Story International is a Christian Non-Profit committed to fighting for the “one thing that will ultimately end the orphan crisis: family.” Story International, like so many other organizations, “ran an orphanage for many, many years and made every mistake in the book”. Their executive director, Alycia Pinizzotto continues, “…with all the best intentions in the world, we often hurt where we wanted to help.” Story International outlines a few examples of how they are transitioning out of the orphanage model and into family-based care.
The Problem with Orphanages
Story International’s biggest mistake was their approach to volunteers and teams. They hosted many short-term teams during that time and over the years. It was part of their identity. Unfortunately, according to Pinizzotto they “saw first-hand the negative effects it was having on the kids. The way they would sob when a 19-year old girl who didn't speak their language left after five days, the way some kids would shy away from volunteers for fear they would take an un-solicited photo. It was sad, really sad. It was also confusing because we knew the hearts of these volunteers. They weren't villains. They really did want to help. They were simply misinformed (partly by us) about what that should look like.”
The Solution: Family-Based Care
For Story International to course correct, they had to change their approach. They enacted photo policies and discouraged physical contact with the kids. The results started to improve, but it still was not enough. Concurrently, the organization was shifting towards “family-based care” instead of child institutionalization. Story International has a long legacy working with missionaries who regularly volunteer with them in Guatemala. Many of these long-time volunteers were surprised to see that there would not be any more pizza parties with the orphans. It was incumbent on the organization to explain to these volunteers why these short-term interactions are damaging to the kids.
Transitioning to Family-Based Care
Story International is still in transition away from their legacy as an orphanage operator to an organization focused on the family as the epicenter of care. They have created a number of different strategies to transition into their new reality. As part of their charter to put family at the center of the care model and to end the orphan crisis, they have generously offered these tips for other
At the center of all of these strategies was a commitment to “partner with and invest in the local church and community.”
- One of their teams this year put on a date night for about 40 local church leaders and their spouses. They prepared the space, served the meal, etc. Meanwhile, Story International’s staff was able to talk to those local leaders about foster care, the need in the community, and what the local church can do about it. From that specific date night (they have done several of these), there are two families eager to sign up to be foster families when they launch that program in January.
- This Spring, one of the churches they partner with and that will be promoting foster care starting next year, let them know that they had a church branch in a rural town that needed some repairs and minor construction. Story International’s visiting mission team was able to buy all of the supplies they needed (concrete, wood, and other materials) and drive out to deliver the necessary materials for the repair. They did not actually do the repairs themselves as Story International recognizes there is not a need for unskilled Americans to complete complex construction projects. But what they did do was provide them with the necessary materials and pray over and encourage that pastor.
- They try to highlight practical skills and talents that the team brings to the table. If there is a nurse on the team that could help our staff brush up on their CPR training, then we don't need that person painting a wall. Earlier this year, we encouraged members of a visiting team to bring knitting materials as this was a skill they had to offer. We invited some of the single moms we support as part of our family strengthening services to come and learn a new skill throughout the course of the week. They LOVED it. Now, every Wednesday, one of our staff members leads a knitting class with those same moms. They have advanced in their skills and are now making blankets, hats, and other things they can sell.
- Story International encourages teams to invest in, encourage, and serve alongside their long-term staff. Story International’s Guatemalan staff is committed to improving their language skills and working to become bilingual. Their teams have been able to creatively encourage them in that journey (i.e. English board game nights, and other activities that encourage community/sharing as well as improving language skills)
At story international, we are committed to embracing the complexity of the task at hand and fighting for the only thing that will ultimately end the orphan crisis: family.