Submitted photo##In the Philippines, Larry Vollmer, right, prepares for a bike riding session with youngsters who are looking for permanent homes. Vollmer is an ambassador for Holt International, an adoption agency.
Submitted photo##In the Philippines, Larry Vollmer, right, prepares for a bike riding session with youngsters who are looking for permanent homes. Vollmer is an ambassador for Holt International, an adoption agency.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Advocating for adoption

That’s exactly what Vollmer was hoping would happen. That’s why he went.

“We were there to serve kids, so we could come back and tell other families what the kids were really like,” he said.

Now Vollmer is continuing his mission to help find permanent homes for the other children he met during his trip as an ambassador for Holt International Children’s Services.

ALSO: Impressions of the Philippines

Based in Eugene, Holt is one of the foremost agencies dedicated to matching American parents with adoptable children from around the world. It’s the agency Vollmer and his wife, Heidi, used when they adopted their daughter, Dana, so it holds a fond spot in their hearts.

The Vollmers like the Holt agency because its primary focus is helping children. “They want to place kids in the right home,” he said, “not just any home, but an environment in which they’ll be successful.”

Encouraged by his wife and his daughter, now in middle school, Vollmer volunteered to become a Holt ambassador.

“I knew Larry would be awesome with the kids, especially the older kids,” his wife said. “He’s a big kid himself.”

It wouldn’t be his first effort to help children, after all. He serves on the McMinnville School Board and teaches Sunday school at his church, the Nazarene Church on the Hill.

Vollmer was one of several ambassadors flying to the Philippines in May with Holt staff members.

They visited orphanages in Manilla, the capital, and Cebu City, a major metropolitan area. During five-day stays in each place, they spent plenty of time playing with kids considered hard to place.

In many cases, these children are older — at least 8 or 9 — and many adoptive parents are seeking infants or toddlers. Some children also face physical or emotional challenges.

Additionally, most, like the girl now in the process of being adopted, come with brothers or sisters. And it’s harder for agencies to find homes for sibling groups than for individuals.

“We don’t want to split them up,” Vollmer said. “Their siblings are the only family they have.”

Most of the kids have spent much of their lives in orphanages. Some were given up by families who couldn’t care for them.

Some had been removed from their families because of abuse or other problems. A few have lost their parents to death.

“To hear the back story of some just breaks your heart,” Vollmer said. “All they want is a family, a place of their own.”

Because of cultural mores and poverty in their own country, he said, “The best chance they have is to come to a Western culture. Here, they’ll have less challenges and more opportunities.”

Vollmer and his fellow ambassadors visited several orphanages, including facilities run by the Catholic Church and private French and American nonprofits. All were clean and pleasant, he said.

They are staffed by people who truly care about the children, he said. They send the kids to school and let them have fun playing and going on group outings.

Basic needs are met, he said, but the youngsters don’t have the opportunities or individual attention they would in homes of their own. “It’s not like being part of a family,” he said.

While their first language is Tagalog, most of the children speak English quite well.

Some were shy about trying it with the American visitors, Vollmer said. But once they started, communication was no problem.

“They called me ‘Kuya,’ which means uncle,” he said. “It’s a term of respect for an older man. Or they called me ‘Big Larry.’”

Vollmer had a secret weapon when it came to breaking the ice with the kids:

He wore a colorful bandanna tied on his head to protect his skin from the intense tropical sun. When the kids pulled the cloth off, they discovered he has no hair — a novelty in the Philippines.

“They thought my bald head was the coolest thing,” he said.

At the end of the trip, he said, one of his favorite children asked if she could keep his bandanna. When he tells that story, his voice breaks.

Most of the orphanages feature basic recreational facilities. But the Holt group took children on outings to resorts, malls and beaches as well, in order to get to know them in a neutral environment — “places they could just be kids.”

Vollmer, 46, plunged right in with the play, shooting hoops and enduring the teasing of children whose basketball skills already surpassed his own. He rode bikes, went swimming and took part in other outdoor activities. He joined in games of Uno or dominoes and helped with art projects and T-shirt painting.

“The kids really seemed at ease around me,” he said. “They’d be hanging around me, hanging off me.”

At the end of each lengthy day, he said, “I was exhausted.” But it was well worth the expenditure in energy.

The highlight of the trip, he said, was “spending the time with the kids — hearing kids laughing and having fun, just getting to be kids.”

He said, “The kids were silly, funny. They loved the attention.

“They wanted to tell their stories to adults who would listen. I just wanted to help them.”

Oftentimes, parents hoping to adopt look through brochures with pictures and limited descriptions of children — name, age and a few basic likes and dislikes.

They can learn a great deal more from ambassadors such as Vollmer.

For example, he noticed a boy who seemed very quiet and standoffish. “He was polite, and nice, but he was always on the edge, never joining in,” he said.

One morning, he saw the boy sitting by himself. “Want to play basketball?” Vollmer asked.

During the next hour, the boy laughed and talked and showed his spirit as they shot hoops. But when other children arrived, the boy withdrew.

Vollmer realized the boy was just shy. Now he can tell prospective parents how delightful the child becomes when shown some one-on-one attention.

“You only get to find out things like that if you meet them in person,” he said.

Vollmer is planning to speak to church groups and other gatherings about the children he met, adoption and international adoption in general, and related topics. For more information, or to schedule a talk, contact him at 503-830-6663 or .