Saving Dawson: In the heart of Plano, a movement has started to empty orphanages worldwide

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Photos by Taylor Alvarado

“Plano is the BEST place to raise kids. Every corner has a parkeither a park or a mega-church,” jokes Amy Clary, a businesswoman and mother of four. In the Clary Cottage, red Chinese lanterns hover in the entrance hall. Kids and toys are everywhere, and every inch is childproofed. It’s a place of life, motivation and lovewith the usual trials. “I’m ready to be out of the diaper stage. I’ve been there for, like, five years,” Amy says, pulling a face. She is a dreamer, an idea-woman who, with her husband,Chris, is raising four kids and has founded several successful businesses: KeyStaff, Segway Nation, Flip Flop FlipBooks and Picture Parties.

But really, I came to the Clary house to meet Dawson Clary, or “Dada,” a Chinese orphan recently adopted by the Clarys. Dawson is 4-years-old. He came to Texas in September and, at my last count in October, has already amassed an English vocabulary of over 100 words. He shares a room with siblings Charley K and Castle to give them a chance to spend time together and help him acclimate, since he’s accustomed to being surrounded by lots of kids.

Dawson is also just a bit famous. His ecstatic reunion with his best friend from the orphanage, Hannah, recently made world headlines. Hannah was adopted first by a North Texas family who were so sad to be separating the two that they pled, through friends and family, for someone to adopt Dawson so the friends could stay together. The Clarys answered the call and Dawson and Hannah’s pure, unadulterated joy at their reunion melted hearts worldwide. The Clary’s DVR is packed with clips of it on CNN, NBC, Fox and more. They may only have five minutes of fame, but Amy is using it to launch her new life’s goal: Advocating for adoption. As the Clary family mission statement says, what’s more important than saving babies?

The Clarys started by fostering children, which she credits with opening their eyes to the staggering number of children desperately in need of safe, loving families. “We once had three abused children in our home within a week, and that isn’t even a fraction of what’s out there…I was so angry, angry at God mostly.” Their wake-up call came at just the right time. A week after they stopped fostering, they saw their first pictures of Dawson and began the long process of adopting him.

“They call it the paperwork pregnancy. You start building a connection with that child in your heart.” Amy fell in love with Dawson through pictures, often of Dawson and Hannah together. “Every time you get a picture, it’s like getting an ultrasound. You’re like: Oh my gosh, it’s moving; look, it’s sucking its thumb! And then poof! You have to leave, and you can’t wait until the next one. That’s what it was like whenever an update on Dawson would come.” The paperwork pregnancy was a time of growing love but growing doubts for Amy as well, since Dawson was halfway across the world, out of sight and out of reach. With three kids already, it was daunting to consider adding another and easy to doubt whether it was the right choice, financially and personally, particularly when it was discovered that Dawson has hydrocephalus, water in the brain, which can cause some developmental delays. Amy’s mother had the best advice to any family considering adoption: “Your fear does not mean that this child does not need loving parents.” Dawson is now a part of the Clary pack, in a loving home where he’s being cherished and provided for.

“Every night it’s like Christmas Eve with him,” Amy says. “Every night there’s that excitement, there’s the pitter-patter of feet running back and forth.” One child down, a whole world to go.

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Nowadays, Amy and Chris spend their time advocating for adoption on behalf of orphans and abandoned children across the world. For them, it’s a God-given mission to reach out to families who are pursuing adoption. Utilizing their own experience, they hope they can empathize and ease some of their fears and, if needed, bridge the financial gap. It can cost $35,000 to adopt a child. For some families, the money isn’t there. But according to Amy, “the money’s here. It’s in all of our pockets. There are lots of families with open hearts and homes who would love to adopt but don’t have the means. I want to step in for them.”

A true visionary, Amy is already knee-deep in grassroots fundraising from her Facebook page using the hashtag #LetsSaveBabiesTogether, while planning efforts on a national scale and working with contacts at The Gladney Center for Adoption. One of her plans is 25 Divine Adoptions, a book full of true adoption stories told by the parents themselves, including, of course, Dawson’s story.

“I want to publish the book, I want to make millions, and I want every penny of it to go towards getting these kids into loving families.” Amy hopes that, in addition to raising funds, it will raise awareness about the staggering number of children who need care, encourage families who wish to adopt and inspire others to do the same.

Amy and Chris also regularly pick a couple of kids from orphanages like Dawson’s to personally support with social media blasts, pictures and videos. They even donate their own money to the new families to help with hefty adoption fees. Often, during the course of their advocacy, friends and family members will donate money towards the children’s adoption as well, which to Amy, is no surprise. “You see these videos, and you can’t help but fall in love,” she explains.

At this point, Dawson runs out to join us. Amy encourages him to show us how he can count to 10, so he does, very shyly and quietly, while she counts it off with him on her fingers. He scrambles into her lap after counting and pulls on her sleeve, needing something.

“Do you want a banana?” she asks and he shakes his head. “You want to show Mama? Want to go inside? Watch tv? You want a show? What’s wrong, Dada? What’s wrong, love?” As they talk, a few Mandarin words slip into her vocabulary until“Want to watch Super Wings?” Dawson lights up. This is the jackpot, a cartoon that had been available in China as well as here, and Dawson’s favorite show.

With Dawson in her lap, Amy is at peace. A financial issue and a heart issue, she can attest that the process of adoption is daunting and humbling. But she’s holding the proof that the struggle is more than worth it if, at the end of the day, a child finds a home.

“Love grows. Some people have an instant connection, which is such a gift,” Amy says to me, rubbing Dawson’s back. “But love grows.”

#LetsSaveBabiesTogether

Originally published in Plano Profile‘s December 2016 issue.