Cindy Kaplan and Mishelle Rudzinski both adopted children from Kazakhstan in 2006, and both faced a difficult issue: Their kids were severely malnourished. Kaplan’s son, Jadyn, looked more like a newborn than the 6-month-old that he was. Dangerously underweight, he was failing to meet simple milestones like lifting his head and rolling over. “I struggled to find resources to help him—there’s not a lot out there for underweight adopted kids,” says Kaplan. Rudzinski’s 5-year-old daughter, Bakha, was faring even worse: The size of a toddler, Bakha was bowlegged and hunched-over. What the orphanage had believed to be cerebral palsy turned out to be a vitamin D deficiency. “Mishelle and I knew we couldn’t let this happen to other children,” says Kaplan.
Unable to find an existing group that helped malnourished orphans, Kaplan and Rudzinski started their own in 2007: Support and Provide Overseas Orphan Nutrition Foundation (SPOON). Neither mom had ever run a nonprofit or worked internationally before, so they formed an advisory board of medical and international relations experts, and they connected with a former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan for help developing partnerships with Kazakh nutrition agencies.
Today, SPOON has two arms: The first is the Orphan Nutrition Project that focuses on the nutritional needs of orphans in Kazakhstan. SPOON teamed up with the Kazakhstan equivalent of the FDA to develop a program for 10 orphanages, which includes developing nutritional guidelines and training caregivers on vitamin administration. “The goal is to give the orphanages the knowledge they need so we can move on to other places,” Kaplan says.
SPOON’s other arm, adoptionnutrition.org, is the first nutrition resource for U.S. families with adopted kids. “We learned that a lot of domestically adopted children have similar malnutrition issues,” says Kaplan. The site teaches parents about malnutrition and how to transition kids to healthy diets.
Thanks to proper nutrition, both Jadyn and Bakha are now thriving. But by some estimates, over half the world’s orphaned and adopted kids lack the nutrients they need for healthy development. And SPOON—currently going strong with a team of 40—is responding with plans to expand the program throughout Kazakhstan by 2012. Soon after, they hope to take their mission to other countries.
Reprinted from KIWI Magazine