When Jennifer and Hector Sanchez first met baby Sofia, she had never been outside, she had never had a real bath, and she had never been held or played with like a baby should. She was 16 months old and had lived her entire life in a Ukrainian orphanage with other babies and children with disabilities. Many of them had Down syndrome like her and many of them were also lacking proper care for children with their needs.
Jennifer and Hector felt drawn to Sofia. “We took a leap of faith,” Jennifer said. Sofia’s needs were not foreign to the couple, as their own journey with Down syndrome began when their third son, Joaquin, was born in 2008. They did not know he had Down syndrome before his birth and Jennifer says it rocked her world … in a good way. “He opened our eyes to the beauty of imperfection,” Jennifer said. “And he has such beautiful lessons and gifts to share with us.”
Through their journey with Joaquin, the family learned that there are children born with Down syndrome in other parts of the world, “where it is not seen as a blessing but a curse,” Jennifer remembers.
During the holidays in 2009, the Sanchez family decided to donate money to a child with Down syndrome through Reece’s Rainbow, an organization that raises money and awareness for children with Down syndrome in orphanages around the world.
It was when they were choosing which baby to sponsor that year that they found and fell in love with Sofia. It started as a simple donation, but the seed had been planted and Jennifer knew something more had to be done. Jennifer felt that Sofia was part of their family. “All we could think about was her,” Jennifer remembered. “She needs someone to rescue her, why couldn’t it be me?”
The Sanchez family decided to adopt Sofia and give her a better life. It took months of paperwork, donations and traveling back and forth to the Ukraine, until Sofia was officially adopted in 2010.
Once Sofia was back in Sacramento, she was given the love, care and therapy she needed. Within six weeks of being adopted, Sofia was signing over 100 words and was blooming as a toddler. “She was so smart and so eager to be a part of the world,” said Jennifer said.
Over five years later, Sofia is still smart and eager. A video of Sofia speaking to her mother about Down syndrome went viral on Facebook in September. “Is Down syndrome scary?” Jennifer asked. “Noooooo, it’s not scary, it’s so exciting!” Sofia said.