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Volume V Issue XXXVII

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Seattle Washington USA


TERRY TUSZYNSKI: "YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE"
article by MARKREIMAN   
photos by CYNDYSULLIVAN
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November 10, 1998 was a regular Tuesday evening for Terry Tuszynki, putting the finishing touches on dinner and watching the evening news. She was only partially paying attention to what was being said on TV when the handsome anchorman introduced a news correspondent who began to speak. Something caught her attention and she watched and listened intently to a news story about a Russian orphanage 250 miles northeast of Moscow.

The ground was already covered with a foot of snow although it was still only early November. Children’s faces filled the TV screen. Someone was opening a large door that revealed steps leading underground. It was an old fashioned root cellar where all the food stores for more than 50 children were kept. Except for a few old potatoes, the cellar was empty. It had been a poor harvest, the reporter explained. There was no money. Her television flickered with images from a foreign, frozen place half a world away as the story poured out. The food was gone and winter was fast approaching. The children were existing on a little bread,  potato soup and tea. Many had no shoes. More words and pictures rushed by. 100 year old building…snowy landscape…old coal furnace…no coal…and dozens of children’s faces. Some sad, some smiling, all so young. "For NBC news, this is Dana Lewis," said the correspondent.

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The orphanage is housed in this crumbling 100 year old building.

Three, maybe four minutes. It was over. She had seen similar stories before originating from different parts of the world -- Somalia, Ethiopia, the Balkan states. Her husband came home, dinner was eaten, dishes cleaned up, five year old son washed, teeth brushed, stories read, snuggled into bed. But the images wouldn’t go away…the children’s faces, the empty root cellar, the snow…the fear and sadness.

Terry looked out the window into the backyard of her West Seattle home. There was a beautiful, state-of-the-art, $4,000 jungle gym that she and her physician-husband had recently bought for their son. He had squealed with joy and excitement when it was installed, then had played on it only twice.

"I wish I had that money back," she thought, "and I could send it to those Russian orphans."

Terry didn’t sleep well that night, but as the morning came and the daily routine flew by, she still had not mentioned the news story to her husband, Tom. As she finished with lunch the feelings grew stronger and stronger. "I’ve got to do something…I’ve got to do something."

Finally she picked up the phone and called KING-TV in downtown Seattle, the channel she had been watching when the "orphan story" had come on.

"That was a national news story, ma’am," said the news room. "You’ll have to call the NBC offices in New York…and if you’ll hold, I’ll give you that number." She quickly jotted down the number and dialed again.

"Dana Lewis, please," Terry said when someone in the big, New York newsroom answered.

"Just a moment, I’ll transfer you," was the reply.

Tuszynski looked at her watch wondering what time it was in New York and if she would still catch the busy, high-profile correspondent in his office that was probably somewhere down the hall from the newsroom. She heard the connection ring…ring…ring…and a groggy voice answered, "Hello, Dana Lewis speaking." Tuszynski had no way of knowing that Lewis’ office wasn’t in New York at all, but rather, in Moscow, Russia, where he was NBC’s network field correspondent.

Quickly Terry introduced herself and explained how deeply she had been touched by his news story about the Russian orphans and, she added, I really want to do something to help those children. As she held her breath waiting for the half-expected brush-off from an international news correspondent, she was completely surprised by his response.

"I’m so glad that you enjoyed the story," Lewis answered, 7,500 miles away, "and I’d like to help you. But…," he paused (here comes the brush off, Tuszynski thought)…it’s 2 a.m. here in Moscow and you woke me up . If you wouldn’t mind calling me back when I get to the office, I’d be glad to help." Confused and a little stunned that her phone call had been transfered to Moscow!, she had her pen ready and wrote down the number.

Later that Seattle night she called Lewis back in his Moscow office where, in Russia, it had become mid-morning the following day. He began to give her names, phone numbers and contacts that would later become vital to the success of her, as yet unplanned, efforts.

"NBC has been so incredibly helpful in so many ways, " Terri explains. "There are some really tremendous people there. We never would have been able to even find the orphanage, let alone gain access, without (their help)."

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Terry began to brainstorm with her husband, Tom, a thoracic surgeon, about what they could do to help those children nearly 8,000 miles away who needed food and shoes for the Russian winter that was already setting in. Through conversations with Lewis in Moscow and the Russian Red Cross, they decided there was only one way to ensure that their donations would get to the orphanage and into the tummies and onto the feet of the orphans. Giving themselves about six short weeks to make all the necessary preparations, Terry would travel to the Russian orphanage in person and do everything possible to help.

But Tuszynski had other challenges that would complicate her plans...

It now strikes one in every eight women in America and somehow breast cancer had found its way into her body. Terry was still in the process of recovering from a recent stem cell transplant and surgery. After a week of thinking, initial planning, and considering her own state of recovery,Tuszynski came to a difficult conclusion: she was not yet healthy enough to make the trip even though the Russian orphans needed help now.

She shared her feelings with husband Tom, who paused for a moment and asked, "Do you want me to go?" She answered, "Yes," not knowing for sure what her husband would say. When he responded, "Then, I will!" plans began in earnest.

Tom would have to take time away from his busy Seattle medical practice and as he did so, his colleagues were curious about his spur-of-the-moment trip in the middle of winter to an orphanage so far north and so very far away. One day as he stepped into his office he noticed an envelope on his desk and, as he opened it, he saw a stack of green bills. He hadn’t asked for any contributions from the staff but, day after day, more and more envelopes appeared on his office desk. By the time he was ready to leave for Russia, Dr. Tom Tuszynski’s friends and co-workers had, without so much as being asked, added $8,000 to the Russian Orphan fund. Along with their own contribution they now had $12,000 to make a dent in the Russian winter for 53 Russian children.

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"When we first arrived it was hard to tell the boys from the girls, because many had their hair cut very short because of lice." This is Sergei, age 10.

In January, 1999 Tom along with Cyndy Sullivan, Terry’s sister and an award-winning photojournalist, flew to Moscow and, accompanied by an English-speaking Russian driver who frequently worked for NBC News, made the dirt road drive 250 miles northeast to the orphanage that only a few weeks before had appeared on Terry’s television. What they found stunned them and changed their lives forever.

The most basic needs of the orphanage were so huge as to be nearly overwhelming: a crumbling, 100 year old building that had been inherited from the Russian army; almost no food, none of it fresh; no coal for an antiquated, broken down coal furnace; virtually no hot water; old beds with huge holes in the bottoms covered with rotting, bug-infested mattresses and bedding; no food refrigeration; and a decrepit electric stove that shocked Lubov, the orphanage’s cook, each time she touched a pan to it. Orphanage staff members were bringing food from their own meager tables to help feed the children, although the staff members themselves had not received any pay from the Russian government in years…surviving themselves on food from their simple gardens and bartering.

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The beds were falling apart and were replaced along with the mattresses and bedding.

Fortunately, the American dollar stretches a long way in the poor Russian economy. In a matter of days Tuszynski returned from the nearest town with 60 new mattresses and comforters. He brought fresh vegetables and the first bananas that the children had ever seen. Coal was delivered and the furnace coaxed into working order. Shoes and other vital items of clothing arrived for children that hadn’t seen new clothing in years…and for others who had perhaps never worn new clothes. Rice, potatoes, flour, and sugar filled the storeroom--enough to see them through the long Russian winter. Tuszynski had brought some items from the U.S. that he could not find locally including good vitamins, band-aids, and the children’s favorite, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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Within a day or two of arriving Tom went to town and bought 60 mattresses for $8 a piece, plus new blankets, comforters, and fresh food.

And toys! When Terry Tuszynski first saw the Russian children on TV, they had been playing with their one and only toy, a battered volleyball being used as a soccer ball, a large hole torn in the leather cover and the rubber air bladder poking out. Tom brought that ball back to Seattle with him with the children’s names signed and covering its worn out cover…a compelling reminder of what had been a very bleak existence for 53 children and of a new promise to make things better. If the Tuszynskis had anything to do with it, the Russian orphan’s future looked brighter indeed.

Cyndy Sullivan’s remarkable eye and photographic skill collected unforgettable and amazing image after image that would serve both as a means to measure future improvements and also capture the hearts of the Seattle Times and its readers. When Cyndy returned she contacted the Times, the area’s biggest newspaper, and shared the photographs that vividly told this story of both incredible needs and incredible generosity. In October of 1999 the striking photograph of a young Russian orphan on the front page of the Times appeared shortly before Terry would join Tom on a second trip to the orphanage. That photograph and the accompanying story and photos opened up the hearts of people in the Seattle area and contributions for the orphan children began to grow. KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate, picked up the story that soon became a national news story when NBC sent a TV crew along with the Tuszynskis to document their return trip to the orphanage. In October of 1999 they started the Foundation for Russian Orphans.

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The children had a hard time peeling the bananas because they had never seen one before, but they loved the taste. This is Maxim(behind), and Natasha, (foreground).

The Tuszynskis have now taken four trips to visit and care for the Russian orphans, the most recent in September of 2000. On two of their four visits, they were able to pay each orphanage staff member $50 dollars - an amount approximately equal to what many of them would normally earn in a year. Tom and Terry always have and will continue to pay for all the costs of their own travel, food, and accommodations ensuring that every cent donated to the orphanage goes directly to the orphanage--to the lives of the children and the maintenance and repair of the building.

And there is still much to do.

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This orphanage serves children from age 5 - 17. When they reach their 18th birthday, they are essentially given the clothes on their back, a sack lunch, and sent out into the world in order to make room for the continuing influx of young children. With little or no vocational skills, virtually no experience dealing with the world outside the orphanage, and no support system, few are able to survive for very long before succumbing to some combination of alcoholism, prostitution, violence and crime, prison, and for far too many, an young, tragic death.

"Something has to be done to change this," Terry declares, and as you might suspect, she and Tom have some exciting ideas and plans to make changes happen.

But helping to make these kinds of wonderful, powerful changes in the lives of the Russian orphans does not come immediately or without cost. If you would like to join Terry and Tom Tuszynski in making a difference in the lives of these kids, they need and welcome your help and support. Churches, neighborhoods, classrooms, and families, as well as individuals have all made important contributions. The volume of email they have received has become more than they can handle, so you can snail mail your much needed donation and/or contact the Tuszynskis at:

Terry Tuszynski
Foundation for Russian Orphans
4128 1/2 California Avenue, #101
Seattle, WA 98116

* We encourage you to visit the Foundation for Russian Orphans website at: http://www.RussianOrphans.org

 

Author's PostScript: Terry Tuszynski sat at my kitchen table and we talked for two hours on November 10, 2000 --exactly 2 years to the day after she had first watched Dana Lewis’ news story about the Russian orphans. The table was covered with dozens of photographs and a worn out volleyball with names written all over it and my head was swimming with all that we had talked about. From the evening a year ago when I first saw Terry on the news to this very moment, I knew without a doubt that this was an incredible woman who had reached from the depths her heart to accomplish truly life-changing things for those children. I had spent nearly the entire year trying to figure out how to find her in order to write this story. Now the interview was over…but what did it all mean?

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As she gathered up her pictures and put on her coat to leave, I asked Terry, "If our readers come away with just one thing from reading this story…one message that really hangs on…what would you like that to be?"

She paused thoughtfully for a moment and then answered, "If you have something to do that at first seems impossible, but you feel it deeply enough, you can get it done. Make a plan, pick up the phone, get started. I saw a story on national TV about children who needed help on a different continent. At the time, I didn’t know for sure how, but I knew I had to do something. Even if you are just one or two people, you can make a difference!"

 

mark.gif (4144 bytes)Mark Reiman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People. He welcomes your comments and feedback email at: mark@IncrediblePeople.com

  

Hope      Courage     Determination      Compassion
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