I originally wrote this piece to spread the word about Carolyn Twietmeyer, a local mom who advocates for the adoption of children with HIV. She and the not-so-local organization she started, Project Hopeful, was featured in the Chicago Tribune this morning and in light of this compelling article, I thought it best to refresh your memory about the Twietmeyer family...
Carolyn Twietmeyer collapses into bed every night like any other mother. Amidst making meals, doing laundry, changing diapers and homeschooling, she ends each night with a satisfied smile and a dedication to take on another day.
This not-so-small family is the picture of what unconditional love in a family should be.
Armed with 14 children and fueled by a desire to change the world, the Twietmeyer family is proof that no barrier can keep them from their ultimate goal: saving lives around the world, one child at a time.
I am sure you are taken aback by the thought of having fourteen children and wonder how one couple can manage a life with so many mouths to feed.
Carolyn and Kiel Twietmeyer, a local power couple from Joliet, have 7 biological children and 6 adopted children from Ethipoia, 2 of which have HIV. Their latest addition, 12-week-old Sofia, has down syndrome.
Living solely on Kiel's income, Carolyn takes the subject of stretching their funds to care for their family in positive stride.
"There was some initial concern about how far we could push our budget, but recognizing what our children come from outweighs the stress of money. We make it work."
Rooted in deep faith and dedicated to serving a God who loves all children, despite minor medical setbacks, Carolyn felt a sense of urgency to help more children, even after giving birth to her first 7 children.
"We originally wanted to adopt one child, but then found out Rachel, Samuel and Seth (all siblings) had just lost their family. When I realized this, I couldn't let these children be torn apart again because Samuel had HIV. We decided to adopt all 3."
While at the orphanage picking up her 3 children in 2007, Carolyn met a little girl who had been taken from her home. 10 year-old Selah was separated from her brother and sister and placed in an orphanage, isolating her because she had AIDS. After the experience of adopting her first 3 children from Ethiopia, Carolyn felt compelled to help this broken child. She left Ethiopia promising Selah she would find her a home.
In 2008, Carolyn returned to Ethiopia to find Selah barely clinging to life. Now 11-years-old and 32 pounds, doctors informed Carolyn that Selah would never survive the plane ride back to the United States. A blood transfusion from Carolyn to Selah brought her back life and to her new home. Two years later, the Twietmeyer's reunited Selah with her brother and sister, adopting them into the Tweitmeyer clan.
"What I saw in these orphanages, was that these kids were literally fighting for their lives," said Carolyn. " These children would die if they were not adopted. I realized I had to do something to help."
Creating Project H.O.P.E.F.U.L (Help Orphans and Parents Eliminate Further Unnecessary Loss... of time, dignity, and life. ) was a natural step for Carolyn during her first adoption experience.
In 2007, Carolyn partnered with McLane Layton, founder of EACH (Equality for Adopted Children), to advocate change for the immigration process of HIV/AIDS adoptions. Traveling to Washington D.C., Carolyn and McLane met with Congressional staff and government officials to urge the removal of unnecessary barriers keeping children with HIV/AIDS from their adoptive families. Rallying to change the time involved to obtain an immigration waiver went from 3-9 months to 10 days or less.
In an environment established in a culture of love, the Tweitmeyers travel the world to educate anyone who will listen about adopting a child with HIV. Featured on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, the Today Show, 100 Huntley Street, Full Circle Hour of Power, Facing Life Head On, and People Magazine, Carolyn and Project HOPEFUL are spreading the news about adopting children with HIV/AIDS and the misconceptions about the disease.
"There are so many false assumptions about people living with HIV," says Carolyn. "It is so important that people are educated beyond what we learned in the 80's. Project HOPEFUL works with University of Chicago to educate families and alleviate the negative opinions of naysayers."
Partnering with University of Chicago to provide education and support to families who are considering adopting a child with HIV, Carolyn is confident the seminars are making a difference. Designed to answer questions about HIV transmission and combat common fears about the disease, the parent forums at University of Chicago equip potential adoptive parents with a complete understanding of what life will be like with a child who has HIV/AIDS.
"100% of families who attend the University of Chicago workshops have gone on to pursue/are pursing adoptions of orphans with HIV/AIDS", says Jennifer Sloniger, Communications Director for Project HOPEFUL.
"And, through our education efforts untold numbers of people have been inspired to support orphans with HIV or adopt them. We also offer support in the form of public information campaigns designed to eliminate social stigma. The results of which we believe will offer untold benefits for kids with HIV in the future by making the world a more informed and friendly place for HIV+ individuals."
In a world where the path to the unknown is usually the road less traveled, Carolyn Twietmeyer lives her life with a confident smile, immersed into her called position to make a difference in the lives of others, embracing the unknown.
"I know I can't help every child in the world, but I can try."
If you would like to learn more about adopting a child with HIV or Project HOPEFUL, visit projecthopeful.org. Have questions about HIV/AIDS? The Project HOPEFUL website offers information about the truth behind living with HIV.
*Information gathered from projecthopeful.org