Elena Bates of Mesa is only 15, but she has lived two very distinct lives.
The first life was dim. She was an orphan in Russia, slated for factory work and had never set foot into a school.
The second life is brighter. Today she is a thriving teen who enjoys tennis and has college aspirations.
The change was the result of her being adopted at the age of 7 by Morgan Bates, founder of Project Hope, a nonprofit organization that assists American families with overseas adoptions.
Project Hope, now called Family Hope International, is in its third year and has provided homes to 82 orphaned children from Russia. The organization plans to bring children from Moldova to the United States this summer.
The adopted families and children got together at a Dobson Ranch pool Saturday for a reunion and to celebrate how far the children have come since arriving in the United States.
"She’s our success story," Bates said of her adopted daughter. But, she’s not the only one.
Ron and Donna Barney, a Gilbert couple, adopted 13-year-old Julia from Russia.
The Barneys already had three children, ages 6, 14 and 20, all of whom were adopted from birth within the United States.
Although the Barneys were uncertain about adding another child to their household, it was their 20-year-old son who convinced them it was the right decision.
"My 20-year-old looked at her and said, ‘Mom, she’s precious. She’s the missing link to our family,’ " Donna Barney said.
That was all the convincing necessary although the Barneys soon found out the adoption would not be easy.
Apart from having to wait four months for the adoption certification from the U.S. side to go through, they had to wait another two months for the Russian certification to be approved. Julia has been in the states for two months now and is a "big hit" at Gilbert Junior High.
Many parents said that the biggest difficulty in adopting a child from another country is the language barrier.
Donna Barney said she can’t wait for another year or two when she and Julia can have heart-to-heart talks.
Barney said she’d like to know if "this was the idea of a family Julia had in mind."
If you’re interested:
To learn more about international adoption, call (480) 924-1779 or