After Katrina - Holding onto Hope

After Katrina - Holding onto Hope

This article follows up last month’s, located at: Hurricane Katrina Adoptive Families Need Your Help

“I have been to my house several times now,” Single-mom Karen Fontanta recently told, “The first time was by boat – two weeks after the storm we had waist deep water in the house. For the last two weeks the waters have receded but the house is a total loss. It looks like something out of horror film. All of our photos and videos are destroyed. All of the family heirlooms literally disintegrated. Technically, we are homeless.”

Karen is an attorney and mom to the lovely Katya, whom she adopted 5 years ago as an infant from Russia. This summer Karen and Katya, like the other families in this article, hosted a child from Russia. Little 7-year-old Nastia “fit in like we had been a family of three forever.”

Currently, the Fontana’s are staying with friends in the area. As Karen and Katya search for an apartment in the New Orleans area, they are thankful for the things they do have, such as friends and extended family. Like so many others, however, Karen’s extended family has been hard-hit as well. “I am thankful that my office is still intact. If our clients come back, I may still be able to live in this area…if not, well, that’s a bridge I’ll have to cross when it comes.”

When our conversation finally turned to Nastia, the daughter of her heart, Karen’s real loss became apparent.

“I had intended to use a home equity loan to finance the adoption and that is simply not an option now. I can’t imagine finding financial resources to devote to an adoption at this time since we literally lost everything we couldn’t fit in that one box we evacuated with. Katya has been asking questions about when she can go see her “summer sister” again and it’s hard to know how to deal with those questions right now.”

For a moment, Karen pauses, unable to continue. “This is easily the most devastating loss of all and probably the one area where I don’t really have a plan on how to recover. I committed my heart to a child and I can’t figure out how to get her home. Yes, I mourn the loss of my pre-Katrina community and security and yes, I can’t wait to have a place to call my own again but this adoption is far more important than those issues. It has never been far from my mind.”

Nor, apparently, from the minds of the other families that hosted children in the New Orleans area this summer. Over half of the families had minimum damage and live far enough outside the Metro area that their jobs and livelihoods have not been affected. Unfortunately, this is not the case of Mark and Lisette Daigle, the family that hosted 6 year old Nikita this past summer.

Recently I caught up with Daigle’s on a rare day that they were all together. Since just days after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, Mark has been back in the New Orleans area, trying to save his business. It was apparent from early on that their home had suffered irreparable wind damage. Having lost a roof during the storm, their home has since collapsed in on itself.

On this sunny day Mark had made the trip home to visit overnight with his 10-year-old daughter, Claire and wife, Lisette. When Mark was told that funds were being raised to try and help his family bring Nikita home, he got up from his chair and left the room for several minutes. Returning, he spoke in a voice choked with emotion, “I have never taken money from anyone for anything in my life. But I will take money if it means bringing my son home. I will do it for him.”

Lisette seems anxious to talk about Nikita. “Since the day of Katrina, I haven’t stopped thinking of him, of our adoption….I kept praying our house was spared, but as the days went by, I realized even if our home is spared, what about the entire city? How could we all recover? But I have never given up hope. If I give up hope of Nikita coming home, I won’t be able to get up in the morning. I have to believe this is going to happen, because if I don’t, then I will know I have lost everything. I love Nikita. We will find a way to rebuild, recover and it may take longer, but we are going to Russia and he is going to come home.”

Since this interview, the Daigle’s have found a rental home outside of New Orleans. They were able to recover very few things, but are focused on putting their lives back together and getting their adoption on track just as soon as they are capable.

In reality, the adoptions will all take longer. Families need time to recover, find places to live. Kathryn Deiters, who works with the agency handling the adoptions of these children, says Russia does have some concerns. “Most Russians had never heard of Louisiana before the hurricane hit. Now they feel they know the area well—unfortunately, from the images seen on TV of the destruction and its aftermath. It will take time to erase those frightening images. We will do our best to show them the positive side. They want to be assured that things are “back to normal” where each adopting family lives. Right now, we are encouraging the families to put their lives back together so that they are “back to normal”. We will work with the families to complete their adoptions just as soon as they are ready to proceed.”

One family doesn’t plan to wait. Kent and Leslie Kozina lost their home in the flooding of New Orleans that came after Hurricane Katrina. Moving quickly, they were able to get Leslie’s 17 year old son a scholarship into a good boarding school in the North. Well into the process to adopt their 7-year-old host child, Vitalic, they have no intention of slowing things down.

“Even though we were not allowed to tell Vitalic that we would be coming to adopt him, I know he knows, “ Leslie told me recently over the phone. “That is one smart little boy. He knew we loved him, he knows we ‘re coming….and I know it in my heart, too.”

Kent and Leslie plan to stay in the New Orleans area until the adoption is complete. After that, “We’re already looking into living in a Northern state. We’re done with Hurricanes. We did lose our home, but we found out who are friends are along the way. I’ll miss the other adoptive families the most. It has never entered our minds for one moment that we couldn’t find a way to bring Vitalic home. We are still looking for that way, but it will happen. My heart is just breaking about how long it will be before I hear his laugh again.”

Having lost material possession, the Daigle’s, Fontana’s and Kozina’s still hold onto their most valuable resource during this time: Hope. readers have donated almost $8,000 to a non-profit fund to help bring Nikita, Nastia and Vitalic home to the families that already have adopted them into their hearts. In donations as small as $5 and as large as $200, adoptive families have answered the call to help their fellow adoptive families in need. If you would like to help, you may donate online at:

Help Adoptive Families

And make your tax deductible donation. Please make sure you designate your donation for “Hurricane Relief for Families”. All donations made in this manner will be used to help the families focused on in this article.

Donations may be mailed to:

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Hurricane Katrina Relief

801 East Chapman Avenue

Suite 106

Fullerton, California 92831

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