for
Mike and Julie Vanhoy, after 19 years of marriage, lived a comfortable life. He is an engineering manager. She is a physical therapist assistant. They loved their healthy and faith-based lifestyle. But the couple knew something was missing.
Julie Vanhoy, the oldest of four children, helped raise her brothers and sisters and after getting married, “just wanted a break,” giving her and her husband the opportunity to enjoy marriage and each other, putting parenthood on hold.
But as the years pressed on, the couple grew comfortable, falling into a routine that was easy and fun – one that a child could turn upside down.
But in 2008, something in Julie Vanhoy changed. At a family reunion, she talked to her aunt and uncle who adopted a child and heard about their journey, to get their sweet, 11-year old, Chinese girl. The seed was planted.
“God just laid it on my heart. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I didn’t know what that was about. I mentioned to Mike, ‘Is adoption an interest of yours?’” Julie Vanhoy said. “I just felt like we were supposed to help a child in some way, but we weren’t sure how.”
But Mike Vanhoy needed a little more time to warm to the idea. It was nearly two years later before the Vanhoys began to explore their options.
“We looked into fostering. That wasn’t really for us,” Julie Vanhoy said.
The Vanhoys then began exploring child-hosting programs and, after considering several, learned of New Horizons for Children through their church, Lake Norman Baptist. This program, based out of Acworth, Ga., is a Christian-based international hosting program. Orphaned children from Eastern Europe come to the United States five weeks at a time, twice a year, to share in the love of God and a family.
The available children for hosting are listed on the New Horizons website with pictures and bios.
“I came home from work one day, and Mike had gone through with a fine-tooth comb and said, ‘This is the one.’ And I was so open to doing it, I didn’t care,” Julie Vanhoy said.
Viktorija arrived in Charlotte for the first time on July 26, 2010, and the Vanhoys felt an instant connection.
“After the first week, I think we knew,” Julie Vanhoy said.
Since New Horizons is strictly a hosting program, the Vanhoys were not allowed to tell Viktorija they were pursuing adoption, making a devastating goodbye on Aug. 5, 2010, as Viktorija joined the line for airport security.
The tearful goodbye strengthened their desire to rush through the adoption process to bring their daughter back home.
The process involved three trips to Latvia, several court dates and seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape. Viktorija was able to come to America in March with a VISA, and the adoption became final in July.
“Every child deserves a chance. She is here now, and I cannot imagine not having her,” Julie Vanhoy said. “If you just open your heart a little bit, it’s amazing what can happen.”
But adjustments still take time.
Although Viktorija quickly became accustomed to American life, the Vanhoys still see some challenges ahead. Viktorija, who passed through several foster homes in Latvia since she was 4, still relives her past often, sometimes through nightmares and sleepless nights.
“The difficult aspect is her adjustment to family,” Julie Vanhoy said. “She is shy, and it is all very challenging. I’m learning patience everyday.”
Viktorija also is apprehensive about starting school again. She cried a lot when she attended Lake Norman Christian School earlier this year, as she struggled with the language barrier. She started the seventh grade this week at the school.
“All the new subjects and English and friends – it was very hard,” Viktorija said.
But through their faith in God, Viktorija will continue to grow, and because of her past experiences, Viktorija is a stronger person, Julie Vanhoy said.
“There are things she – we all need to work through,” Julie Vanhoy said. “It’s just life. But without God as our foundation, we can’t make it on our own.”