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DAVID PARDO, DAILY PRESS
Santa Stefanovicha, 17, second from right, spent this summer with the Marenco family in Apple Valley and will spend her first Christmas with a family in America through the New Horizons for Children to help her learn English and family life. The organization takes orphans in Eastern European nations and pairs them with American families. Santa is pictured with Michelangelo, 15, left, Rosalina, 12, Dante, 7, Davide, 3, Sara and Danny.

AV family hosts orphan from Latvia for holidays

APPLE VALLEY • Having spent most of her life in a Latvian orphanage, 17-year-old Santa Stefanovicha has never spent Christmas with family.

This year, Stefanovicha has her very own stocking hanging by the fireplace in the Marenco home in Apple Valley.

Danny and Sara Marenco and their four children first hosted Stefanovicha this summer through New Horizons for Children, a organization that takes at-risk orphans in Eastern European nations and pairs them with American families for the summer and Christmas vacation to help them learn English and experience family life.

Stefanovicha spent five weeks as part of the Marenco family this summer, experiencing the quintessential California summer with trips to Disneyland, Sea World and the beach. When she left, Sara Marenco said that her youngest son, Davide, was heartbroken.

Now with Stefanovicha back for holidays, Danny Marenco said he is excited to be able to give Stefanovicha a different Christmas experience. For the first time in her life, Stefanovicha has decorated a tree, hung a stocking, made a gingerbread house and driven by homes lit up with Christmas lights, all since she arrived on Tuesday.

Sara Marenco explained that she feels the chance to experience a family Christmas is even more meaningful than the American holiday traditions.

“Our kids get so many gifts,” Danny Marenco said. “It’s not just about getting, it’s about giving — even basic things like a family.”

As part of the New Horizons for Children program, the hosting family not only welcomes the orphan into their home but also pays for all the orphan’s expenses, including airfare.

The Marenco family has been touched by the generosity shown by others during Stefanovicha’s stay. This summer, Stefanovicha got her hair cut at a salon for the first time, and the stylist offered to do the haircut for free. Similarly, Stefanovicha was given free dental exams.

After reading about New Horizons for Children in a Christian magazine, the Marenco family went through an application process and background check before they were put in contact with Stefanovicha. Danny Marenco’s mother is an orphan, which gives the organization a special connection to the family, Sara Marenco said.

“It’s a gift for the kids to see the true meaning of Christmas,” Danny Marenco said. “Joy is in helping those less fortunate.”

While being able to provide Stefanovicha with an American experience, the family said they have gained a lot from having Stefanovicha in their lives.

“We love her,” Sara Marenco said. “She’s part of the family. Rosalie has a sister now.”

Because Stefanovicha is 17, the family cannot legally adopt her, as many families who host younger orphans through New Horizons for Children do. Instead the Marenco family dreams of helping her get a visa to study at an American university to fulfill her dream of being a lawyer or a social worker.

“We’re leaving it in God’s hands,” both parents said multiple times.

After an overwhelmingly positive experience, Danny and Sara Marenco hope that more High Desert families will consider hosting an orphan. This Christmas season, 18 Eastern European orphans are visiting California out of a total of 227 orphans visiting the United States.

“There are a lot of kids out there who need a chance,” Sara Marenco said.

For more information visit www.NewHorizonsForChildren.org.

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