Eight-year-old Andrey Kuznetsov has just gone on his first trip to the beach, ridden his first waterslide and caught his first fish, which -- to his great excitement -- turned out to be a small shark.
Andrey, is one of nine orphans from Russia and Kazakstan who have traveled to Maryland this summer, where they are living with area families, attending Camp Millstad in Bel Air and hoping to find permanent homes.
Andrey is living in Forest Hill with Rae and Brian Czawlytko, who described him as "a typical kid" who likes baseball, G.I. Joe and climbing trees.
The orphans, ages 6 to 15, are part of the Summer Miracles Program, which operates through the nonprofit group Kidsave International.
The program brings orphans to the United States, where they live with host families for six weeks. Some of the orphans are in the middle of the adoption process, and some host families are considering adoption, while others are working as advocates to find the children suitable homes.
Five of the children are staying with families in Harford County, two are living in Cecil County, and there is one child each in Baltimore and Howard counties.
According to Nancy Spence, the Maryland Coordinator for Kidsave's Summer Miracles, the program finds homes for about 95 percent of the children who are involved with the summer program.
Spence, who lives in Bel Air, attributes much of the program's success to the fact that families are able to meet these children face to face.
"Once people have hooked up with some of these kids ... it's just haunting," Spence said.
Spence adopted her daughter through a similar program four years ago, and is currently hosting two of the youngest children in the group, Igor Shalimov and Nastia Shalimova, who are brother and sister.
Spence says that since arriving in America, Igor, 7, has developed a passion for motorcylces, and Nastia, 6, has come to love swimming and Barbies.
Many host families said that although the children speak minimal English, the language barrier has not kept them from getting to know these youngsters.
Tammy Carson, who is hosting 7-year-old Galina Nesolenova, said that the girl, "just made it so easy. She went out of her way to communicate with us. She watches very closely and does what we do. ... And she has an incredible sense of humor. We know she's telling a joke just by the delivery."
Cathy Frazier of Bel Air, who is hosting brothers Sergey and Misha Savin, agreed that she had no trouble getting to know the personalities of the two Russian children.. Frazier said that while Sergey, 15, is "sensitive, introspective and thoughtful," the younger Misha, 12, is "active and comical. A real busy bee."
Sergey and Misha have lived in an orphanage in Russia for the past 10 years. In Russia, the boys share a room with about five other orphans, attend class for four hours a day, work in a garden growing potatoes, and play a lot of soccer.
At the end of six weeks, all the children in the program must return to their orphanages. If a family decides that it would like to adopt a child from the Kidsave program, they work with their community coordinator in the United States to get in touch with an accredited adoption agency in the child's country. The prospective parents must then travel to Russia or Kazakstan to bring the child home.
While Sergey is smiling and playful when there's a ball in his hands, he grows shy when speaking to the translator, saying simply that things are "better here" than in Russia. Sergey says that he enjoys swimming at camp and loves going to the movies, where he has seen Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hulk.
Frazier said that after three weeks of living with her, the boys had "changed considerably. We can hug each other now. Misha is starting to see me in the parental role instead of always turning to his older brother. And Sergey is understanding that he doesn't have to carry that burden alone."
Many host families said the children opened up to them in a matter of days.
Janet Nelson, who is playing host to Julia Khromova, 7, remembers the night when the child first came home with her and her husband, Robert.
"Instantly, when we got out of the car at 2 a.m., she was all over the dog," Nelson said.
Julia and the black Labrador, Sydney, have been close friends ever since.
"Her personality is definitely emerging. She's more sure of herself and her surroundings, so she's willing to be more opinionated," said Nelson, smiling.
Nelson's friends and family were thrilled to hear that she would be the host to a child and threw her a shower so that Julia would have everything she needed.
Because the children arrive in America with little more than the clothes on their backs, host families provide them with everything that they need for their six-week stay.
Carson put notes in her neighbors' mailboxes about Galina's arrival and found that her neighbors were quick to donate clothes and set up play dates for Galina and their children.
All of the orphans have a chance to meet other children at the YMCA's Camp Millstad, which they attend five days a week. Tracy Moran, the camp's senior program director, said having the orphans at camp is "an exciting challenge."
With more than 200 children to keep track of every day, Moran is no stranger to the word no, and this summer has become familiar with the word nyet as well.
During the past few weeks, the orphans have had a chance not only to experience family life, but also to form bonds with other children in Maryland.
Sergey and Misha also had the chance to travel to Long Island, New York where they were reunited with their friends from the orphanage who had been adopted by American families.
"I really got to sit and observe all these children who've been adopted and to see the amazing ways that they've changed," Frazier said. Frazier added that the other children's parents were very supportive, and already made her feel as though she is "part of a special family."
Carson has also been impressed by the support she has received from others. After hearing Galina's story, doctors gave the child a free eye exam and glasses and free dental care.
"The thing that has touched me the most about this whole experience -- besides Galina herself, of course -- is the outpouring of support and warmth from the community," Carson said.
For more information on the Summer Miracles program, contact Nancy Spence at 410-399-4108.