I had the privilege of interviewing Lauren Fishbach, who currently serves as the U.S. Board President of the Delia Foundation and is also the Co-Founder of Delila’s Learning Center. With over 14 years of experience volunteering and advocating for special needs children in Vaslui County, Romania, Lauren initially began her journey with Global Volunteers at the Tutova Pediatric Clinic and Barlad Children’s Hospital. Throughout her career, Lauren has developed deep expertise in organizational planning, staffing, corporate marketing, and promotion. She has also served as a Career Advisor to young adults and held senior positions in leading publishing and information industry companies such as Bert Davis Executive Search and McGraw-Hill/Standard & Poors.
Lauren’s passion for making a difference in the lives of orphaned children in foster care is evident. As she describes, The Delia Foundation is a U.S. non-profit organization that focuses on reducing educational and social inequality for children, particularly orphans, with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities. They operate Delia’s Learning Center in the impoverished Vaslui County, Romania, where children with special needs often face obstacles in receiving an education due to their disabilities and lack of resources. The mission of Delia’s Learning Center is to educate and provide opportunities for these children, with a particular emphasis on orphaned kids in foster care. The organization aims to raise awareness about the continued placement of kids with disabilities in institutions, and the potential risks they face without education or life skills when they become adults. The Center offers various services, including early childhood intervention, educational tutoring, speech therapy, autism intervention, and a nutrition program. They have also launched a teen program focused on preventing school drop-out and providing vocational counseling. Delia’s Learning Center serves as a safe haven for marginalized children with special needs, where they can make friends and feel included. Additionally, the organization supports a local “orphanage” for children with disabilities and provides emergency food to families in need.
Lauren’s involvement with the Delia Foundation started as a volunteer in Romania more than 15 years ago, accompanying her mother who wanted to volunteer with babies. After witnessing the conditions and challenges faced by special needs children living in government-run institutions, Lauren and her colleagues felt compelled to take action. Thus, The Delia Foundation was formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the U.S., and one year later, Delia’s Learning Center was established. The inspiration behind the foundation’s name is a little girl named Delia, who has shown tremendous determination despite being born without properly formed limbs.
Addressing the challenges faced by the organization’s work, Lauren highlights the prevailing belief in Romanian society, particularly in rural areas, that children or people with disabilities cannot learn or contribute to the community. Changing these attitudes and advocating for the rights and inclusion of children with special needs is a key focus of their work. The rate of child abandonment and neglect is high, especially for children with disabilities. Delia’s Learning Center aims to support families in crisis and prevent children in foster care from being returned to institutional settings. However, being located in the poorest county in Romania poses additional challenges, with close to 50 percent of all kids in the country lacking basic literacy by age 15, and even lower rates among children with disabilities. The scarcity of special education teachers compounds these challenges, making it essential for Delia’s Learning Center to provide needed services to ensure children can remain in school.
In running the foundation, Lauren draws on her past experiences, particularly as a Director of Global Marketing with McGraw-Hill/Standard & Poor’s, which taught her the importance of cultural sensitivity and adaptation. Operating in a country that is still shaped by its communist past, she acknowledges the need to understand and navigate the cultural norms and expectations of Romania.
When asked about a project she is particularly proud of, Lauren highlights the transformation of an existing outdoor pavilion into a year-round indoor/outdoor play space for the children at the “orphanage.” This initiative has provided these children with a previously nonexistent area for activities, art, music, games, and community gatherings. Additionally, she mentions the success story of a rural village mayor seeking help for autistic and non-verbal twin toddlers. Thanks to the efforts of the Delia Foundation’s team, the family is now together, and progress is being made toward getting one of the children into school. Lauren also takes pride in the teen program launched last year, being the only program of its kind in the area for teenagers with special needs. The impact of these initiatives is evident daily, with 75% of the school-age children they serve now attending school.
Through the incredible work of the Delia Foundation and its dedicated team, Lauren Fishbach and her colleagues are making a significant difference in the lives of children with disabilities in Romania, striving to break down barriers, provide education, and foster inclusion.