Service to special-needs children is his rent payment for living
By Virginia L. Clark, For The Taos News
The perfect world, according to Dr. Larry Schreiber, is a world where every child is valued, every child is wanted and every child is loved.
Larry Schreiber has birthed and adopted a total of 14 children and has been instrumental in finding permanent New Mexican homes for almost 200 special-needs children from across the nation.
For more than 25 years, this Taos physician has steadily and intently churned-on behind the scenes, healing or comforting the sick and giving hope to thousands of souls. Of 568,000 children in foster care nationwide, Larry and Child-Rite, the organization he cofounded in 1985, are actively seeking permanent families for 36,000 kids who are legally free of their families of origin.
"Larry Schreiber -- oh, you mean, the 'Albert Schweitzer of the Sangre de Cristos,'' said Michael McCormick of Michael McCormick Gallery in describing Larry's activities.
Larry, John Nichols, the late Veloy Vigil and McCormick co-founded Child-Rite, the special-needs adoption agency. Schreiber also did medical service in a Cambodian refugee camp in the 1970s.
"There's an apt title!" Rosemarie Packard said, laughing. "He has a great sense of humor. I've known him probably 15 years, since I came back here in 1985. I started seeing him a year or two after that; he was taking care of my mother. He's a wonderful doctor, someone you can really talk to. He's guided me through most of my struggle with cancer, which has been 14 years now. I think he has such a wonderful rapport with his patients."
In addition to his large family, overflowing family practice, and involvement with Child-Rite, Larry is, among other things, also clinical assistant professor of the Department of Family, Community and Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico medical school, a member of the New Mexico Board of Medical Examiners, and medical director for Mountain Home Health's Hospice Program.
Characteristically, Larry hastens to name a host of kindred souls he calls benefactors and mentors to his ministry, such as Dr. Bill Kilgore, who started the free clinic, Dr. Mike Kaufman of Questa Clinic, Dr. Steve Cetrulo, Alan Warren, Charles Bonfanti, Cippi Jaramillo -- space prohibits a complete list of Larry's associates.
But he credits the community of Taos for helping him make a difference in New Mexico and the nation.
"The people of Taos have been so easy to work with," Larry said. "I mean, they welcome you into their homes, into their hearts. They let you know you're offering a service. They're just ... it's been wonderful."
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1947, Larry was lured to Taos in 1976 by Kaufman, who offered him a residency at Questa Health Center (where he became the medical director from 1976 to 1980). In 1979, he opened his private practice -- Family Practice Associates -- where he is today.
"Initially (Child-Rite), was an advocacy organization to help publicize and advocate for special-needs kids waiting for homes," Larry said. In 1989, Child-Rite became licensed for placement of children with special needs, children historically considered to be "unadoptable" or hard-to-place.
"We only place special-needs kids and we are the only private agency in the state who never charges fees. There's only a handful in the nation who do what we do," Larry said, adding that "money should never be a factor to be a brother or a sister."
Child-Rite focuses on recruiting and training adoptive families and makes a life-time commitment to families who adopt special-needs children -- children who may have developmental delays, medical challenges or have been born to mothers abusing drugs. Special-needs children usually have been neglected and/or abused emotionally and physically.
His childhood in the Bronx seems dull by comparison to the experience of children that Child-Rite helps. He was the youngest of three children. His father worked for Macy's department store for 45 years and his mother worked at Gertz. His older brother is a trial lawyer and his older sister is a civil rights lawyer for the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.
"Serendipity" fashioned him into an adoptive father and advocate, Larry said.
"When I came out from New York (to New Mexico), I had a foster child, a 17- year-old who ultimately went back to his family of origin and died of AIDS. In 1972, I adopted my first son, Matthew. Then I met Michael, in the same year, in a refugee camp in Cambodia. It took me a year to get Michael out. And then I adopted YoRi. That's when I realized I'd be adopting."
The Schreiber children are Matthew, 33, who lives in Albuquerque; Michael, 32, who won a Fulbright Scholarship and works in West Covina, Calif.; Jordan, 28, who was a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard graduate and is now a public defender in San Francisco; Mary, 28, who works in a Santa Fe physician's office; Champa, 27, who is working at a Kentucky Fried Chicken store; Lucas, 27, a family practice physician in Los Angeles who graduated first in his class at UNM medical school and is getting married in September 2002; Kevin, 26, who is "vagabonding around Texas" right now; Gina, 24, who works at Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and who just graduated from New Mexico State; Gabrielle, 23, who is an executive headhunter in Dallas who has a wedding planned next May; YoRi, 21, who works with her father as assistant to the business manager at Family Practice Associates; and Lorena, 18, Ciela, 16, and Reyno, 15, all in high school; and Dimitra is in second grade.
Larry and his wife, poet and masseuse Catherine "Cathy" Strisik, have the house pretty much to themselves, Strisik said, now that they only have a few children living with them.
"It depends on what's happening. It can be very intense with all those personalities coming together at once. But once we're all together, it's very easy."
When asked how he and his wife coped with such a large family, Larry said, "It's not coping at all. It's really a joy. It's not necessarily easy. But easy is not 'better.' I founded Child-Rite because I knew I wasn't going to adopt any more children. Child-Rite is really like my 15th kid."
The day of the World Trade Center disaster, Larry said he heard from every single child in the family.
"After Sept. 11, I think everybody refocused their priorities. I mean, it's kind of nice not to have people just ... just talking about the stock market."
Earnestine Montoya has worked for Larry for 18 years.
"We get along so well," she said. "Everybody loves him. Everyone wants to see him. And we just don't have the time, we're so busy. But he's very compassionate with people," Montoya said. but she worries about his workload. "He's always working with Child-Rite, and now he has the hospice too. He's so busy, being pulled in every different direction. (Strizik's) a wonderful wife who really, really supports him."
"Cathy Boyle and Pat Heinan run the hospice," Larry said. "I just advise them and do what they tell me to do. It's an interdisciplinary approach to caring for the dying at home -- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. (It focuses) on how to make the person comfortable through the dying process."
Among his many awards and certificates of appreciation, probably the most memorable was being honored at a reception for adoptive families by President George Bush Sr. and Mrs. Bush in 1989 at the White House in Washington, D.C.
Larry has also appeared on behalf of special-needs adoptions with talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael, and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and before the New Mexico State Legislature several times. He is responsible for creating Senate Bill 206, cowritten by Sen. Carlos Cisneros and then State Rep. Frederick Peralta. SB 206 prevents discrimination against adoptive children by eliminating pre-existing medical conditions on insurance policies relating to adoptive children.
Regarding his own list of heroes, Larry said it is his children who are the heroes.
"I've had no barriers to anything, to accomplishing anything I want. But some of my kids have had so many physical and emotional challenges. They're the real heroes."
But he has gotten inspiration from other people, such as Bob Debolt in California, originally from New Mexico, who is the father of 20 biological and adoptive children. Larry worked with him on the Adoption Council Board.
His life work seems to be best summed up by another role model that Larry said he admires -- Marion Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund. Larry said Edelman used to quote her father, a sharecropper, as saying: "Service is the rent we pay for living."
Surely, this motto is Larry Schreiber's own.
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© Karen Mitchell