Kid-friendly event will help bring Chinese boy home

WHEELING — This is not going to be your average lemonade stand. But then, the DeFrancos are not your average family.

Dustin and Heather DeFranco of Wheeling and their five children are hosting a “lemonade sale” at Wheeling Park Ice Rink from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 9 with the goal of bringing home sibling No. 6 — 9-year-old Zhong’ao — from China. In addition to lemonade and raffle prizes worth $10,000, there will be free children’s activities all day, including inflatables, face painting, a magic show, yoga, caricatures, costumed characters and live music by the Scott & Rosanna Band.

Heather DeFranco said it all started when she and her husband adopted their daughter, Xiao, from China last year as a way to add to their family but also to help a child in need. Xiao has brittle bone disease — a genetic anomaly that causes fragile bones — and so far, at age 2 1/2, has suffered 27 fractures. She weighs 15 pounds and wears size 0-3 month clothes.

When they were in China to get Xiao, the couple discovered many older children in the orphanage who have a very slight chance of being adopted. They fell in love with Zhong’ao, who also has brittle bone disease.

While they had enough money to adopt Xiao, they don’t have enough for Zhong’ao. Their kids came up with the lemonade idea, but knowing they would be unlikely to sell 50,000 cups of lemonade, the family expanded the event.

“With Xiao, we wanted to grow the family. But after going to China and seeing all these children waiting, our motive switched,” DeFranco said. They are now on a rescue mission. The older children are and the more special needs they have, the less likely they are to be adopted. They age out of the orphanage at 13 and enter the welfare system.

“We don’t have the funds. We have the home, we have the love, we have the family,” she said. “And we love the idea of sharing it with the community and saying, ‘Learn about this, be a part of this. … It’s an awesome adventure.'”

Their children, 9-year-old twins Rocco and Bruno, 7-year-old Lucy and 4-year-old Dash are “ecstatic” to bring home another sibling, and they’re looking forward to the fundraiser, she said.

She has collected prizes totaling more than $10,000, and there will be a cash prize of $500, she said.

“The community has been amazing” in terms of donating prizes, she added. There will be free cotton candy, popcorn, hot dogs, chips, cookies and ice pops, as well.

Nikki Kiger, who is Xiao’s West Virginia Birth to Three physical therapist, is leading “A Trip to China” kids’ yoga session at 3 p.m. A Mr. Twisters magic show is slated for 1 p.m. Chase from “Paw Patrol,” Spider-Man and Michael Angelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be on hand.

“We are huge family people. We want kids to be a part of it,” she said.

DeFranco, owner of Snapshot Photography, and her husband, owner of DeFranco Financial, are Ohio Valley natives. She graduated from Wheeling Central Catholic High School in 2002 and he from St. John Central Catholic High School in 2001.

“We are Catholic and we do feel like God has called us to do this, especially this time around,” Heather DeFranco said.

She noted Xiao had rods put in her femurs in January because her legs were severely bowed, a common symptom of the incurable disease.

“Our biggest feat right now is she has gone the last four months fracture free.”

She said because he’s older, Zhong’ao will have more difficulty with language and attachment. The adoption firm they are using, Bethany Christian Services, is educating the family on how to handle any expected issues.

“They say he’s a very outgoing and silly little boy, so he’ll fit in with our silly crew,” DeFranco said.

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