It all started back in July of 2016, when Zumasys held a fundraiser with the end-goal of raising $50,000 for the non-profit organization, Firm Foundations Romania (FFR). The fundraiser consisted of a food truck event, a bake sale at the Irvine office, as well as a school supply drive. As a Senior Developer for Zumasys based out of my home in Minnesota, I wasn’t able to attend these fundraising events; however, FFR’s mission struck a chord.
My wife Sue and I adopted our son from South Korea when he was just 5 months old. Having an adopted son who also spent his first few months in and out of hospitals, orphanages and foster homes, FFR’s commitment to caring for the abandoned youth in Romania touched our hearts from half a world away – 5,637 miles away to be exact. As one of the top two fundraisers at the company, Sue and I won a trip to Romania to visit FFR for ourselves.
On June 11, 2017, we arrived in Romania. The ride from the airport in Bucharest to Brasov where FFR is located was breathtaking. The lush landscape was green and backed by glorious mountains that towered well over the small towns and villages below. We were greeted by Sarah Vienna and Stefanie Vogel, founders of FFR, along with Mary Buckalow, another key player who has been with the organization since 2008. Over 15 years since FFR’s inception, the organization is still working to break the cycle of poverty that plagues rural Romania and continues to change lives with its programs. After meeting the amazing FFR team, we made our way to experience the initiative that started it all; the Brasov Children’s Hospital.
The hospital itself was relatively small; only five or six floors. We were taken to an area of four different rooms, each with 4-8 cribs. As we walked through the rooms, we counted 10-15 babies lying there in the tall, metal cribs. These babies don’t get much attention unless FFR’s volunteers are there. When we entered the room, we could see their faces light up. It was as if they knew what we were there for. We held and fed the babies, giving them the love and comfort that they needed most. The hardest part was saying goodbye. Knowing that these babies don’t have the love of a parent, and that this is what our own son may have gone through during his first months of life, it became very emotional for the both of us.
On day two we visited the school children who were getting ready to promote to the next grade. We watched as they practiced their songs for the graduation ceremony, and we helped them make graduation caps out of paper. At FFR’s after-school program, the children sing songs, are given a snack and are taught new life skills each month, like how to brush their teeth. In Romania, the school dropout rate is very high. For kids to even get to high school from the village, they must take a public bus into town on their own. Most of the parents don’t care if they go to school, so it is really up to the kids to go themselves. This is what FFR is desperately trying to change.
Later that day, we drove through the Gypsy Village of Budila where most of these children come from. We had never seen anything like it before. Most of the homes there have no running water and no electricity. The village itself is the size of three square city blocks, and consists of 3,000 adults and an unknown number of children. Most of these homes only have one room, yet it is common for them to house 12 children and a number of adults all under one roof. With a tight budget, FFR’s goal is to reach every child out of the estimated over 1,000 children in the village of Budila.
On our last day, we had the opportunity to witness the college graduation of Andreea Mondoc, one of the very first girls to come into FFR’s program at the age of nine. She obtained her degree in social work and is passionate about going back to help others in the Budila community where she grew up. We couldn’t understand a word of the Romanian graduation, but it was wonderful to be there to support Andreea with the rest of the FFR team. Because of FFR, Andreea’s life has forever been changed. She is the shining example of what FFR is trying to accomplish with the children it supports through its many programs.
We are sad that our humbling journey with Firm Foundations Romania has come to an end. The work that FFR is doing is truly inspirational and even more impactful when experienced firsthand. Even after our initial fundraiser, Zumasys has stayed committed to supporting FFR. Sarah and Andreea even flew in to speak at our recent technology conference, Zumapalooza where our attendees helped raise over $2,000 for FFR.
“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.” – Leo Buscaglia