BY JODEE TAYLOR
TRAVERSE CITY — Shen Walker, 17, was born in China, arriving in Traverse City when she was 17 months old.
Shen had come from an orphanage with close to 400 babies — and 12 women to care for all of them, said her mom, Dianne.
"They swaddle them until they're 2," said Dianne Walker. "They prop up bottles for the babies to drink from."
Shen and her parents went back to China when Shen was 12, but they weren't allowed into the orphanage where Shen spent her early months. Instead, they went to Living Hope International Orphanage, one of the few Christian organizations in China, Dianne Walker said.
"It was very clean," Shen Walker said, "but very empty."
The Walkers were expecting to see babies at the orphanage, but the children were 10, 11, 12 years old — the same age as Shen. There were about 60 kids, all former street children, Dianne said.
"They slept on plywood" at the orphanage, Shen said. "They didn't have sports equipment. They didn't go to school."
On the nearly 30-hour flight back to Traverse City, Shen realized she wanted to raise money for the kids.
"It was a random, out-of-the-blue idea," she said.
And raise money she did, through spaghetti dinners she put on with help from friends and family. She's helped paid for the orphans' education, bedding and even a heart surgery.
She's gotten thank-you letters and pictures from the orphans, but the best thanks is coming Wednesday, Oct. 20, when the Living Hope International Orphanage Angels perform in Traverse City.
The concert, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 6105 Center Road, will feature 12 children from the orphanage in traditional costumes, dancing and singing. They'll also share stories, through a translator, about how they ended up at the orphanage. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted.
Shen expects the children will be overwhelmed during their trip, just as she was overwhelmed during her trip to China, but she also thinks they'll be regular teenagers, too.
The group is staying in the basement of the church — using sleeping bags Shen helped them buy — in the room Shen's youth group uses.
"It has pool tables, a TV. They're going to have fun," she said.
For more information, call 941-8076.