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The Evangelical Welfare Agency (EWA) was incorporated on May 1, 1963, but was originally licensed as a non-profit organization in 1959. The organization was founded by a group of churches belonging to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) who determined that there was a need to find Christian homes for babies abandoned due to unplanned pregnancy. The first office was opened in Whittier, CA. Nightlight maintains its affiliation with the NAE to this day (our Articles of Incorporation designate the NAE as the beneficiary of our assets upon our dissolution).
James and Shirley Dobson adopted their son Ryan through EWA and have maintained a special relationship with our organization since then, as has Focus on the Family. In 1973, the name was changed to Family Ministries, and then in 1981 to Christian Adoption and Family Services (CAFS). Domestic adoption was, and continues to be a central program for Nightlight. During this era, our organization placed over 1500 infants in Southern California. Prior to Roe v. Wade being decided in 1973, an average of 8% of pregnancies resulted in adoption. But since that date, only 1% of pregnancies now result in adoption. Consequently, the mission of our organization had to change from focusing exclusively on domestic adoption. In this era, CAFS assisted with adoptions from the Cambodian Air Lift.
Ron Stoddart had a thriving domestic adoption law practice, but with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Ron knew that there must be an opportunity for adoption from Russia. So in 1992 Ron began facilitating adoptions from the former Soviet Union. To support this international effort, he created the Nightlight Foundation. The word Nightlight connotes a warm, safe home for children. In 1994 Ron was named Executive Director of CAFS, and subsequently merged his law practice and international foundation with our organization. The name was changed in 2000 to Nightlight Christian Adoptions. Nearly 1000 children were adopted from Russia through Nightlight during this era with a strong focus on school age children. The majority were adopted by families in Southern California, who reunited each summer at our picnic. Some of these picnics had several hundred children in attendance.
Orphan Host Program and Humanitarian Aid
To assist with international adoption, Ron began Detsky Dom Partners (Russian for Children’s Home) which became a separate non-profit organization in 2009. Detsky Dom Partners raised money for and organized orphan host tours. These were primarily from Russia but later from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Colombia, Taiwan, and China. It occurred to Ron that people would adopt older children if they could only see them. But getting a large group of adopting parents to go to Russia would be difficult….easier to bring the kids to the US! With that vision, the concept of orphan host programs was born, and later turned into a global phenomenon and gave birth to other organizations and agencies doing the same. The first tour was in 1995 and over the subsequent twenty-five years, Nightlight has brought 600 kids on tours: most of whom got adopted. Most of the host programs included well-rehearsed dance and song routines with children in traditional cultural costumes. In 2011, Detsky Dom Partners changed its name to Every Child has a Name (ECHAN), in order to reflect the more global reach of our organization. ECHAN continues to be active with its own board of directors. The organization hosts an annual Monte Carlo Night as its primary fundraiser to support orphan host programs with Nightlight.
One of the couples who watched the host kids perform (the Nixons, from Southern California) were inspired to give a tithe of their estate to Nightlight in their will. We received this gift in 2015 and were able to purchase our California building which put us in a much better financial position as owners rather than renters. The host program enabled Nightlight to form strong partnerships with churches, especially Calvary Chapel of Anaheim.
In 2011 we also began Orphan Galaxy, a humanitarian fund for orphanage support, anti-trafficking efforts, vocational training, and adoption scholarships. This fund is primarily comprised of monthly $25 donors.
In 1997, John & Marlene Strege (who Ron Stoddart knew from his work with youth at a local church) were interested in adopting. They had learned that frozen embryos were being donated anonymously through clinics, but they were not comfortable with the impersonal approach to transferring the parental rights of unborn babies. They asked Ron if it was possible to “adopt” embryos. As Nightlight has proven over the years, the question wasn’t whether or not it could be done, but if this is God’s plan, how can we do it. Ron wondered, “What do people do with their left over embryos from IVF? Do you think we could get them to donate them for adoption?” The Streges reached out to Dr. Dobson at Focus on the Family about the ethical and biblical allowance for embryo adoption. Ron had committed to applying social work best-practice to embryo donation, which to that point had always been anonymous. This best practice includes a home study, matching by social workers, and openness afterward. The biggest hurdle, of course, would be getting people to donate. To this point, most clinics in the nation were lucky to have a handful of embryos available. In partnership with Focus on the Family radio broadcasts, Nightlight was able to get hundreds, and later thousands of families to donate embryos. So, where did the name “Snowflakes” come from? At Christmas time in 1997, Ron and his wife had dinner with John & Marlene Strege at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. During dinner, the Lamb’s Players gave a soliloquy about the beauty of snowflakes and how they were frozen, unique, tiny and a gift from God. (We later trademarked the name Snowflakes in 2007.) In 2002 pro-life groups asked President George Bush to halt funding of embryonic stem cell research, and Nightlight was named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government over this issue. Mr. Bush took the extra step of creating the Embryo Adoption Awareness Grant. Nightlight has received this grant every year since its inception. President Bush hosted three birthday parties at the White House for Snowflakes babies, and mentions Nightlight twice in his autobiography.
In 2013 Nightlight created Adoption Bridge as the only crowd-funding site with no overhead fee, and to also offer “Dear Birthmother” profiles and Waiting Child profiles. Since that time, the site has raised over $300,000 in adoption funding, featured nearly a thousand waiting children, and twenty thousand users, with over 6000 visits per month.
In 2008 Laura Beauvais approached Ron Stoddart about Nightlight merging with Carolina Hope Adoptions, which had a history of work in Guatemala, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This greatly increased the reach of our domestic program as we opened our SC office. In 2011 A Helping Hand Adoption found itself in sudden need of an executive director, so Ron asked Lisa Prather (who was working in the SC office) if she would help lead the agency in KY. We formally merged with AHH in 2014 after transferring the license to work in China, which became Nightlight’s largest international program. In 2015 Mike and Debbie Nomura approached Nightlight about a merger of Heritage Family Services (OK), followed by Frank Block from Love Basket in 2016, Cathy Sones from Generations Adoptions (TX) in 2017, and Michele Jackson from MLJ Adoptions (IN) in 2020. We also acquired the staff from Children’s Hope International (MO) in 2019, which strengthened our India program. We acquired the files and some assets from Embraced by Grace (FL) in 2019 and Life for Kids (FL) in 2020, which helped establish our Florida office. When asked why agencies approach Nightlight about merger, one executive director said, “the organization’s business savvy and risk tolerance.” We have also acquired a reputation among the adoption agency community as “open source” and non-competitive. Nearly all of the mergers were the result of personal relationships built in the National Christian Adoption Fellowship, a group of about a dozen agencies founded in 2009. The mergers have also been the result of an overall decline in the field of adoption, where consolidation makes sense for an economy of scale, and Nightlight stands out as having a full diversity of services to offer clients and provide for economic stability.
In 2012 Daniel Nehrbass joined Nightlight as the Executive director of the California office of Nightlight and Ron Stoddart focused on the Colorado office. Ron retired in 2013 and Daniel became Nightlight’s President. Ron later joined Nightlight’s Board of Directors. In 2012, Russia ceased intercountry adoption with the United States, forcing Nightlight to plan for a future of diverse services. In addition to a dozen other countries, Daniel made the decision to open international programs in Colombia and Haiti, which became central to our International adoption program. But the board of directors also decided to amend our mission to include foster care. We opened a foster program first in Colorado in 2013, and today each office has a foster program in the works. Nightlight added other initiatives to make the client experience more stable in the midst of a volatile field, such as “portability” of their case from one type of adoption to the next, which includes financial incentive to move to the program that will be most successful. In 2019 the Colorado accepted a challenge from the state to innovate a new type of foster placement called Homes for Hope, where permanent foster family resides in a home provided to them, and accepts emergency placements supervised by Nightlight. This partnership characterizes our organization’s commitment to “find the Yes,” boldly believing that all problems are surmountable.