Born without arms, George Dennehy barely survived life in an orphanage before he was adopted. Today, he advocates for children like he once was — children whose lives could be saved through sponsorship.
Twenty-five years ago, in a Romanian orphanage, a doctor attached a death certificate to a baby’s crib. Though still alive, the tiny child was terribly malnourished and sick. The doctor filled out all the information except the exact date and time of passing, attached it to the crib and walked away.
It wouldn’t be long.
Born without arms to a family living in poverty, George Dennehy didn’t have much chance of survival. His family brought him to an orphanage at birth, where he laid in a crib. Every day. Alone.
But a year passed. And then six more months. The death certificate remained incomplete.
At 1 and a half years old, George was still miraculously alive. He weighed just 9 pounds. But just in time, a family came for him. They adopted him, and brought him home to the United States.
Although too young to remember his time in the orphanage, George bluntly describes his existence there.
“I was neglected and abandoned,” he says. “Not taken care of. Not given good treatment or love or nutrition or anything like that.”
Today, George is a youth pastor, a father and a musician. He tours the country sharing his original music. And in six years of performing, his music has touched thousands. He once even played on stage with the Goo Goo Dolls, resulting in a viral YouTube video. His music is relatable and contemplative, encouraging and deep. But listening to George play, you would never know how he strums his guitar.
You would never know that he plays with his feet.
Because he was born without arms, George adapted at an early age, using his feet and toes for virtually anything that he would have done with arms and hands. With his feet, he picks up objects, plays the guitar and piano, cooks and even drives. A cello player as well, today he is the only known person in the world who plays a classical stringed instrument with his toes.
Especially in his teen years, insecurities arose about being different, about looking different and doing things differently than most people. But he decided to embrace it. Today, he takes a lighthearted approach to his limb difference, sometimes playing good-natured jokes on strangers just to see their reaction. But he also takes it seriously, because when he shares his story from the stage, he can see the impact that being so vulnerable and honest has on his audience.
“God gave me this story and gave me this ability to play guitar,” George says. “None of this is my own strength. My story is His, and He wrote it.”
This theme is woven throughout his music.
He writes and plays songs about love, faith and his own story — abandonment, physical difference, adoption and God’s redemptive plan. And these very themes, what George cares about most, lend perfectly to child sponsorship. One of his most popular songs, “Not Abandoned,” perfectly captures the redemption of his story, and compares it to the redemption that God offers to anyone who feels abandoned. A truth especially true for the children in Holt’s programs around the world.
“I look back, and all it would have taken is sponsorship to save me from being abandoned like that in the orphanage.”
“When I heard about child sponsorship,” George says, “that turned a light on for me.” This, he decided, is how he would use his talents, and his story, for an amazing purpose — finding sponsors for children, children who today are in the same place he once was.
As George tours the country, he shares about Holt’s child sponsorship program, and invites people in the crowd to step up for a child in crisis.
At Holt, we believe that God’s plan for every child, and the best place for every child, is in a family. First with their birth family, but if that’s not possible, with an adoptive family. Holt sponsors carry out this mission, one child at a time. Of the nearly 10,500 children around the world who have Holt sponsors, 80 percent are able to remain in the loving care of their birth families because of their sponsors’ monthly gifts. The other 20 percent are children like George — children who’ve lost their family, who are growing up in orphanages or in foster families, and who are waiting for a permanent, loving family through adoption.
Today, children lose their families for much the same reasons as George lost his — poverty, special needs and stigma. Today, children with special needs are still most likely to be abandoned and placed in orphanages, and left living there the longest.
But every time he steps on stage, George shares how sponsors can prevent child abandonment. How they empower parents to provide everything their child needs — and keep them from ever having to make the heartbreaking decision to abandon their child.
“I didn’t have arms, but also, my biological parents were living in poverty,” he says. “I look back, and all it would have taken is sponsorship to save me from being abandoned like that in the orphanage.”
As a Holt sponsor, you are the difference between a child who stays in an orphanage, and one who has a permanent, loving family; the difference between a child who is sick, and one who is healthy; a child who remains in poverty, and a child who has the food, safety, shelter and education they need to overcome it.
Whether a child is already in an orphanage, or living with their birth family but on the brink of crisis, sponsors bring hope.
For George, the answer to his story was adoption. But he knows, and celebrates, that the majority of children in sponsorship will remain in their birth families.
“I always think about God’s sovereignty and His plan,” George says, “and I think about how Holt sponsors are a bridge to keeping a child with their birth family and how that could be God’s plan. That God is using sponsorship to carry out His will, which is to keep these kids with their family. I think that’s really, really amazing.”
Sponsors not only change children’s lives. Very often, they also save them. When George thinks of the children who needs sponsors, he thinks of himself. He thinks of children who just need someone to come along and make the difference — be the difference — that a child desperately needs.
Although the death note on that orphanage crib might already be filled in, every child has hope — hope of going home to their birth family, or of joining a family through adoption.
And as sponsors, George says, “We have the opportunity to step in and care for children while they wait.”
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer