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Utahns open arms to Ukraine orphans

Denise Williams wrote down the phrase in her notebook, hoping her phonetic ti ha lode ni would sound something like the Ukrainian for are you hungry?

Like the dozens of other Utahns standing in the baggage claim area of the Delta terminal at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday night — with their banners and balloons and eager smiles — Williams was waiting the arrival of 45 orphans from Ukraine.

The children, from three orphanages, are the latest guests of Utah-based Save A Child Foundation, started three years ago by Vern and Nannette Garrett of Salt Lake City. The purpose of the foundation, Vern explained amid the chaos of arriving passengers, is to be advocates for orphans ages 6 to 15, the children who are "largely overlooked," he says. The children will be in Utah until Nov. 5, staying with volunteer families.

"You want to see something really sad?" asked Save a Child Foundation vice president Craig Sorensen. "Come back here in three weeks."

The Ukrainian government allows the children to come to Utah, but the agreement is that they can't stay. On the other hand, most of the families end up adopting the children they host. In the fall of 2005, the first year of the program, Sorensen says he figured maybe one of the children would be adopted, two tops; in the end 24 of the 26 eligible children were eventually adopted by the Utah families.

The families must find their own adoption agency, come up with the $20,000 to $25,000 in adoption fees and generally wait about eight months for the adoption to be final. The Garretts have now adopted two girls and a boy, who have joined their own eight children.

The next three weeks will be a whirlwind of trips and parties and family time. In an odd twist of fate and logistics, however, most of the orphans will wake up tomorrow and be immediately whisked to the dentist for a donated

teeth cleaning.

"We're going to explain it to them," Vern told the parents, "so they don't think they're coming to America to be tortured."

Margery and Kent Jorgensen of Provo, and their four children plan to take Misha, 15, and Maxim, 9, to a high school football game, as an antidote to the dentist trip. That may or may not be successful; according to Sorensen, other Ukrainian orphans in the past have been bored by American football.

All 45 orphans will go to a Halloween party, the zoo, a ranch, a swimming pool and Bouncin' Off the Walls while they're here.

Among the families waiting at the bottom of the arrivals escalator were Ukrainian orphans who came on a similar three-week trip either in 2005 or 2006. Inna Morgan came last October and was adopted in June by Lorraine and Alan Morgan of Sandy. Hannah and Abbie Olsen — who asked for American names — also arrived last summer.

Their new mother, Carla, went to Ukraine last March to help the Garretts choose the 45 children for this year's program.

"If you ask them what their one wish is," Olsen said about all the orphans she met, "they say 'to come to America."'

The 45 orphans finally arrived a little after 8:30 p.m. For a few minutes they just stood in a clump at the top of the escalator. Then, two by two, here they came, dressed in winter coats, each carrying a backpack. A big cheer went up in the crowd, and then there was the chaos of families trying to find Misha and Maxim, Artem and Roman. Pretty soon they'd all be going home, to strange beds and refrigerators full of odd food.

Ti ha lode ni?