Although Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri was only supposed to serve in Armenia for two years as a member of the Peace Corps, she made a lifelong commitment to the country — and to the people — by opening Warm Hearth, the first long-term group home in Armenia for adult-orphans with disabilities. On Thursday evening, May 12, Bryant-Rizzieri lead an information session about Warm Hearth, its residents and how people can contribute to this worthy organization.
Warm Hearth was founded in 2006, at the end of Bryant-Rizzieri’s time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia, where she worked daily with orphans with disabilities in the city of Kapan. When she was told that her students would be sent to psychiatric institutions once they turned 18, Bryant-Rizzieri knew she had to find an alternative residence for them, as they were capable of living outside of those psychiatric institutions. Within a few short months, she had accomplished just that, raising enough money to purchase a residence for her eight students in the outskirts of Yerevan.
“Our goal is to provide family for those that are without,” said Bryant-Rizzieri, a published poet who holds a masters in fine arts. “A better life was and is possible for these individuals.”
During her talk, Bryant-Rizzieri touched upon the care and treatment the Warm Hearth residents receive, including vocational training, life skills and participation in meaningful work. With enough love, nurture and encouragement, great strides have been made among the residents, including one who was able to find a job and move out on his own.
While Warm Hearth has existed mainly on private donations since its inception five years ago, the government of Armenia recently agreed to give funding to the organization for the 2012 calendar year.
“We want to be a sustainable model for group homes in Armenia,” said Bryant-Rizzieri. “We are the first group home in Armenia and hope we are not the last.”
Other speakers who reflected on Warm Hearth during the evening included Raina Clark, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia who witnessed for herself the positive changes in Bryant Rizzieri’s students after they moved into Warm Hearth. Bryant-Rizzieri’s mother, who had the opportunity to spend time with the residents while visiting her daughter in Armenia, also spoke of the impact Warm Hearth has had on its residents. Tamar Gasparian, who met Bryant-Rizzieri while helping the Peace Corps volunteers during their initial training, volunteered her time at Warm Hearth when it opened.
“Seeing what they are doing for my country is a truly amazing experience,” said Gasparian.
While her work in Armenia began almost a decade ago, Bryant-Rizzieri made it clear the special ties she has created with the country.
“Armenia now lives deep in my blood,” she said.
Following the information session, attendees enjoyed wine and cheese and had the chance to talk with Bryant-Rizzieri about Warm Hearth and ask questions and learn more about the residents and organization. For more information, please visit www.friendsofwarmhearth.org.