S. ABINGTON TWP. — Ask 4-year-old Lori Clegg if she is Kazakhstani, and she will say “yes.”
Ask her if she is Filipino, and she will say “yes” to that, as well.
The adopted daughter of Jim and Amy Clegg was born in the Philippines and has three adoptive siblings, all of whose native cultures she enjoys making part of her life. The oldest of the siblings, Jack, 16, is from Vietnam. Diana, 14, was born in Kazakhstan. And Ryan, 6, is Jim and Amy Clegg’s biological son, born in the U.S.
Although each child is of a different nationality, they are all one family.
“We have a Kazakh camp that we go to every summer – and not just my daughter who is (from) Kazakhstan – the whole family goes,” said Amy Clegg. “Lori wears her sister’s Kazakh outfit that she grew out of. So Lori thinks she’s Kazakh – she kept telling people this summer that she’s Kazakh.”
Even red-headed Ryan attends the camp dressed in the cultural garb. And, when the family celebrates Chinese New Year, all the kids wear Chinese and Vietnamese outfits.
“We’re blended, and they learn about each other’s cultures,” Amy said.
A visitor from the past
Lori will have the opportunity to experience a unique connection with her own roots next week, when the family has a visitor all the way from the Philippines: Pauline Curtis-Smith, director of the Ruel Foundation and Ruel House, the orphanage from which the Cleggs adopted Lori at age 2.
“She wrote to me that she was coming to the U.S. and she wanted to see Lori, and we’re very excited,” Amy said. “She also told me how they (The Ruel Foundation) are expanding their operations. They’re buying the property right next to Ruel House, so that they can help more children with malnutrition and in crisis.”
While Smith is in the area, she will serve as guest speaker at an educational event, hosted by the International Business Club at The University of Scranton and sponsored by Express Employment Professionals and the Abington Heights Civic League. The presentation will focus on the foundation’s work in the Philippines. It will be integrated with a Worldwide Fashion and Art Show, featuring authentic costumes and children’s artwork from around the world.
The event, scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 on the fifth floor of Brennan Hall at the university, is free and open to the public.
A basket raffle benefiting Ruel Foundation will be included.
The Cleggs also organized several other children’s art shows, with sales benefiting the Ruel Foundation, at various venues throughout the area. One was held after a recent Filipino Mass in Scranton and another was hosted by the Abington Heights Civic League. A third is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 15 at Crossroads Church in Clarks Summit, immediately following the church’s 10 a.m. morning service and ending at noon. Artwork sales will benefit the Ruel Foundation.
Amy stressed the foundation never asked for any money, and Smith simply wanted to come see Lori. The family, however, wanted to help in any way possible.
In the Philippines
Although Lori was too young when she left the Philippines to remember her former home or “Mama Pauline,” Amy said her daughter is aware that “someone special” is coming, and the whole family is looking forward to the reunion.
“Pauline, we found out later, was actually the woman who picked us for Lori,” she said. “She went to the capitol (Manila) – that’s where they keep all of the books of all of the families waiting for a child. And she went through them (the books), and she saw us, and she liked what we do with our other children – keeping their cultures connected.”
When they adopted Lori, Jim and Amy travelled to the Philippines, spending five days at the orphanage and another three in Manila finalizing the paperwork.
“We got to live in the orphanage and play with the kids, do games with them, take them for walks,” Amy said, adding they got to see the “amazing work” Smith and the others do there.
“It was just such a happy place. We had been to other orphanages, and it wasn’t like any of the other orphanages we had seen. It wasn’t institutionalized; it was a home. And we knew it was a special place.”
When the Cleggs saw their daughter in person for the first time, she was playing on the swings in the play yard.
“We heard that she was very outgoing and loved when visitors came…but she knew that we had come for her, so she didn’t want anything to do with us,” Amy said, with a chuckle. “And then she quickly warmed up to me, but was afraid of my husband.”
She said now, however, Lori is a “daddy’s girl.”
In Lori’s own words, “I’m happy now.”
Lori loves singing and dancing and is a student of the Linn McDonald School of Dance in Scranton. She wants to be either a ballerina or an Olympic figure skater when she grows up.
For others considering adoption, Amy’s advice is to go for it.
“People say, ‘Lori is so lucky,’ or ‘your child is so lucky,’ but we’re the lucky ones,” she said. “We’re so blessed. They (children) bring so much happiness into our lives. Whether they are biological, adopted from the U.S., or adopted internationally, it’s the greatest joy.”