Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

by Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

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

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,


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.)  


Dear friends,

The sky is dark and the rains have come, lessening the heat of the day.  This morning Bridget, a board member, and I drove the psychiatric institution in Sevan to see our resident, Anna, who has been living there since last summer.  As many of you remember, it took sweat and tears and years and blood and more years to bring Anna home.  And then she finally came home, and our hearts rejoiced.  She was home for over two years and we did not take that for granted, though often it seemed surreal.  Then last summer, one thing followed another and she ended up back in the institutions.  And our hearts wept with her.  And ending up back in *this* place also seemed surreal.  When you circle around a dark place a hundred times, the edges are as familiar as your own skin.  And it becomes hard to imagine a way out.  You know the feeling -- each doing your own circling, your own fighting the darkness.   

But today, as we drove away from the clinic, a small possibility opened up to us.  It isn't that it is easy, but even a small possibility brings light to the dark places of this world, of our hearts.  That small possibility is simple.  It is the simple things that are most profound, though. And the hardest.  And the possibility is simply that we need to find a way to open up the world to Anna, open up our home, and open avenues between our home and our surrounding community.  We need to find a way to keep her "in the world" -- and not isolated.  We need to find a way for her to touch and be touched by wider circles than our home.  On some level we have known this for quite some time -- but it seemed stark and clear to me today as I looked at her, and we spoke to her nurse, and considered our own home.  Of course, this won't solve every problem.  There are other real problems.  But I feel like this is part of the picture that might make a difference.  

But you see, the problem is this: our neighborhood (like so many neighborhoods around the world) here is not open to the idea of Warm Hearth.  And so our residents are not as free as we would like.  They are not as free as they need to be.  And Anna, especially, needs that freedom to flourish.  

As we drove through mountain passes back to Yerevan, from the institution, we wondered aloud how this shift could happen for Warm Hearth.  How can we reach out to our neighbors and begin the work of teaching them to embrace our residents? Or rather, how do we begin the work of teaching them to accept our residents, if embracing is still too much to hope for?  And we circled around this question and I felt exhaustion so deep in my bones as I thought of the sweat and blood and tears and years ahead of us.  Here we are, again.  

But then an hour later, we had a meeting with a friend who was coming to Warm Hearth to look at our handicrafts.  And somehow, in the midst of that conversation, we turned toward the neighborhood and the grassroots efforts that are needed to make this turn, to nurture this change.  And this is Anahit's gift -- that kind of gift that comes from someone's deepest heart, and their skills and personality and experience line right up with that gift to make them the perfect person for that work.  Well, that is the kind of gift that Anahit has when it comes to this groundwork in a building community around issues of disability.  And we met with her, today of all days. 

I know that Anna cannot wait for this slow work to take root, to find that water hidden far below the surface.  And I know we'll have to figure something out in the meantime.  And I believe we will.  But there is some profound hope I have in knowing what we must turn toward for now, and in this next season.  And it is our neighbors.  Our neighbors who have sued us and tried to get us kicked out of the neighborhood.  Our neighbors who have threatened our residents, and pretended that they were going to run our residents over to scare them away.  It is our neighbors that we have to open our hearts to, and find and nurture our shared humanity and vulnerability.

This is our calling.  Here we turn our work with the residents outward, reaching out, opening our hearts wider than we ever thought we would have to open them.  

What a world.  



Dear friends,

In January, I was present at a fundraiser for Warm Hearth in Colorado. I had the honor of meeting two sisters (pictured in the attachment below). I had noticed them in the crowd; they were shining like jewels. We spoke about how to make Warm Hearth more beautiful. We spoke of goats and soap-making, and about the gifts that we receive when we open out hearts to all people whether they have a disability or not.

From our conversation, I could tell that these were people who had lived and breathed the realities of Warm Hearth. They seemed to know what I was speaking about intimately. One of the women eventually said that her sister, standing with us, had a disability and that she was her greatest gift, teaching her what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to live according to what matters. She said that she knows and lives the reality that one group of people is not strong while the “others” are not weak. She has been transformed by loving her sister, and felt she had received more than she could ever give. We know this transformation intimately at Warm Hearth, but it was a gift to be reminded.

The above excerpt is from our Spring Newsletter.  If you would like to read more, please download the complete newsletter below.  

Sincerely and With Gratitude,

Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri



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Organization Information

Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

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

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