In the back row, from left, are Connor, Cade and Kellan. In the front row, left to right, are Harper, Hannah-Claire, Haven, Hailee, Adéye, Hasya, Anthony and Kael.
One of the latest families to benefit from home improvements provided by the CM Cares program is especially deserving: The Salems have adopted six children from countries around the world where their disabilities were being severely neglected.
Every spring, CSU students in the Department of Construction Management complete CM Cares projects that provide physical improvements to accommodate special needs, such as building wheelchair ramps or making bathrooms more accessible. The students perform the work for families and nonprofits with donated materials and services from local construction companies.
One of the two families they assisted this year had just moved into a fixer-upper in the Wellington area that didn’t quite accommodate their 11 members. The house had two tiny, adjacent bathrooms, a small and dilapidated back deck, no front sidewalk and missing siding on a garage-turned-bedroom.
When CM Cares representatives visited the Salems’ house and heard their story, it was clear this should be one of the projects undertaken this spring.
The Salem story
Anthony and Adéye Salem, who met in Adéye’s home country of South Africa, fell in love immediately and knew they wanted children after marrying in 1997.
“He wanted four kids, and I only wanted two — I thought he was crazy,” Adéye recalled with a laugh. After they had two sons, Connor and Kellan, “we were so done,” she said. “But something changed in my heart, and I told Anthony I had an intense desire for a third child. He looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
Well, they weren’t done, even after their third son, Cade, was born.
Adéye read a magazine article about the plight of orphaned girls in China, where the culture values sons over daughters, and she felt a calling to adopt a Chinese girl with special needs. Hannah-Claire joined the Salem family when she was 4, and Adéye became involved in the international adoption community. She heard about another Chinese girl who needed a new home after being adopted by a family that decided they were ill-suited to meet her many special needs. Haven, who had post-traumatic stress disorder and intellectual delays from abuse in an orphanage, was adopted by the Salems in 2008.
Next stop: Ukraine
In 2010, the Salems traveled to Ukraine to rescue 4-year-old Hailee and 2-year-old Harper, both of whom have Down syndrome. The two were languishing in harsh orphanage conditions and were unlikely to be adopted before being transferred to an adult mental institution.
“There are so many children in need,” Adéye said. “Ninety-five percent of the kids with Down syndrome in these orphanages die because they don’t get the care they need. They are drugged with adult tranquilizers — it’s easier if they sleep all day. Hailee only weighed 11 pounds at age 5.”
“She had bumps and scars on her head from getting stimulation by hitting her head on her own crib,” Anthony added. “When we brought her home, she panicked when we laid her down because she was used to being enclosed.”
Two years later, they heard about Hasya, a 14-year-old orphan in a Bulgarian hospital who weighed only 14 pounds, had cerebral palsy, and had spent her entire life in a crib.
“Seeing the pictures, we just started crying,” Adéye remembered. “We knew it would be so hard, but after talking about it one night, there was not one reason good enough to say no. Everything we came up with sounded like an excuse.”
“And that was before we found out she was blind,” Anthony added.
While in the process of adopting Hasya, they found another orphaned Bulgarian child, 8-year-old Kael, a tiny, malnourished boy with Down syndrome. He and Hasya joined the Salem family in January 2013; Hasya barely survived the flight to the U.S.
All six children have made remarkable advances since they were adopted, some of which the Salems attribute to the simple power of human touch. And the parents laugh when they recall how they originally only wanted two children, especially since they’ve also added a 33-year-old horse, a donkey, two miniature fainting goats and two dogs with special needs to the mix.
Oh, and when a friend gave them two cats, both turned out to be pregnant.
“So then we had 14 cats in the house too,” Anthony said with a smile. “We couldn’t give the kittens away fast enough.”
“And we got those two cats fixed so fast after that!” Adéye added.
The home improvements
The CSU students in the CM Cares program replaced the Salems’ tiny, deteriorating deck with a substantial 18-by-20-foot version featuring a gated slide that the younger kids can use. They also knocked out the wall separating the two tiny bathrooms and remodeled the space into a single expansive bathroom that is much more accessible for people with disabilities. The students installed siding on the wall of the former garage and poured a concrete sidewalk leading from the front door to the driveway. They even added baseboards and a new barn door.
“The Salems have become friends to us,” said Grant Frevert, one of the student project leaders who helped build the family’s new deck. “I really look up to Anthony and Adéye. They’re very open and welcoming.”
He added that the effort ended up going way beyond just a construction project.
“I love getting my hands dirty and putting on the tool bags, but it turned into an inspirational thing because of who the Salems are,” said Frevert, who just graduated and has landed a job with FCI Constructors. “I’ve learned a lot from them. That’s a big part of why I’m going into construction — being involved in my community and building things that are constructive for the community.”
When people ask how they are managing to raise nine children (they plan to adopt a 10th this summer), the Salems just shrug and smile.
“It’s a calling — not everybody should do it,” Anthony said. “We just believe that if you can make a difference in a kid’s life, do it. Six of ours would be dead now if we hadn’t.”
“It’s not a life for everybody, we understand that,” Adéye added. “But I can’t imagine living my life any other way. We love being parents to these kids. We’ve learned to be grateful for what we have. And now everyone can fit on our deck!”
“It’s interesting when people get upset about little things,” Anthony explained. “We have every reason to get flustered, but you don’t think about it. Our kids give us more than we give them; the joy they provide far exceeds what we provide.”
At a May 11 CM Cares event on campus, student leaders of the projects gave presentations about their accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned — and thanked the companies that had donated supplies and services.
The Dawoud project
The Salems were joined at the celebration by the Dawoud family, whose CM Cares team made improvements to their home in part to make it safer for their autistic son Levi, whose hands-on nature keeps him tinkering with household appliances and utilities.
“We feel very blessed for everything CM Cares has done for us,” Marcie Dawoud told the audience.
“All of you guys just kind of crept into our hearts,” Anthony Salem said, then read a piece he wrote about the experience called “Before You Came,” in which he described the condition of his house prior to CM Cares’ arrival.
“Until you came, with sunshine in your hearts and on your faces, giving all that you had to give to make our house a home, and change the lives of all inside,” he said. “Thank you, Lord, for giving us lots of new things — and lots of new friends.”