Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

 
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Dear friends,


You'll find the latest news on our residents completion of their college program, the staff's exemplary progress in caring for Anna & Sassoon, Alya's most recent thoughts on Davit, and other noteworthy items in our attached newsletter.  
 
Enjoy.  And if you have any questions or comments, please write or call.  We welcome your thoughts.  And thank you to each of you for taking the time to care about our residents and their stories. We are most grateful.  

The following is excerpted from our newsletter: 
Graduation Day

 

For three years most of our residents have attended Yerevan State Humanitarian College and have studied either carpet-making or permaculture.  This summer they graduated.       

Celebrations & Integration

In April, we were able to visit the residents at their college just two months before graduation. They were so proud to show us their college, to introduce us to their teachers and to display how hard they worked .  Upon arriving, we found a group of our residents in a room with full-sized carpet looms. There our residents were following precise patterns, and tying each stitch with care.  Their hands were obviously experienced.  They have learned so much.  Two other residents were upstairs in a room with botanical posters on the walls, plants along each windowsill, and notebooks full of information on trees and gardening.  We wandered outside with them to see the fruit trees that they had planted and were responsible for.  It was a gift to see them in an integrated setting with other students busily studying and learning.  They will miss the daily interaction and the challenges of learning.  We congratulate them on their accomplishment and graduation.  

 

Sincerely, 
Natalie (for us all) 


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Dear friends & supporters,

We hope you enjoy our latest newsletter (attached) with the news from Armenia.  The following is an excerpt from our newsletter: 

Safely Home

The spring blossoms were in full bloom. The sun was gentle on our faces. Sassoon was helping one of our staff members turn the soil of the garden. Some of the residents were milling around on the balcony hanging laundry. Some were in the garden, talking with staff. Anna was playing catch in the yard. By all outward appearances it was a typical spring afternoon at Warm Hearth. But in our hearts there was something deeply joyful and profound about this simple gathering because for the first time in five years we were all together again: Sassoon (pictured here), Anna, and the rest of the Warm Hearth family. The staff had been well-prepared for the job ahead through the training. They were newly confident that this work with Anna and Sassoon could be carried out. The other residents were calm, welcoming and reassuring towards Sassoon and Anna. We were all hopeful. All of the struggle of the last five years was worth it in that moment.  This was what we had strived towards. This is what mattered. It was our last day in Armenia and it was hard to walk away from such a simple and stunning scene. We are grateful for all who helped bring Anna and Sassoon home. And as the daily work of reintegration continues, we are also grateful for the strength, wisdom and patience of our staff who carry on this work.

Blessings to each of you,

Natalie (for us all) 


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Dear friends --

The following three letters are from our recent effort and trip to bring two residents home, Anna and Sassoon, who have long been institutionalized. 

Thank you for your part in making this happen.

We are grateful,

Natalie

 

April 10th, 2012

Dear friends,

As most of you know, I am in Armenia with Bridget (board member) and Juliet (volunteer, supporter, friend).  We just completed a three-day training designed to prepare the staff to bring Anna and Sassoon home from the psychiatric clinics/institutions.  It has been a long but satisfying three days as we have honed our analytical skills, addressed our fears and concerns, problem-solved around challenging behaviors and worked to be of the same mind. 

Near today's end, we created schedules for Anna and Sassoon's first day(s) at home.  And we thanked the staff for the arduous task that they are undertaking.  And I can say that we all left with smiles on our faces.  Of course, our nerves were frazzled as well -- for tomorrow is Sassoon's homecoming.  It has been five years since he has lived in our home.  What a journey that will be -- for him and for us.  What a gift.  It is almost too much for me to even imagine tonight.  But my heart is full -- and I am grateful for the chance to try again. 

We will bring Anna home on Thursday.  It is going to be a full week -- as we learn to live out the skills we have only talked about in the training.  But I think the staff is as ready as they will ever be.  And the time is ripe. 

In the meantime, we have been graced with such beautiful hours with the residents.  They are radiant, well, happy.  We celebrated Easter together with a trek to a local church where we lit candles, and listened to the haunting Armenian chants.  We came home to a long table full of pilaf, hard-boiled eggs, juice, wine, bread, lavash, fried fish, spinach, greens, herbs, cheese, cakes.  We celebrated.  We toasted. 

After dinner the residents surprised us with a choreographed dance.  They wore lovely costumes and danced for us.  We couldn't stop smiling.  They were so proud, and rightly so.  So careful in their movements.  So beautiful.  You can't imagine.  There was something so intimate in watching the residents dance, especially those who struggle with physical disabilities.  It was an honor to partake in their dance -- to be invited in. 

It is a good time to be here.  I always love arriving as the trees are bursting into bloom and the earth is starting to come back to life.  I love the frequent rains and the dust of snow on the surrounding mountains. 

Thank you, a thousand times, for your part in making this work possible.  Thanks for holding us in your sustaining hands.  May tomorrow be a day of true homecoming for Sassoon.  And may the next day belong to Anna. 

We know that the next days, weeks and months will not be easy -- but may they continue to be an honor for us, for the staff, for all those who stand around us. 

May it be so.  Keep us in your hearts. 
 
With gratitude,
Natalie (for us all)

 

April 12th, 2012

Dear friends,

Sassoon is home.  After five years in a clinic, after a myriad of failed and thwarted attempts to bring him home, he is finally and safely home.  His first day at home was yesterday and what a precious day.  As we left the clinic he was pulling my arm, pulling the other staff member's arm...  He was so anxious to leave. and understandably so.  When we got outside, he lifted his head (which was often lowered in the clinic) and started to look around.  On the way home, he kept saying, "Wedding.  It's a wedding."  Juliet mentioned that it was probably like a wedding day to him. 

We were all able to be there at home with him for much of the day.  He ate a meal with the residents -- slowly remembering some of them.  He even danced with them during the dance class, with energy, with joy.  Later, he was a bit disoriented as to where his real "home" was and at one point took my hand, led me to his room and started to put his shoes on.  He said, "Take me home," and I told him that we were home.  That this is his home.  His bedroom.  He looked up at me surprised, happy and said, "Yes, really?"  Yes, really.  Sassoon, you are home. 

And today Anna came home -- just a few hours ago.  We haven't seen her yet -- as it seemed better for her sake to have a quiet and calm first day at home with less faces, less chaos.  But she is home -- and doing well. 

We can barely believe that this is real.  After hoping for so long, after losing hope so many times, after all these years, it is almost impossible to believe.  But tonight all thirteen residents will sleep under the same roof.  They will all sleep near their warm hearth.  May it be so tomorrow and the next day.  May we be able to sustain this effort.  May this dream come true day after day after day. 

And may each of you be blessed somehow by this grace -- may it be felt from afar, from your corner of the world. 

With gratitude,
Natalie (for us all)

 

April 14th, 2012

Dear friends,

Today is our last day in Armenia.  Bridget and I will go to Warm Hearth in a few hours to celebrate Roman's birthday and to have one-on-one conversations with the residents.  This is something they always love -- and I always enjoy as well. 

Sassoon is doing well and adjusting home.  He is being treated for a skin condition that he developed in the clinic, which is uncomfortable, but hopefully that will be healed soon.  Despite that condition, yesterday he was looking at photographs of facial expressions (happy, sad, angry, content, frustrated, etc,.) which we use to help him identify his feelings.  He pointed to an angry face and repeated someone's name whom we do not know.  But then he pointed to the happy face and said, "Sassoon." 

Anna is also doing well thus far, too.  She had a difficult last few months in the clinic due to the impending transition of coming home.  Transitions are hard for her, which we have known.  But she is affectionate.  She is trying very hard.  She is glad to be home.  She is playing ping-pong in our basement, joining the other residents in some activities, and beginning to tell us about her time in the clinic.  It will take awhile for both she and Sassoon to stabilize -- but we are hopeful that in time they will heal from some of the pain of the past years and that we will know how to love them concretely, how to care for them safely. 

Keep us in your thoughts and hearts and prayers, especially our staff here.  The next few months will be crucial.  We will keep you posted. 

With gratitude,
Natalie

Dear friends,

I am attaching our spring newsletter.  We're heading to Armenia in early April!  Read more about that trip and our expectations in the newsletter. 

Here is an excerpt below. 

We are grateful for each of you, and for the way you care for our residents. 

Kindly,

Natalie (for us all)

 

A New Foundation, A New Hope

The Garden House construction is complete and we are ready to welcome Anna and Sassoon home in April.  After an Easter celebration with the residents and an intensive three-day staff training led by Natalie (founder) and Bridget (founding board member), we will drive the winding roads to pick up Sassoon and Anna.  Juliet Setian, a volunteer and donor, will be traveling with us, strengthening and supporting this delicate effort. Together we will do our best to prepare the staff to care for these two residents.  We will prepare our hearts once again to meet the challenges that are an inevitable part of this work.  We will prepare Sassoon and Anna as well.  It is a time of change but this is a change we have long awaited.  The hope is that the Garden House will be a transitional living space for any resident with more intense behavioral needs.  We have well-laid plans to provide the support and care that Anna and Sassoon will need.  These include: a greater staff to resident ratio, positive behavior support plans, visual schedules, and much more.  We have worked hard.  We have tried to learn from our mistakes.  We have built a new foundation. May it be strong and  well-laid.  May it withstand and support the pressures, the weight, and the soul of this new Garden Home.


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Dear friends,

In seedtime learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.  (William Blake)

It is striking to me that the new year, the time to begin again, occurs midwinter when nights are longest and feast days have just passed.  In this season, the daylight hours are a promise of what is to come as they are only beginning to lengthen again toward the balance of equinox.  It is in this quiet space that we consider both the past year and the year to come. 

In seedtime learn

Each year has its seasons of learning, its seedtime.  This year we brought Alya, our Armenian Country Director, to the United States.  We wanted to see the daily routine and management of various group homes in order to strengthen our own ability to manage difficult behaviors and residents with complicated diagnoses.

While I missed going to Armenia this year (we couldn’t manage both) and seeing our dear residents, it seemed fitting to allow her the extraordinary chance to see other group homes.  Because ours was the first - and only - long-term group home in Armenia, she had never had the opportunity to see another.  Our time together here was rich and sparked a renewed commitment to bring Anna and Sassoon home from the clinics in the spring.  (Read more on page 3 of the attached Annual Report.)

While observing different group homes, we felt validated in that the most important components of a loving group home are in place at Warm Hearth.  We were exposed to new ways of caring for individuals with particular behavioral challenges.  We were reminded that the struggles we face are by nature part of this work and are not endured by us alone.

In harvest teach

In 2011, we enjoyed the gifts of each particular season and helped our residents do the same.  As in any endeavor, and in any human life, there were unexpected losses and surprising bounties along the way.   We - resident, staff, donor, volunteer - experienced both, as did each of you, I imagine.

Many of our residents began their third and final year of study at Yerevan State Humanities College.  They have thrived in this setting and we look forward to their graduation day in 2012.  We continue to think of ways in which we can achieve movement toward further integration into the community after graduation - whether in work, service, art or play.  We look forward to how this will enrich and strengthen our residents’ lives. 

In winter enjoy

I spoke with our residents an hour ago. It is the eve of the Armenian New Year and they are staying up late, reveling in the celebration with its tasks and merriments, talking about their gifts, enjoying one another.  It bring me so much joy to hear their voices full of anticipation, full of hope. 

As Blake urges, winter is a time to enjoy the work of the year, the bounty of the harvest.  They are doing just that.  In this spirit, I want this report to do the same.  We have so much to be grateful for, in large part because of each of you.  So in these pages, I want to share with you our seeds, our harvest, and our winter that you might also learn, teach and enjoy.

Blessings to you and yours,

Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri


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Project Leader

Warm Hearth Co-Director

Founder/Executive Director
Flagstaff, AZ United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities