Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri (Armenia 2003-05) is the Founder and Executive Director of Friends of Warm Hearth, Inc. It is a special group home for orphans with disabilities in Armenia, set up by Natalie and other RPCV. Natalie wrote me recently how all of this came about.
“Near the close of my service,” she said, “I found out that the children with disabilities were going to be sent to a psychiatric institution. I thought I could find another alternative for them — but was unable to do so. I spent the last few months of my service feverishly trying to come up with something. In the end, friends and family (worldwide) heard about the orphans I serve and donated enough money in a couple of months to purchase a house for them. We also found a counterpart organization within a month of my close of service. I’ve been involved ever since, obviously. This is my work, and my life.”
Two other RPCVs have been important in the Friends of Warm Hearth. One is Bridget Brown (Armenia 2001-03) who also served in Kapan. “I met Bridget the first day of my service,” explained Natalie. “We had similar passion for individuals with disabilities and I was placed in Kapan after she left. She knew the orphans as well and when she heard about their future (or lack thereof) she went to work immediately trying to help me garner support and resources. She worked tirelessly around the opening of the home, traveling to Armenia twice in one year to help us open and get underway. She continues to serve on our Board of Director and travels to Armenia periodically to support our work. She has been an
irreplaceable part of this project.
A third RPCV is Brian Kremer (Morocco 2007-10) who as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer worked at the home for 6 months in 2011. Brian wrote me about his connection to Warm Hearth home. “In January 2011 I took a Peace Corps Response assignment and worked with the Warm Hearth home. Most of my Peace Corps work focused on small business development projects but I also did some work with PEPFAR. I utilized my marketing degree from DePaul University to assist artisans in Morocco to find a market for their products. In Armenia I focused on a market strategy for the home and assisted in developing relationships with local businesses.
It was Brian and his friend, Chris Kitahara, who created The Out of Sight–Out of Mind video as a way for Host Country Nationals to understand what is going on inside the home. “The Armenian staff needed to be able to show the people of Armenia what it is they are doing and how extremely different it is,” explained Brian. “Our hope is that it will ultimately grow support from Armenian diaspora as well as Armenian government officials. I have been dedicating time to this project since my return and happy to see it finally making its way around the web.”
One additional reason for his involvement, Brian says, is because he has a brother with a developmental disability and that has made Brian extremely passionate about working with people with developmental disabilities. He hopes to be able to make more positive changes within nonprofits supporting this demographic once he completes his graduate program.
Today, Brian is attending the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, earning his MBA in nonprofit and healthcare management.
To view Brian’s moving video, and to read about the work that Natalie Bryant-Rizzieri, Bridget Brown, Brian and others have done, go to: www.friendsofwarmhearth.org.