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Celebration of Service

Volunteers change lives in Romania


For Romanian orphans and other youngsters abandoned or abused by their family, the Door Foundation's Mogosoaia Center outside Bucharest provides a warm haven, a sense of family, and the opportunity for a good education. But the youngsters lack such things as adult role models, knowledge that can result from ready access to the Internet, "and basic affection," says IBM employee Mihaela Gotia. She is making it a personal priority to change those sad circumstances for the center's 26 boys and girls, who range in age from 6 through 18.

For Gotia, who lives near the center, it was an easy transition from learning about the children to wanting to help them. In the spring of 2010, after mentoring the children on her own, she took her cause to IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Specialist Irina Stoltz, who helped recruit four other IBM volunteers: Victor Fomino, Cristina Albani, Octavian Gabriel Covaci, and Laurentiu Ciurea.

"We all knew what we wanted to do: encourage the children to be attracted to science," Stoltz says. "But it was still challenging. We would be working with children of many ages, boys and girls with a variety of interests. We wound up creating a sort of two-day camp for encouraging interest in science.”

The volunteers decided to give presentations about individual favorite subjects, including photography, physics, and chemistry, supplemented with other topics, such as science experiments, engineering, and the environment. From their first session with the youngsters, the volunteers were interested in knowing if the students were finding the information useful.

"They were very happy to answer, and to ask questions of their own," Gotia recalls. "So we moved forward step by step, based on their feedback. They were so proud to show us what they'd learned. And they made us cakes and taught us to dance and sing, and invited us to come again. There were so many hugs and kisses that every volunteer had a smile from the heart and a tear in the corner of the eye, seeing and feeling so much love around where they expected so much less."

Because of the positive reception and impact, return visits are being planned and Mihaela Gotia is looking for additional volunteers.

"No matter how busy and tired you can be as a business person in these troubled times, for sure you can find the time to smile and to learn something from these children and their stories," Gotia says. "We receive so much love and good energy from them. Doing something like this will charge you up and make you become a better person."

"All of us have something to give, and any contribution, involvement, open arms and open mind will help and will make a change. Don't think, 'I cannot change, I cannot help, I don't have time, I don't know how ... For sure you can help, you will find a way if you do it from your heart and soul," Gotia concludes.