Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

Roman's infectious smile

My name is Shahd AlShehail, and I'm a GlobalGiving field intern who visited all our partner projects in Armenia! .. I'm happy to update you about the project you donated to ...

While volunteering for the Peace Corps at an orphanage in Armenia, Natalie saw a need for a long-term care to mentally-disabled adults that have outgrown orphanages. She knew that in a culture that hides the mentally disabled and considers them shameful, their only other option would be old soviet psychiatric hospitals. This is where Friends of Warm Hearth comes in to provide a brighter future to Armenian adults with disabilities.

We walked into the house in the suburbs of Yerevan where 11 residents live, and were immediately greeted by three smiley faces, Gayane, Davit and Roman.

As we toured the house with Alya, the Country Director, and Brian, a Peace Corps volunteer we witnessed the unique aspects and techniques used in the group home. Residents attend University during the day to learn vocational skills such as carpet weaving and gardening. At home, they are able to immediately practice these skills in the crafts room, the garden, or the carpet weaving room. In the evening, they engage in different fun activities from singing to dancing to puzzle making (Roman’s favorite!). And two times a week, the residents have group therapy sessions with a professional psychologist, in which they openly talk about their thoughts, feelings, and issues surrounding their respective disabilities.

Alya spoke to us candidly about the struggles they’ve had raising awareness within the government about mental-disability. Under Armenian law, there is no distinction between physical disability and mental disability, and very little funding for either. As you can imagine they face the same struggles within the community. “We take our residents on trips around the country, they are fun and the residents really look forward to them! But they are also a great way to help promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the community.”

The residents were really excited to share their photo albums with us and perform some traditional Armenian songs, which was quickly turned by Agape and Davit to a great dance party!

Friends of Warm Hearth is so much more than a group home. The resident receive specialized care, live in an inclusive nurturing environment, and learn important vocational skills. In the future, Alya hopes to expand “I dream of having a big home one day, with different groups of residents, living within similar levels of capabilities, and interacting with each other in a large communal place.”

We left the house with a sense of gratification, knowing that all your donations are going to a great project.

Continue your support to them here 

some of the crafts made by the resident
some of the crafts made by the resident
Gayane sharing a poem she learned at college
Gayane sharing a poem she learned at college

Dear friends,

I'm honored to keep you up-to-date on the happenings at Warm Hearth.  This quarter (and hence, the newsletter) has been chock-full of the good, even the glorious, and the ugly (or disappointing).  Please find (and read!) the attached newsletter. 

And while you're here, I wanted to share our residents' new handicrafts at  Each different craft is located on a separate page.  Just click on "older posts" at the bottom of each screen to view another craft.  They are beautiful, if I may say so myself.  The residents and their crafts. 

Thank you for caring about our home and our residents.  We are all most grateful. 

Blessings to you and yours,

Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri
Founder, Executive Director
Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Providing Holistic Care for Orphans with Disabilities in Armenia 


Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its way
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed
provided we stay brave
enough to keep going in.

By Wendell Berry



Dear friends,

As you know, many of you, our attempts to help Anna and Sassoon (two of our residents who have spent more times in clinics/institutions than in Warm Hearth Group Home) have been thwarted time and again. Many of you have given so much in an effort to bring them home.  What has looked like the answer in the past has disappointed.  We've tried to move forward, to bring them home, and time and again our footing has been precarious. And we have slipped and fallen. And they have suffered, still, in the institutions. 

As a last-ditch effort, Alya, our Armenian Director, came to the USA in July to see different group homes, in the hopes that we would learn some skills and be encouraged in regard to caring for residents like Anna and Sassoon with greater behavioral challenges.  The trip was full – and we did learn a lot — all of us.  But by the end, we were not sure if it would end up meaning a homecoming for Anna or Sassoon. 

It seemed like we were at a dead-end.  And I wasn't sure there was any way to even back out of that place and look for another road. 

I reckoned with what it means when there is nothing more to be done — nothing more one can even imagine to do that would relieve the suffering of one's beloveds.  What does grace even mean in those places?  These were the questions I asked.  I still ask them, because they are still unanswered for many people. 

But for Anna and Sassoon, there is more than a glimmer of hope. And it is not hard to see the grace in that.

A couple weeks ago now, I asked Alya to consider bringing Anna and Sassoon home one more time.  It was a question I had to ask -- but with open-hands -- because Warm Hearth has become more and more Armenia's.  And in response, Alya proposed building a garden house in our backyard for Anna and Sassoon, consisting of two bedrooms and a bath.  This garden house would be a place Anna and Sassoon could go when they were struggling to provide space and to protect them and our other residents. 

The board joyfully deliberated and has approved the decision to move forward.  We are in the process of getting zoning approval to build this garden house and we hope to start construction in October so as to be done before the heavy-handedness of Armenian winter.

I was (and still am) incredulous.  It's taken awhile to sink in, to recover from the beautiful shock of being handed hope again. 

All the answers are not in place, nor will they ever be.  We hope this works as a long-term solution for Anna and Sassoon.  We hope this with all our hearts as we (and especially Anna & Sassoon) are turned around from that dead-end place and looking down a new road. 

With gratitude,
Natalie (for us all)

Dear friends,

I've attached our summer newsletter for you to enjoy.  The following is an excerpt from the newsletter:

To Be of Use 

Our residents have no shortage of gifts, beauty, energy and insights.  We work hard to provide outlets for their gifts, that they might be of use in the world.  They have so much to offer and their lives are enriched through giving and working, as ours are as well.  One outlet we have created is a new online store (site listed on page 2) where our residents’ unique handicrafts are showcased and available for purchase.  In Marge Piercy’s poem, “To Be of Use,” she speaks to the importance of this aspect of Warm Hearth’s mission: 

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. 

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.


Sincerely and with gratitude,

Natalie (for us all)


Dear friends -

It is with an incredulous heart that I write to you. 

Our little group home in Armenia, that serves residents who are beloved to us, has received Armenian government funding beginning in 2012.  We…have...received…government…funding…for…our…residents… 

The government commitment to our home is to provide between 52 and 60% of our current operating budget (excluding state-side expenses). 

This is a small miracle. 

And it means so many things. It means that your gifts and work and passion have taken root in a way we dared to hope they would in the mental health system of Armenia.  It means a great leap toward sustainability.  It means a great advance in human rights in Armenia.  It means that some measure of justice has taken root in Armenian society on behalf of people with disabilities.  It means that the government values individuals with disabilities and believes, along with us, that a better life is possible for people with disabilities.  And that they are willing to fight for this, too. 

It means a letting go.  It means a chapter closes and another one opens. 

It means, we hope, some greater possibilities for Anna and Sassoon. 

It means rejoicing.  It means we continue on. 

A few hours after receiving this news, I opened a card from Susan Barnes, someone who loves our residents.  The front of the card says: A mountain is moved by carrying away small stones.  (Chinese Proverb) 

Susan then wrote:

I think…this larger system of injustice in Armenia that has years of history at its root is a giant mountain.  But, my hope and prayer is that each one of us -- who take the residents on trips, who donate money to the home, who sit on the Board, who sell their art, who buy their art, who research the laws, who translate the documents, who provide training, who provide structure and kindness in the home, who do so many little things -- is removing a stone.  We are each removing a stone.  It is good, significant work.  Even if the mountain in front of us is big. 

I don't understand why Anna and Sassoon are still in the clinic, despite all your efforts and the efforts of many.  It is not just.  And there are no easy answers.  But, I do believe that our work is to continue to carry away the stones we can today. 

One day, I don't know when, the mountain will be moved.  In the meantime, I hurt with you, with them, as I can from so far away. 

And I will do what I can to move stones with you and with the international family of stone carriers you've assembled. 

This acquisition of government funding is one great large stone that has been moved – and by the hands of many of you – our family of stone carriers. 

I am grateful for you.  Let's rejoice together, spread out around the world, as we are. 

With honor and joy,


Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri
Founder, Executive Director
Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Tel. (480) 921-1181
Armenian Tel. (374) (10) 39-81-50

Address: PO Box 4784; Sunnyside NY 11104

Providing a Group Home for Orphans with Disabilities in Armenia

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Every action begins with strengthening the spirit. 

- C. P. Estes

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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