Kermit and Tami Alexander
They'd fallen in love with the boy's soulful eyes and gentle heart and were eager to take him home. But one day in 2005, while visiting him in Port au Prince, Haiti, Kermit and Tami Alexander got a big surprise: Clifton, then 7, had four brothers and sisters at another orphanage. Gathering the siblings together for an afternoon visit, Kermit's heart broke when Jameson, then 9, asked the couple to take a picture "'because I'll never see [Clifton] again,'" Kermit recalls. "I started crying and said, 'We have to take them all.'"
After a five-year wait—prolonged by lost paperwork, political unrest and natural disasters—the Alexanders finally got their wish. On Jan. 25 all five siblings—Manoucheka, 16, Jameson, 14, Clifton, 12, Zachary, 10, and Semfia, 9—rushed into Kermit's and Tami's arms at Orlando Sanford International Airport. A few days later the Alexander kids—who had slept on the grounds outside a church for the past few weeks—were busy exploring their new four-bedroom home in Riverside, Calif. "We just went from room to room," Kermit says. "They opened all the closets. They bounced on the beds. It's incredible."
Clifton and his siblings are among some 500 Haitian children who've arrived in the United States since the Jan. 12 earthquake. All went to families who, like the Alexanders, had adoptions in the works and benefited from the U.S. government speeding up the process for humanitarian reasons. These prospective parents, many of whom have waited years for their children, are a far cry from the 10 Americans arrested on Jan. 29 allegedly trying to smuggle children out of Haiti. "There are strict guidelines on adoption," says a U.S. immigration spokeswoman. "People should work with legitimate agencies." (For more information, go to uscis.gov.)
For Kermit, 69, who grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles and discovered a talent for sports that led to a 14-year career in the National Football League, the siblings' arrival was a joyous chapter in a life darkened by tragedy: In 1984 gang members broke into his mother Ebora's Los Angeles home, killing her, Kermit's sister Dietra and two young nephews after mistaking the house for the residence of a drug dealer. Taking in the Haitian orphans, Tami, an event planner, 48, says, "is helping heal Kermit's heart. He can make a difference for these children."
And what a difference it is. Back in Haiti the siblings' lives began to splinter in 1999 when their mother fell ill with malaria and later relinquished her rights. Unable to care for them, their father placed them in an orphanage. Initially housed together, they were separated in 2001 after Clifton's health began to fail as a result of malnutrition. He was transferred to the Mission of Hope orphanage, which had better medical care. The couple—who wed in 2004 and have three grown children from previous marriages—first began to talk about adopting after Tami met Clifton while on a mission in Port au Prince. While waiting for the adoptions to go through, the couple sent monthly $500 payments for food and spent $40,000 to send the children to a private school. "When I heard they were adopting all five, I thought, 'Seriously?'" says Otis Garrison, U.S. director of Mission of Hope. "But you can see their attachment to the kids."
It's a bond that won't waiver. On the plane to California, Kermit turned to Clifton—who, like his siblings, understands English but speaks little—and explained what was happening. Clifton turned to his new dad and said, "We're home."
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