Lots of love today: the weather, the city of Indianapolis, the COLTS, the Dave & Rae Band and of course United Way of Central Indiana. [more photos]
Imagine if your child were uprooted from home, whisked away from everyone and everything he loved and sent halfway across the world with nothing but the clothes on his back to begin a new life with complete strangers. That’s where our story with 6-year-old Ian Miller begins.
JCC members Melinda and Matt Miller had been patiently waiting to adopt a baby girl from China. The process had been long and complicated. One Friday afternoon, the adoption agency sent a photo of Ian to the Millers. They looked at his face and knew that this 5 1/2-year-old boy was meant to be theirs. In July 2009, Ian arrived in Indianapolis.
The sudden turn of events caught the Millers unprepared for their adoption. They had been waiting for so long and mentally were prepared for an infant girl. Seemingly out of the blue, they had become parents of a school-aged boy. A new school year loomed, and they hadn’t had a moment to think about where to send their son to school.
Shortly after the adoption, Melinda and Matt were at the JCC’s water park when Judy Sosin, the associate executive director, came over to meet Ian. To help Ian integrate into his new homeland, Judy invited the Millers to consider the JCC’s kindergarten program with its warm environment, focus on individual development and positive group interactions
That day, the Millers also met the JCC’s long-time, award-winning kindergarten teacher, Bev Brown. As Melinda recalls, “We were in the right place at the right time. It was a good fit from the start.” The Millers also were drawn to the JCC’s inclusion of swim lessons in the curriculum.
When Ian first joined the JCC’s kindergarten class, he could not speak one word of English. Bev described Ian in his early days at school as “very needy.” She was sensitive to the bad memories he had of moving from foster home to foster home in China, and concentrated on making Ian feel he was a cherished child in her classroom.
The other children were eager to help. Bev explains, “Children don’t notice color or language.” She encouraged the children to appreciate Ian’s heritage and incorporated Chinese holidays and culture in her teaching.
Over the weeks, it became clear that Ian was understanding language but not yet verbalizing. Bev encouraged him to draw pictures to communicate. Then one day, Bev says, “It just came.” Ian began talking and expressing himself.
Bev laughs as she recalls a conversation she overheard while the children were playing house. They asked Ian what it was like in China and if he liked living there. It was all very matter of fact that Ian was from some place else and he had become comfortable enough with his friends and classmates to talk about it.
Melinda and Matt noted the change in Ian as well. “We used to drive home from the JCC in silence,” Melinda recalls. He couldn’t communicate. He couldn’t talk. And then gradually, he began telling stories about school and his friends there.”
That’s when the play dates began, and soon Ian’s life became like that of any 5-year-old boy.
Melinda struggles to find the right words to express her gratitude. “Every adult here took him under their wing and made him feel accepted. The JCC provided him with such a loving, warm, caring environment.”
In less than half an academic school year, Ian was transformed from a quiet boy to an outgoing kindergartener who became the class co-president. “He even had to write a speech,and deliver it to the class,” said Bev. That was in November.”
As graduation day approached in May, Ian discussed with his teacher his dreams for the future. He has two aspirations. One is to be a policeman like his dad. The other is to be a dentist because, “I want everyone to have clean teeth so they don’t fall out.” Ian explains as if this is a perfectly reasonable concern at his age.
After one year at the JCC and in the U.S., Ian was talking, making friends, playing and ready to start first grade at the local public school, Nora Elementary.