Because Orphan Care Doesn't End When Orphans Age Out
— Mary Kathryn Tiller · Tuesday, July 23, 2019 —
What does it mean to serve orphans well? For the staff at Orphan Outreach, this is the question ever before them as they plan new initiatives and evaluate current ones. For Rey Diaz, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Orphan Outreach, the answer is simple:
“One of our core values is to go deep with these kids and make a long-term difference in their lives. We don’t just give a kid a handout and say, ‘Good luck with the rest of your life.’ We walk alongside them, through their ups and downs. We guide them. That’s what family does and these kids are family.”
As the children cared for by Orphan Outreach’s ministry partners have grown, so has their potential. Many children, who began the program as toddlers and preschoolers, are now teenagers, ready to enter into a new season of their lives. Tragically, while they may be willing to take that next step, there are innumerable obstacles on their path to independence.
Dedicated to going deep, Orphan Outreach is extending their support for these children in whatever their next step might be. For children in Russia, Ukraine, and Latvia, that means providing the financial, emotional, and legal support necessary to help them transition out of residential care and into into life on their own.
Orphan Outreach has a long-established Aging Out Initiative in Russia. These children are anywhere between 15- and 18 years old, without any family or connections. As a staggering number of these youth end up on the streets and in gangs, Orphan Outreach developed a trained support network staffed by Christian social workers, psychologists, and attorneys, who are available to the graduates 24/7.
“When I turned 18 and went off to college, my family still supported me. If I made bad choices or needed someone to talk to, they were always there. Kids aging out of an orphanage don’t have that luxury. They’re going off into a big world without anyone to help them navigate it. Our program provides that safety net for them. We essentially become their extended family. We meet with them on a weekly basis and walk alongside them; helping them navigate life and all the issues that come with it.” explained Diaz.
“The challenges facing these kids are just overwhelming.” said Tiffany Wines, Vice President of Development. “Most of them leave the orphanage not knowing how to cook, balance a checkbook, or apply for a job. On top of that, they have overwhelming dental and medical needs.”
Orphans in Russian and Ukraine are granted a few basic rights upon their graduation: a monthly allowance, state housing, free medical and dental care, and access to further education. While this is a step up from countries such as Latvia, which do not provide any such rights, the services provided are substandard and hard won.
Olga Nikolay, a 24 year-old from orphanage #60 in St. Petersburg, is currently enrolled in the Aging Out initiative in Russia. She recently graduated from a teacher’s training college and works as a kindergarten caregiver. She said, “This program has changed my life. Without the spiritual, psychological, moral, and financial support, without the guidance of the staff, I could not have made it to where I am now. First of all, I never would have gotten an apartment. The staff has gone with me to every authority in the city and even when I was ready to give up, they did not. As a result, I am in a wonderful apartment.”
When Olga was struggling psychologically she was able to meet with the on-staff psychologist, who worked with her and later referred her to a specialist.
“It is so important to have someone I can talk to if I run into a problem. Whether it is a debt, a need, or a simple question I know I can get answers and help,” Olga said.
Olga also shared how important the weekly meetings were to her spiritual and social growth:
“During our weekly meetings, they help us learn to interact with people, as well as learn how to cook and serve food. All in all, it has been a blessing. It has helped me through the most difficult time after aging out of the orphanage.”
Another population not often thought of are orphans graduates with special needs. Orphan Outreach works with several special needs kids to face not only the challenges common to all graduates, but the challenges specific to their disabilities, as well.
“Special needs orphans are a whole other group of kids who need support as they transition into independence. They’re often lumped into poorly maintained, communal housing with other special needs individuals. Right now our staff is trying to find an apartment for two brothers who both have special needs. We are working to find them a safe place where they're not taken advantage of and that they can get to easily. It's all just so important.” said Amy Norton, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships.
Having seen such success in the Russian program, Orphan Outreach is excited to offer a similar program in Ukraine and Latvia. Currently serving young adults in Latvia and Ukraine, Orphan Outreach hopes to provide a sponsorship for each graduate in order to meet their long-term and immediate needs.
“Few organizations work with orphan graduates,” said Norton. “What Orphan Outreach is doing to help these kids is very unique. It’s such vital work. They really are the kids who fall through the cracks.”
You can step into the life of a young adult through sponsorship. Your support says, "I believe in your future."