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Haitian adoptees keep the story alive for some Utahns

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 9:16 a.m. MDT

Brent Rosenlof holds 2-year-old Nathan at the Rosenlof home in Lehi on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from Haiti when the quake struck. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Brent Rosenlof holds 2-year-old Nathan at the Rosenlof home in Lehi on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from Haiti when the quake struck. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Editor's note: Third in a four-part series looking back at post-quake efforts in Haiti as Utahns and the LDS Church rushed to help provide humanitarian aid.

LEHI — Burly and bald, Brent Rosenlof looks gruff behind a no-nonsense goatee, but he trails his 2-year-old son like a well-trained puppy.

Kitchen. Living room. Bedroom. Repeat.

"Nathan's pretty much the center of our lives these days," Rosenlof said, scooping up the 24-pound toddler and tossing him, happily squealing, into the air. It's clear the big man would have it no other way.

Three months ago, Nathan, left homeless by a 7.0 earthquake that rocked his Haiti orphanage, was sleeping on the concrete in a country made so desperate that some child-care workers reported being robbed by armed gunmen. Rosenlof and his wife, Lori, held their breath as the little boy, whom they had been trying to adopt since his birth, secured refugee status, was strapped into a charter plane and joined them in their Lehi home.

Lori Rosenlof  prepares to put 2-year-old Nathan to bed at their Lehi home. Nathan is adjusting well to his new life. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Lori Rosenlof prepares to put 2-year-old Nathan to bed at their Lehi home. Nathan is adjusting well to his new life. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Since then, about 1,000 Haitian children, whose parents had filed adoption applications before the Jan. 12 quake, have been flown to the United States. Around 3,000 children — some orphaned before the quake, some during — remain in temporary shelters in the rubble-strewn country.

In Utah, Nathan is getting healthier by the day. His belly, protruding bloated from the top of his too-big cargo pants, is one of the few remaining indicators of his deprived past. Now that he's done two rounds of antibiotics and gotten most of the parasites out of his system, Nathan, once a lethargic, clingy baby, is an ever-moving tornado zigzagging through the house, small toy car in hand.

The family couldn't be happier — at least, that's what the Rosenlofs know they ought to report.

In reality, the Rosenlofs are still pacing, tormented by the damage done to a country they have come to call their "second home." Sometime during the "two years of hell" the couple spent wading through paperwork, trying to rescue little Nathan from an orphanage with too many children and not enough rice, they fell inexplicably, head-over-heels in love with desperately poor, crime-riddled Haiti. She gets tears in her eyes holding her little boy in her arms, but, Lori Rosenlof said, "Nathan is such a minor, minor part of this deal. There was much to be done before the earthquake. There's even more now."

After Nathan changes for bed, Lori Rosenlof kisses her 2-year old adopted son on Thursday in Lehi. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) After Nathan changes for bed, Lori Rosenlof kisses her 2-year old adopted son on Thursday in Lehi. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

So, in between teaching Nathan important English phrases like "I love you" and keeping the perpetually hungry boy supplied with avocados, the Rosenlofs are gathering support to help the children still in Haiti. Other Utah parents, connected to the island nation through their own little bundles of joy, are rallying to their cause.

"My family may not be all Haitian by blood, but we're pure Haitian by heart," said Shannon Cox, a Riverdale mother of four. Her 5-year-old son Andre, as she explains it, "just happened to be born in a Haitian orphanage."

During the adoption process, Cox started the nonprofit Haitian Roots, which provides scholarships so children can attend school. The nonprofit, along with the Rosenlofs' nonprofit, Hope for Little Angels of Haiti, is making plans to build a school, a boarding home and an orphanage facility.

"I've been to slums, I've been to Third World countries," Cox said. "Haiti makes them all look like paradise. I can't take away one child and forget about everyone else who's left behind."

Lori Rosenlof lifts 2-year-old Nathan to his high chair in Lehi on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Lori Rosenlof lifts 2-year-old Nathan to his high chair in Lehi on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

David Aitken, an Eagle Mountain businessman who welcomed home three little Haitians in January, has persuaded his place of employment, HIT Web Design, to donate $4,000 a month to support the endeavor. Other parents are collecting items for a charity yard sale.

Last week, parents collected enough money to purchase a plot of land. They've hired the University of Utah and a non-profit architecture firm to draw up the plans. Constructions set to start in early June.

"My kids are safe, but that doesn't stop our responsibility to take care of those who can't take care of themselves," Aitken says. "Those children have nothing."

In the meantime, Utah's adoptive parents, a tightly knit group pulled together by common experience, are trying to savor the good moments.

Brent Rosenlof, who has taken a leave from work to play "stay at home dad," is already sharing one of his favorite pastimes — professional sports — with the little boy. Nathan recently attended his first Jazz game. Lori Rosenlof is busy teaching the 2-year-old about the wonders of grocery shopping ("he just kept grabbing food and putting it in the cart," she said) and figuring out his favorite foods. Right now, she said, "It's avocados. Weird, I know."

Lori Rosenlof holds 2-year-old Nathan after he's changed for bed on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Lori Rosenlof holds 2-year-old Nathan after he's changed for bed on Thursday. The Rosenlofs were in the process of adopting Nathan from an orphanage in the Port-au-Prince area when the earthquake struck. Brent Rosenlof traveled to Haiti shortly thereafter to get Nathan, as well as to help the orphanage and other children who had adoptive parents waiting. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Nathan himself is busy enjoying having two grown adults wrapped around his itty-bitty finger.

"Bijow!" he tells his parents (and anyone else who will listen), offering his dimpled cheek up expectantly. That's the Creole word, his doting mother explains, for "kisses."

She gladly obliges.

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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