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Growing Family, Growing Faith — Fundraising for Adoption

When the three families featured in this story felt called to adopt, they feared that the expense of adoption would be a major obstacle. Rather than focusing on their bank accounts, the families turned toward God and fundraising to bring their child home.

Mom and dad laughing and playing with adopted son.
Laura Sykora with her husband and 4-year-old son. Laura and her husband adopted their son from Ethiopia at 10 months old in 2010. Laura and her husband are ready to travel to Ethiopia to bring their second adopted child, a 5-year-old girl, home.

When families interested in adopting a child express their financial concerns to Laura Sykora, she nods her head with genuine understanding. As the Branch Assistant for Holt’s Midwest branch, Laura knows — really knows — how scary it can be to adopt without upfront financial backing. But then, she looks at the picture of her son on her desk, a beautiful 4-year-old she and her husband brought home from Ethiopia at 10 months old in 2010. She thinks about Maci her 5-year-old daughter, who is still in care in Ethiopia while the Sykoras wait for their second adoption to finalize. They are just a few weeks away from boarding a plane to pick her up, and take her home to join their permanent, loving family.

At the same time that Laura helps other couples through the process of adoption through Holt, she fund raises to pay for two of her own, back-to-back.

“Most people don’t have an extra $25 or $30,000 lying around,” Laura says. “Families come in and one thing they want to discuss are the costs. They are fearful because they may have already tried other expensive options, like fertility treatments.”

Laura remembers feeling the same fear when she first met with a social worker to learn more about adoption. Before Laura worked for Holt, she and her husband were excited to grow their family. The idea of adopting a child tugged at their hearts. Yet, when they added up the total fees and expenses required to adopt, they were a bit overwhelmed.

Laura and her husband sat in their car outside the Holt office, quietly contemplating whether they could follow through with the calling on their hearts. “You know,” Laura said to her husband, “It’s hard to put a price tag on growing a family.”

The analogy helped their mindset, and like so many adoptive parents before them, Laura and her husband set to work. What followed was months of bake sales, event hosting and trusting in God.

“It’s hard to put a price tag on growing a family.”

Laura Sykora, adoptive mom

At Holt, we never want finances to come between families and children who need loving homes. Yet, we recognize that the cost of adoption can feel like an obstacle for many families. Luckily, countless resources exist to help families offset the cost of adoption, and range from grants to creative, community-based projects.

Of course, some financial resources don’t involve fundraising at all. Many families apply for low-interest loans to cover adoption fees. There are also federal and state adoption tax credits, reimbursements for military service members, private grants awarded through an application process, like those offered by Brittany’s Hope, and Holt grants available to help families adopt older children and children with special needs.

However, Laura says, you can’t rely on grants alone. The Sykoras applied for several, and ended up receiving one for $1,000. While the grant certainly helped, they raised far more money independently.

In this story, we celebrate the Sykoras and two other families that raised — or are raising — money for the full cost of their child’s adoption in fun and creative ways! If you are hoping to adopt, but need help raising funds, we hope that their stories inspire you and give you the courage to get started!

The Kanallakans:

Amber and Tim Kanallakan with their two children. Amber and Tim feel called to adopt from China, and know that God will help them cover the fees through fundraising.

In the evenings, Amber Kanallakan and her husband, Tim, put their two children to bed early. Once their son and daughter’s eyes close, they pull the rolls of tanned hide out, and sprawl the leather across their dining room table. Tim, a prosthetist and orthotist, is used to sewing little straps and tools for his patients — people who are missing a limb, and rely on him for their prosthetic materials. When he brought home a hand-sewn, front pocket leather wallet from work one day — something he had made with some scrap material — he didn’t know the impact it would have on his growing family.

When Amber and Tim felt called by God to adopt a child missing a limb from China, they knew they would also have to rely on God for the money. On Amber’s adoption blog, “Dad Will Build Your Leg,” which she started shortly after deciding to adopt, she writes honestly about her adoption fears.

“Not gonna lie,” Amber wrote on September 1. “There are moments when I think about the cost of international adoption paired with our financial limitations and I wonder what the heck we are thinking. Is it ‘financially responsible’ for us to take this on? How PC is it for us to be asking other people, many we don’t even know, to give us money?”

man with arm around woman at craft fair
Reaching out to your community through creative DIY projects can help cover a portion of your fees and expenses. Pictured here, the Kanallakan family raised funds by holding garage sales and hand-making leather goods like phone cases and wallets to sell at holiday boutiques, craft fairs and more.

But despite her fears, she also writes about God’s provision and heart for the fatherless.

“Tim and I didn’t decide to adopt,” she wrote. “God called our family to adoption. We haven’t agreed to take on this massive, life-altering adventure because we just happen to have $20,000 in the bank and don’t know what to do with it. We are moving forward because we believe we have a child who is currently living in China and we are on a mission to bring him/her home.”

Amber and Tim submitted their application to adopt to Holt on Amber’s 29thbirthday. Then, they were shocked by how quickly their adoption fundraising took off.

In the first month of fundraising, the Kanallakans raised nearly $1,200 of their first $5,000 goal. They did it by opening two Etsy shops: one where they sell vintage household items, and another called Standard Goods, where they sell the front pocket wallets that Tim first made from scrap material. The couple had never sold anything before, but the wallets were such a big hit with family and friends, they decided to go for it. Along with the wallets, they made leather cases for Apple products. With each case, they included a card with their adoption story and a link to their blog to personalize the item.

In the first month of fundraising, the Kanallakans raised nearly $1,200 of their first $5,000 goal.

After just a few months on Etsy and working at craft shows, their Standard Goods products brought in more than $1,000.

They also raised money through bake sales and garage sales. For one garage sale, they made a few hundred dollars selling items from their home. For the second sale, they asked friends and family to donate items, and were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Their garage filled to the brim, and even their son’s preschool donated some quality toys. Their friends helped organize and price everything, and by the next morning, Amber and Tim’s lawn was crawling with people.

All around the sale, they posted signs about their cause, which created a space for conversations about adoption. About 90 percent of people, Amber said, were really excited about helping the Kanallakans support their adoption.

Overall, they made more than $1,800.

As Amber and Tim have stepped out in faith, they’ve seen God’s plan laid out in front of them. At first, Amber and Tim were hesitant to adopt from China, because they would need to wait for Amber to turn 30 — the minimum age requirement set in China — to finish their homestudy. Now, they look at those extra months to fund raise as a gift from God.

Garage sale sign "China Adoption Fundraiser"
Amber and Tim held a garage sale, where they sold items donated by friends and family. They made $1,800 toward the cost of their adoption.

Amber said she has been overwhelmed by the amazing ways God continues to show up and confirm His call on their family. Amber and Tim talk to their children about adoption, and now everywhere their son sees something related to China — a flag, Chinese symbols — he connects it to his brother or sister. While the Kanallakans have stayed open to the gender of their child, their son is hoping for a brother so that they can have bunk beds.

It will be at least 18 months until they meet their child, but for now, the Kanallakans are busy preparing for more fundraisers. Their church hosts a banquet and auction each year to benefit their orphan ministry, and this year, Amber and Tim’s story will be at the front of the cause. Once they complete their homestudy, Amber says lots of new fundraising opportunities will open up.

“We can’t afford this adoption,” Amber says. “We just can’t. But God can.”

The Hightons:

Allison and Russ Highton, pictured with their children, worked with Both Hands Foundation to raise funds for their adoption through a service project.

After Allison and Russ Highton’s third biological child was born, they knew they wanted more children, and they knew children across the world needed a loving family. Their 8-year-old daughter — a great sister to her two little brothers — had a big heart for adoption, and a big heart for a sister. Despite feeling uncertain about how they would fund it, the Hightons applied to adopt through Holt’s China program, and completed their homestudy.

They wanted to find a way to fund raise for their adoption, but also raise awareness in their community — awareness about serving orphans, adoption and living God’s word.

The Hightons found the Both Hands Foundation’s website, where they saw the perfect opportunity to fund raise for their adoption, and serve others in need in their community. Both Hands Foundation is a Tennessee-based charity that connects adoptive families with widows in need. The adoptive family gathers financial pledges and donations toward a service project to benefit a widow. The adoptive family gathers volunteers and donated supplies to complete any projects the widow requests help with, and the money raised from pledges goes toward the cost of the adoption.

On the morning of October 5, after nearly 80 hours of preparation work each, Russ, Allison, and a small army of about 50 volunteers congregated outside the home of a widow who lived near the Hightons. Shovels, picks and rakes littered the lawn. They stopped to pray — for the Hightons, for their child in China, for the widow they came to serve. Then, the group broke into smaller groups, ready to start on projects.

“We weeded beds, created walkways with stones, filled in a pool, built a tea house, raked the lawn, cut up and hauled piles and piles and piles of bamboo, planted trees and stained her house,” Allison wrote on her Both Hands blog about the weekend. “It is truly amazing what can happen when a team of people work together.”

A local video production company, Fade In, volunteered to capture the weekend on film, and has donated a promotional video about the Highton family’s cause — worth about $8,000.

According to the Both Hands Foundation website, more than 305 projects in 39 states have raised nearly $3 million altogether for causes similar to the Hightons’. While not every project looks the same — the Highton’s video is unique to their story — all the events help a widow. This money — 100 percent of it — has helped nearly 363 orphaned or abandoned children find permanent, loving families in the United States, and helped more than 325 widows with home improvement.

“We’ve seen God’s provisions in this whole experience. It’s cliché, but God always provides a way. There are tons of ways to raise money.”

Allison Highton, adoptive mom

On average, families who host a Both Hands event raise about $8-10,000 toward their adoption fees. But the Hightons set a personal goal to raise $20,000. So far, about $7,000 has come in from pledges — and that is without the help of the promotional video. As the Hightons have watched God provide for the cost of their adoption, their initial fear has turned to trust.

“We’ve seen God’s provisions in this whole experience,” Allison says. “It’s cliché, but God always provides a way. There are tons of ways to raise money.”

“We are still learning and seeing how God is providing for us,” Russ says.

Aside from raising money for their adoption, the most important thing, Russ says, has been the two lasting effects this process has had on their community. First, the Hightons gained a huge support network. With so many businesses and individuals supporting their goals, they’ve been able to raise awareness about international adoption, and about helping others in need. Secondly, their neighborhood outreach has allowed them to show God to the people living closest to them.

“This gave us an opportunity to be the hands and feet of God,” Russ says.

Russ and Allison say that while the fundraiser was more than worthwhile, it was also exhausting. They worked on the widow’s home for three days, not wanting to leave any of the projects unfinished. The widow asked that her name not be used online, but Allison says the woman was excited to be a part of the project, and since her husband died two years ago she has needed extra help on the exterior of her home.

Just a few weeks after the fundraiser, the Hightons were matched with a beautiful 10-month-old daughter. They expect to bring their daughter home in spring 2014.

View before and after pictures from their project, and read other testimonials, on the Both Hands Foundation blog.

The Sykoras:

While the Highton family’s Both Hands fundraiser was a great way to gather a large number of donations from one event, Laura Sykora and her family took a slower, but steady approach.

Laura Sykora created a cookbook and sold them for $20 at craft fairs and other events.

Less than a year after their first child, Jax, arrived home, Laura gave up her full-time career and took a part-time position with Holt to spend more time with her family. Soon, though, they were ready to start the adoption process again.

Without Laura’s salary, they knew that they would need to find more creative fundraising opportunities. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, she and her husband looked at their adoption fees in chunks, rather than one lump sum.

Laura created a cookbook with recipes from family and friends and sold them for $20 at craft fairs and other events. They invested about $2,000 to make the books, but ended up earning about $8,000 in addition to their initial investment. She made an additional $2,000 selling brownies and cookies that she made from recipes in the book.

The cookbooks alone covered a large portion of the fees for their country program.

She invited independent sales consultants, like those for Pampered Chef or Scentsy, to host a party at her house. She invited her friends and family, and the consultant donated a portion of the proceeds from the evening’s events to the Sykoras.

During the holiday season, Laura worked nights and weekends at Pottery Barn Kids. One season of a few extra shifts purchased the plane tickets to bring their daughter home.

Laura’s husband donated plasma once a week for $65. After a few months, they were able to pay for another portion of the goal.

They also mowed lawns, cleaned houses and hosted neighborhood garage sales, where they offered to sell donated items for friends or family and split the proceeds.

With each event, the Sykoras checked off another portion of their adoption. With one stage complete, they set goals to raise funds for the next stage.

As Laura became more of an adoption fundraising pro, she shared her ideas with other Holt families, and inspired other couples to raise the money for their adoption. As a branch, all the social workers met to brainstorm and compile a list of creative fundraising ideas. They share their list, like this one, with families interested in adoption. It includes everything from hosting spaghetti dinners, to putting on 5K charity runs.

The fundraising process is done for Laura, at least for a while. She’s reached the last phase of her goal: To bring her daughter home, forever.

Visit Holt’s financing adoption page to learn more about how to come up with the funds for your adoption!

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