Bridge of Love: connecting Utah with Romanian children
Oct 31, 2018 04:50PM
● By Jana Klopsch
Laurie Lundberg blows bubbles to entertain the abandoned children in a Romanian failure-to-thrive hospital in 1999. (Picture courtesy of Laurie Lundberg)
By Whitney Cox | [email protected]
In December of 1999, Laurie and Scott Lundberg embarked on a spontaneous trip to Romania with their six children in tow. Their purpose: care for 32 abandoned children at an orphanage in the village of Tutova, known to locals as a “failure-to-thrive hospital.”
“I knew I wanted to go to Romania, because I had heard about the orphanages that were packed with abandoned children,” said Laurie Lundberg.
Laurie’s brother was the first of her family to travel to the village of Tutova. He went with a humanitarian organization in November of 1999 and invited Laurie to go. She opted not to go on this trip because it would be over Thanksgiving and she had her own six children to care for. However, he called her after arriving back home to let her know that the 32 babies in the orphanage would not be taken out of their cribs again until February, when the next volunteer team from America would arrive.
“That’s when I had the thought that maybe we could go for Christmas,” said Laurie. She called her husband at work to plant the seed in his mind. Three weeks later, despite obstacles and the many reasons not to go, Laurie, Scott, their six children and one son-in-law all had their shots, passports and flights.
“I remember walking in [the orphanage], and it was just silent,” said Maren Dalton, Laurie and Scott’s daughter, who is now on the board of directors at Bridge of Love.
The Lundbergs stayed at the only hotel in Tutova, spending every day of their 10-day trip at the orphanage. Unable to speak the language, the Lundbergs relied on the hotel for food and a van driver to take them to and from the orphanage.
“We would stay all day until about 6 at night, then we would put the babies back in their cribs and go back to the hotel,” said Laurie Lundberg.
Maren fondly recalls a meager Christmas, singing carols to the babies and enjoying a Christmas dinner of baguettes and peanut butter.
This trip to Romania changed the Lundbergs in many ways, but one of the biggest changes to the family was the eventual addition of their youngest adopted son and brother, Josh, whom they first met at the orphanage.
“The minute I saw him, I felt like he was ours,” Laurie Lundberg said. “We had six children at that time, ages 13 to 23, and this baby was 8 months old, but I just felt like we were sent there to get him.”
At the end of the 10 days, leaving the orphanage was sad for the entire family.
“We cried on the way home,” said Laurie Lundberg. Back at home, the family struggled to keep time without the pain of realizing it should have been “bottle time” or “play time” back at the orphanage.
“We felt like we abandoned them,” said Maren.
Laurie immediately started researching the adoption procedure for Josh and foster care systems for the other children.
“I knew I couldn’t just get him and forget about the others,” said Laurie Lundberg.
Change started small, with Laurie paying her contacts in Romania to complete small tasks for her as she navigated the broken foster and adoptive care systems in Romania. Her work eventually led to the creation of Bridge of Love and its sister foundation in Romania, Podul Dragostei, which translates to Bridge of Love. Bridge of Love supports Podul Dragostei financially to achieve its mission: “bring comfort and hope to the abandoned, abused, and needy children of Romania.”
In the beginning, Podul Dragostei employed Romanian staff to work with the Romanian Department of Children’s Protection to find homes for children in orphanages and hospitals in the entire city of Barlad. After placing the children, Podul Dragostei assisted families in their new roles, and Bridge of Love provided salaries for the foster moms. The financial support at this time, and for the past 19 years, has all been achieved through donations.
Tiffani Shipley has been on the board of directors for Bridge of Love since it began in 2000. She had been volunteering at orphanages in Romania for six years before Laurie created Bridge of Love.
“She [speaking of Laurie] was getting kids out of the orphanage, so I really liked that sustainable idea,” said Tiffani.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and subsequently had more money for foster care, so now the foundation provides different types of support to the foster children as well as the women’s shelter, children’s hospital and needy families in villages surrounding Barlad.
“We just change with the times,” said Laurie Lundberg. Physical needs are met through donations of blankets, diapers, wipes and clothing. Community needs are met at a center owned by Bridge of Love, where foster children and families can visit for counseling with social workers, tutoring for school and activities with friends. Last year for Christmas, Bridge of Love provided gifts to more than 300 children.
Laurie returns to the village at least once every year to host summer camp for the children, where the adults she first met as babies in the orphanage return to see her and be a part of the Podul Dragostei community.
“All day, every day, my mom spends working on Bridge of Love,” said, now 13-year-old, Josh Lundberg. “I’ve gone over and seen what I could have been and I’m grateful.”
For more information, see bridgeofloveromania.com