Police chief plans return
by Lenny Roberts
As part of a task force dealing with narcotics abuse and domestic
violence issues in Russia in November 2000, Sheriff's Capt. Gary
Pentis worked closely with Russian police and was a guest educator
at Belarusian State University.
Pentis also visited orphanages full of children - innocent victims
of the bankrupt Russian economy and the Chernobyl nuclear incident.
The trip made a lasting impact on Ojai's police chief.
Using his own funds, Pentis has adopted the Solotcha orphanage
and plans to return to the outskirts of Minsk in late April with
all the money he can raise to help make a dent in the lack of
decent nutrition, basic school supplies and qualified tutors.
The Camarillo-based Restoring Hope Foundation will pay his airfare.
"I had my heart torn out spending time in the orphanages,
seeing the way these kids live," he began. "Meat in
a meal is seldom experienced by kids in an orphanage. Often,
a potato is the only meal they eat, and those are usually donated
by a local farmer. Potato pancakes for breakfast, potato soup
and a vegetable for dinner."
Pentis described the 1.2 million children who have been lodged
in state-run orphanages throughout the country since 1989 as
"warehoused." They are abandoned or neglected by their
families, and rely on world church organizations and outside
help just to stay alive. In fact, nearly 30 percent of all impoverished
newborns will not see their second birthday.
"I've been to a lot of Third World countries, and this is
not about poverty. It's about people stifled and controlled by
their government," Pentis said.
"The kids continue to be victims. The safety net of protective
services that we have and the safety net that Communism provided
is gone since the wall came down. Nearly 100,000 kids are abandoned
each year in front of police stations, at bus stations and at
hospitals, and some of the infants only receive two to three
minutes each day of human contact.
Kids are generally released from orphanages at age 17 - released
with no transitional preparation. Within a year, Pentis said,
statistics show that 31 percent will attempt suicide and 25 percent
wind up in Russian prisons before the age of 18.
The feeling of hopelessness lies mostly outside the tourist meccas
of St. Petersburg and Moscow - hopelessness created by the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster, the deaths of soldiers in the war with Chechnya
and/or parents who are unable to care for their children because
of the economic crisis.
"Entire families have been wiped out in this area, and the
serious alcohol abuse in this region has left many other children
parentless. There are very limited services and that's why the
mortality rate is so high."
The orphanage Pentis has adopted typically houses 150 children
ages 9 through 18 in one building, and 75 between infancy and
age 9 in another. He has received pledges of fund-raising support
from locals Pat Weinberger, Carlon Stroebel and at least one
retired law enforcement officer.
Those interested in contributing to the orphans' nutrition and
education fund should make tax-deductible checks payable to Youth
Options Unlimited, a nonprofit organization made up of law enforcement
officers, and send or deliver them to the Ojai Police Department
at 402 S. Ventura St.
All the donations specific to the Russian orphanages will be
personally delivered by Pentis, who plans to purchase school
supplies out of his own pocket.
"One of my biggest fears is money that doesn't go where
it's supposed to, but 100 percent of what is donated will go
directly to these kids, not for travel or other fees," Pentis
For more information, Pentis can be reached during normal business
hours at 646-1414.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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in the U.S.S.R.
funds to provide them with basic food and school supplies, Ojai
Police Chief Gary Pentis plans to revisit Solotcha Orphanage
children in April.