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Laura Roberts of Starfish Orphan Ministry talks with an American Airlines representative about an upcoming mission trip to El Salvador. Laura founded the ministry in 2006 to support parents looking to adopt or foster a child after the diffcult experience she and her husband John had while trying to adopt their son.

A Mother's Life Mission

story by Abigail Igoe

"I saw all of the children, and I was just broken. Completely broken," Laura Roberts says as she remembers visiting the orphanage in Guatemala where she adopted her son, Jonathan, in 2002. Laura and her husband John dealt with months of complications after the attorneys on their case committed adoption fraud.

Inspired by her difficult experience, in 2006 Laura founded Starfish Orphan Ministry, whose name comes from a parable about making a difference one life at a time. The non-profit organization, housed in a 20,000 square-foot building near downtown Paducah, provides resources for parents looking to adopt or foster a child. The ministry distributes everything from clothes to car seats to Christmas trees for families in need, as well as coordinating international mission trips that focus attention on children and orphanages abroad.

"Ms. Laura is a very loving person, and she works hard," says Vivian Jones, a full-time volunteer at Starfish who handles the clothing distribution. "When people come in here and they get things--not necessarily the newest or prettiest thing--but things they really need, they're happy."

Spending so much of her time helping others does not come without sacrifice to Laura. It's also hard for her 14-year-old son, Jonathan. "I get mad a lot about stuff like that," he says. "It's very challenging sometimes because I might ask her to do something and she waits until the last minute because she was busy with Starfish."

Laura's husband also feels her absence. "It gets a little tiring because she spends so much time down here, and we don't always get to spend a lot of time together," John says. "Don't get to have lunch, or go on big family trips."

The family remains close, however, and faith bonds them together.

"Well, our first date was at church," John says with a laugh.

For Jonathan, his faith helps him understand the work his mother does.

"I don't think I'd be as supportive if I wasn't a follower of Jesus," he says. "I know she's helping people who need it, and it's great to see what God can do."

John recognizes that helping others is Laura's passion. "If she's not doing this, she's not happy."

"I know we can't help all 150 million children at one time," Laura says. "But what an honor it would be to be even a tiny part of that impact, to make a difference in one child's life."

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Laura greets Bobby Sue George outside Starfish Orphan Ministry. "They do great work here," says Bobby George. "They have helped me so much. So much." Starfish offers information for people looking to adopt or foster children, and also provides clothes to car seats to Christmas trees, whatever a family needs.

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Laura speaks to a group of McCracken County High School students that are going on a mission trip to El Salvador with Starfish in the spring. The ministry will support about a dozen international mission trips that will focus on children in orphanages within the next year.

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Starfish is housed in a 20,000 square-foot building near downtown. Laura talks with Jay Michael and Dave Sheppard, who just returned home after spending three years in El Salvador as a missionary.

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Newborn Bentley Stinnett, was born with hydrocephalus. Laura brought Bentley's grandmother,Tara Pierce a donated car seat so Tara could take Bentley home from the hospital. "Come by Starfish if you need anything else," Laura tells her. "I will keep praying."

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"The Adopted Family" is displayed in Laura and John's home. They adopted their son, Jonathan, in 2002 from Guatemala. It tooks months to finally bring Jonathan home after the attorney on the case committed adoption fraud. Laura's daughter Natalie also has an adopted son, Tucker.

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All the time Laura spends working takes away from time with her family, and son Jonathan feels her absence."It's stressful sometimes because she always has a lot of work to do," he says.

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Faith bonds the Roberts family together. "Everything I do is to honor and glorify God," Laura says. John and Jonathan support Laura's passion for others because they see what a difference she makes in the name of God.

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When Laura and John adopted Jonathan, seeing other children in the orphanage inspired her to take action. "I always knew there was something I was supposed to be doing, and here was God showing me what my purpose is."