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Sharon is a bubbly teenager who is learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.

That she is 14 years old, and not 4 — a more common age for American children to begin riding a bike — is a product of her circumstances.

Sharon is a Colombian national living in Chattanooga this summer as part of an international nonprofit organization's efforts to find homes for orphans and foster children from the South American country. There, children don't necessarily learn to ride bikes as a rite of passage.

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She is among 17 children from Colombia here under the auspices of KidSave, a 17-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization that attempts to arrange adoptions with American families. Most of the children are in New York or Washington, D.C., but Sharon is one of a few others scattered around the country.

Sharon (her last name has been withheld by KidSave to shield her privacy) is nearing the end of her stay with her Ooltewah host family, Robert and Mary Flynn, who have hosted KidSave "Summer Miracles" children for three summers.

"It's fun having company," explained Mary Flynn.

"It doesn't take much, and hopefully you can help change someone's life and help the world," said Robert Flynn.

The Flynns have a 12-year-old son, Dylan, who introduces the visiting Colombian kids to his friends and helps provide them with a summer's worth of enrichment activities. This summer, Sharon's days have been filled with swimming, card games, crafts, roller skating and attending a YMCA camp.

Although she doesn't speak much English, fun is a universal language. Her face lights up when asked if she is enjoying her summer packed with Nerf gun wars and Uno games.

"I like it here very much," Sharon said through an interpreter. "It is very hot and beautiful. Riding a bicycle has been very fun, but it's difficult."

Jenna Nusholtz, a spokeswoman for KidSave, says the organization has arranged 1,750 kids' visits since its inception in 1999 and has an 83 percent success rate in finding permanent homes for the children.

"The kids that come are between 10 and 14," she explains. "These kids are older and are typically overlooked for adoptions [in their home countries] because of their age.

"KidSave believes that kids need families and love to thrive. We advocate for kids to grow up in loving families, not institutions."

Nusholtz says some American host families are considering adoptions, while others, such as the Flynns, are serving more as liaisons to introduce children to potential adoptive parents.

She said the adoption process includes a comprehensive home study, a four- to six-week visitation in Colombia and psychological tests to make sure the family environment is a good fit. The process can take eight months, or more, she said.

To host a child for the summer typically costs about $2,500 in travel and related expenses, she said.

Nusholtz says Sharon's prospects for adoption are good.

Contact staff writer Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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