Orphan Now Works to Improve Orphan Care

During her years of volunteer work, Tarah Epstein Baiman worked hard at avoiding the very subject that had changed the course of her life: becoming an orphan after the deaths of her parents when she was just a teenager. At 16, she went to live with an uncle, and then with her grandparents.

It was this experience that led her to found the Orphan Society of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving orphan care through mentoring, support services, even a scholarship program.

"All the motivation in creating the Orphan Society of America was rooted in being orphaned — my personal experience," she acknowledged.

After college, Baiman worked as a journalist in Colorado, then went to graduate school in New York and worked in the book-publishing industry. It was only after she was married and had her first child that she began to reconsider her career path.

"I knew that I wasn't comfortable necessarily working for other people," she said. "I wanted to do something that was more creative. I wanted the freedom to express a new way to think about orphan care."

'A Positive Sense of Self'

To that end, Baiman is trying to cultivate a more positive image around the subject of being an orphan.

Often, when people hear the word, she said, their minds leap to the idea of poverty and squalor as depicted in classic novels like Oliver Twist. She's pushing for all orphans in America "to have a positive sense of self."

Thus, the first goal of her organization is to make sure that people are physically and psychologically cared for.

"A lot of the programs and services that OSA has were created because I tried to put myself back to the time I was orphaned, and thought of what would be the services — had they been available — that would have helped me," explained Baiman.

Recently, the group has been collecting shoes for a shoe drive, which runs through December, in partnership with OLLY Shoes' Philadelphia stores.

The Gladwyne Montessori School has already donated hundreds of shoes, and while Baiman doesn't have an official total yet, she estimated that the number will reach the thousands.

Something as simple as a shoe drive helps children on a material level, said Baiman, but the personal level is just as important.

"It's very important to make sure that they feel good about themselves," she noted. "If you put a pair of shoes on somebody but they feel lousy, who knows what they're going to do with those shoes?"

As such, one of the services that Baiman is championing is a mentoring program. Orphans will have someone to look up to — someone who's been in the same situation they've been in. She stressed that in-person programs work best, but for those times when circumstances simply don't allow it, there will be a mentoring program over the Internet as well.

"We're not interested in making matches for the sake of making a match," she said. "We want to make good matches."

The OSA received 501(c)(3) status in June, and now Baiman is working to help the organization pick up some steam. About a dozen volunteers are now part of the team, helping at drop-off sites for the shoe drive and trying to raise awareness and funds. One volunteer, Sara Levy, helped gain $11,000 for the OSA through her completion of a triathlon.

With the founding of OSA, Baiman said she's turned a tragic event in her life into a source of hope for others. "I think that I knew that I had to use all the energy I had," she said — energy "that started in a negative place, and then channel it positively."


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