|Change30: Changing the future for Russian orphans|
|Saturday, 24 March 2012|
by Carla Adair Hendricks
Imagine a society where the life expectancy reaches a mere 30. At 15, a teenager would have already reached middle age.
This is not a plot of the next hit apocalyptic sci-fi film – it’s reality for the average Russian orphan who will age out of his or her orphanage by 16.
This dismal reality led Matt and Jackie Hall of Conway to create Change30, formerly known as Fund Pchyolka, in 1997, to support and assist orphans in 13 different orphanages in the Kaliningrad region of Russia.
In 2011, the Halls moved to Russia with their three children, each adopted from a Russian orphanage, with their mission of “raising the life expectancy of Russian orphans by providing love, compassion and an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Christ Jesus.”
Conway resident Brandy Newell, who grew up in Vilonia, and her husband, James, a Bryant native, serve as Change30’s support base in Arkansas. Both Acxiom employees, the Newells take annual mission trips to Russia, but quickly realized their potential impact for Change30 while stateside.
“We make a difference when we’re on land [in Russia] with the ministry, but now that we’re back in the U.S., we play a major role in supporting Change30 from Conway,” said Brandy. “We are the connector, the point people for Change30 in Conway.”
Throughout the year, the Newells meet with a weekly small group through New Life Church (their church home and the Halls’) that discusses the ministry and its activities. They also facilitate grants for Change30, provide financial support and send care packages to the Halls.
“We’re the main contact for raising support for Change30. We keep the word out on the street and [share] the importance of the ministry.”
And no one can deny the importance of this ministry. Some of the discouraging statistics that quantify the desperation of Russian orphans:
Russia has more than 10 million children-at-risk, most of which live in a government supported orphanage system.
135,000 children are orphaned yearly.
Orphans carry a dreadful stigma through their lives (seen as unwanted, unworthy, cursed).
Between 15-17 years of age, these orphans “age-out” of the system.
Having personally spent time loving on Russian orphans, Brandy sees beyond these statistics to the hearts of the children. “When I stepped on the ground in Russia, I just felt that immediate connection with the kids. James’ and my main focus was to help move the Halls to Russia. When we got there we fell in love with what they love. We fell in love with the orphan children and the workers that worked with the children every day. We fell in love with the desire to make a difference.”
Change30 makes a difference through a plan of action that can be summarized in three words: build, nurture and transform.
Change30 develops safe and secure relationships with children and teens in Russian orphanages by providing humanitarian aid and general orphan care to facilities in the Kaliningrad region. Examples of the aid they provide range from purchasing mattresses, hygiene supplies, backpacks, shoes, blankets and art supplies to funding the refurbishment of facilities.
While building relationships with orphans, Change30 also invests in their future with two ongoing programs. Through “Project 1,” they conduct a week-long summer camp for orphans that offers a fun camping experience along with spiritual, moral and life-skills training. They also pair Christian Russian adults with orphans for weekly mentorship meetings, hoping to influence and encourage the children.
In order to increase the life expectancy of Russian orphans, Change30 follows orphaned teenagers beyond the orphanage walls. At the age of 16, these orphans must leave the orphanage, often without adequate housing and life skills to succeed. Historically, many have turned to prostitution, crime and suicide.
To combat this grim future, the ministry provides graduate housing for four to six aged-out orphans, who live together as a family while receiving support from volunteer mentors and full-time counselors. They also provide graduate skills training by providing educational scholarships and vocational training in such fields as cosmetology and technology and offer introductory courses on English, finance and culinary studies.
Brandy still marvels over the impact their trip with Change30 last June had on their hearts. This June, James and she will lead a team of 10 back to Russia. While anticipating the expected joy and tears of her upcoming trip, she marvels over the impact of her first Change30 visit.
“Little did we know God had something much bigger planned. We returned home with a desire to support [the Halls] and their mission of Change30 every day.”