Nekoosa family finds hope in adoption after losing son
by Colby Robertson
NEKOOSA (WAOW) -- In June of 2007, a Nekoosa family lost their autistic son Benjy after he wandered away from home. Today, we catch up with the Heil's and tell you how two young lives have forever changed through his death.
Cindy and Richard Heil continue to cope with the death of their son, Benjy, everyday. They've put their faith in God and have found some good can come from tragedy.
It's a day that changed the Heil Family forever. June of 2007, they lost their son, the youngest of eight kids. 7-year-old Benjy Heil wandered away from his Nekoosa home. Volunteers searching for five long days. The young boy with severe autism eventually found dead in a nearby pond. Little did they know that day, that tragedy would one day lead them to Sintayehu.
At the time of Benjy's death, the Heil's neighbors Tom and Dawn Johnson were in the process of adopting their third child from Ethiopia a little boy named Joseph. The high price of adoption, more than $20,000, was the main thing standing in their way.
That's when they got a call from the Heil's. They wanted to donate a portion of Benjy's memorial fund and help the Johnson's bring Joseph home.
Cindy Heil says, "It seemed a good place where at least a life would come out of Benjy's death and it would count for something."
Together Cindy and Dawn flew to Ethiopia to pick up Joseph Benjamin, named after little Benjy.
Dawn Johnson says, "In a way Benjy lives on. You know and we're just very very grateful. The Heil's will forever hold a special place in our heart as we watch that little guy grow."
But the trip turned into so much more. During a goodbye ceremony at the orphanage Cindy set her sights on Sintayehu.
Heil says, "They were all real little 3, 4, 5 years old and then there was one older girl among them and that was our Sintayehu."
Johnson says, "Those two connected and I had my arms full of Joseph on the way home and her heart was full of Sintayehu and brought her home in her heart."
Just last month, the Heil's officially adopted 10-year-old Sintayehu bringing her home to Nekoosa.
Heil says, "I can't think of anything that makes the coping easier, but I am glad to see something good come out of it. I think it's something I would have been willing to do anyway, but Benjy's death and Joseph opened up the door for it to be possible."
Johnson says, "It's a tough loss of little Benjy. Nobody can take the place of that precious little boy, but two children have come home through his loss."
A loss that's touched so many lives. Wendy Schlaefer also adopted from the same Ethiopian orphanage in 2008. Since then Schlaefer and her husband have started an orphan ministry at their Wisconsin Rapids Church, Saint Luke's.
Wendy Schlaefer says, "We started doing a little research and we discovered that there are over 140 million orphans in the world and about 1/3 of families in America consider adopting but only 2% do and there's two reasons for that. Lack of information and it's very expensive."
The price of adoption is huge costing families between $20,000 - $40,000. Starting Christ's Hands for Children is the first step to a long term goal helping other families afford adoption.
Johnson says, "They have the home, they have the heart and they have the love, but the finances are hard."
These three women forever tied together tied together through a tragic death and a love for giving. These kids once in desperate need of a home have finally found that here. A loving home and loving parents.
Johnson says, "You just see a lot of good that has come forth in a great loss."
Saturday, February 20th is the first "Work on the Heils' House-a-Thon." These adoptions, which gave Joseph and Sintayehu new life, exceeded the funds in Benjy's memorial and have left the Heil's unable to afford much-needed home repairs.
Saturday, 10-15 volunteers will spend the day fixing the Heil's home. They'll replace carpet, the garage door and ceiling tiles. The money the receive through sponsors will be used to purchase repair materials and to establish an adoption fund at Saint Luke's in Wisconsin Rapids to help other families wit adoption expenses.
If you would like to contribute to Christ's Hands for Children you can send a check to Saint Luke's Lutheran Church and write "Adoption Fund" in the memo line. Your gift is tax-deductible.