The bright afternoon sun cut through the cold and delivered a bit of heat Wednesday, but the smiles and joyous shrieks of the 14 children playing in the snow were warmer still.
Rosio, 13, and twin sister Alejandra had never seen snow or skidded downhill on a sled or even heard of this wintry place called Minnesota.
And neither wants to leave.
"Mucho!" Alejandra beamed when asked how much she likes it here.
Yet, unless Minnesotans step up to adopt the sisters and 12 other orphans from Colombia, they will probably never see Minnesota again. The children are here as part of the Camp of Dreams, a nonprofit all-volunteer camp run by the Friends of FANA in Minnesota, to introduce older Colombian children without families to Minnesotans willing to adopt them.
Last year, 11 children participated in the camp and all found families, said Patti Bertsch, adoption coordinator.
This year? No one yet knows — and the children return Thursday to their orphanages and foster homes in Colombia.
"These kids are going to go back, but we still need people to have interest in them," said Bertsch, who has volunteered with the program for years. "It's hard to find homes for older kids."
FANA — the Foundation for the Assistance of Ninez (Children) Abandoned — is the orphanage in Colombia that arranges the trip to Minnesota. For decades, the Friends of FANA in Minnesota has helped hundreds of families here adopt some of the children. For the past two years, they have run the Camp of Dreams so that Minnesota families can meet the children and start what is often a yearlong adoption process.
"It's hard to meet them and not fall in love with them," said Bertsch.
The children are not told they are traveling to meet potential new families. They are told only that they are going on a vacation, to avoid having hopes dashed if they aren't adopted.
But, Bertsch said, deep down they seem to know what the trip is about.
In Colombia, children leave the orphanage system at 16 and are on their own after that. There are about 5,000 orphans in Colombia looking for homes; the 14 on this trip were chosen by psychologists as having the best chance to do well in this country, Bertsch said.
Lindsay Swiggum, Camp of Dreams communications coordinator, said a motivational speaker talked with the children recently and asked them to share what's most important to them. A 10-year-old girl shot her hand into the air, Swiggum said.
"La familia," she said. A family.
The children arrived in the Twin Cities around Thanksgiving and have visited the Waterpark of America in Bloomington and other attractions. Volunteers feed them, chaperone them and organize activities. The children have been staying at the Ona Orth retreat center in Shoreview. On Wednesday, student volunteers from Spectrum High School in Elk River skidded down the snow-covered hill with them.
"I think it's really pretty cool," said Noah Rogers, a Spectrum student from Zimmerman, Minn. "They all are really nice kids. Smart and really athletic."
Jessica Argetsinger, of Mahtomedi, brought along her 4-year-old daughter, Cora, to play with kids from her home country. She adopted Cora through FANA two years ago.
"This is just a wonderful opportunity for these children and for the people who get to meet them," Argetsinger said, watching Cora slide down the hill with the other kids. "How can you not be moved?"
A few feet away, Rosio and Alejandra tossed snow into the air. Alejandra licked it. She beamed — until she was asked whether she's returning to Colombia Thursday.
"Si," she said. Then, through an interpreter: "But I don't want to go."
To learn more, contact Patti Bertsch at 612-239-5330 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or go to www.campofdreamsmn.com.
James Walsh • 651-925-5041