Happy Families Adoption Agency

Hi all,

I found this article on adoption on New York Times online.  Has anyone heard of Happy Times Adoption Agency?  Well, anyways, here’s an article that they just published on July 8th.



WHEN Melissa Sweetser and William J. Mazzacca, who live in Kerhonkson in Ulster County, agreed to open their home to two Russian orphans for two weeks this summer, they had no intention of adopting them into their already happy family of six. By the end of the first week, however, things had changed, and the Mazzaccas are now in the process of bringing Sergey Sukhachev, 14, and Kamil Abishev, 13, to live with their four siblings-to-be, who range in age from 15 to 23.

“I told Melissa, ‘I’m 48,’ ” Mr. Mazzacca said. “ ‘My children are almost grown.’ ” To which Mrs. Mazzacca replied, “I’m 40 and pregnant with two Russian boys!”

The Mazzaccas were one of 25 families from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who were summer hosts to 11 girls and 11 boys from 7 to 16 years old. The children, who live in orphanages in Moscow and the Tambov region of Russia, were brought to the United States by Happy Families International Center, a Cold Spring-based, New York State-certified child placement agency .

Happy Families, established in 1994 by Dr. Natasha Shaginian-Needham, 44, and her husband, Daniel Needham, 45, places about 100 children a year, primarily from Russia but also from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia, China and Guatemala. The agency’s annual summer hosting program serves as a cultural exchange, in some instances leading to adoption.

Which is what happened when Chris and Michael Knaak, and their 10-year-old daughter Monica, of Fairfield, Conn., took in Mikhail Morozov, 13, and Stanislav Busin, who celebrated his 12th birthday during his stay. “We were already in the process of trying to adopt,” said Ms. Knaak, 38, a psychologist and educator. “We were thinking about a toddler, but we fell in love with these boys.”

During the orphans’ stay, which ended on Thursday, the children and their host families participated in activities organized by Happy Families, culminating in the annual Russian Children’s Folk Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last weekend at Lakeside at Osceola, in Jefferson Valley. Close to 200 people, including families who had been united by Happy Families since its inception, gathered to enjoy games, boating on Lake Osceola and a barbecue.

The highlight of the festival was a Saturday afternoon concert against the backdrop of the sparkling lake. A brass band, made up of 15 sandal- and sneaker-shod orphans uniformed in shorts and shirts with epaulets, played Russian music. The four youngest girls performed Russian folk dances, and Inspiration, a vocal trio from Moscow, sang folk songs. Finally, Mansur Musaev, 14, an accomplished dancer and drummer from Chechnya, wowed the crowd with his stamina and grace.

Use of the facility was donated by its owners, Randy and Colleen Reed of Mahopac, who adopted their children, Justin, 14, and Laurel, 11, through Happy Families 10 years ago.

The evening ended with a screening of “Children on the Other Shore,” a documentary produced by Dr. Shaginian-Needham in 1994. A Moscow native whose family now divides its time between Moscow and Cold Spring, Dr. Shaginian-Needham graduated from medical school in Russia before coming to the United States. She met Mr. Needham while filming the documentary, and together they founded Happy Families, initially to help children with disabilities. In 2003, Dr. Shaginian-Needham was granted an Angels in Adoption award by the Washington-based Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

According to Joyce Smith, coordinator of the festival, there are 750,000 orphans in Russia, many of whom have learning disabilities and health problems. “Everyone worries about the babies, but the babies still have a chance in life,” she said. “The goal is to do something for the older kids.”

Ms. Smith, 52, and her husband Mark, 52, of Prospect, Conn., adopted six of their seven children, now ages 14 to 19, through Happy Families. Of the children who just flew back to Russia, she said, “When they arrived here, they were tired and scared, but in just two weeks, they opened up so much.”

Dr. Shaginian-Needham said that witnessing such changes every year is what drives her. “What they learn here is what it means to love,” she said


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