In Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, children are released from orphanages at the age of 16 regardless of whether they have anywhere to go.What’s worse is that all of Moldova’s orphanages will be shut down by 2015 as the country becomes part of the European Union. With these children out on the streets, many are exploited by predators, with girls often becoming sex slaves. More than 30,000 have disappeared from the streets in the last year alone.
When Shari Grayczyk, account clerk 3 in the UT Department of Geography and Planning, heard the stories of these children, she knew she had to do whatever she could to help.
“They don’t have any hope,” she said. “There’s nothing for them because once they turn 16, they’re put out on the street.”
Grayczyk knew she had to go to Moldova after attending a Christmas program last year at CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg, where she heard stories from Moldovans who had been rescued by Stella’s Voice and New Hope Moldova, two organizations that take in boys and girls to give them a home and a chance.
“When I listened to their stories and the change that it brought and everything they were doing, I knew I had to go,” Grayczyk said. “And if you’re called to go, the money will come.”
After volunteering at the Huntington Center to raise funds and asking for help from friends and family, Grayczyk raised enough money and went to Moldova with a team of 18 led by Pastor Steve Hutamacher from CedarCreek Church. Once there, they volunteered at a camp with about 160 at-risk orphans.The team taught classes to the children, did daily exercises with them, hosted athletic activities and more.
“The main intention was to show these kids that they are loved, there is hope in the world, and that Jesus cares,” Grayczyk said.
Children also were taught the warning signs of human trafficking.
CedarCreek Church also donated more than $450,000 to open transition homes for at-risk children, and the group got to witness the ribbon cutting of two such homes.
Grayczyk wasn’t the only UT member who went to Moldova. Others who made the trip were Katie Gerken, a nurse at UTMC; alumnae Mandi Moore, Kendra Wumer, Hannah Posey, Hannah Hutmacher and Michelle Goeder; and students Cody Gibson, Amanda Bryan and Heather Bellner.UT Athletics also donated some equipment for Grayczyk to take to the children. Her suitcase mostly was filled with gifts, and she was required to pack everything she needed to take in her carry on.
Grayczyk also goes on other mission trips — mainly to a small community in Jamaica each year with Main Street Church in Walbridge, Ohio. While there, the team hires community members to build onto their church camp, completes construction projects, hosts a community dinner, and spreads the love of Jesus.
An added bonus to the community is that the group spends money at local stores, provides supplies, and helps teach classes at the nearby primary school.
Other UT members usually go on that trip: alumni Bryan Miller and Heidi Hughes, as well as Grayczyk’s two daughters Joy Grayczyk and Bethany Grayczyk, who are students at the University.
“We live in such a land of plenty and so many people don’t realize what we have,” Grayczyk said. “You don’t realize until you see what others are happy with.”
Grayczyk plans to return to Moldova in November if she is able and to Jamaica in January.