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.
Thanks for your care and concern for our residents and forever homes through one of the most difficult times. To read the opening letter of our report, scroll down. For our full report about 2020 that is chock-a-block full of stories and pictures, go here.
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.
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.
If you would like to see our full newsletter, you can view it at the link below.
Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri Founder & Executive Director
You can view our most recent newsletter here with photographs. You can also view a gorgeous short film on our residents here. English subtitles will be coming soon.
After months of isolation and quarantine due to the global pandemic, we thought it was safe and prudent to provide our residents with a getaway. All three homes boarded a bus and went to the town of Goris. They stayed at a small hotel where they were the only guests. They danced and ate, laughed and sang, talked and did theater. It was a blessed reprieve after so many months of being home-bound and quarantined.
It was sweet for them to all have time together—to nurture old connections (from previous times in orphanages) and to make new friends. As I watched the videos and looked at the photographs, I couldn’t help but hope that they felt how precious they are as individuals and simultaneously how powerful it is to be a part of something larger. As our community grows and thanks to each of you, that is more and more possible. We not only have three forever homes and nearly thirty residents, we also have created a movement that works to absolve the margins. Thank you for cultivating and propelling this movement forward.
I hope our residents felt the strength that it is to be gathered together in one place and what it means both to be loved and to see others loved and honored. I hope you can feel that strength too.
Armenia has recovered well from Covid-19. While we still are being cautious, we are also urging staff and residents to simply make the next right decision. We cannot know what the future will hold. But hopefully we can make good decisions in the here and now — that honor our residents’ vulnerabilities but also the social consequences of isolation. In the meantime, your support and presence is a gift — in times of want and in times of plenty. May there be more times of plenty to come for all of us, the world over.
Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri Founder & Executive Director
A special thanks to:
- Thanks to Anahit Mkhoyan for working with our staff to strengthen our organizational structure. Your heart and passion have sustained us time and again. Your wisdom is a guiding force.
- After years of dreaming, we are creating a pottery studio so that all of our residents can participate in this art and sell their work to sustain our homes. Thanks to Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) for helping us secure the necessary donations and for all of your support over the last few years.
- Congratulations to our Executive Director in Armenia, Alya Kirakosyan, for being selected for the Ombudsman Board for Disability Rights in Armenia. It is a well-deserved honor.
-Thanks to Para TV and Alya Kiraksoyan for creating a short film that highlights our residents’ profound beauty. The blessed humanity of our residents shines through the film, which can be viewed here. A film with English subtitles is coming soon.
2020 has been a bear so far. There’s no way around it. Covid-19 has turned many everyday rituals inside out. The loss associated with that is no small thing. In the midst of so much change, it has been our desire to maintain a sense of joyous shelter and safety for our residents.
Living in a group home is inherently more risky than living in a single family home. Some of our residents have the additional vulnerability of a complicated health history. We have taken their risks to heart and implemented a strict shelter-in-place since mid-March. In order to cut down on exposure, staff members work longer hours and we provide their transportation to and from the homes. No visitors have been allowed to come to the homes. These safety measures have kept all of our residents well, for the time being. But we do have plans in place for how we will proceed when someone becomes ill. At this point, we assume that it is not if, but when.
In the meantime, our staff have gone the extra kilometer to make sure that our residents’ days are full, structured, interesting and engaging. I am so grateful that they are afforded that luxury. There is a lot of cooking, chopping, exercising, planting, blowing up balloons and creating. The residents are crafting brilliant paper suns and pineapples, clay cherries and peaches. They are marking birthdays with ingenuity. Our staff members have been incredible friends and partners in this time, as have each of you. And as always, I am amazed by our residents’ resiliency — their willingness and ability to not just make the most of what they have been given but to make something more, to make something beautiful. Thank you for all you do to make something beautiful on their behalf as well. Our homes are a testament to your love.
To see our full newsletter, please click on the link below.
Sincerely Yours, N atalie Bryant-Rizzieri Founder & Executive Director
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