As an adult, Lauren McCroskie, a CNA on 5th Floor Hospital, dreamed of returning to her homeland of China. She was just 4 ½ months old when her mom, Dana, who works as a unit secretary, and dad, Mike, adopted her from an orphanage in Fuzhou located in the Jiangxi Province.

Growing up, Lauren didn’t think much about her Chinese heritage as she embraced the American teenager lifestyle wearing stylish clothing, listening to popular music and going to school.

But, as she matured, her thoughts turned to her birth country and the people who lived there. “Now, I think a lot about how my life would be different if I was still in the orphanage, and sometimes I get emotional,” Lauren said.

Lauren and Dana McCroskie with orphans in China

Lauren appreciates the opportunities provided by her parents, including her college education. Now, at age 23, she hopes to further her education and fulfill her dream to become a doctor. “It would be a blessing and a calling to give back and impact others through medicine,” she said. “I always wanted to be a doctor because the human body is amazing, and I want to help people, so medicine is a good mix.”

A Return to the Beginning

In May, Lauren fulfilled a dream to give back to her native country as a volunteer. She traveled with her mom and her sister, Ellie, also adopted as an infant from China. The trio volunteered at Alenah’s Home, an orphanage for special needs children ranging in age from infancy to 9 years old.

“This was a life-changing experience. Never did I expect these children to be so open to love and so willing to let us into their lives despite their circumstances.”

The children tugged at their hearts and brought smiles, laughter and tears. “This was a life-changing experience. Never did I expect these children to be so open to love and so willing to let us into their lives despite their circumstances,” Lauren said.

While it took Dana a year to adopt Lauren in 1995, adoptions can now take up to nine years for a healthy child and 1 ½ years for a special needs child. Lauren explained that China’s long-standing one daughter per family policy has led to a reduction in population and a shortage of laborers.

Making a Difference

Many of the children at Alenah’s Home have Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy. They come to the orphanage for rehabilitation, and many will stay for years. Some are deaf, blind or paralyzed. All have been abandoned by their parents.

During their two-week visit, Lauren, Dana and Ellie worked 12-hour days. They played with the children, sang and worked on basic life skills, such as walking and crawling. They also taught English, stimulated muscle use, helped with meals, and supported daily hygiene and personal care.

For Dana, this visit was different compared to previous visits, when she stayed in hotels while adopting her daughters. Instead, Dana, Lauren and Ellie stayed in the orphanage, which meant a community shower and a cot for a bed, intermittent air conditioning, and pre-purchased electricity that sometimes stopped.

Little girl at orphanage

At the grocery store, they noticed no dairy products, including milk. Kitchens lacked ovens, but they did find a Pizza Hut. One night they purchased pizza to thank the staff. “Most of them didn’t know how to eat pizza. I saw someone trying to eat pizza with chopsticks,” Dana smiled. “We definitely mixed both worlds that night.” Dana also noticed the city now has subways, more cars and more people living farther out of the city.

“During this visit, we all experienced a love for the culture and an appreciation for the traditions,” Lauren said. “I definitely want to go back.”