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Cabarrus Magazine

Cabarrus County Nonprofit Open Hearts & Homes Hosts Children From Eastern European Orphanages

Mar 29, 2017 04:46PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

Over 200 people welcomed 52 orphans to Charlotte for 5 weeks to spend time with families.

Open Hearts & Homes for Children (OHHC) is a non-profit organization rapidly growing in Cabarrus County. This Christian-based program is an all volunteer, international hosting program serving children from orphanages in Eastern Europe. Though OHHC is based in Pennsylvania, the program serves the entire east coast and some central states. 

OHHC began six years ago when three families, who hosted through another organization, discovered the extreme benefits of hosting for children in orphanages. Wanting to pull their own faith into the program, these families branched out and created their own Christian-based nonprofit. 

Curious about this volunteer organization, we reached out to the North/South Carolina Coordinator for OHHC Michelle Ziner. Not only is she locally based in Harrisburg, Michelle and her family have four biological children, three adopted from Cabarrus County foster care, as well as two adopted from Ukraine.

Michelle was able to answer a few questions we had about the OHHC and its mission.

Tell us a little about the Open Hearts & Homes for Children program. How does it work?

The program itself is 5 weeks and is held twice a year, once in the summer and again over the Christmas holidays. The OHHC team travels to Ukraine and Latvia and personally meets and interviews the school-aged orphans recommended by their orphanage directors and social workers. Those that are presented the opportunity for an interview have shown that they have the ability to handle traveling and would benefit from time spent in a family.

Once the team interviews the children, their photos and short bios are available on the OHHC website. Potential families view the children and select who they would like to host. 

Host families work closely with their local coordinator throughout the process and have background checks and a safety visit from a social worker to ensure both the family and child are adequately prepared for the host experience.  

The arrival of the orphans at the airport has proven to be one of the most memorable moments of a host family's life. Prior to arrival, the children have traveled 36 hours by bus, trains and airplanes. Although worn out, they look for their photo on a sign held by a family they have never met. Their bravery is incredible. 

What are your goals for the program and where do you see it heading?

Although we are a hosting agency and not an adoption agency, our goal is to give orphans the opportunity to possibly find a forever family.

We have been told by orphanage directors that you can walk through the building and point out the ones that have been hosted. They hold their heads higher, have more hope for their futures and they know down deep that someone in the world loves them. With each program, we observe so many children being lifted out of despair just by being loved by a family.

What's something people usually assume about the program? What do people usually assume that's incorrect?

Sometimes people assume they could not do this because of the cost. It is $2,800 to host a child for 5 weeks. Although many might desire to partake in this ministry, not many families have this amount saved. They don't initially realize that this is a non-profit ministry and therefore all donations towards hosting are 100% tax-deductible.

Just as people would go on a mission trip and others would support them financially, this is a mission trip coming to your home. Many do fundraisers or online fundraising sites and become fully funded. God is serious about orphan care so we see time and time again, support coming to families when they doubt it is possible.

We periodically receive partial scholarships and donations to help offset the cost of hosting. 

What is your personal favorite aspect of the program and its mission?

Besides seeing children finding their forever families when they thought they never would, my favorite aspect of this program is the relationships that families in our area form. When a new family hosts for the first time, I tell them that they just received about 50 new friends. They chuckle, but after the experience, the families remain part of such a close knit community.

Just four years ago, we were the only host family in the Charlotte area and had no support or friends that had gone before us. This past program, we brought 52 children to Charlotte and Cabarrus County. To see that many children coming to families exceeded my greatest hopes for growth of this program in such a short time. Just from the last 3 programs alone, 21 children have or will be adopted to this area. This is the fastest growing area of all the areas served by OHHC.

What's one of your most memorable moments while working there?

I would have to say that the airport arrival remains the most memorable and most rewarding part of this program. After going to Ukraine and seeing these kids in their environment and then coming back and working for months to find host families for every last one of these kids, it brings me to tears when I see them come down the escalator, exhausted and sometimes afraid, into the arms of their host families. They have no idea of the love that awaits them, but I do. Then to see them on departure day, healthy and filled up with love, my heart literally explodes. 

When is the next hosting opportunity?

We currently are searching for Christian host families to host orphans for the upcoming summer program. The photo listing is available on our website 

The program will run from approximately June 24-August 4th. 

Is there another way people can get involved?

If some are unable to host but would like to support the ministry, we would welcome donations of any size for scholarships towards children so others may have the opportunity to host. 

For more information, contact Michelle Ziner at [email protected]

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