PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The clock is ticking for a Pascagoula family trying to adopt a special needs child from Russia. They say if they can't pay a hefty adoption fee by April, the child could spend the rest of his life in a mental institution, instead of living in their home.
Sara Schultz' family includes three children: 18-year-old Madison, 12-year-old Ethan and 5-year-old Zoe Claire. They hope soon their crew will soon grow by one, a 3-year-old Russian boy with Downs Syndrome they call Eli.
"I can't wait to get him here to just hold him, play with him and teach him," Madison said.
"She tapped his picture and said, 'I love him so much,'" Sara said of her youngest daughter, Zoe Claire.
According to the Orphan Foundation, Eli is one of 143 million orphans worldwide. Schultz is horrified by the statistic and wants to help. Her youngest daughter, Zoe Claire, was adopted domestically. Eli would be Schultz' first international adoption.
She found him through an organization called Reece's Rainbow, aimed at helping families affected by Downs Syndrome, and helping orphaned children with Downs Syndrome find loving homes.
As a speech therapist at Jackson County Exceptional School, Sara Schultz said she understands the challenges of rearing a special needs child, and is financially and emotionally prepared to care for Eli. But the single mom is struggling to come up with the adoption cost that could rise above $25,000. Schultz said time is running out to adopt Eli, who turns four in April.
"If they're not adopted by the age of four, they're in immediate danger of going into an institution," said Schultz of special needs orphans worldwide. "And for children with special needs, that's usually an adult mental institution. And from there they are not eligible to be adopted, ever."
Schultz said when she looks at Eli's picture, she sees her son. She said she prefers to stay optimistic, but sometimes worries she'll never be able to bring him home.
"That's the really difficult part, just feeling like there's no control over, you know, being able to get that kind of money to bring him home," Schultz said. "Somebody you love so much, somebody that you want to provide for."
As time passes, she also wonders what is happening to the boy she already considers to be hers.
"It's really difficult looking at his picture and knowing he's that far away and wondering, 'Is he getting the care he needs?' 'Is somebody picking him up when he cries?' 'Is somebody loving on him when he falls and skins his knee?' And then to know that there's this huge wall in our way that just seems bigger than big. Bigger than I can imagine."
The Schultz family isn't alone. They've set up a blog where people can stay up to date on their lives and the adoption process, and they can also donate to Eli's adoption fund.
Several friends are also helping raise funds to bring Eli to Mississippi. Pamela Lucas, an independent chocolatier, adoptive mother and friend of Schultz is giving part of her revenue from chocolate parties and sales to the Schultz family.
"Chocolate for Eli is going on through the end of February and 10 percent of all sales go toward the adoption for Eli fund," said Lucas. "And any parties that are booked for chocolate for Eli, they will also get five percent of those parties until the end of March."
Lucas said the fundraiser is a small way to help provide a rich life for a little boy miles away.
"I know that she would be a great mom for Eli," said Lucas.