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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A 'Day of Caring' for Moscow's Kids

Saturday was a special morning for 30 disabled children, some of whom rarely get a chance to leave Akademichesky, a school for children with neurological disorders. As part of the United Way's annual Day of Caring, volunteers from American Express took the children and their parents to Moscow's Cat Theater.

Milaslavna, 9, and her sister Vesilina, 8, day students at Akademichesky, drank Pepsi with gusto and alternately sat on their father's lap as they watched the cat antics wide-eyed. Milaslavna's favorite part of the show was the white cat that walked on a mirrored ball pushing it across the stage.

"They live isolated," Sergei Bugaev, president of Akademichesky's sponsoring board, said of the majority of the children at the school. "Unfortunately we don't take them out much. There are logistical problems of transportation and many of the kids have psychological problems. Their reaction today is good. They are so lively. It's nice to see -- it's like a small holiday for them."

All over Moscow last weekend, for two days various similar "small holidays" went on simultaneously as part of the United Way's annual "Day of Caring." About 120 volunteers from 10 Western businesses spent time with a total of 580 kids from various Moscow orphanages and hospitals.

Nancy Galloway, director of United Way, said she hopes that these one-day outbursts of charitable activity will act as an impetus for people to get involved with charities on a more regular basis.

"We hope that out of these one-day encounters, longer term relationships will be formed," Galloway said. "We've also found that people who volunteer tend to give more money," she added.

As a result of an earlier Day of Caring, for example, the international accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand formed a one-year relationship with Moscow's Cancer Institute. They raised and donated money to pay for medications and went back to visit the children.

This year's event has also spawned some relationships. The Baker and McKenzie law firm is planning a trip back to the Cancer Institute to visit the children employees met to distribute pictures they took. And the Day of Caring will also kick off a one-year sponsorship between Exxon and Orphanage No. 12.

Last Saturday, seven volunteers from Exxon, which has donated $5,000, spent the day at the orphanage with 30 children under 4 years old as part of planned regular visits. They distributed Russian-made toys and clothing and sat with the children as a clown performed.

Peter Cohn, a financial administrative manager at Exxon, said the party was a very positive experience for Exxon employees. "We wanted more than just to give money. We wanted to have some involvement where we could have some personal interaction," Cohn said.

The majority of the volunteers in Moscow's fourth Day of Caring were expatriates -- mainly Galloway said because Western companies and organizations participated. The companies involved this year included AES Transport, American Express, Baker & McKenzie, DRT, Exxon, Touro College, Vinlund Transport, and USAID.

But Galloway said a growing number of volunteers were Russian, mostly employees of Western companies. One of her goals for the Day of Caring is to instill a spirit of volunteerism back into Russia.

"Under the communists there was no charity," Galloway said. "It was seen as something needed by a failing capitalistic society. Volunteerism had a different connotation as well -- it existed but not of your free will.

"We're trying to restore the notion of freely done volunteer activity and to show that it has a wider impact on society and can be a joyful experience rather than a sheer burden of labor," she said.

Galloway is already planning for the next Day of Caring in October which "will involve all sorts of volunteer opportunities on all different levels," she said. "So people can work not just with children but with the elderly and teens."

The United Way is organizing a 5- and 10-kilometer cross-country ski-a-thon Feb. 17 in which sponsors donate money for each kilometer skied. Contributions go to organizations serving pensioners and the disabled. To participate call United Way at 208-8514.