Group Homes for Armenian Orphans with Disabilities

by Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc.

Dear friends,

In seedtime learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.  (William Blake)

It is striking to me that the new year, the time to begin again, occurs midwinter when nights are longest and feast days have just passed.  In this season, the daylight hours are a promise of what is to come as they are only beginning to lengthen again toward the balance of equinox.  It is in this quiet space that we consider both the past year and the year to come. 

In seedtime learn

Each year has its seasons of learning, its seedtime.  This year we brought Alya, our Armenian Country Director, to the United States.  We wanted to see the daily routine and management of various group homes in order to strengthen our own ability to manage difficult behaviors and residents with complicated diagnoses.

While I missed going to Armenia this year (we couldn’t manage both) and seeing our dear residents, it seemed fitting to allow her the extraordinary chance to see other group homes.  Because ours was the first - and only - long-term group home in Armenia, she had never had the opportunity to see another.  Our time together here was rich and sparked a renewed commitment to bring Anna and Sassoon home from the clinics in the spring.  (Read more on page 3 of the attached Annual Report.)

While observing different group homes, we felt validated in that the most important components of a loving group home are in place at Warm Hearth.  We were exposed to new ways of caring for individuals with particular behavioral challenges.  We were reminded that the struggles we face are by nature part of this work and are not endured by us alone.

In harvest teach

In 2011, we enjoyed the gifts of each particular season and helped our residents do the same.  As in any endeavor, and in any human life, there were unexpected losses and surprising bounties along the way.   We - resident, staff, donor, volunteer - experienced both, as did each of you, I imagine.

Many of our residents began their third and final year of study at Yerevan State Humanities College.  They have thrived in this setting and we look forward to their graduation day in 2012.  We continue to think of ways in which we can achieve movement toward further integration into the community after graduation - whether in work, service, art or play.  We look forward to how this will enrich and strengthen our residents’ lives. 

In winter enjoy

I spoke with our residents an hour ago. It is the eve of the Armenian New Year and they are staying up late, reveling in the celebration with its tasks and merriments, talking about their gifts, enjoying one another.  It bring me so much joy to hear their voices full of anticipation, full of hope. 

As Blake urges, winter is a time to enjoy the work of the year, the bounty of the harvest.  They are doing just that.  In this spirit, I want this report to do the same.  We have so much to be grateful for, in large part because of each of you.  So in these pages, I want to share with you our seeds, our harvest, and our winter that you might also learn, teach and enjoy.

Blessings to you and yours,

Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri


Dear friends,

I have attached the winter newsletter for your perusal and enjoyment.  In addition, I have included a portion of the text below. 

On behalf of the residents and staff, we would like to wish you all a blessed season.   Our residents look forward to celebrating - and thank you for your part in making that happen. 

Sincerely and with gratitude,
Natalie (for us all)

Ground is Broken

In September, we reported our newly-laid plans to build a garden house.  The garden house will be a small and simple building in our backyard (design pictured here).  In the beginning, it will provide a structure and a safe place to care for our residents with more intense needs.  Anna and Sassoon, two of our residents who have been in clinics, are the inspiration for this garden house.  Though there have been delays, construction is now underway and we hope to be ready to welcome Anna and Sassoon home in March of 2012.  Our vision is that the home be a transitional space for any residents with special needs whether that be Anna and Sassoon in their transition from the clinic, a resident who is looking to increase his or her independent living skills, or a volunteer who would benefit the residents by staying onsite.  We are so grateful for this opportunity and the possibilities it holds for our residents.  In the meantime, we are also finishing our basement and making it a therapeutic and welcoming place where any resident can take some time away from the larger group to rest, relax, or be calmed.  We are hopeful that these changes, along with behavior planning, and a new staffing structure will be the keys to a successful transition home for Anna and Sassoon.

Read the full newsletter by opening the attachment. 

Roman's infectious smile

My name is Shahd AlShehail, and I'm a GlobalGiving field intern who visited all our partner projects in Armenia! .. I'm happy to update you about the project you donated to ...

While volunteering for the Peace Corps at an orphanage in Armenia, Natalie saw a need for a long-term care to mentally-disabled adults that have outgrown orphanages. She knew that in a culture that hides the mentally disabled and considers them shameful, their only other option would be old soviet psychiatric hospitals. This is where Friends of Warm Hearth comes in to provide a brighter future to Armenian adults with disabilities.

We walked into the house in the suburbs of Yerevan where 11 residents live, and were immediately greeted by three smiley faces, Gayane, Davit and Roman.

As we toured the house with Alya, the Country Director, and Brian, a Peace Corps volunteer we witnessed the unique aspects and techniques used in the group home. Residents attend University during the day to learn vocational skills such as carpet weaving and gardening. At home, they are able to immediately practice these skills in the crafts room, the garden, or the carpet weaving room. In the evening, they engage in different fun activities from singing to dancing to puzzle making (Roman’s favorite!). And two times a week, the residents have group therapy sessions with a professional psychologist, in which they openly talk about their thoughts, feelings, and issues surrounding their respective disabilities.

Alya spoke to us candidly about the struggles they’ve had raising awareness within the government about mental-disability. Under Armenian law, there is no distinction between physical disability and mental disability, and very little funding for either. As you can imagine they face the same struggles within the community. “We take our residents on trips around the country, they are fun and the residents really look forward to them! But they are also a great way to help promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the community.”

The residents were really excited to share their photo albums with us and perform some traditional Armenian songs, which was quickly turned by Agape and Davit to a great dance party!

Friends of Warm Hearth is so much more than a group home. The resident receive specialized care, live in an inclusive nurturing environment, and learn important vocational skills. In the future, Alya hopes to expand “I dream of having a big home one day, with different groups of residents, living within similar levels of capabilities, and interacting with each other in a large communal place.”

We left the house with a sense of gratification, knowing that all your donations are going to a great project.

Continue your support to them here 

some of the crafts made by the resident
some of the crafts made by the resident
Gayane sharing a poem she learned at college
Gayane sharing a poem she learned at college

Dear friends,

I'm honored to keep you up-to-date on the happenings at Warm Hearth.  This quarter (and hence, the newsletter) has been chock-full of the good, even the glorious, and the ugly (or disappointing).  Please find (and read!) the attached newsletter. 

And while you're here, I wanted to share our residents' new handicrafts at  Each different craft is located on a separate page.  Just click on "older posts" at the bottom of each screen to view another craft.  They are beautiful, if I may say so myself.  The residents and their crafts. 

Thank you for caring about our home and our residents.  We are all most grateful. 

Blessings to you and yours,

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

Providing Holistic Care for Orphans with Disabilities in Armenia 


Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its way
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed
provided we stay brave
enough to keep going in.

By Wendell Berry



Dear friends,

As you know, many of you, our attempts to help Anna and Sassoon (two of our residents who have spent more times in clinics/institutions than in Warm Hearth Group Home) have been thwarted time and again. Many of you have given so much in an effort to bring them home.  What has looked like the answer in the past has disappointed.  We've tried to move forward, to bring them home, and time and again our footing has been precarious. And we have slipped and fallen. And they have suffered, still, in the institutions. 

As a last-ditch effort, Alya, our Armenian Director, came to the USA in July to see different group homes, in the hopes that we would learn some skills and be encouraged in regard to caring for residents like Anna and Sassoon with greater behavioral challenges.  The trip was full – and we did learn a lot — all of us.  But by the end, we were not sure if it would end up meaning a homecoming for Anna or Sassoon. 

It seemed like we were at a dead-end.  And I wasn't sure there was any way to even back out of that place and look for another road. 

I reckoned with what it means when there is nothing more to be done — nothing more one can even imagine to do that would relieve the suffering of one's beloveds.  What does grace even mean in those places?  These were the questions I asked.  I still ask them, because they are still unanswered for many people. 

But for Anna and Sassoon, there is more than a glimmer of hope. And it is not hard to see the grace in that.

A couple weeks ago now, I asked Alya to consider bringing Anna and Sassoon home one more time.  It was a question I had to ask -- but with open-hands -- because Warm Hearth has become more and more Armenia's.  And in response, Alya proposed building a garden house in our backyard for Anna and Sassoon, consisting of two bedrooms and a bath.  This garden house would be a place Anna and Sassoon could go when they were struggling to provide space and to protect them and our other residents. 

The board joyfully deliberated and has approved the decision to move forward.  We are in the process of getting zoning approval to build this garden house and we hope to start construction in October so as to be done before the heavy-handedness of Armenian winter.

I was (and still am) incredulous.  It's taken awhile to sink in, to recover from the beautiful shock of being handed hope again. 

All the answers are not in place, nor will they ever be.  We hope this works as a long-term solution for Anna and Sassoon.  We hope this with all our hearts as we (and especially Anna & Sassoon) are turned around from that dead-end place and looking down a new road. 

With 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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