Dinah Eng is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.
Making a Difference: Russian Children's Center Helps Phoenix Kids
Natallia Bor wants children to stay in touch with their culture.
November 1, 2003
Natallia Bor never dreamed that she would fall in love with a man whose life was in the United States. But when matchmaking friends introduced Natallia, a real estate agent in Minsk, Russia, to Russian-American engineer Albert, she knew immediately that the man was her soul mate.
“We fell in love very quickly, and I came to Phoenix three years ago as his wife,” says Bor, who now works for West USA Realty in Peoria, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. As a recent immigrant, Bor understands how hard it is for newcomers to the United States to find friends who share common interests and concerns.
As a mother of two, she also wanted to find a way to teach her children about Russian culture so that they would not lose their ethnic identity while adjusting to life in the United States. So she founded the Russian Children’s Center in February 2002 to teach area youngsters the Russian language and to connect them with their cultural heritage. Her volunteer work continues to enrich the lives of many Russian children in Phoenix and connects the Russian community to many non-Russian residents in town as well. The center has served about 60 Russian children since its inception.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census 2000, an estimated 40,616 residents in the state of Arizona declare themselves to be of Russian ancestry. Although the number is less than 1 percent of the total state population of 5,130,632, Arizona ranks as the 16th state in the United States with the highest total number of people of Russian ancestry.
“Our program helps people feel like they’re part of a big family, where you can get support and help and be involved with each other’s lives,” Bor says. “It helps those who just came here to make friends, and it helps American families who have adopted Russian kids to learn the Russian language and about the culture.”
The children’s center opened with the help of Carlee Blass, founder of the Conservatory Ballet in Phoenix, who offered space in her ballet school to Bor's program. A couple of months later, the center moved to an apartment complex recreation center, then to its current site at the City of Phoenix Community Center, where it shares space with other non-profit organizations.
Bor spends every Sunday afternoon at the center, helping to teach classes in Russian art, music, literature, and aerobics for the 20 youngsters, ages 4 to 10, who currently attend. The children, wearing traditional Russian costumes, put on public performances each year that celebrate Christmas and the New Year, as well as special shows by request for area organizations.
Holiday performances include Russian stories of Ded Moroz, the Grandfather of Freeze (or Father Frost) and Snegurochka, his granddaughter (also known as the Snow Maiden). Such stories have become part of Christmas celebrations for the D’Mura family in Glendale, Ariz., who adopted two daughters from Russia when they were toddlers, and now attend programs at the center.
“My girls don’t speak fluent Russian, so it’s really good for them to learn it there,” says Janell D’Mura. “The center teaches them about Russian people, food, traditions, and culture—things I can’t give them.
“We were the first family with adopted Russian children to attend the center, and Natallia made us very welcome,” D’Mura says. “My husband’s family is from the Ukraine, so when we take the girls back to Russia to visit one day, I don’t want them to have the same kind of culture shock we had going there when we picked them up.”
Bor said her ability to reach out to strangers comes from growing up in a family that moved several times during her childhood, and that was fortunate enough to have traveled frequently in Europe.
“This background gives me this feeling that all people are the same,” Bor says. “We all dream the same dreams. If we have differences, it makes us unique people. When you have such experiences with others, it helps you to understand other cultures.”
This understanding, no doubt, is what allows Bor to have such an impact on her local Russian community.
Alyona Doubrovina, who worked with Bor to open the center, moved to the United States from Russia nine years ago.
“A lot of Russian women come here with expectations of a great life, and don’t know how to adjust, or how to achieve that life,” says Doubrovina, who is a systems engineer for Honeywell. “But not Natallia. She reached out to others and kept in contact with people. I don’t know how she finds time for everyone. People call her with questions about everything, and she’s become a focal point for the Russian community in town.”
Russian Children’s Center
City of Phoenix Community Center
2701 W. Belmont
Phoenix, AZ 85051
(602) 315-7722 (Natallia Bor’s cell)
Updated: April 07, 2020