Aug 9, 2016

Summer's Bounty

Dear friends,

As summer has come and nearly gone, we have seen the fruit of many long labors swell, grow and sweeten.  One thing that has come to pass this summer is that Anna came home again. She is one of our residents who has been in and out of institutions for most of her life. After last year’s staff trainings and welcoming new staff members, we felt ready to try to support her again at home. Our staff are taking one day at a time. But for now, Anna is once again in her own home, with friends and beauty around her, and with people who love her.

It feels significant that her homecoming has occurred the same year as our ten-year celebration. So often we want change to happen quickly and with ease. In reality, the things that mean the most can take years and years. We have to all change from the inside out and so does the world around us.

Summer in Armenia is always a time of abundance in terms of welcoming visitors and volunteers, donors and supporters. We have welcomed so many people this summer who have long loved the residents from afar, who have worked quietly on their behalf from the United States, and who finally got to be with them in person. What a joy it is to extend the hospitality of Warm Hearth to the people who make it possible.

Last, but not least, the ten-year anniversary celebration took place last week in Yerevan. At this celebration, we cheered and reflected on what Warm Hearth has become. We remembered why we exist in the first place. We looked forward and back with joy and hope. One of our board members, Lee Ann Williams, was present and celebrating in Armenia. The rest of us were there in spirit.

Sincerely Yours,
Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri

(To read our entire summer newsletter, see the attachment below.) 

Jun 6, 2016

How Warm Hearth Has Changed One Woman's Life

Then and Now: How Warm Hearth Has Changed the Course of One Woman's Life

Since her birth in 1980, Gayane has had no family to call her own. While still an infant, her parents abandoned her at an orphanage in the city of Avovyan, Armenia. In this harsh way, her life journey began and wound its way through one orphanage to another as she was transferred time and again. Such profound insecurity at such a vulnerable time caused Gayane deep suffering.

Gayane lived at an orphanage in Kapan for eight additional years after turning 18, thanks to the director’s compassion. But at the age of 26, there was no longer space or resources to care for Gayane and seven of her friends. The orphanage director’s only option was to send them to a large psychiatric institution for the rest of their lives. It was to circumvent this fate that Warm Hearth was opened, and at the age of 26, Gayane moved for the final time to Warm Hearth.

This last move, like previous ones, was difficult. It was challenging to adjust to a new environment, even though this time some of her friends from the Kapan orphanage were with her. In the beginning, she cried often and wished she could go back to the orphanage in Kapan. But as time unfolded, Gayane became accustomed to life at Warm Hearth, taking on responsibilities and trusting those who care for her.

Today, Gayane expects to live at her beloved Warm Hearth until the end of her life, not moving ever again.

This stability is one of the greatest gifts Gayane receives from Warm Hearth. She knows she will never again experience the kind of suffering that came from transferring from one institution to another.

Another gift Gayane treasures is that of friendship, made especially poignant due to the loss of community she once suffered. She values relationships and has had the opportunity at Warm Hearth to become friends with neighbors and new residents in the home.

Gayane will say that during the last ten years, almost all of her dreams have come true. One unforgettable day that stands out to her is the day she bought gold earrings for herself with her own money. That simple but profound act fulfilled a long-held childhood dream.

Gayane also grew up longing to prepare meals by herself. As in many cultures, food and meals are of great value in Armenia, integral to the culture, to celebrations, to personhood. With the help of a caregiver, today Gayane is able to prepare mashed potatoes, dolma and other dishes for her friends. And we expect that one day, she will do so without assistance.

In addition to nurturing Gayane’s dreams, Warm Hearth has also provided opportunities for Gayane that go beyond those dreams. One of the most profound experiences was her participation in a three-year inclusive learning program. “Bridge of Hope,” a local nonprofit in Yerevan, invited our residents to attend Yerevan’s Adolescent Humanitarian College, where Gayane studied carpet weaving. Carpet weaving is now such a part of Gayane’s life that she cannot imagine herself not weaving for even one day. It is her art form, her joy, and a place she finds meaning. Gayane graduated from the college program in 2012 and each year her work becomes more professional.

Today, Gayane attends courses at Pyunic (another local nonprofit) and is expanding her repertoire of handicrafts.

According to Gayane, she has made some remarkable internal changes since living life at Warm Hearth. She reports having greater self-control; while in the past, she struggled with anger and anxiety, now her struggles are fewer and she has the skills to calm herself.

Perhaps most important, given Gayane’s history, is that she feels protected at Warm Hearth – a feeling she never had before in any of the institutions or orphanages. She has confidence that the caregivers and staff at Warm Hearth will help and encourage her along this labyrinth we call life. T

Mar 8, 2016

Celebrating Ten Years

Natalie (director) and Armine (resident)
Natalie (director) and Armine (resident)

Dear friends,

It is hard to believe that ten years ago in January, Warm Hearth opened its doors to eight people from Kapan.  The beginning was full of hope and harrowing risk.  But we walked upon sacred ground.  Many of you began a deep and lasting commitment to this home, giving what you had to give, offering your enthusiasm and faith, walking that sacred ground with us.

It blesses us beyond measure to continue this journey with those of you who were there when we began—through the disorganization, the struggles, and the remarkable successes and healing of our residents.  It blesses us equally to welcome those of you who are newer—to invite you into a steadfast circle of supporters and volunteers and to have the confidence that when you give of yourself, you give to something lasting and less tenuous that it has been in the past. 

When I consider the last ten years, I am overcome with gratitude.  I have deep gratitude for each of you and for the staff in Armenia.  When we opened our home, many of our staff had never interacted with a person with a disability.  Today they are our residents’ greatest advocates and friends.  Through their work, witness and loyal presence, the staff is changing Armenia by bringing dignity to people with disabilities.  

When we opened our home, our residents were battered and worn down by rejection, instability and abuse.  While the effects of these sufferings are still apparent, today our residents reflect the knowledge that they are accepted and loved.  They exhibit a joy that many of you have beheld with your own eyes.  They are leaning into the stability of our home and experiencing some healing from the abuses of their pasts. 

What more could we ask for than to see those we love and serve heal in such a slow, deep, honest way?   What more could we ask for than to see the hearts of our community be transformed by touching the souls of people who were once thought to be nearly soulless? What more could we ask for than to know that in one small corner of Armenia, the lives of our residents are forever changed?  We could not ask for more. 

Our hope is that as you reflect on this work accomplished in the last decade that you will know, deep in your bones, that change is possible.  The world this last year has been full of rage and suffering and the news each night is bleak.  But there is still light.  There is still hope.  There are still beautiful things happening, even if they are small and slow.  And you are an integral part of that.  

At Warm Hearth’s opening, I said, “Let us remember that this is about the residents.  This is not about us.”  While there is profound truth to that, I have realized over the years that it is also about us.  It is about learning to give with our whole hearts.  It is about learning to see all people—ourselves included—as vulnerable and limited in some way.  In this way, it is about our healing as well, for failure to acknowledge and attend to our own and others’ limits without disparaging is a disease that must be healed in the world.  We need the residents of Warm Hearth to help us integrate this truth. 

Friends, how beautiful that something so small could reach and change so many hearts. 


Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri

Founder & Executive Director

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