In the late 1990's, Claire was in Montego Bay, Jamaica on a mission trip with her daughters. Already dedicated to the care and well-being of children with disabilities, they sought out an orphanage for children known as Westhaven Children's Home in Hanover, Jamaica. Claire wanted to see how the children were cared for, and what was needed to help the children have a better quality of life.
When Claire returned home to the United States, she developed a professional group of specialist from Gillette and Shriners’ Hospitals who work with children requiring wheelchairs and rehabilitation services, and collected medical equipment. One year later, the group returned to Westhaven to help the children.
On this mission trip Claire met Mark, a five-year-old who was unable to walk due to skeletal malformations caused by a birth defect known as spina bifida.
As another boy was waiting to be fit for a wheelchair, Mark cut in line, hopped into the chair and wheeled away. "He was a feisty little meatball," Claire said. She scooped him up out of the wheelchair and sat him in her lap while he waited for his turn.
From that moment on, Claire knew Mark belonged in her life. She immediately began doing everything she could to make arrangements for Mark to get a visa to receive medical care in the United States. Mark soon arrived at his new home with Claire, her husband Warren and their family, and received the medical care he needed to ensure a better quality of life.
Time passed and Mark was officially adopted by Claire and Warren. As his experience at the orphanage became more and more distant, he found himself thinking about the kids back in Jamaica. He knew of other kids who were waiting to be adopted, but the adopting families were running into logistical and financial roadblocks.
"As he started to experience the world that he now lived in, he realized it would be really nice if he could improve the quality of life for the kids at his former orphanage," Claire said.
Mark had one hope in mind - meeting the Prime Minister of Jamaica to discuss the country's adoption process. That was his wish!
"I remember being fed one tablespoon of rice, wearing the same cloths, and bathing in dirty water," Mark said. "Knowing that I had everything here in the United States, I wanted to give back."
In June of 2011, Mark and Claire were in Kingston, Jamaica, to meet with the Prime Minister Bruce Golding. They were prepared. Mark brought information on his friends who were waiting for their adoptions to go through, as well as information and materials to help make the process much smoother in the future.
"I know the Prime Minister had a lot of power to make things move," Mark said. "We were able to get seven adoptions processed right then and there."
While in the country, Mark and Claire took a trip to visit his orphanage and threw a celebration of life party for the kids, giving them presents and a full plate of food, and ice cream and cake. Mark loved reuniting with his childhood friends, and seeing the smiles on everyone's faces. He was happy to let them know he was there to help, and be the voice they needed.
Today, Mark looks back on his wish with a happy heart. He is a member of the National Paralympic Team, is ranked as one of the fastest wheelchair sprinters in the country, and is currently featured at the Science Museum of Minnesota's Sportsology exhibit.