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From Haiti to new home: Hurdles awaiting adopted Haitians

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. — One of many firsts adopted Haitian children arriving in Utah will experience is likely to make them shiver.

They have never had Jack Frost nipping at their noses or tried to catch a snowflake on their tongues. That's why Weber County residents Eric and Sheree Evans made sure to pack coats, hats and gloves for their adopted son Jean Tony, 9, and daughter Darline, 7, when they picked them up in Miami.

"They've never seen snow," Eric Evans said. It was 5 degrees below zero when he and his wife left their home in Eden on Saturday, he said. It was 90 degrees when the children boarded a plane Friday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Talk about climate change.

Weather isn't the only thing the once-orphaned children will have to get used to in their new homes. There's food, language, culture, family life and school, to name a few.

Those things will come at the adoptive parents in a hurry as they get back to Utah in the next couple of days. All the children who came from the Foyer de Sion orphanage Friday were united with their new moms and dads after spending a night at His House Children's Home outside Miami. Some families headed home Saturday, while others are expected to trickle home in coming days.

Smithfield, Cache County, residents Mark and Kate Woodward were some of the first to leave after receiving their children, 14-year-old Rolando and 7-year-old Gislene.

"This is number 12 and 13," Kate Woodward said of the new additions to her family.

The Woodwards have four biological children and seven adopted children already. They have been through this transition before and have plenty of support as Rolando and Gislene join the clan.

School will be a challenge for a teenager like Rolando who has had no formal education. He'll have until fall to get ready.

"The first thing he's got to do is learn English," Kate Woodward said. And with a dozen siblings, there's bound to be lots of words flying.

Some adoptive parents learn a couple hundred essential words in Creole to help them communicate early on, but it still won't be easy.

"I think we'll have some frustrating moments for sure," Sheree Evans said.

Sheree and Eric Evans are atypical adoptive parents. She is 52. He is 58.

"This was not his retirement plan," Sheree Evans said. Between them, they have five children from previous marriages, with only a 17-year-old daughter still at home. Eric Evans is the production manager at Wonder Bread/Hostess Cakes in Salt Lake City, while his wife is the company's account manager in Ogden.

Adding Jean Tony and Darline to the family was the result of Sheree Evans' trip to Haiti a year ago with her sister who was adopting.

"When we went to the orphanage, Darline just kind of latched on to me, and I had to go home and convince my husband," she said.

Eric Evans warmed slowly to the idea but said "it was just overwhelming" to meet the children for the first time Saturday. He couldn't help but think about the hardships they have endured — poverty, sickness, hurricanes, an earthquake — as he becomes their father. "It's hard to imagine all the stuff they've gone through," he said.

He hopes to make one thing very simple for his new children.

For him, when it comes to American college football, the University of Utah is the only team.

"We're U. fans through and through," said Eric Evans, wearing a Utah polo shirt. "The season tickets just went up by two."

He has already taught them to say, "Go, Utes."

One thing the Evanses won't change about their children is their names, except subtly. Jean Tony will become John Tony, while Darline will be spelled Darlene.

"I think at their ages it would be hard to start changing them to someone else. I think it's really the only thing they have left of their own," Sheree Evans said. "They've lost everything, so I figure their name is one thing they can hold on to."

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com