Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

by Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.
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. 

Yours,



Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri

Founder & Executive Director

Sound Therapy with Visiting Volunteer
Sound Therapy with Visiting Volunteer

Dear friends - 

In addition to doing cutting-edge “sound therapy” for our residents (see attached photo), the work of this year has been to reflect, to look long and hard at our structure and organization.  We have looked at our strengths and weaknesses, letting those speak to us and guide us forward.  As usually happens when you look, we have seen areas that need to change, and together, we have begun the work of bringing those changes into the world. 

Change does not come easily for me but I have been blessed by the openness of the staff and board.  We have been guided and held by the strong hands and heart of Anahit Mkhoyan, a board member in Armenia, who stepped forward and said, “I want to help.  How can we make things better?”  It is so simple, really, when it comes right down to it.  It is the willingness to begin that is hard to come by. 

The changes I speak of are around staffing responsibilities.  Without boring you with details, we want all of those who work on behalf of Warm Hearth to sharpen their focus so that our work can be done with full and undivided hearts.  We want to hire a few more people and shift some responsibilities around.  We want to bless our staff and our management with enough time to accomplish their tasks and with remuneration that reflects the value of their tasks.  We believe this will also bless our residents. 

So, we close this year with hearts that are a bit nervous for all the changes that will soon come to pass.  We close this year with hope that these changes will be life-giving for all of us and will usher us into a new season, stronger and able to continue on. 

May we all have the courage to reflect, to look, and to change.  May we all have the courage and confidence to step forward and say, “I want to help.  How can I make things better” in our homes, neighborhoods, hearts, and world.

(If you are interested in reading our complete newsletter, see the attachment.)   

Sincerely Yours,

Armine (resident) with Bridget (board member)
Armine (resident) with Bridget (board member)

Links:


Attachments:

Dear friends,

So many of you have reached out to us with concern for the ways that the residents have been treated by the neighbors.  Beginning in May, our staff members and residents began to reach out to the neighbors, extending kindness and offering their open hearts. And as often happens when we are vulnerable in this way, some of the neighbors have responded with love and kindness in return.  

After some initial efforts made on our side, a group of neighborhood children brought over a poster decorated for the residents.  This group of children are coming over to play with the residents now.  A few neighbors have even invited some residents to dinner in their homes.  After the isolation of the past few years, this is transformative. 

It does not escape me that these changes required openness on our part.  They required the initiative and courage of our staff and residents.  Even though our residents and staff were innocent, a change in them was also necessary. It can be tempting to wait for changes to come, when what is actually required is a willingness to try again, a willingness to be kind despite someone else’s unkindness, and a willingness to believe the best of people. 

The work of Warm Hearth is definitely to care for people with disabilities but it is also to transform the community around us (both in Armenia and in other countries) beginning with ourselves.  I recently sat around Janet and Araik Garibyan’s table with a group of shining people from Los Angeles who care for and support our work with abandon and passion.  And I was reminded that this work also transforms communities a great distance from Armenia. 

The work of Warm Hearth is one that asks us to be vulnerable, to reach out again and again, to find the common ground between ourselves and the residents and the neighbors who shunned them for a time.  It asks us to believe that small (and sometimes large) changes can come about, but that these changes begin in ourselves. 

To read the rest of our newsletter, see the downloadable attachment!  

Sincerely Yours,

Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri


Attachments:
Poster from neighborhood children
Poster from neighborhood children

Dear friends, 

So many of you offer support to our residents and our home over the long haul.  And slowly but surely we make a difference in our residents' lives and days.  It is a joy to do this work together.  And we do not take your presence and generosity for granted.  

As you will recall, a couple of months ago I wrote about the struggles with the neighbors accepting our home.  Many of you reached out to us to impart courage and strength.  Our staff members have been leading the residents in making efforts to reach out to the neighbors as well.  And some of them have responded positively.  

Children seem to be the easiest to reach, across the board, and this has proven true in our case as well.  When we have shown kindness to the children of the neighborhood, they have responded in turn.  One day they even brought over a huge poster with notes of love and affection on it (see attached photo).  Our residents were overjoyed at this gesture of acceptance and kindness.  

A few of the adults have responded as well.  And we are grateful for these signs of hope on our street.  Slowly but surely we are already seeing change.  And as you know, change can be hard to come by, so we are grateful for it when it is before our eyes.  

Thank you for believing in our work, for welcoming our residents into your hearts.  I have taken solace (and I believe that they have to) that even while there is hostility closeby, there has been commitment and acceptance from afar.  That is no small thing.  

Blessings to each of you,


Natalie 

Dear friends,

The following is an excerpt from our summer newsletter (attached).  

The Heart of Your Enemy

Bridget Brown and I just returned from a ten-day trip to Armenia.  We beheld the fruits of many labors, the work of many hands.  We were invited into the family that Warm Hearth has become and held in that sacred space.  What an honor that always is, to become family to those with whom you have no blood ties. 

As many of you know, we also noticed that Warm Hearth is more isolated than ever before.  Our residents are never outside on the streets any longer, playing ball, sitting in the sun, watching people pass on our quiet village road.  It has been the slow reversal of a tide, in the wrong direction.  And, I know why.  It is because the relations with the neighbors are so fraught with tension that our staff want to protect our residents.  It is because the neighbors say terrible things and threaten our residents. 

But I could not help but grieve at the way in which we have moved backward.  The purpose of Warm Hearth is for our residents to have a life in the community and not behind walls.  We have spent the last decade trying to reveal the humanity and splendor of our residents.  We have spent sweat and tears trying to build bridges for them, but…  It is time now to turn toward our neighbors who are also our “enemies.”  We must try to understand their vulnerabilities and fears and build bridges to them.  We have to see their humanity and find the key that unlocks their hearts.  This is our work as a staff, but it also involves the residents.  For this, we need bravery.  We need strength.  We need boldness. 

A friend recently sent me a quote: What if the thing you need most is found in the heart of your enemy?  While the author is unknown, the task is not.  What if the thing we most need to provide a good life for our residents is found in the heart of our neighbors?  I believe it is.  And, what if the thing our neighbors most need is found in us, in our residents and in our collective vulnerability and humanity?
 
(To read more, please see the attachment.)  


Attachments:
 

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Organization Information

Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Location: Flagstaff, AZ - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.friendsofwarmhearth.org
Project Leader:
Warm Hearth Co-Director
Founder/Executive Director
Flagstaff, AZ United States

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