Participants in the Walk for Orphans braved the rain to help raise awareness for the growing number of orphans in America. Alicia Freeman – Mustang Daily

One Thing for One Orphan (1 Thing), a group dedicated to raising awareness about orphans in America, led a walk through downtown San Luis Obispo on “National Orphan Day” on Sunday.

According to the 1 Thing website, there are 145 million orphans worldwide and 500,000 foster care orphans in the United States alone. There are 100,000 in California and 20,000 of them “age out,” or turn 18, every year with nowhere to go. According to the website, “60 percent of the homeless population are from foster care orphans who ‘age out.’”

Johna Dykstra-Ruz, the founder of 1 Thing, said she wanted to raise awareness for orphans in the country because she always wanted to help children in need.

“I wanted to build an orphanage, but (I found) what really works is finding families,” Dykstra-Ruz said.

Dykstra-Ruz said the walk is important for the community because there are approximately 300 orphans in San Luis Obispo County — a fact she said most community members don’t realize.

“We can’t do everything, but we can do one thing,” Dyksta-Ruz said.

Daniel Ruz, Johna’s husband, gave a speech to the group before the walk during which he addressed its importance.

“(This walk proves) we can stop our lives for a minute, even with the drizzle,” Ruz said. “If the word ‘orphan’ is on someone’s mind (afterward), we’ve accomplished (our mission).”

The group met at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa dressed in red shirts with the group name on the front and “Give Love” on the back. The group, bundled in coats and donning umbrellas, paraded through downtown with Ruz’s voice leading across walkways and around obstacles, despite the weather.

Participant Nick Bourgault said he walked because he wanted to raise awareness.

“We donate (our time) because it’s just the right thing to do,” Bourgault said.

John Call, another participant, mirrored Dyska-Ruz’s message when he said the group has to do something about the orphan problem.

“There are a million problems in the world,” Call said. “This is fun though. This is what it’s all about.”

Ruz said not everyone can foster, adopt or mentor children but by donating time and money, while also raising awareness in the community, the group can make a difference.

One woman looking to make a difference is Kim Bikle. She adopted two children from Africa and said her children would have died if their parents had not given them up for adoption. Though her children were not technically orphans, Bikle said their mother could not take care of them and their father had left. She said she had not adopted the children to save them; she did it because she had always wanted children.

“(Adopting) was more, in a sense, winning the lottery,” Bikle said. “It was a very humbling experience.”

Jaimal Hanson, who helped raise Bikle’s two children, said he felt he was helping the children when their mother could not take care of them and that the entire experience was emotional. He also said there were more adjustments needed than with biological children.

“The connection is slower than with your own children,” Hanson said. “But you (still) feel the same kind of connection.”

Just like 1 Thing, Bikle felt it was necessary to consider adopting orphan children not only for them but for those helping them.

“If anyone has a place in their heart for another child, I would recommend it wholeheartedly,” Bikle said. “They’re really a gift if you can welcome them into your family.”

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