The first time Dave and Maureen Rusin laid eyes on their baby was Christmas Eve. That's when the Williamsville couple received a special Christmas present from Baker-Victory Services: a photo of Alexa, the child they would soon be adopting.
Two months later, the Rusins traveled to China and returned home with their new daughter, who has quickly adapted to her new life.
"The strange thing was, she didn't even know what a toy was," Mrs. Rusin said. That's all changed; like most of her contemporaries, she's Barney-crazy.
Alexa and her family were among about a dozen families enjoying a picnic Sunday at Veterans Park in Tonawanda, sponsored by Baker-Victory Services, which included 30 children adopted in the last year from Russia, China and Vietnam.
Judy O'Mara, Director of Adoption and Foster Care at Baker-Victory, who traveled with Rusins and five other couples to China earlier this year, said the agency started working with international adoptions in March of 1996.
"We started when we noticed a rapid decline in domestic adoptions," Ms. O'Mara said. There were more than 120 families on the waiting list, she said, with an eight- to 10-year wait for a Caucasian infant.
The adoption program at Baker-Victory was started by Father Nelson H. Baker at the historic Infant Home in Lackawanna, which still stands today, Ms. O'Mara said.
At that time, cribs were filled with hundreds of infants who were born to unwed mothers under Father Baker's care, as well as those left nightly at the doorstep of the building.
As society changed, and fewer infants were available for adoption, Baker-Victory Services broadened its reach to international sources.
There are many children available for adoption because of that, she said, and the agency can help assist people with the process, and make it a "pleasant, enjoyable, expedient experience."
Nearly 60 children from around the world have already been placed with Western New York couples, she said.
Among them were 8-month-old Alex and his 5-month-old sister, Anna, who were adopted from Russia by Bob and Mary Pazik of
Like most of the couples at the picnic, the Paziks said the entire process went smoothly and quickly.
"In six months, we had two babies," Pazik said. "Everything went like clockwork."
Nancy and Michael Munley of the Town of Tonawanda had an equally positive experience, bringing back 15-month-old Shannon from the same Chinese trip as the Rusins.
"She's been a dream," he said proudly.
Nearby, 2-year-old T. J. Malinowski was busy climbing the slide. His parents, Katie and Paul Malinowski of Tonawanda, traveled to Vietnam to adopt him in October of 1996.
"It seems like we've had him forever," Mrs. Malinowski said. The Malinowskis are in the process of adopting a little sister for T. J., 13-month old Sarom, from Cambodia.
"I'm waiting for the phone call," she said.