When the York family decided to host a 12-year-old boy from Colombia last summer — an effort to help him find a family — their instant bond set a new trajectory for all of their lives.

Matias* found his balance, popped up on the board and rode the wave all the way in — absolutely beaming with joy.

Knee-deep in the San Diego surf, Kim York filmed the whole thing, which Matias would later watch over and over again.

Colombia, host to family

Growing up the past several years in protective care in Colombia, 12-year-old Matias had never tried surfing. In fact, he had only learned to swim weeks before at the YMCA pool near his host family’s house. But after this first surf lesson, he proudly proclaimed, “This is my sport!”

Last summer, Matias traveled to California to live with Kim and Michael York for five weeks as part of a hosting program facilitated through Holt and Kidsave — an opportunity for older children from Colombia to spend the summer with a family in the U.S., and for U.S. families to advocate for them to find permanent, loving adoptive families.

For Matias and the Yorks, those five weeks last summer were the beginning of forever.

After their time together, the York family — as well as Matias — decided to move forward with his adoption.

Deciding to host a child from Colombia was a long time coming for the Yorks, and it’s an opportunity they want to share about.

Below, Kim answers questions about their hosting experience, and shares her advice to other families who are considering hosting or adopting an older child from Colombia.

Share a bit about your family and what led you to the Colombia hosting program.

Ten years ago, we read about a couple in our neighborhood at the time who had gone through this program with Kidsave, and they ended up adopting. I felt so drawn to the story that I cut it out of our local paper, and I saved it for years. We started following Kidsave and giving to Kidsave. We were busy raising teenagers at the time, but they were both very excited about it and my son would always ask, “When are you going to host a child from Colombia?” Today, we have a 24-year-old daughter who graduated from college and works in New York City. And our son would be turning 28 this month, but tragically, he passed away when he was 24 years old. So we lost a child, and we have a child who has lost a sibling, and we’ve been through a great deal of grief as a family. But [hosting] was something that was always in the back of our minds, and now in our mid-fifties, we decided it was time to make our dream a reality.

How did you get matched with Matias?

Our social worker, Emily, came to our house twice and spent a couple of hours here each time before it was time to [be paired with a child]. So she gets to know the energy level in your home, she gets to know the things you like to do as a family, just kind of your whole philosophy of child raising. Then Kidsave received the profiles of children from Colombia who were eligible to participate in the summer hosting program — children they had pre-screened to make sure they want to be adopted. They looked for boys between the ages we said, and they sent several files to Emily. She assessed them before we saw her, and then said, “I already have one in mind that I think would be great for you, but I wanted to tell you about each of them and tell me if one of these boys resonates with you.” So she went through all of them, and my husband and I looked at each other, and we said, “The first one!” And that was Matias, the same boy Emily had felt was the right fit for our family.

What was it like when you met him?

That was amazing! We all met in Los Angeles, at LAX, and in our pod there were seven children coming to southern California. … And it’s very exciting, everyone is screaming their kid’s name. I was screaming, “Matias!” You’re holding up posters that say ‘Bienvenidos! Welcome!’ Matias was one of the very first children to come through, and he just ran straight to us. Colombians are a very warm people, and he threw his arms around me. We just couldn’t wait to bring him home to our house. It’s like a party, everyone’s wearing the same T-shirt, and everyone’s cheering — so it’s a big welcome for the kids.

What did you do in your five weeks together?

We wanted to have a balance of seeing the sights and having those big days, those big moments — going to Legoland and stuff like that — along with the more quiet family days. We had more than one family movie night a week, we made ice cream sundaes together, we had a pizza-making party and made Colombian food. We had a mixture of going out around San Diego, going to the museums — he has a lot of intellectual curiosity — and spending time at home with our extended family. It was the right balance.

Matias loved going out to eat to try new foods — like Italian, Thai and sushi!

When you decided to host, did you hope it would lead to adoption?

We said, “We absolutely want to help a child find a family.” We felt a strong calling to that. And if that child is a good match for our family, if we feel a connection as a family to the child, then we will go ahead and pursue the adoption. We were praying that the child would be a good match for the whole family. But we knew there would be a possibility, for whatever reason, that the child would be someone we cared very much for, but that we didn’t end up adopting. We were open to it, I’ll say. And we were hoping for it.

What were your concerns or fears going into the hosting experience?

We were a little concerned that he would be bored with us, because we’re older. And actually, the night before he left, we went out to dinner and he told us that he didn’t want to go back to Colombia, and I said to him in Spanish, “We were afraid you were going to be bored with us because we’re older, we’re not young parents. We don’t have any other children in the home for you to play with.” And he said, “No, I’m used to being around older people!” I told him that our house was going to feel very empty without him, and he replied, “I know.” He has a great sense of humor!

Was there a turning point during your time together when you knew you’d want to adopt him?

From the very moment we met him at LAX, there was just something about him. … I don’t want to say love at first sight, but it just really felt like it was meant to be. And that feeling just kept growing stronger. But we didn’t know how he was feeling, you know? Because [these children] learn to be kind of guarded because they’ve been disappointed, and they don’t want to get their hopes up. And we didn’t know how our daughter would feel. We promised ourselves we would wait until he had gone home and had a family conversation to make the final decision of yay or nay. When you have older children, I think it’s important that everyone feels comfortable and everyone feels like there’s a love here that can grow.

“I think it’s important that everyone feels comfortable and everyone feels like there’s a love here that can grow.”

In what ways was your hosting experience valuable — in the context of now being in the adoption process?

Because we’ve hosted and because his chaperone was here with us for four days, it allows the chaperone who knows the child to see the chemistry that you have with the child. And I feel that it was really beneficial that his chaperone saw us together. She told us that she saw him bonding with us very quickly. So when the committee is trying to decide if this is the right family for this child, the fact that you’ve been through the hosting program [is helpful.] It’s not a blind match. The child has met you, and the child is interviewed. Within 48 hours of landing in Colombia and getting off of the plane, the child sits down with their social worker for an interview about his or her summer experience. So when the committee gets to that point where they are trying to decide whether you are an appropriate match or not, they’ve already heard from the child about their experience.

How are you preparing to permanently welcome Matias to your family?

Huge ways! I started to take vitamins! One of my friends talked me into taking boxing with her! (laughing) I haven’t had a teenager in like ten years! My daughter is 24, and he’s 13, so I’m like, “I need to get back in shape.” We researched bilingual doctors, bilingual dentists, bilingual therapists, school. … No matter what, it’s a huge loss that these children go through when they lose their culture and the foster family [or caregivers] and everything. We just want to try and think of ways to make it as smooth and comfortable a transition as possible.

“‘What does this child need’ That’s really the most important. Not ‘What does this couple need,’ but ‘What does this child need in a family? What would be the best fit for the child?'”

What’s your advice for other families considering the Colombia hosting program?

I would say, I think it’s great to work with a social worker. Whether it’s a high-energy child, or a low-energy child, or a super sporty child. … When you talk to somebody that is trained in this area, they help you just have a clear picture of some of the things that you should consider and some of the attributes that you should be [thinking about] in order for things to be as harmonious as possible. And they also are skilled at looking through those biographies of those children to say, “What does this child need?” That’s really the most important. Not “What does this couple need?” but “What does this child need in a family? What would be the best fit for the child?” We are so grateful to Emily for facilitating this process that brought us together with Matias. He is a gift.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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