Three stressful years filled with legal snags, violent food riots in Haiti and a devastating earthquake that forever changed the poor Caribbean country couldn’t keep the Gorackes from bringing their little 7-year-old boy home.
Jason and Heather Goracke always wanted to adopt. The couple had their own biological son, Brayden, who is now 8 and in the second grade at Gilbert’s Rancho Solano Private School.
But the family was not complete. They began researching, hoping to find an older child from a country where the need was greatest.
The search led to Haiti, and then to Russia. That was September 2006.
After the Gorackes saw a picture of a sweet little Haitian boy, they fell in love with his smile and his big, brown eyes. They started the adoption process for Evens Paul, his birth name, though the family calls him Evens.
At the same time, the Gorackes were able to adopt 18-month-old JT from Russia in January 2007. However, that process was much easier and only took six months.
The family visited Haiti three times. In March 2007, Jason Goracke visited the orphanage in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where Evens Paul lived. He remembers the little boy being very shy, but he still gave Jason a hug. They spent three days together.
“Right away he said, 'That’s my dad,’” said Goracke, 36, an electrical contractor who graduated from Chandler High School.
The family kept in touch with Evens Paul through phone calls, and they sent him packages from home.
In April 2008, Jason, Heather and Brayden visited Evens Paul as a family for the first time. When they stepped off the plane, they knew something wasn’t right. Haiti was in the middle of food riots. The boy was tossed into the car and the family was driven to a nearby hotel for safety.
“We saw tanks zooming by. I didn’t know what was going on,” said Heather Goracke, 37, a real estate broker and a Gilbert High School graduate. “He (Evens Paul) grabbed my hand and held it tight. He felt comfortable enough, even though he was afraid and knew something was going on.”
Despite the chaos, the couple was able to introduce Brayden to Evens Paul, and the two became instant friends. The family was able to spend a week together while shielding the boys from the riots around them.
“Brayden and Evens played soccer, swam and got along great. There was an instant connection,” Heather said.
“It was difficult to leave. We were taking home one boy, but leaving one boy there. It was awful. I couldn’t stop crying.”
A NEW LAW AND A MAJOR CATASTROPHE
In September 2009, Jason went back to Haiti to sign adoption paperwork. However, the presidency of the county had changed and re-enacted a law the previous July. It said that if a family has a biological child already, it can’t adopt a Haitian child without the president’s signature.
An already long process became even more difficult.
Jason Goracke was told by the adoption agency that the family was close to taking Evens Paul home. They just needed the adoption decree.
However, Jan. 12, the day after their Haitian lawyer was supposed to be in court for the decree, a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale rocked the country. They haven’t heard from the lawyer since and are not sure if he is alive.
When the Gorackes heard the news, they thought they would never get Evens Paul home. The Petionville orphanage was very close to where the earthquake hit. Although the building was still standing, the children had to sleep outside in makeshift tents.
“We were pretty hopeless, but didn’t want to give up,” Heather said. “After the food riots, which wasn’t a fraction of this problem, we were concerned about (the orphanage’s) food and water supply. The adoption agency just told us to take it day by day.”
The Gorackes called family friend Dr. Barth Green for help.
Green, co-founder of the nonprofit Project Medishare, has traveled back and forth from Miami to Haiti since the organization’s inception in 1994.
Shortly after that call, on Jan. 18, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State, announced a humanitarian parole policy allowing orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States.
Although the parole was granted temporarily on an individual basis, Evens Paul was free to join his family in the U.S. The family has two years to finish the adoption process.
Green was able to coordinate with retired basketball player Alonzo Mourning and Philadelphia 76ers center Samuel Dalembert to help out. The two basketball players were in Haiti providing relief and were flying back to Miami.
Dalembert is a Haitian Canadian and was able to speak Creole, Haiti’s native language, with Evens Paul.
The athletes were able to secure Evens Paul a flight home with them, and Mourning stayed with the little boy until Jason Goracke met up with them in Miami Jan. 19.
After help from a lawyer to finish the processing, Jason was able to give Evens Paul a big hug.
“He had a big smile on his face and asked, 'We go fly?’” Jason said. It’s a common term among Haitian orphans that means, “Are we going home?”
Jason and Evens Paul flew to the Valley on Jan. 20 and met Heather, Brayden, JT and other family members at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“The kids just had great big hugs for him. It was just perfect,” Heather said. “Everyone (in the airport) was clapping.”
The Gorackes are focusing on getting the little boy acclimated to his new home in Gilbert. They enrolled him in first grade at Rancho Solano Private School.
“It’s been great. The stress is off all of us,” Heather said. “The first few days were scary for Evens. He kept asking if he had to go home.
“Every day he laughs a little more and is getting more comfortable,” she said.
Although the Gorackes still need to get Evens Paul legally released from Haiti and need a statement from Haitian President Rene Preval, “at this point it’s not our highest priority,” Heather said.
“We’ve been very surprised how well he’s doing,” Jason said.
Evens Paul is learning how to ride a bike, is enjoying new American foods, especially spaghetti, and is excited to play with his brothers. He’s sharing a sports-themed room with Brayden. The boys share a bunk bed and play with the punching bag and athletic floor mats that line a corner of the room and part of the walls.
On Wednesday, a week after Evens Paul came home, he looked at ease with his Diamondbacks cap, Gap shirt and blue jeans. A fan of Michael Jackson, he sang a couple lines from the song “Beat It” while playing on the top bunk with his brothers.
“I’m so happy he’s home,” Jason said.