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A Bold Vision by Founder of Friends of Warm Hearth Helps See-Through Armenia’s First Long-Term Group Home

May 2, 2011

Information Session about Friends of Warm Hearth to Take Place May 12 in NYC

While volunteering for the Peace Corps in Armenia, Natalie Bryant Rizzieri forged a close bond with her students – eight orphans with disabilities – in the village of Kapan, a city in Southern Armenia. After working together every day for two years, Rizzieri learned the devastating news that since her students had reached 18 years of age, they would soon be sent to one of the psychiatric institutions in Armenia.

“I had visited those institutions,” said Rizzieri, who served in Armenia from 2003-2005. “I didn’t want them to suffer in this way.” So she took it upon herself to find a new place for her students to live. When Rizzieri couldn’t find any suitable options, she decided to start Warm Hearth in 2006, the first long-term group home in Armenia.

“I saw first-hand that there was a need for a long-term group home in Armenia when our first group of residents, who did not need institutionalization and who were capable of living full and meaningful lives, were being relegated to the old former Soviet institutions,” said Rizzieri.

The group home — set in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Yerevan in the Silikian District — initially provided care for the eight orphans from Kapan, but has since welcomed a second group of residents from other orphanages throughout Armenia. The 13 residents, all over the age of 18, have been orphaned or abandoned and struggle with a disability or mental illness.

“They have outgrown the orphanages and have disabilities and have no place to go,” said Rizzieri. “Warm Hearth fills that need.”

The residents are provided with services including vocational development, life skills programs, art therapy, opportunities to attend classes and social integration services. Working alongside them is a trained full-time staff, who have received special training on the group home model, and who also have ongoing training throughout the year.

“We care for them holistically, body, mind, and soul,” said Rizzieri.  “We do our best to emulate a family setting and provide a safe place that they can always come home to, while increasing their independence as much as possible.”

Friends of Warm Hearth – which is funded by donors, private foundations, businesses and the Armenian government –  is partnered with the Armenia-based nonprofit Jermik Ankyun Foundation, which was founded after the group home opened. Rizzieri continues to work closely with the founder of Jermik Ankyun Foundation, Alya Kirakosyan, who is the in-country director of the group home.

While Friends of Warm Hearth has a short history, it has been able to bring vast change and improvement to the lives of adult orphans with disabilities in Armenia, in turn helping develop and progress Armenia from within.

But these ground-breaking strides and accomplishments are just the beginning for Friends of Warm Hearth and for Rizzieri who envisions for her residents “a life of peace and nurture,” and will be grateful “if we can have a part in making this come to pass.”

An information session about Friends of Warm Hearth, hosted by the Zohrab Center, will take place on Thursday, May 12 at 7 pm in Guild Hall of the Diocesan Center, located at 630 Second Avenue in New York. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about Friends of Warm Hearth, its residents, and how to participate in this noteworthy organization.


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