After spending a summer working in a Chinese orphanage four years ago, Matt Dalio, a junior at Harvard University, returned home and started China Care, an organization he now runs out of his dorm room.
Dalio raises funds to ease the adoption costs for many American families who want a child.
"Ninety-eight percent of the children in the orphanage that I was in were disabled," said Dalio. "They don't have families, they don't have anyone to give them a voice, they're disabled so they don't have their health, and they are children so they don't have a voice of their own."
To ease its swelling population, some Chinese families are only allowed to have one child each. If a couple's child is handicapped, he or she often is abandoned.
That's where Dalio comes in.
"Here I am in America with all of my needs met and they have nothing," he said. "If I could do something to help them, something to give those children hope, how could I not do that?"
China Care provides money for children to get the necessary surgery that might make them more adoptable. It also sponsors a home in Beijing where weak and sick orphans can go to recuperate.
"For me, the most tragic are the simple cleft lip or the club foot, where these children face the most minimal disabilities," Dalio said. "In America, you never see a child with a cleft lip because at birth it's instantly fixed. In China, it's not. For $500, you can fix that disability."
His inspiration comes from the children he has met, such as 7-year-old Grace, a former orphan.
"Grace is the love of my life," he said. "I saw her in the orphanage for the first time about three, four years ago. She has this beautiful face, but she had this skin disorder along the side. She was a striking contrast physically, and then she had this striking personality. She just exudes personality."
In Dalio's fund-raising video, Grace is the central character. After a life without parents, China Care helped an American couple adopt her.
"I remember the moment she arrived at the airport in America and hugged her dad for the first time," said Dalio. "Just the look on their faces, the look on his face as he literally burst with emotion, and she giggled. All she had ever looked for was family and there she had it."
Dalio keeps in close touch with Grace, who has been happily settled for two years with Kelly and Peter Liacopoulos in Grafton, Wis.
"He's a great man!" said Grace, who has had an operation on her face with the help of China Care. The Liacopouloses later adopted baby Matt, who has a heart condition, from a Chinese orphanage. The couple named him after Dalio.
"I always thought Matt would be president," said Peter Liacopoulos about Dalio. "I don't know if I ever told him that."
Volunteer Raises $28,000
Dalio has persuaded other colleges to start China Care chapters to raise money at their schools. He also works with some dedicated high school volunteers.
"This summer we had a 14-year-old kid who raised $28,000, went to live in an orphanage for a summer, and was able to -- with that $28,000 -- add an extension to the orphanage and hire 10 nannies to take care of the kids," said Dalio. "He now knows the power it can have."
Originally Dalio had hoped to raise $50,000. So far, he has reached the $1.5 million mark.
"In total, we have placed 80 children into American families," he said. "We've placed 90 kids into foster families in China. We've done 100 surgeries. We've renovated three orphanages."
Those results are impressive for a 20-year-old who is completing a double major in business and psychology, has a steady girlfriend and is in a fraternity.
With all the children he helps, one would wonder if Dalio wants to adopt one himself.
"It depends on the wife," he said, "but I would love to have a kid. I see all these Chinese kids running around -- you just want to grab them and kiss them! I would love to adopt a kid, love to adopt a kid."
For more information on China Care, visit www.chinacare.org.