Alexis Thompson was 2 weeks old when Teri and Roland Thompson of Pasco rescued her from being sent to a Romanian orphanage 19 years ago.
"She was so tiny and sick, a bag of bones really, when we got her, but she grew into a beautiful young woman," Teri Thompson said.
On July 16, Alexis and her mother will return to Romania to help other orphans who are not as fortunate as she was. The two will be taking boxes of goodies for the children, including two boxes of backpacks for school-age kids.
"America is my country now, but I am excited to return to Romania and help other kids who were abandoned like me," the 2009 Pasco High grad said. She visited Romania once before when she was in the fifth grade.
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They are making the trip on behalf of the Bridge of Love foundation, which seeks to provide abandoned children comfort and hope and start them on a path toward lifelong happiness and success, foundation spokesman Jeff Hymas said in an e-mail.
"The Bridge of Love maintains an office and professional Romanian staff in Barlad that includes a director, two teachers and social workers and a psychologist who assist with the children's ongoing educational, emotional and physical needs, and to teach them important life skills," Hymas said. "We also coordinate with the Romanian government social workers, who have (legal) responsibility for the children, to help ensure that their needs are being addressed.
"Alexis did a wonderful project while still in high school to collect donated clothing for the children in Romania supported by Bridge of Love," Hymas said. "We greatly appreciate her efforts."
Romanian adoptions are much tougher today than 19 years ago, Teri Thompson said.
"We were able to adopt Alexis from the maternity hospital before she was sent to an orphanage," she said. Because Alexis' adoption was private, she and the birth mother only needed to go before a judge instead of a commission of bureaucrats, which is the standard, she added.
The Bridge of Love foundation was created in 2001 by a Utah couple, Scott and Laurie Lundberg, who visited Romania with their children in 1999 and were heartbroken when they visited an orphanage.
"So many babies and toddlers are left in cribs almost all day with no love or attention ... and that breaks my heart," Alexis said.
Orphanages are the only social service run by the Romanian government, Teri Thompson said.
"The reason adoptions are so difficult is because parents can leave their children in an orphanage anytime and can retrieve them at anytime," she said.
Bridge of Love also provides social workers to help Romanian teens living in orphanages with goal setting and life skills to help prepare them for heading out into the world and provides school children with clothing, shoes, medical care and computers for their homework.
It works specifically with the orphanages in Barlad, which is where the first orphanage the founders visited.
The Lundbergs described that orphanage as a place with bare bedroom walls, with a cold draft seeping through the windows and with no blankets or toys.
"Alexis' biological mother was 23 years old, a college graduate and unwed," Teri Thompson said. Her unwed status and lack of a job made it difficult to keep her child, so she gave up her baby knowing she'd go into an orphanage with hundreds of other children.
"I met with her birth mother again when we visited there a few years ago. She is very sweet, and Alexis looks just like her, tiny and petite," Thompson said. "But she is married now and has other children, and she told me her husband doesn't know about Alexis."
Alexis hopes she'll have an opportunity to meet her biological mother on the upcoming trip, but her main focus will be helping abandoned kids.
She worked in her father's office this past year and saved more than $400 she'll use for supplies and shopping with the children. Her mother matched that amount, and they plan to take school-aged kids shopping in addition to giving them the backpacks they're taking with them.
They're also crossing their fingers Delta Airlines won't charge them extra for their boxes of supplies.
"We are traveling very light for ourselves," Teri said. "One small piece of luggage for each of us because the supplies we're taking are so much more important."
They will travel with 14 other volunteers and spend about two weeks in Romania.
Alexis is looking forward to teaching the children songs, how to dance and taking them shopping.
"Who knows whether they'll ever get a chance to do any of those simple things growing up in a Romania orphanage? So I want to give them the experience and hopefully give them some happiness," she said.
Hymas said the majority of the children in the Bridge of Love's program are progressing well thanks to the volunteers like Teri and Alexis who support the program.
Anyone interested in donated to the foundation can call the Thompsons at 545-1416 or go to www.bridgeoflove.net.