History

"You Can't Keep Me From This Child" -
The Beginnings of Universal Aid for Children, Inc.

by Kathryn Watterson, Working Mother Magazine
Photo © Don Preisler

When Lorri Kellogg came home to her Miami apartment one summer evening in 1972, kicked off her shoes, poured herself a glass of wine and flicked on the television, she had no idea that within moments, her life--and the lives of thousands of other people--would begin to change dramatically.

The click of a dial on that one summer evening eventually motivated Kellogg to adopt four children, change her profession, lead campaigns against federal immigration laws and state adoption statutes and start an international adoption and relief agency for children.

At the time, Lorri Kellogg, a divorced woman in her early 30's, was a successful executive for a large real-estate firm. She had always assumed she would have children, but during her marriage she had two ectopic pregnancies, followed by tumors that required a hysterectomy. Before her marriage ended, she had wanted to adopt a child, but her husband refused. In the years following her divorce she had put her dream of being a mother on hold, and enjoyed her life as a single professional woman. She lived in a luxury high-rise apartment building overlooking Biscayne Bay and spent her spare time scuba diving, blue-water sailing, swimming with dolphins and playing tennis. She channeled her activism into volunteer work for Prisoners of War Missing in Action, which she founded in 1970 after meeting a woman whose husband was missing action in Vietnam. On weekends, she often sailed to the Bahamas with a group of friends. That was until the pivotal evening in 1972.

"I was exhausted, and I didn't feel like being with anyone or talking," Kellogg recalls. "I was flipping the channels, looking for something that would help me relax. Suddenly I saw a group of little, sad, Oriental faces and I heard Art Linkletter's voice in the background talking about how these Korean orphans needed food and clothing. He said that just twelve dollars a month would make a difference in each child's life.

"I was moved. Like a lot of Americans, I wrote to the agency immediately after the program and enclosed a check. I asked to sponsor a girl. The idea of doing something for a child appealed to me." About three weeks later, Kellogg got a picture frown an orphanage in Cheon Chun, Korea, of an infant named Uhm, Myung Sook. "It was a tiny black-and-white wallet-size snapshot of this beautiful little baby," says Kellogg. "Her hair was wispy around her face and she had the saddest almond-shaped eyes I'd ever seen. A short letter that came with the picture said Myung Sook was three months old and was a healthy, happy baby who ate well and slept well."

For about three months, Kellogg simply sent her monthly check of $12 to pay for Myung Sook's food and clothing. But she kept looking at the photograph and thinking about the little girl, wondering about her future and what her life would be like as a girl child in Korea who'd been abandoned and given an assumed name. Kellogg went to the library and read everything she could find on Korea. She learned that with no family registry or knowledge of her father's ancestry, the infant would most likely grow up ostracized, with no promise of an education or opportunity to marry. It was then, in early 1973, that Kellogg wrote a letter asking if Myung Sook was available for adoption.

A CHANCE TO BECOME A MOTHER

Myung Sook was available, and it looked as if Kellogg had only to prove that she would be a fit mother. The opportunity to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother seemed to be presenting itself.

"At the time, it seemed so simple," says Kellogg. "I thought I'd prove that I could be a good mother and then pick up my baby at the airport. Boy, was I wrong!"

After getting a Korean agency to agree to process the adoption of the daughter she had decided to call "Jaime" (pronounced Jay-mee), Kellogg ran into a serious problem. Because she was single and wanted to adopt a foreign child, private and state adoption agencies refused even to send her an application. Nor would they do a home visit that would evaluate her suitability to be an adoptive parent. Without the home study, she could not adopt Jaime.

This didn't shake Kellogg's determination. She was so sure that she would get Jaime that she began to plan for her future. She decided that the best way to prepare to support Jaime when she did arrive, provide her with playmates and spend time with her during working hours would be to quit her lucrative real-estate career and open a licensed day care center for preschoolers. More than two years before Jaime Myung Sook actually came to this country, Lorri Kellogg started looking for a house with dual zoning for home and day care.

Even her mother thought she was going overboard. "She asked me, 'Why do you want to do this anyway?' " Kellogg remembers. "She pointed out that I had my freedom and my friends. I could come and go as I wanted. She kept saying, 'What about your career? What about money?'" But Kellogg didn't have any doubts. "I wasn't worried about the money," she insists. "As for quitting my job--that was just a well-thought-out change designed to meet the primary interests of my child. Basically, I wanted Jaime to have at least a mother-- I believed that one parent was better than an orphanage--and I wanted to be her mother. It was as simple as that. And I wasn't going to let anybody stop me!"

It took Kellogg a year, but with help from Travelers Aid International Social Services in New York City, an international children's relief agency, and thorough research of adoption statutes, she discovered that she had the right to a home study, because she had already supported Jaime for a year. The state finally scheduled the home visit, and four months later she was approved.

A thrilled and expectant Kellogg went to the local office of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration of Homeland Security) and presented all of the necessary documentation to bring Jaime Myung Soak to Florida. But the immigration officer looking at the forms raised a new issue: Kellogg's husband hadn't signed any of the forms. Of course he hadn't signed them, Kellogg explained; they were divorced. The INS officer then unveiled a shocker. He informed Kellogg that US law prohibited single people from petitioning to adopt foreign-born children.

"I asked him 'Why?' and he said, 'It's the law,"' Kellogg recaps. " 'But why is it the law?' I kept asking, 'Why?' He said he didn't know, that was just the way it was." Kellogg was devastated. "I don't cry easily, but I cried all night long."

Never a quitter, Kellogg began her campaign to change the law the very next day. For two years, she lobbied, wrote letters and contacted the press to drum up support for a new law that would allow single people to adopt foreign-born children.

With the backing of Representative William Lehman (D-Fla.) and Senator Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), that bill was finally signed into law.

Kellogg then took all of her documentation back to the INS office where she had become a familiar figure. When she walked in, everyone cheered. "I didn't know if it was because of Jaime or because they were glad to be getting rid of me," says Kellogg, "but I was ready thrived."

Jaime was to become the first foreign- born child to be adopted by a single mother with the approval of both governments. "Lorri had the perseverance and determination to overcome obstacles that would have deterred a lesser person," Representative Lehman recaps.

LONG-AWAITED ARRIVAL

On April 9, 1976, Jaime Susan (Myung Sook) Kellogg--a dazed, tired, rumpled little girl--arrived at Kennedy airport in New York City, where Kellogg was waiting. Jaime was four years and two months old. She was wearing winter leggings and Mary Jane shoes--a size too small--on the wrong feet. When she put her hand into her new mother's, she looked up, screamed, and threw herself on the ground, kicking and crying.

Kellogg--who had been working for over three years to bring this child home--hadn't expected it to be easy. But she was shaken. "I said to myself, what have I done to this poor child?" The Korean escort who had accompanied Jaime on the flight from Seoul to New York City stepped in, and encouraged Kellogg to take Jaime. Kellogg took a deep breath, picked up her exhausted, wailing daughter and carried her through the airport with everyone staring.

"She'd just come off a twenty-hour flight and a thirteen-hour time change, and she realized she was going to have to go with this stranger," says Kellogg. "I think it was just too much for her."

That night mother and daughter stayed overnight at Kellogg's aunt's apartment in New York. Kellogg wanted to hug Jaime but she didn't want to overwhelm her, so she turned on the television. Jaime squatted on her heels, Asian style, in front of it. Kellogg gave her a banana and watched as Jaime took a bite and pushed the banana up against the screen to give Gene Kelly a bite. Then Kellogg made two bowls of rice and brought them into the living room. She sat down and waited. Jaime watched and then gave a little grin. Finally, she sat down beside her new mother, picked up her bowl of rice and began eating, chattering in Korean between mouthfuls.

"Once she got over that initial hurdle, she began to trust me," Kellogg remembers with a smile, "and I understood that the way to my little girl's heart was through her stomach. " Jaime was so lovable, says Kellogg, that it made it easy for her to feel like a good mother, even though she was new at the job: "Jaime would sing me Korean folk songs and I'd read her Cinderella and Snow White. We'd laugh and giggle, but we didn't understand each other's words at all. Although I had studied a few Korean phrases, they didn't help much. But she was a delightful child. She made everything easy. Even when she was learning English, she was never frustrated. I'd say 'water' and she'd say 'mool.' I had learned how to say 'eatie-wah,' which means 'come here' in Korean, and so I'd say, 'eatie-wah' and she'd say, 'come ere' and laugh and run in the other direction."

MORE CHILDREN FOLLOW

Kellogg's five-bedroom house in Pompano Beach, Florida, is now home to three more foreign-born daughters Kellogg says were "born to" her heart: Tarabeth JJ (Hee Jin) arrived from Korea when she was twenty three-months-old. Two years later, Jillian Kathryn (Lee, HeeJung) joined the growing Kellogg family. Finally, Sara Patricia Jan, who had initially come to the United States from El Salvador for medical treatment, became an official Kellogg family member.

Sara came from the El Salvadoran village of Tenancingo, which was obliterated in 1983. She was severely burned by kerosene during a bombing, and has undergone 10 operations for reconstructive surgery on her upper torso since 1985, when she joined the lively Kellogg clan. Two Miami doctors have volunteered their services for all of these operations and for the at least 12 more operations Sara faces in an effort to restore her body to normalcy.

As if one mother and four daughters were not enough, the Kellogg abode is also home to Brandy, a Doberman given to wearing scarves and T-shirts; Toto, a poodle; and four cats of various colors and temperaments--Samantha (Sam), Fredricka (Fred), Missy and Patches. At times, when the pitch of activity seems to run too high among sisters, friends, dates, nonstop telephone conversations and teenage complaints, Kellogg jokes with her daughters, "Remember the good old' days when you couldn't speak English?!"

Kellogg ran her day care program for just three years before starting something much larger. She is the founder and executive director of Universal Aid for Children (UAC), a nonprofit adoption and medical relief agency based in Miami. The idea for the agency came from hundreds of letters and calls Kellogg received during her campaign to adopt Jaime. Most of the people who contacted her wanted to know how to go about adopting a foreign child. Since the founding of UAC in 1977, the agency has placed more than 800 foreign-born babies and older children with mostly American and some European families. UAC has also distributed over 200,000 pounds of clothing, medical supplies and food to children in Central and South America and Asia.

Kellogg has managed all this despite a tight budget, only four full-time and three part-time office staff members and a heavy dependence on volunteers to do the lion's share of the work. "I promised the Man Upstairs that if I could be Jaime's mother, I'd do what I could to help other children," says Kellogg, "and I've kept that promise."

Since 1980, Kellogg has made more than 36 trips into war-torn El Salvador, as part of her agency's work. On many of the trips, either Jaime, Tarabeth or Jillian has gone along and worked beside Kellogg, bathing and feeding orphaned children and giving them clothing and toys, crutches and wheelchairs. The girls have also helped their mother escort dozens of children to the United States for medical care.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who does as much as Lorri does for kids, " says Robert Fulford, adoption specialist for the Florida office of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, in Tallahassee, who often works on the adoption cases Kellogg's agency is involved in. "She not only has one of the strongest adoption agencies in the state, but she also heads this other UAC effort of securing help for injured children. She finds medical professionals and hospitals who are willing to provide low-cost or no- cost medical services for these kids--and that's difficult!"

Members of William Lehman's office in Washington sometimes refer to Lorri Kellogg as the "Mother Teresa of the Southern Hemisphere." At least one staffer was personally touched by Kellogg's efforts. "I wouldn't be as happy a mother as I am without Lorri Kellogg," says Adele Liskov, of Lehman's foreign affairs staff. Liskov adopted her daughter through UAC after beginning to handle mail from Kellogg some 11 years ago.

"Kellogg cares so much about the children, and that makes all the difference," says Liskov. "She's never lost sight of the fact that children have a right--a human right--to live in a family. The nice thing about the agency is that so many people have come to UAC from agencies where they were rejected on arbitrary grounds. If you have a lot to offer a child, she's not going to chase you away just because you're single or because you're forty-one instead of forty."

As for Kellogg, the thrill of helping children get the care they need and being a part of helping them find happy, loving families is a job that can't be beat. "What ready touches me is the difference love can make," she says. "You see those sad little faces and then, within months, when these families come to our UAC get- togethers, you see bright eyes and happy faces, and it tells you everything you need to know!"

At times Kellogg worries that her modest salary from UAC isn't enough to ensure her daughters' future needs. "Sometimes I feel guilty because I could go back into my business and earn so much more money," she says. "Actually, my idea was to use my administrative background to formulate the agency and then go back into my real-estate career. But I'm still with the agency, and I probably will be until I die. Fortunately, in our family, we know we're rich in our lives, not in things. And all five of us know that helping children is absolutely wonderful work."