Inspiring a community through adoption
Take one look at Kirubel Michael Ippolito and you immediately know exactly what his parents fell in love with when they first met him in Ethiopia last January. The lively, laughing 6-year old — with his tuft of curly brown hair, expressive eyes and ready smile — is impossible to resist.
“He has more followers on Facebook than we do,” jokes his mother, Noreen Ippolito ’90, director of business development for Clear Channel Communications. She and her husband, Mike, officially adopted Kirby — as he’s now known — after a grueling two-year process that began shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The couple already had two biological children and were thinking about a third when news stories convinced them that they should forego the traditional route and find a child in need of a home instead. Working with a religious adoption agency in Orange County, they considered a host of Third World countries with overflowing orphanages.
“I remember it vividly,” Noreen says. “We looked at pieces of paper, each with a country on it. On the back, it would tell you how many orphans there are. I turned them all over and asked, ‘where’s the greatest need?’” The answer was Ethiopia. And thus began the odyssey that would eventually lead the Ippolitos to Addis Ababa and their new son.
The decision to move forward was the easy part. Getting through all the paperwork was time-consuming and overwhelming.
“We had to have the dog’s registration papers. We had to have the plans from our home. We had to have multiple people come here and check our home,” she recalls. “Both the kids (daughter Jordan, 14, and son Jack, 10) had multiple physicals, letters from their teachers. Our financial records. Our work records. It was a huge endeavor.”
All that effort paid off when the family finally learned who their newest member would be. In August of 2011, the adoption agency matched them with Kirby, whose biological mother had given him up to an orphanage when he was just two years old because she had two older children and no source of income. The agency gave Noreen and Mike a week to decide whether they wanted him. Thirty seconds was all they needed, once they saw a photo of the little boy with the open, angelic face.
“His biggest health problem was really bad teeth,” Noreen says. “Well, my dad’s a dentist and so is Mike’s. So I said, ‘this is meant to be.’”
It would take another six months and two visits to Ethiopia to finally bring Kirby home. During that time, the Ippolitos learned much about the desperation of the country’s orphans, and the generosity of its poverty-stricken people. Their driver offered them all the money out of his pocket to buy provisions for Kirby’s orphanage — a two-room house with dirt floors and no running water. Their court-appointed lawyer insisted on treating them to coffee after the adoption was approved, even though he worked for just $50 per month. And the orphans Kirby lived with did their part, too.
“The first time we met him, all the other kids showed him off,” remembers Mike. “They kept letting him kick the soccer ball. They just wanted to make sure we wanted Kirby. That we liked him.”
The Ippolitos were finally permitted to take Kirby from the orphanage at the end of April. At the guesthouse where they were staying, he took seven baths in one day. He’d never seen a bathtub or a shower, and had never felt hot water. To him everything was new and amazing.
“The first time he ate a banana, you’d think we gave him a Snickers bar,” recalls Noreen. “He was so excited. Mike gave him two pairs of shoes and he couldn’t believe they were for him.”
Half a year later, Kirby continues to delight in everything he does. In the first few months, he learned to speak English, to swim, do back flips off a diving board, and ride a bike. In his kindergarten class, he’s made friends and is learning to read and write. His enthusiasm and sheer pleasure in the smallest things are infectious. The Ippolitos say he has deeply affected not just their family, but also their entire extended community.
“It gives you an appreciation for everything,” Mike says. “This kid had nothing. He came here and, in his mind, he lives in the Taj Mahal and has everything under the sun. You start appreciating every little thing you have. And everything superficial you wanted, you start wanting less.”