Dear friends, partners, donors, and volunteers -
It is with a heavy heart that I share with you that our relationship with Alya, the founder and former director of our partner organization (Jermik Ankyun Foundation - JAF) has deteriorated beyond imagination. As many of you know, she notified me this summer that she was leaving Warm Hearth for a position in Parliament. We traveled to Armenia in July to hire a new Executive Director. During this trip, the hiring committee chose a candidate and three days after, that candidate began onboarding. Two days later, on July 28, in direct violation of our mutually agreed upon Rules and Regulations, Alya notified me that her husband would be the director and that she had completely disbanded our local board and replaced them with people who would support this move.
I returned immediately to Armenia. We have done everything we can, with a team of incredible Armenians, to try to remedy the situation. And thus far, we have not been successful. Alya and her husband have not agreed to follow the Rules and Regulations and follow the legal steps necessary that would enable our organization to ensure that all donations are devoted to the care and protection of our residents and staff.
Their unwillingness to follow the Rules and Regulations that have been painstakingly drafted and revised for many years has been astonishing and heartbreaking. And I know that many of your hearts will also be broken with this news. At the moment, the only path forward (according to our lawyer and advisors in Armenia) is to withdraw financial support from our local partner organization, JAF, as long as Alya, her husband and her new board have legal control.
I want to reassure those of you who have donated, that based on our investigations and an annual external audit, the last of which was completed in May 2021, we have uncovered only one instance of financial fraud, and this instance was under $100. Based on these and other safeguards, we believe that all donations sent to Friends of Warm Hearth have been applied to our mission up until this time. We want to assure you that our accounts in the US are not accessible to anyone in Armenia. However, we will not be sending further funds to Jermik Ankyun Foundation's Armenia-based account unless Alya and her husband leave and the local Armenian board is changed according to our Rules and Regulations.
There are systems and forces that seek to destroy all that we believe in. This has been the case since day one. There has been a deep betrayal of all that we stood for and against. Grief and anger are just and proper responses to this place of unraveling and unknowing. Mother Theresa says, and I recite every day: What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
I have told our staff and our residents that they are the collective heart of Warm Hearth. They are our North Star, and the reason we exist. That does not change. We must be brave. We must hope that truth will win in the end. We must bear the light in unbearable times. We must bear witness to the unwillingness to follow the Rules and Regulations and the darkness that has surfaced, and not pretend it does not exist. We must hold onto a persistent and stubborn hope that in the end, love wins. And we must pray, with all of our hearts, that our residents will be protected.
I have said many times that I have the honor of knowing the best people the world has to offer. In that group I include many of you, our residents and staff, our FWH board, and my allies and friends here in Armenia. Our allies and friends in Armenia would give a limb to save our residents and we will be counting on them to check in on our residents in this next season when our protection as an organization is put on hold.
Our residents are not alone. They have you. And they have me. And that will always be the case, whatever else happens.
Since the writing of this letter, so many of you have asked what is next? What does this mean for the shape of our organization, for our residents? These are the questions I ask myself each day. And while I wish I had more answers for you, I will tell you this--
We are still in touch with our residents through visitors and friends from outside the organization. And for today, they are healthy and content. That is no small thing. While we remain uncertain what the outcome will be, for now and for the foreseeable future, the Armenian nonprofit (Jermik Ankyun Foundation) is caring for the residents primarily with Armenian government funds.
Indeed, this may be the end of this particular road and journey. That's the truth. And I will promise you this -- if, as I fear, we get to the end of the road and it is in fact the end, then you will be the first to know. I will continue being transparent with you.
Gwendolyn Brooks says, “...we are each other’s harvest: / we are each other’s business: / we are each other’s magnitude and bond.
Whether it’s teaching the residents songs, enjoying tea and cookies in the garden, or telling jokes, our caregivers live with our residents in reciprocity, and shared love.
When caring for residents with Covid-19 last year, one staff member wrote, “When Sassoon and Arsen got Covid, we put a lot of effort into caring for them. We stayed up with them at night. Whenever the nurse injected Arsen intravenously, I felt as if his hand was mine. I felt pain. For days, his fever was not decreasing and at night, I took his temperature every hour and made sure he was hydrated.” Our caregivers’ vigilance was a testament of their devotion. Arsen, Sassoon, and all our residents who got Covid have fully recovered.
Our caregivers rejoice with our residents when they rejoice and grieve with them with they grieve. Their love for one another is mutually transforming. Our residents are changed by the love and consistency of their caregivers. And our caregivers are transformed too. They receive just as much from our residents as they give. They are each other’s magnitude and bond.
We could not do this work without you, and we hope you will be blessed in return, in equal measure.
In springtime of 2020, we watched as Covid-19 ravaged so many lives and altered the landscape of the world, including the micro-worlds of our three forever homes. Then in autumn, we grieved as a decades’ old conflict descended into a war that devastated Armenia. It is hard to put into words what it feels like to wonder if our residents, homes and this nation will survive. Even since the war ended, Armenians I know are scheming about how they can get their families out of the country if it comes to that. There is a constant sense of threat. There have been many sleepless nights wondering how we can keep our people safe.
On one call with Alya, our Executive Director in Armenia, I asked her if she had an escape plan for her family. She said, without hesitating, that she could not leave the residents behind. I was sick to my stomach with grief for Alya, her family and daughters, our residents and all those in Armenia. I didn’t want her to have to make such a terrible calculation. I still don’t. I spend countless hours trying to figure out how she can leave if she wants to. And I will continue to do so.
And, at the same time, there is deep consolation in her love for the residents. They do have family. They have her and other staff members who love them just as fiercely.
I think back to the beginning of Warm Hearth/Jermik Ankyun--to the years in which I was trying (and failing, or so I thought) to convince the staff of our residents’ immeasurable value. During those years I asked myself time and again: Why can’t I just settle for most of them to be safe and not institutionalized? Why do I care so much that they are loved? But I did. I couldn’t settle.
On a dark October night during a six-week war, I knew with deep certainty that my dreams had been fulfilled. The wearisome work had been worth it. The residents are loved. They are worth dying for. And despite the war refugees, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and all the violence that struck terror into all of our hearts, this truth remains a beacon of light.
Access stories and pictures here.
Marieta (pictured here) is a refugee from Artsakh, the disputed territory otherwise known as NagornoKarabakh. She came to us in the thick of the recent war. Despite the loss of home and family that she recently experienced, she brought light with her, and into our homes and our hearts. Her mere presence is a joy in such a difficult and heartbreaking time. She will likely be with us forever. It is hard to imagine otherwise.
All those we care for and love (and I include both staff and residents in that phrase) have been profoundly affected by the loss, trauma, uncertainty and unrest that accompanies war. Some of their losses are unspeakably tragic. And we grieve with them. We worry with them. We are afraid with them. And we are grateful with them that the violence has ceased, even though that won’t bring back the dead. It is the task of Warm Hearth to be with those we love in times of grief as well as joy — to cultivate a safe place where we can unravel and be stitched back together.
Even as the region was embroiled in turmoil and fear, you will not be surprised to know that our residents and our staff found ways to bring light into the small and shadowed corners of this time. The residents get a small personal stipend each month that they can either spend or save. Not only did they welcome someone new into their home, many of them chose to offer what little money is their own and give it away — to the soldiers, the families in need, the refugees. After doing so, one of them said, “And finally, I have some peace.”
They are the light — the bright flame burning that reminds us that there is still reason to hope no matter what else rages.
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Founder & Executive Director
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