By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LORDSTOWN -- A trip of several thousand miles a year ago helped one village woman discover her life's purpose.
"This is a calling in my life, and God has called me to do it," said Karen Jones.
She got involved with Mission Russian Outreach last January.
She learned of the program, through which volunteers visit disabled children in Russian orphanages, when a woman talked of the program at her church, Shiloh Full Gospel Church in Girard.
Jones, also a village councilwoman, spent two weeks last January at orphanages near St. Petersburg, Russia.
Her second trip was over the summer and she plans a third visit in January.
Disabled children: "The children are all handicapped in one way or another," she said.
When a Russian couple gives birth to a child with a disability, they're told the child is damaged and they shouldn't take him home, Jones said.
The children are sent to orphanages instead.
Even children with as minor an affliction as a lazy eye may end up in an orphanage.
"Some of them have had no opportunity for bonding at all," Jones said.
The volunteers play with the children, who range from infants to teens, and talk and minister to them using interpreters.
They also bring supplies, such as over-the-counter medications, clothing and toys for the orphans.
How you can help: Jones can be contacted for more information or to make donations at firstname.lastname@example.org
The interaction and human contact are the most important things.
A videotape produced for the organization shows the children clinging to the foreign visitors, responding to touch.
"The counselors at the orphanages do the best they can, but there's one counselor for 13 children," she said. "There's only so much they can do."
Some parents visit the children regularly. Others never have.
One girl, a 16-year-old named Dasha, asked Jones to pray with her that her parents would visit.
"She's been there since she was 4, and her parents have never visited her," Jones said.
The two clicked, and after Jones' first visit, Dasha started asking people at the orphanage if she would return the following summer.
They enjoyed a tearful July reunion, prompting the Lordstown woman to consider adoption.
Russian authorities, though, consider Dasha,16, too old to be adopted.
"I would have given Dasha a home," she said.
Jones is considering bringing Dasha to the United States when she turns 18.
Variety of facilities: Some of the orphanages are more progressive, training the children in a trade so they have a skill when they reach 18.
One orphanage acts as a training facility for Special Olympics. Others don't provide much education, believing that many disabled children are incapable of learning.
At 18, orphans not sent to an adult facility are released to fend for themselves.
Whether or not the 18-year-olds possess job skills depends on the philosophy of the orphanage where they spent their childhood.
There's not much consistency in the education policy from one facility to the next, the councilwoman said.
A child helps: Jones' granddaughter, Jocelyn Yeager, 12, of Niles, accompanied her on the July trip.
Initially, Jones was concerned that Jocelyn would struggle with the sight of so many ill children, but she adjusted well, visiting the infants and befriending the older children.
"I was so proud of her," Jones said.