Colombian Youth Finds Open Arms in Arlington


(Tuesday, July 31, 2007 10:57 AM EDT)

What are the most fun sites to visit in Arlington? For Ingrid Chavarro, a 10-year-old who hails from Bogota, Colombia, the pool and water slide at Upton Hill Regional Park are at the top of the list.

Chavarro was able to spend five weeks this summer with Arlington couple Michael and Carmen DeSenne through Kidsave's Summer Miracles program.

Kidsave is a volunteer-driven organization that works to move older children out of orphanages and foster care into permanent homes. The Summer Miracles program enables these children to travel to the United States, and attend local summer camps.

The hope is that the children will find families and organizations to provide support to them once the camp program is over.

The DeSennes originally had planned to be a “safe house” (back-up family) for the organization, but then decided to go all the way and become a host family.

Chavarro, along with eight other children in the program, arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on June 28, and spent a very full five weeks in the United States.

Chavarro visited tourist sites, went to summer camp in Falls Church, got a complimentary doctor's check-up at Premier Primary Care Physicians in Arlington, as well as a free dental check-up in Fairfax, and participated in various other events and activities.

“Kidsave gives kids the exposure to the fun of summer camp and camp activities,” Carmen DeSenne said in a recent interview. “It's a busy five weeks of exposure in the community.”

Although the DeSennes do not have children of their own, adapting to having a child in the house was not too difficult. Culturally, the transition was made easier because Carmen DeSenne's family is Colombian.

“Ingrid is exceptionally well-behaved,” Carmen DeSenne said. “All the kids in Kidsave go through a rigorous application process, to make sure they are highly adaptable and flexible. It's been wonderful . . . Ingrid is great to have in the house.”

“It's worked well,” Michael DeSenne said. “She's very forgiving of my Spanish. She teaches me words when I don't know them, and she's made an effort to learn English.”

At one point, however, the DeSennes may have gone just bit overboard trying to make Chavarro feel at home.

Michael DeSenne cooked a Colombian feast for Chavarro to enjoy, and, though she diplomatically said, “this food is good,” she continued to say, “but I've heard you have big burgers here.”

The DeSennes satisfied her hankering for an all-American hamburger soon after.

The couple also tried to foster Chavarro's other interests, which include swimming, cooking, dancing and music.

“She's a great little cook,” said Carmen DeSenne. “It's great to see ways to connect with a child.”

Chavarro left Arlington in early August, but her connection with the DeSennes did not end there.

“We plan to work with Kidsave again. They're great people to work with and we'd definitely host again,” Carmen DeSenne said. “And we have every intention of keeping in contact with Ingrid.”

“We're really going to miss her,” said Michael DeSenne.

For more information on Kidsave, see the Web site at

10-year-old Ingrid Chavarro spent five weeks this summer with an Arlington couple. Swimming and hamburgers were among her favorite parts of the trip.

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