Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

by Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Dear friends,

I have attached the most recent newsletter for your enjoyment.

Thank you for your time and care.

Sincerely & With Gratitude, Natalie

Anna - April 2009
Anna - April 2009

May 25th, 2009

Dear friends,

Many of you know that after my last trip to Armenia, the hope was that our staff would feel confident enough and have acquired the skills necessary to bring either Anna or Sassoon home. They are our “special two” who have been in a clinic for too long…. We had a training that was designed to this end in April, but it still felt like a pipe dream.

The week after I left Armenia, during a staff meeting, they determined that they did in fact feel ready, that it was time to try again. For Anna. I waited so long for that moment, two years, in fact. And when the news came, I cried for the hope of it all, and for all the days that I had given up hope, and for Anna, for myself, for our staff, all our residents, for the way our lives are inextricably wound together in a way that is sometimes miraculous and sometimes excruciating.

The last month has been a flurry of preparing for her to come home. We have strategized about responses to her behaviors. We have tried to build up strength. We have tried to impart courage to one another. We have tried to inspire one another. We have been afraid. We have been happy.

She was due to come home this Wednesday, May 27th.

But last night, I woke at 4 a.m. I could not sleep for the life of me. I finally gave in to the wakefulness and climbed out of bed. When I checked my email later this morning, there was a message from Alya (our director in Armenia), at 4:07 am, telling me that Anna was home two days early. After two years, my friends. After two years.

She came home early because her behavior had spun out of control in the clinic. She is afraid as well. She is vulnerable. She is over-medicated and it will take awhile to sort through all of these complications. These days are intense ones, for Anna and for our staff. I feel like I’m holding my breath. It is not going to be easy. But it is another beginning, and beginnings are always hard.

And there is hope, in this beginning. For Anna. For us all. In second (or third or fourth) chances.

Keep us in your thoughts and close to your hearts. With love & gratitude, Natalie (for us all)

PS - Here is a photograph of Anna from the last month.

-- Natalie Bryant Rizzieri Founder, Executive Director Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Tel. (480) 921-1181 Armenian Tel. (374) (10) 39-81-50 Address: P.O. Box 1037; Tempe, AZ 85280

Providing Holistic Care for Orphans with Disabilities in Armenia

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I have always known that one day I would take this path though yesterday I did not know it would be today.

-Ariwara no Naribari

Dear friends,

What a full week this has turned out to be. As we speak, it seems another tree or flower blossoms. Yesterday I was walking with a friend and we came upon wild lilacs. It is a beautiful time to be here, to see snow in some parts of the country, rain in experience such a distinct shift in the seasons.

Today we had an excursion to the town of Spitak to visit Mother Teresa's orphanage there. I had never been and neither had the residents. We both wanted to meet the residents there and to give something to them... All of the residents (from our home and theirs) became friends quickly. It was a joy to watch friendships begin, to see another place that reaches out to the same people in this country, and to draw strength from shared joys and struggles. We face many of the same difficulties and so I found solace in that. Mother Teresa's orphanage opened right after the earthquake and the children who were handicapped by the earthquake have grown up and will stay in this place for their entire lives. They do not take new residents (I tried before opening Warm Hearth!) but perhaps as a result, it feels like a family there as well.

On our way over and through the snow-covered mountains, I again wished that you could have been there. Our residents were singing, befriending the driver, making jokes and pointing out gorges, lakes, mountains and villages to one another. I leaned my head back as they sang and drank in a few deep breaths of mountain air and told myself: Remember this. Never forget it. Remember this joy, their joy, your joy.

We have come so far. I couldn't help but think of our first long journey together from Kapan over snowy roads when we opened the home. I couldn't help but look back, knowing that we have been blessed to have made it thus far. I also couldn't help but look forward and wonder where we will still go together.

I hope that the way forward will bring a solution and healing for Anna and Sassoon. They remain in the clinic. It has been so long now. And while on some days, I know that they are there for good reasons, I also know that it is not *good* that they are there. And in this way, we are at an impasse with them. There is a chance that our training next week (a specialist from the Seattle area joins us tomorrow) will provide help for our staff to the extent that we can try to bring one of them home. But there is also a chance that we will not be able to.

When I visited them a few days ago, Sassoon asked me over and over to take him home. I told him I could not, over and over. He then went through a list of everyone he could think of who might be able to take him home and for each question, I had to say, "he/she cannot take you home." Finally, exhausted (as was I), he looked down and let out a huge sigh and said, "God will take me home." Oh.

I carry them in my heart, though, and ask that you carry them as well. It is too heavy to carry alone. And at each juncture, I hope that this will be the one that allows for some large change for them, that allows for them to be at home again...even if it is in a different home.

May it be so. Miracles have happened before.

Sincerely and with Gratitude, Natalie

Dear friends,

I just returned from a trip to Armenia and wanted to thank each of your for your tireless support and courage. Please see the attached newsletter for the latest updates from our home, for a glimpse into the lives of our residents. And feel free to be in touch with ideas or questions. I welcome your input and enjoy corresponding with each of you.

Thank you for your time, for listening to our story, for being such an essential part of it.


Natalie Bryant Rizzieri


Dear friends,

As I expected, it is the cusp of spring here in Armenia. Rain is falling gently outside. There is occasional thunder. And I'm on my way back to my room after a full day at Warm Hearth. How do I even begin?

Well, as you know, we have six new residents, who welcomed me like they had always known me, who are at peace, it seems, and living well with the others. I was shown every nook and cranny of our renovated 3rd floor....which is homey and warm and freshly painted. The garden ground was recently plowed and the trees there will soon break. Agappy, a new resident, was especially proud of the garden.

Oh, there is too much to tell.

All of our residents had displayed the best of their artwork and handicrafts around the house and I spent hours looking through sketchbooks, and fingering ceramics, and seeing what they have creatively done with the packing-styrofoam. The two work-rooms look like small art halls and the time and love spent in those rooms is evident.

I listened as the residents said a prayer before their meal. I smelled fresh khachapoori (an Armenian cheese pastry) and watched a community-assistant pull it out of the oven and serve it to the residents. I took all the shy smiles that Yulia gave me across the room, the chorus of "eat, eat" from each of the residents, coffee that Sargis (another new resident) made for me and proceeded to force me to drink it alone so that I could have a moment of peace, he said. :)

We ate together and laughed together. And had an afternoon dance-party in the living room after each resident had sung as many songs as they could conjure up, and recited as many poems as possible... You should have seen Davit dance, our newest resident who came to live with us off the street after his mother recently died. He would just jump up and down in one place, clapping his hands, beaming, and saying “opa” in a sing-songy voice Precious.

In the afternoon, there is a rest hour and each resident goes to his or her room. I took the opportunity to lay down upstairs as well to ward off some of the jet lag. As I fell asleep, I could hear the residents in the next room singing a soft lullaby (I learned later that they had sung it for me). I laid in such a warm bed, with a quilt made by one of you, surrounded, as it were, by you there and those I love here...and rested in the beauty of what we have done together.

I wish you could have been there. My hands are sticky from so much holding. Yours would be, too.

With love and gratitude, Natalie (for us all)


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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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