History of the Russian Children's Welfare Society
This year, the Russian Children's Welfare Society proudly celebrates the 90th anniversary of its founding in 1926. The original organizers announced their commitment to improving the lives of Russian children throughout the world at the 125th Street YMCA in New York City. They embarked on their mission with a modest contribution that was sent to support Russian shelters in Latvia, and their legacy certainly lives on in the Society's many programs today.
The direction of the Russian Children's Welfare Society support has been steered by many of the 20th century's tumultuous events. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 prompted the emigration of large numbers of Russians to Europe, Asia, North and South America. By the early thirties, the Society had ten branches operating throughout the United States and was sending money and material assistance to schools and organizations assisting Russian children in locales as diverse as Estonia, Poland, Finland, France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Harbin, Shanghai and Istanbul.
The occupation of many of these countries during World War II suspended much of the Society's work, which was prohibited after American entry to the war in 1941. After the liberation of France in 1944, the Society worked very closely with the American Committee for Assistance to France and managed to send $25,000 in cash, food and clothing. By 1945, RCWS assistance was providing hot breakfasts in French schools, serving approximately 1,100 children.
During WWII, the Society's leadership decided to professionalize its operations. RCWS eventually gained recognition by the Presidential War Relief Control Board as an approved charity for work abroad during the war. By 1950, the Society was again sending relief to 14 countries.
Among the long-term volunteers of the RCWS was Princess Vera Constantinovna of Russia (1906-2001), a great-granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and the youngest child of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich of Russia. Princess Vera was born in Imperial Russia and was a childhood playmate of Nicholas II's younger children. At the age of twelve she escaped revolutionary Russia and spent the rest of her life in exile, first in Europe and from the 1950s in the United States. Starting November 1952 till 1969, Princess Vera was working at the Russian Children's Welfare Society, assisting with day to day activities of the organization. She passed away at the Tolstoy Foundation's elderly care home in Nyack, NY at the age of 94. Princess Vera was the last member of the Romanov dynasty who was born in Russia.
Princess Vera Constantinovna (24 April 1906 — 11 January 2001) was the great- granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and the youngest child among the 10 children of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich, a revered poet and second cousin of Tsar Nicholas II.
She was born into the tail end of Imperial Russia's legacy and much of her childhood was made into a precarious and agonizing affair by the onset of World War I and the Russian Revolution. The first of many family misfortunes occurred after her brother Oleg was killed in the line of battle shortly after WWI began. The following year, in 1916, when Princess Vera was only 9 years old, her father died of a heart attack before her very eyes. In 1918, four of her brothers were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. While one of them, Prince Gabriel, was released, the other 3 (Ivan, Constantine, and Igor) were murdered along with members of the Romanov family.
As the political turbulence in Russia grew, it became increasingly more dangerous for Vera and her family to remain in their homeland. Vera's mother, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mavrikievna, decided to travel to Sweden with Vera and George (Vera's brother) after accepting an invitation from Queen Victoria. They later moved to Belgium, followed by Germany where Vera's mother died of cancer, in Leipzig, in 1927.
Princess Vera and her brother soon relocated to London where Vera subsequently lived for 30 years while Prince George moved to New York City. With little to no respite between the end of WWI and beginning of WWII, and still shaken from the gruesome aftermath off WWI, Vera went to Germany during WWII to work as a translator in a camp for prisoners of war. During this period, she did not have any protections of statehood and did not belong to a specific country.
Even as a stateless refugee she refused the aid of various European countries because she considered herself Russian. She once said: «I didn't leave Russia, it is Russia who left me». In 1951, she decided to move to the United States, where she would stay until her last days.
Upon arriving in the U.S, Vera started working for Russian organizations. She wanted to help those who had been abandoned by her country just as she had been. She had a generous heart and was one of the most active volunteers at the RCWS. She worked with the society from 1952 to 1969. She was an extraordinary activist and devoted member of the RCWS who dedicated her time to helping create a better Russia for its people so that they could avoid having to live through the difficulties she endured growing up. Vera never got married but led a noble and fulfilling life. She died at the age of 95 at the Tolstoy Foundation Elderly care home in Nyack, New York. She was always an honored patron at the Petroushka Ball.
With the dawn of the Cold War, it became all but impossible for the Society to send aid to countries that fell behind the "iron curtain." The Society did carry on its work helping Russian children in western European countries, particularly France, as well as the Far East, South America and the United States.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Society again shifted its focus and resources to impoverished children living in Russia today. Fortunately, the Society received a $4.5 million bequest from the estate of John Engalitcheff, Jr. in 1990. Through the Society's prudent investments and frugal financial practices, we are now able to channel 100% of our donations to help sick and needy children and orphans in Russia.
JOHN ENGALITCHEFF, JR.
John Engalitcheff. Jr, formerly known as 'Prince Jean Engalitcheff,' was born in Russia in 1907 and grew up immersed in the turbulence of the Russian Revolution. At the onset of the revolution, Jean and his family were forced to escape their house and flee the country because Lenin had ordered their arrest. In 1919, Engalitcheff’s parents fled to Serbia and he was left behind to fend for himself. He enrolled in the White Army, was briefly imprisoned in Germany, and began scouring all of Europe to reunite with his family upon his release. According to various sources, he finally found them in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
John enrolled in a Russian school in Serbia from which he later graduated. Years later, he moved to the
Mr. Engalitcheff was a hard worker and his inventions revolutionized the
In 1990, the John and Virginia P. Engalitcheff Estate made a very generous donation to the Russian Children’s Welfare Society of $ 4.5 million. The bequest significantly helped the Russian Children’s Welfare Society expand the scope of their help and greatly improved the lives of many children.
During the 2007-2016, the Society disbursed approximately over $9 million in direct aid to children in Russia by supporting orphanages, homeless shelters, hospitals, rehabilitation centers for disabled children and schools.
The Society is proud of its accomplishments in its over 90 year history, and pays tribute to all of our predecessors and donors who transformed the organization into one of the leading charities in Russia today. Along the way, great and important traditions such as the Petroushka Ball have given the Russian community and its friends an opportunity to celebrate Russian culture while advancing the cause of Russian children in need. RCWS remains resolute in its mission and will continue to find ways to implement innovative programs in the 21st century, despite the unpredictability of world events.
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