Currently, the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI), operates computer laboratories and training in five St. Petersburg orphanages. CCI was recently blessed with a large grant to expand Angels for Angels, and the program is currently under expansion.
History of the Angels Program
The program was initiated by a phone call from a Connecticut woman, Nika Thayer, who was little known to CCI. It was Christmas season in 2001, and she yearned to do something special for Russian children during the next year. After discussing options, this eighty-year-old woman offered $10,000 for CCI to experiment with computer training for orphan teenagers prior to their facing the world without skills upon leaving the orphanages. She knew that many, upon leaving these institutions, are unable to find employment - with boys resorting to petty crime and girls succumbed to the sex trades to survive.
The first Angels for Angels Program began with St. Petersburg's Children's House #32 where the first computer laboratory was created and a trainer was hired to provide daily computer and English classes. Parentless youth excitedly learned to navigate the computers, and the laboratory became the "in" place to spend free time. Computer hours were scheduled. All over 13 years could participate. Boys were more interested more than girls, but with encouragement they began to explore this new world too. Upon learning the children's responses to the labs, Nika surprised us with presenting another small donation, then later a large $100,000 grant.
A computer-savvy young director, Natalie Klukina, was hired. She instructed pupils, interviewed trainers and helped build five laboratories, the largest of which served over 130 children in their lab. We planned the funding would keep the labs operating for five years each. Funds were spent only for computers, printers, supplies, Internet and salaries for the Angels director and trainers. No money was given to the orphanages, and CCI took no salary or operating expenses from the fund.
Late in 2007 it became obvious that Nika's health was failing. We sent photos and stories about the children and what her funds had meant to their lives. With medical technologies Nika's health improved a bit, but all too soon, she departed this life. We made plans to continue the program as long as possible before the funds ran out.
In March of 2008 we were informed by Nika's lawyer in Old Lyme, Connecticut that Nika had left a considerable sum of money to expand the Petersburg orphans' work. We were shocked by this unexpected generosity.
Nika's memorial service in Connecticut was held on May 6, 2008. It was there that we learned the bigger than life story of the generous woman whom we had known only over the telephone.
Nika was born Nika Pleshkova in St. Petersburg, Russia and was the infant daughter of Nicholas II's Calvary Chief. It was 1917. All such noblemen and families were rounded up for execution. Nika's father barely escaped execution after being taken from prison with falsified papers and was swept out of Russia to Japan; her mother and Nika had a similar fate and ended up in China. Somehow these three made their circuitous ways, united, and finally landed in New York. The family did well in their new land. However, Nika nurtured a deep yearning to help Russian children who didn't fare so luckily as she.
The new Angels funding will be used to create more computer laboratories in Childrens' Houses in Petersburg and to provide higher education for the most highly motivated youth. We plan to have 10 orphanages operative by end of 2008 - and more by 2009. We will recruit CCI alumni businessmen and women to provide work internships in their companies for the youth and to co-sponsor higher education for the brightest of them.
Angels for Angels' name will be changed to The Nika Pleshkova Fund for Russian Youth, or more informally, "The Nika Fund." The orphans will know her life story and her concern for them. Updates on the Program will be carried on this site. Stay tuned for the excitement!