China Care craft fair held at St. Lukes
When she was 6-years-old, Rachel Doran anxiously awaited her parents' return from China where they were adopting 9-month old, Ellie. "I was so excited," said Rachel, who is now an eighth grade student at Bedford Middle School in Westport.
Today the two sisters are close friends. In fact, Ellie, 8, is Rachel's inspiration for the hand-sewn pajamas that she designs for "Rachel's Rags," a company that gives 50 percent of its profits to the China Care Foundation.
Rachel was one of more than 50 artisans participating in the China Care Foundation's Crafts Fair at St. Luke's School in New Canaan. Based in Westport, the non-profit organization supports the China Care Home, a medical facility in Beijing that cares for orphaned children, from newborn to 5, who have special needs.
The Doran family said they first learned about the China Care Foundation after they adopted Ellie. Two years ago, Rachel started designing a line of custom-made pajamas. The sixth-grader decided that half of the profits from Rachel's Rags were going to be given to the China Care Foundation. After all, Ellie is her No. 1 supporter and model for her wares.
Although Rachel's pajamas could be purchased at Chillybear, a retail store located in Old Greenwich, she enjoys also selling them at various crafts fairs in the area. At Saturday's fair at St. Luke's School, Rachel showcased pajamas made in a variety of patterns.
"This is truly all Rachel's idea," said her mother Lisa Doran. "For Hanukkah, Rachel asked for business cards."
Although Ellie opted to stay home Saturday, Lisa pointed out that she often accompanies her sister Rachel to the craft fairs.
Katarina Kruzykowski, China Care's youth program coordinator, was pleased at the response from local crafters. There were exquisite jewelry, handmade sweaters, hats and children's clothing as well as unique artwork available for purchase. In addition, students from the St. Luke's China Care Club offered tasty Chinese dumplings that they cooked themselves.
Keeping an eye on the sizzling dumplings in the hot pan, "master chef" Christian Walsh, 15, of New Canaan tried to keep up with the visitors' demands. When asked what his secret ingredients were, Christian said, "A little of this, a little of that."
China Care Foundation was founded in 2000 by Greenwich resident Matthew Dalio when he was only 16 years old. After attending sixth grade in China five years earlier, he returned to the United States with a determination to help orphans who were in some way handicapped and disabled. The first student-run China Care club was started at Harvard University, where Dalio attended school.
In 2009, the China Care Foundation partnered with Half the Sky, another non-profit organization, so that they could expand their work in improving the lives of orphaned children in China.
"Together we opened The China Care Home, a 24-hour pre and post operative medical facility which can serve nearly 80 children at any given time. Our China Care Home, located in Beijing, provides medical care and nurture for infants and toddlers that suffer from mild to life threatening birth defects," Kruzykowski said. "While in our care, the children are watched over by specially trained nannies who wipe away their tears, patiently coax smiles onto their faces and embrace them with soothing hugs. After leaving The China Care Home, these children enter educational programs and long-term, family oriented foster care through Half the Sky as they await adoption into loving families. At The China Care Home these children who have lost their families and are fighting for their lives are never again alone in the world."
Its goal is to open a China Care Home in each of China's provinces, she added.
Kruzykowski said the foundation enjoys especially close ties with the St. Luke's China Care Club. Throughout the year its members host a variety of benefits to raise funds for the China Care Home. The club's facilitator YiYong Feng, a native of Shanghai, and an instructor in Chinese at the school, said that some of the popular fundraisers have been game parties held at club members' houses. Also, last fall's Dumpling Sale at St. Luke School's Homecoming raised $800 for the organization. "This is the best school," said Feng. "The people here are very supportive of each other."
Ethan Pearce, of Norwalk, was one of 30 high school and college students Kruzykowski took with her to work at the China Care Home last summer. Living onsite for two weeks, Ethan said he spent his days with the children.
"You just go and make them happy," he said. "You play with them all day."
Although Kruzykowski said they've had babies as young as three days old at the China Care Home, Ethan worked in the toddler room last summer. The young volunteers are required to pay a fee to participate in the summer program. "We're the first government-backed initiative in China to provide medical care for orphaned children," Kruzykowski said.
Next month, Feng will chaperone a group of seven students, including Nikita Singh, 16, to China. Nikita said after studying the Chinese language "for a long time" she is looking forward to the opportunity to speak it. Along with visiting the China Care Home, they will also tour a Panda Conservation.