Local group raises awareness about international adoptions
Courtny Gerrish, Stephanie Graham
RACINE - She may be bound to a wheelchair, but to see Lola Zimmerle, she is like any other happy, healthy young woman. It wasn't always like that.
"I went to orphanage when I was 5 yrs old, you know, before I stayed in baby orphanage, and then moved to adult orphanage... I see a lot of kids suffering, and I can't handle it," Lola explains.
Minnesota natives Kyle and Becky Zimmerle adopted Lola seven years ago in Uzbekistan. They moved there more than a decade ago to help orphans, especially the disabled.
"We just saw there really was no...there were no systems for them to merge into," Becky says.
The Zimmerle's, who have 6 children of their own, also adopted Elena, who has severe cerebral palsy. Kyle recalls, "She was about 17 pounds and 6 years old, so I just, broke my heart, when I would look at her."
A common sight in that region--where 95% of disabled children end up in orphanages.
Kevin Cookman of Racine runs an international relief organization, and works with the Zimmerle family. He is also an adoptive parent.
"My daughter was born with a club foot, and had we not adopted her and had it fixed, she would have been considered a disabled individual in that system."
Cookman helps children who have aged out of orphanages and have nowhere to go.
"High school kids aren't cute! They're not fun to work with," Cookman admits. He adds, "The reality is less than 5% of the kids adopted in any year are over 3 years old."
Lola is one of the lucky ones, but her challenges aren't over. Now the Zimmerle's are fighting for her U.S. Visa, since Lola was just a few days too old when they applied. Lola says it's nerve-wracking. "Yeah, very nervous, but I know God can help me, and I believe everything, so I know God will help me."
It's especially hard because Kyle and Becky know she has so much promise.
"She's very good at math, she loves science," Becky says.
Kyle adds, "She loves people, we know that she's gonna do something great with her life, she already has."
For now, the family is enjoying their time together here in the U.S., where Lola has one request!
"My favorite drink is Dr. Pepper! I want my Dr. Pepper, Oh yeah," Lola laughs.
The family is working with state officials to figure out the best way for Lola to gain legal U.S. citizenship.
Cookman is also working with the Zimmerle family to develop a model that would create self-sustaining orphanages for disabled children in countries like Uzbekistan.