Livada Orphan Care History
Even though almost fifty years of communist dictatorial rule ended in 1989, Ceausescu’s horrendous legacy did not. In Romania today, tens of thousands of children are still warehoused in state orphanages, 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 continues 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. 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, with Sharon Stockham as Business Manager. Bruce Thomas established a Missions Office in Dallas, TX and the Romanian counterpart non-profit called Fundatia LOC in Targu Mures, deep in the heart of Transylvania. Ten Romanian staff members were hired to run fulltime ministry programs in the state orphanages and assist in operating Summer camps for all Mures County orphans. Nana Irimia Sellers was our first Romanian director followed by George Moldovan as Nana transitioned to the USA.
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, Fundatia LOC becomes a member of the Pro Child Federation.
Summer camp programs 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 Mures County. In Fall 2002, the staff of Romanian nationals is supplemented by the relocation of Livada’sExecutive Director, Bruce Thomas, and his wife Catherine to Targu Mures. Lindsay Chatfield and Dana Schiavo also move to Romania to focus on the baby orphanage and special needs children and the Romanian staff continues to grow. And in Dallas, Texas, Sarah Cundiff joined Livada as Missions Trip Coordinator and relocated the Missions Office to Richardson, TX with the help of Dallas Bible Church.
Brian and LeeAnn Briley and their family move to Romania with Brian becoming the Director of Ministries. This allowed for increased leadership development of staff, youth clubs, Bible studies, and ongoing programming in the orphanages. Troy Everling, John & Carrie Isley and Becky Kyle also move to Romania to work with the growing Romanian staff. The Isleys create a permanent summer camp at Sadu in Sibiu county. Becky developed “Girls Clubs” to allow for more personal time with the female teenage Romanian orphans.
Through a partnership with the Romanian government, a state group home is renovated by Livada and is opened in the village of Campanita. This allowed nine special needs girls to escape from the orphanage environment of “Big Blue” and move into a loving, family environment and establish themselves as part of a small Romanian village. Livada and several other NGOs provided the resources to help the state close down the Big Blue orphanage and place hundreds of children into group home care. Through this partnership, Livada realized the need for private care for children in Christian, family-styled group homes.
Livada’s first mentor apartment for orphan teenagers is also created and led by Dragos Dan. Each mentor apartment allows 3-4 teenagers to leave the orphanages and live with US and Romanian, Christian young adults who teach them basic living skills, tutor them to assure their educational success, prepare them for independent living on their own, and ultimately transition into mainstream Romanian society. Fundatia LOC becomes a member of the Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Child Protection (FONPC). Bruce and Catherine Thomas become Romanian foster parents for Sam and Charlie. All of Catherine’s research to help these boys is a catalyst to deepen our ministry for all of the kids we have been serving.
By now, the earliest STINT members have fulfilled their original commitments, returning to their lives in the United States and are replaced by Becky DeGarmo, Andrew Vidal and Kelly Hornsby. Summer program teams are now coming to Romania from not only the United States, but from Northern Ireland and Holland as well offer care for Romanian orphans.
Our first private, Christian based, family style group home, Casa Rebeca, is built and opened with the support of the Sikora family from New Jersey. In spite of governmental opposition, ten children are transferred permanently into the 24/7 care of Livada’s staff.
Livada receives a grant from FONPC to develop a prevention of abandonment apartment for an unwed mother and her child. Aid to poor families highly at risk of abanonding their children is also established. The vision for more small family group homes grows and funds are committed to build two new group homes by the Day family from North Carolina and the Miller family from Florida.
The Baby orphanage called “Leaganul” is closed down but the rate of abandonment remains the same as hospitals became overwhelmed with infants and toddlers no longer under the Child Welfare Department. Livada shifts working at the Baby orphanage to the abandoned baby ward at the Ludus hospital.
A milestone year for Livada as work begins early in the year on our two new group homes, Casa Ana and Casa Nadia to care for Romanian orphans. As construction teams come from Asheville, North Carolina and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to work on these homes, they forge relationships with the teenagers that work alongside them and with the children who were to become part of the new families being created. By year-end, not only are 20 more children moved into these two new group homes (specially designed to meet the needs of unique families), but the Fundatia LOC staff has grown to over 50. New mentor apartments are also opened with older teens being able to leave the particularly horrible state orphanage in Ludus forever. New STINT missionaries Angela Hastings, Bethany Tibbets, and Jannes de Jong join the staff in Romania as well. Livada partners with the State and other NGOs to assist with the opening of a Maternal Center for unwed mothers to help prevent abandonment. A special needs school is developed on the front of our property for the kids rejected by the state educational system.
With children now in our permanent full-time care, we become even more aware of the huge damage done by institutionalization. Unattended-to medical issues – from major needs such as heart and orthopedic surgeries, to minor dental, eye and related surgeries, through to the exposure of horrendous physical and sexual abuse – all have become opportunities for Livada Orphan Care to make a difference in the lives of these children. Our need to become better informed and equipped to address these issues led to specialist child welfare professionals such as Dr. Paul Warren, Dr. Dan Myers, and Dr. Karen Purvis visiting and providing their professional expertise and input. The childrens’ disclosure of the abuses press us to call to account the local authorities for their failure to take legal and protective action. With assistance from the United States Consulate and the EU Parliament and the mass media, a pedophile trial is finally begun to protect the children at the Ludus orphanage.
Foster care begins for one of the children in our care. Fundatia LOC receives legal accreditation per the new pre-EU standards.
The Board establishes an Executive Council to assist Bruce with oversight of the growing complexity of the ministry in Romania. As Sarah Cundiff became Sarah Heinz, Brian Briley returns to minister with Livada after a stint in the USA and becomes the Director of USA Recruitment. In the future, Brian and his family will spend the summers in Romania to oversee the Summer Programming. Paul and Fiona Coles from Northern Ireland join the Livada staff in Romania serving as Camp and Follow-up Ministry Directors, and Rebecca Rasmussen also joins the STINT team.
To accommodate the physical challenges of holding summer camp in a remote location several hours away from Targu Mures, the summer camp program is reformatted, and funds are donated to purchase a permanent campsite in Vetca, Romania, much closer to Targu Mures. Paul and Fiona Coles work tirelessly to develop the camp.
Livada miraculously raises the funds for a “therapeutic home” called “Casa Daniel” to be developed for one of the children in our care. Counseling efforts are deepened to help our LOC kids overcome their past hurts. Livada is also able to help one family in a Gypsy village to remain together and not abandon their kids through crisis interventions and ongoing support.
Despite opposition from antagonistic local authorities, one of our LOC kids receives a visa and scholarship to study in the USA and receive the counseling that he could not get in Romania.
Bruce and Catherine Thomas, along with their two Romanian adopted sons and two biological sons, relocate to the USA as Founder/US Executive Director to develop and lead professional fundraising/marketing efforts and missionary, team, and intern recruitment as the Briley family transition off of staff by the fall. Tom Myers joins the Board.
Livada becomes a member of the Christian Alliance for Orphans.
Gabi becomes the first LOC “kid” to graduate from university. The platform of Romanian orphan care continues to bear fruit.
Many families are now served with weekly/monthly food packets and humanitarian aid distribution in prevention of abandonment efforts with poor Gypsy families.
The world economic crisis has its effects on our ministry and limits our ability to expand. However, we have double the number of visiting teams than the year before and the ministry continues to deepen as we further develop efforts to prevent abandonment in Gypsy (Roma) villages. Casa Rebeca kids are consolidated with Casa Ana and Casa Nadia kids as older teens are moved into Mentor apartments. The original Casa Rebeca building is used to house the summer interns as plans to add more children are on hold for a while.
Ministry Ventures consultants are hired to help us move Livada to the next phase of ministry that the Lord has for us. Livada becomes a co-founding member of the ACCEDE Christian network of orphan care providers in Romania. They want to learn from other like hearted organizations and also pass along the expertise that they have been given in the field of Christian orphan care.
Camp Vetca is further developed with the funding of our Dutch supporters from Stichting Livada led by Rudolf Phillipse.
The pedophile on trial is finally convicted and imprisoned after appealing all the way to the Romanian Supreme Court. The local authorities take revenge on Fundatia LOC creating regulatory havoc and threatening their ability to operate. By, the end of the year, through much prayer and Divine intervention, the main local figure behind the attacks resigns from her post.
Viorel Gaga becomes the new Executive Director in Romania. Dragos Dan further develops the prevention of abandonment ministry to vulnerable children in the Apalina gypsy community.
Jeff and Jenny McDonnell join our staff in Romania as STINT missionaries. Jeff becomes the Director of Ministry for our LOC kids and Jenny replaces Kelly as our Sponsorship Coordinator. Rebecca Rasmussen becomes the Director of Casa Rebeca and Casa AnaNadia.
Stephen Key, Buddy Liles, Scott Sedberry, and Robert Alpert join the Board of Livada Orphan Care. Sharon Stockham finishes eight years of commendable service as our Business Manager. Susi Reyes joins the Livada staff in the US as the new Business Manager. All of the US offices are consolidated to Plano, TX to the Hope Center. LOC begins a new season of peace with the local authorities as their leadership has changed. More participants come on mission trips to help orphans than ever before.
Discipleship groups are formed for older LOC kids and other orphans/at-risk kids involved in our ministry. A leadership training group is led by Jeff and Jenny McDonnell to prepare key staff and volunteers to multiply out their deepening faith. Dan Rotar hosts monthly “family meetings” for all local LOC graduates to offer encouragement and counsel as needed.
LOC now has 28 orphan graduates and 27 kids in full time care, serves 400 abandoned kids that are wards of the Romanian government in orphanages, state group homes, and abandoned baby wards of hospitals, and another 250 kids that are highly at risk of abandonment, abuse, and neglect in two Gypsy villages: Apalina and Ogra. Two of the LOC orphan grads have finished university and one is getting his Master’s Degree. Livada’s vision and mission to build God’s kingdom through the platform of orphan care are clearer and more fruitful than ever before.
Livada receives certification from the ECFA. (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability)
An Intercessory Prayer Team is established. Kim, Regina Cox, and Sally Roberts intercede daily for the overall ministry and especially for the leadership of Livada.
Chris Thelen becomes our first Dallas Theological Seminary intern and coordinates our summer internship program.
Livada receives Top Rated 5 star status from GreatNonprofits.org.
Livada receives “Gold” rating from Guidestar.
Dan Rotar continues to disciple LOC boys using the donated materials from Reach Out Youth Solutions. We become the distrubution arm in Romania for these amazing youth discipleship materials. Dan also heads up monthly “family” meetings for our orphan graduates.
After school ministry for at-risk kids begins under the leadership of Dragos Dan and Mira Pogaceanu.
Rebecca Rasmussen administrates the smoothest summer ministry operation ever.
Ministry to at-risk Gypsy children deepens in Apalina with an after school program with a local church plant partner and in the Ogra Gypsy village with weekly Christian outreach clubs to 100 children and their families in this unchurched village.
With the help of Marshall and Elizabeth Dempsey, Laura Soscia, Lidia Reteneller, Michelle and Fred Rodenbach, Gretchen and David Dawson, Martha Lou and Dan Beaird and the Livada Board, Livada overcomes the economic downturn with a 25% increase in funding that allows us to expand further.
Carrie Boehmer joins our staff as Business Manager and helps us get our donor database up to date in eTapestry!
The GATIEF foundation from France donates a facility for Livada’s use as a summer intern/teams guest house AND for orphan outreach activities, a new mentor/graduate facility, and ministry training center.
LOC office relocated to the original Casa Rebeca site.
Livada begins to celebrate TEN YEARS OF MINISTRY with a January mission trip in partnership with Roma Boots as they donate 600 pairs of rainboots to orphans and atrisk Roma kids. The “boot drop” allowed us to wash the kids feet, share the Good News with them, and help them in very practical, life-changing ways.
Swiss native Nicole Rast joins our staff as our newest STINT missionary. Full after-school ministry begins in Apalina village with church plant partner.
Two more US STINT missionaries prepare to move over to Romania by summer: Terry Short and Alexandra Praytor. Jamie Altman joins staff to become new Internship Coordinator for 2012-13.
Our ACCEDE network meets with the Federatia PLUS network to create the beginning of “Romania Without Orphans Alliance.” Tens of Romanian churches host their first “Orphan Sunday.” See “Duminica Orfanului” video promotion at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk1L_59fS8o.
Cradle Care ministry expands to begin a “foster to adopt” ministry to find forever families for abandoned babies within Romania. Dr. Roseanne Elling and counselor Kerri Dunkelberger help lead annual staff retreat for residential care team, directorial/missionary team and LOC kids too.
Casa RENE guest house/training center is being renovated.
LOC graduate Zoli Darvas dies of Leukemia. Follow Up grads Gabi Balaczs and Bubu also pass away unexpectedly this year.
The long time dream of agricultural ministry is developed by our Dutch partners (Stichting Livada). We have a new green house and a strawberry farm that allows us to train our kids in practical agriculture and business skills while also providing fresh produce for our group homes.
2013 Foster to Adopt ministry begins placing babies in Romanian families
2014 Casa Juliana Therapeutic Toddler Transition Home opened. First ARFO national Summit.
2015 Trauma Competent Caregiver Training for all Mures County and nationally via ARFO. First child adopted into a forever family. Family Pack events offer practical help by US families at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas.
2016 Therapy Center and new LOC office constructed by team led by Mark and Sherry Summers from the Victory Christian Center in Youngstown, Ohio.
2017-2020 Expansion of ARFO all over Romania and country of Moldova. Counseling training/lobbying efforts grow. New board members are added as others transition out after years of faithful service. Emily Rodenbach and Remi Derta marry and become house parents. Several LOC graduates move to the USA to attend university. Livada has had full time custody of over 100 kids so far and continues to minister to 500+ kids through weekly outreach ministry programs. “Livada North” intercessory prayer team established with Michelle Wells, Kristin Nelson, and John Rex Cataudella from Victory Bible Church in New Jersey. Kerri Dunkelberger joins the Livada Board.
2021 Ogra Gyspy village Learning & Counseling Center “Hilfe” constructed and established. Post-Covid ministry resumes. TBRI training continues with LOC staff and Bruce Thomas pursues professional counseling degree at Dallas Theological Seminary as the professional counseling and training needs continue to grow in Romania.