By Ken Graham
The Times 

Embracing Orphans: Making Life Better for Kids in Jamaica


April 10, 2014

DAYTON - Carl Robanske has a love of travel, a desire to serve God and compassion for people less fortunate than himself. He has put those passions to work as founder and chairman of the Walla Walla-based nonprofit organization Embracing Orphans.

Over the past five years, Robanske and Embracing Orphans have made a real difference in the lives of many young people in the Caribbean Island nation of Jamaica. The organization has bought new cribs and built two playgrounds for a government owned children's home near Montego Bay. They've also set up youth camps and taken kids on outings to the beach.

"Many of the kids hadn't been to the beach before," Robanske said.

In January this year, Embracing Orphans opened a new home for at-risk teenage girls in the parish of St. James called The Father's House. It will be home to as many as 20 girls between 14 and 21. The home is owned and operated as a partnership between Embracing Orphans and the Jamaican government's Child Development Agency.

Robanske has been active working in the Young Life organization in Walla Walla. He and Embracing Orphans have also been instrumental in getting the firstYoung Life group started in Jamaica.

Besides his work as chairman of Embracing Orphans, Robanske has a day job. He teaches PE and health education at Garrison Middle School in Walla Walla. He is also assistant boys swim coach at Wa-Hi and a track and field coach at Garrison.

Robanske grew up in Dayton and is the son of Robert and Peggy Robanske. He graduated from Dayton High School in 1997 and went on to receive a teaching degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Shortly after college, Robanske was invited by some friends in Walla Walla to join them on an adventure. They got jobs as school teachers on the island of Pohnpei in the Micronesian region of the South Pacific. "I taught 8th grade for a year at an Adventist school," Robanske said.

That trip and an earlier mission trip he took while in college to a first-nations village on Vancouver Island called Kyuquot whetted his appetite for helping kids in less developed areas. Over Christmas in 2006 he helped put on a soccer camp for kids in a children's home in the Dominican Republic.

Robanske believes that God chose Jamaica for him. As Christmas break was approaching the following year, he and a friend decided to take another quick trip to the Caribbean.

"I didn't have any island in particular in mind," Robanske said. "I told God I'd go anywhere and I asked Him to show me where through the cheapest flight, and that was Jamaica."

Before departing, Robanske made some inquiries about possibly helping out at an orphanage or children's home while he was there. He found one near Montego Bay, called Blossom Gardens. The manager there welcomed him, saying, "We're always shorthanded here around Christmas."

Blossom Garden was home to about 75 kids, aged 0-8. "These kids were not just orphans," he said." Many had been neglected or abused by their parents." Several also had developmental disabilities, he said.

The following spring and summer, Robanske made two more trips to Blossom Gardens. That's when he decided to raise money to help improve conditions at the children's home. Back in Walla Walla, he began the process of setting up a 501c3 corporation. That's an IRS designation that allows taxdeductable donations.

Robanske also began working with a home for teenage girls in another town in Jamaica. "We found men from the neighborhood lining up at the fence outside the home, especially in the evenings" he said. "Many of the girls were leaving at night."

He began raising money to help the children's home find alternative activities for the girls in the evenings, and also to build a wall to provide better protection. "We raised $50,000 for the wall," Robanske said, "but conditions around the home became very bad, and there was a lot of violence against the girls by men in the community. So the government decided to close it."

Robanske knew of a home for sale that he thought would make an excellent girls' home. He was approached by the Child Development Agency to put the funds for the wall instead toward providing a new children's home. He used the money raised for the wall as the down payment.

The official opening of The Father's House was January 3rd 2014. Currently eight girls live in the home, and in time The Father's House will be the home to 20 girls.

The home, which is a partnership between the Child Development Agency and Embracing Orphans has several staff members including; Manager, Social Worker, Procurement Officer, Lead House Mother, Assistant House Mother, Cook, and Gardener.

"This unique children's home cares for girls who have been orphaned or separated from their families because of abuse or neglect," Robanske said. "It's the first of its kind in Jamaica."

The Father's House cares for teen girls as well as those in transition who are 18 - 21 years of age. The girls at The Father's House attend local high schools, colleges, or skills training centers.

Robanske says he makes two trips a year to Jamaica. While home in Walla Walla, he spends many of his non-work hours fundraising and building Embracing Orphans. Last year, the organization raised about $125,000, he said.

Besides The Father's House, Embracing Orphans has three other main missions: Young Adult Sponsorship

The Father's House cares not only for teenage girls but also young women in transition. These older girls receive the benefits of Young Adult Sponsorship specifically in the areas of health care, education, and basic needs such as housing. Girls who have aged out of the former Windsor Girls' Home may also receive sponsorship. Adoption Ministry

The Adoption Ministry assists families in the adoption process at no cost, helping with paperwork, and providing resources. Team Service Trips

Churches and non-profits have joined Embracing orphans in assisting children's homes through building and maintenance, staff and student education, childcare, and outreach activities.

Embracing Orphans will hold its annual fundraising dinner Monday, May 5. It will be held at the Reid Campus Center Ballroom at Whitman College, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Anyone interested in attending the dinner should contact Kim Wilson at (541) 212-9342 or Robanske at (509)540-9408.

More information about Embracing Orphans can be found at, or on the Embracing orphans Facebook page.


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