OZB spoke with Mureş based NGO – Livada Orphan Care…
- How did Livada start, when did it begin, who were the key people behind starting it?
What started out as a dream of overflowing orchards in 1991 has blossomed into a ministry that has touched the lives of thousands of orphans, volunteers, staff, and supporters. Livada is the Romanian word for orchard and serves as a symbol of what we want our ministry to continue to do – bear fruit that will last.
Even though almost 50 years of communist, dictatorial rule ended in 1989, Ceauşescu’s horrendous legacy did not. In Romania today, tens of thousands of children are still warehoused in state orphanages/state group homes, hidden away in impoverished hospitals, forcefully reintegrated into abusive and dangerous situations with distant relatives, kidnapped and trafficked, or shuffled through various forms of rudimentary foster care. While there have been major improvements, especially as a result of the increased focus on Romania’s social problems by the West and the European Union, the future for the majority of abandoned and at-risk children continue to be bleak.
In response to this huge need, Bruce and Catherine Thomas from Dallas, Texas with the support of a newly formed board stepped out in faith and established Livada Orphan Care (LOC). They had a vision to see Romanian orphans nurtured so that they would be able to lead fruitful and productive lives and truly find their place to belong in this world.
A 501(c)3 organization was created, and a small office set up in Windsor, California. Bruce Thomas established a Missions Office in Dallas and the Romanian counterpart non-profit called Fundatia LOC in Târgu Mureș, deep in the heart of Transylvania. Ten Romanian staff members were hired to run full-time ministry programmes in the state orphanages and assist in operating summer camps for all Mureș County orphans. Nana Irimia Sellers was our first Romanian director.
Bruce Thomas and family
The corporate and legal foundation of Livada Orphan Care is established with IRS 501(c)3 non-profit status granted during the first six months to help Romanian orphans. In Romania, Fundația LOC became a member of the Pro Child Federation.
Summer camp programmes are continued under a pattern already in place for institutionalized children to attend a week of summer camp. Weekly follow-up programming is set in place at each of the seven orphanages in Mureș County. In autumn 2002, the staff of Romanian nationals is supplemented by the relocation of Livada’s Executive Director, Bruce Thomas, and his wife Catherine to Târgu Mureș. Also, two American volunteers also move to Romania to focus on the baby orphanage and special needs children and the Romanian staff is augmented by the addition of a psychologist. And in Dallas, Sarah Cundiff joins Livada as Missions Trip Coordinator and relocated the Missions Office to Richardson, Texas.
- What does Livada do on a micro scale and on a macro scale? What’s the day to day for Livada and what about the big picture?
Macro scale: Today Fundația LOC (Livada Orphan Care) is focused on fulfilling our original mission in six main ways:
- Residential Care for children and youth through a full-time, family style approach in group homes, mentor (residential) apartments, and private foster care.
- Orphan graduate care: provides support and assistance for our young men and women as they “graduate” into another stage of life and venture into independent living.
- Cradle Care of abandoned infants and toddlers in hospital wards and domestic foster to adopt programme.
- Orphan Outreach (Follow Up programmes) to abandoned kids in state care facilities (orphanages and state group homes in all Mureș County).
- Prevention of Family and School Abandonment efforts in the gypsy community from Ogra Village.
- Partner for Romania Without Orphans Alliance to mobilize the Church and State in Romania to care for the vulnerable around them.
- Residential care: the goal is to ensure children’s access for a specified period of time to housing, care, education and preparation for family and social-professional integration or reintegration, to offer specific services for the psychological-physical development of the kids. From 2003, when the foundation decided to open its first private mentor apartment, LOC had more than 80 kids in full time care in: about 7 boys and girls mentor apartments, 4 group homes (Rebeca group homes – opened 2004, Ana group home – opened 2005, Nadia group home – opened 2005, Juliana group home – opened 2014) and foster care. Over the years, a lot of the kids “graduate” from our residential care programme and became young independent adults.
Big and little Sergiu, LOC kids
At the end of 2017, 27 kids were in the care of Fundația LOC: Juliana group home – 6 kids; boy’s group home – 3 boys; girl’s residential apartments – 2 girls; private foster care: 16 kids.
- Graduate care: Graduates / Ex-beneficiaries programme offers support to LOC children who reached adulthood and who are ready to leave the Child Protection System (CPS). Based on our support we want to help our graduates make the transition to an independent life and become active members of the community. For our kids, Fundația LOC is their home and family, so almost weekly we have “graduates” that come and ask for help from our staff for various reasons mostly that involve a financial help. Once a month we organize graduates meetings and for Easter and Christmas, all the graduates are invited to a big Fundația LOC “family” dinner.
- Cradle Care: on a weekly basis (Monday to Saturday) we have two employees and two stint volunteers that assist Ludus baby hospital staff in the care of these abandoned babies. The purpose of this programme is to help every abandoned child to develop physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually to reintegrate into the natural family or transition into a foster family. We offer everything from diapers, wipes, baby food to the developmental training and therapeutic needs of these children.
- Orphan Outreach (follow up programme) – from 2001, when the foundation started, we still run weekly ministry and educational-instructive programs with all the orphan kids in state orphanages from Mureș County. Over the school year, on a weekly basis, from Monday to Friday, our Romanian staff, stint staff and Ro volunteers provide VBS type (Vacation Bible School) of programmes for about 240 orphan kids in 35 state group homes from around Mureș County, in 12 different locations. Our creative, fun and energetic weekly programmes consist of various activities based on educational objectives on different themes of life, socialization, recreation, life skills, learning of life values etc. Besides the weekly programmes, during the summer vacation, the foundations runs every year six camps for about 60 kids/week, with help from American teams and about 20 Romanian volunteers. We also offer every year humanitarian aid, dental and eye care.
School supplies for the gypsy community with our Dutch partners
- Prevention of abandonment department provides support to children, youth and families of Roma ethnicity, who are at risk of school and family abandonment, living in an underprivileged and marginalized environment. Through our support we aim that the beneficiaries of our programmes to become active members of society. The objectives are: prevention of school abandonment – education, family abandonment, youth and mothers counseling, medical services. The programme started 4 years ago and had 20 kids involved, but now we work with about 200 kids on a weekly basis. Every week we provide these activities: Monday and Wednesday educational-instructive programmes with five groups of children ages: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12,13-14; Tuesday Boys Club ages: 15+, Thursday Girls Club ages: 14+; Friday – Volunteer meetings (to prepare for the coming week), support for five teenagers that go to a high school in Târgu Mureș (the only 5 high scholars from the whole community), monthly young moms meetings. We also offer humanitarian aid, medical services and every year we offer fully packed school backpacks and supplies to all the kids that are involved in our programmes. Besides the weekly programmes, the kids are involved in four fun and educational day camps during the summer vacation.
- What is the situation that Livada is seeking to address?
Even if 29 years have passed since the revolution, the number of orphan kids hasn’t changed that much. From 2001, when the foundation was founded, the goal was to help all the orphan kids from Mureș County find their “loc” (translation – place) in this world. While the other foundations and NGO’s from Mureș County seek to help small groups of 15-20 orphan kids in various ways, we remain faithful to our goal and reach all these kids: about 240 orphan kids at this moment in state group homes and 200 gypsy kids in Ogra village, Mureș County.
- How is Livada funded, how is it staffed, what is the shape of the organization? I gather there is a substantial US element.
In the beginning, the funds came 100% from USA from different churches and individuals. For the past years, the funds come mostly from us: 75%, 20% from our partner in Holland (Stichting Livada) and 5% from Romanian grants and donations.
At the moment Fundația LOC has 24 Romanian employees. The Romanian staff are helped by five long term US missionaries, one long term missionary from Australia and another from Switzerland.
Every year we have about 35 Romanian volunteers that mostly are involved during the summer activities.
The foundation has the following departments:
- Residential department: A. Group homes, B. Mentor apartments, C. Graduates, D. Foster Care
- Ministry Department: A. Orphan Outreach, B. Prevention of abandonment
- Cradle Care department
- What have been the big problems facing Livada, what have been some of the big successes, how have things changed over the years?
Our greatest struggle to help these children lies in the indifference of many Romanian politicians. Although there have been some aesthetic improvements in the child welfare system following Romania’s entrance into the European Union in 2007, the reality of abuse, neglect, and indifference is evident across the country. More, our effort of providing a better life for these kids is hampered by over exaggerated legislation and poor implementation of legislation.
Another aspect is that, whilst private organizations are not allowed to provide services unless they are licensed, 83% of public services do not have a license and do not meet mandatory minimum standards.
- Over 75 kids in the foundation full time care
- Started 4 private group homes
- Started 11 mentor apartments
- About 20 kids 10 foster families
- Summer camps for 17 years in different locations: Lunca Bradului, Lapusna, Sadu, Saliste, Cisnadioara, Vetca, Nazna
- Educational – instructive programs for orphan kids for 17 years
- Educational –instructive programs for gypsy kids for 4 years
- Offer developmental training and therapeutic assistance for about 45 babies and toddlers /year for the past 6 years.
- How can they can get involved or contribute
You can support the LOC Foundation in its programmes to help children and teenagers at risk in the following ways:
For more info please visit our websites: