Robert Kalatschan, owner of Original Pizza in Newport Beach, is happy to talk about pizza, but he’s especially excited to talk about how God turned a problem in his life into a blessing.
“My wife and I were unable to have kids, and we were trying to figure out what to do,“ Robert said. “God seemed to point us to the adoption route, and we tried that for three years. One day my wife came home really broken and realized she needed to totally give the situation up to God. One or two days later we got a call about a two-month premature Vietnamese-American baby boy that needed a home. He was a perfect little baby and I was perfectly content with him, but my wife yearned for a second child.”
Robert explained that the steps to adopt their second child three years later set them on a path that changed the course of their lives, and countless others.
“To make a long story short, next thing I knew, I found myself landing in Saigon – getting hit with the heat, humidity, sights, sounds and smells – let me tell you, it was not Newport Beach!” he said. “Vietnam was not a place I ever wanted to go, but that’s where I met my daughter, a beautiful little 11-month-old girl.
“When I left Vietnam, I said I’m never going back there again. I’m sure all heaven laughed the day I said that. As it turns out, I’ve been back approximately 40 times!” Robert explained. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the kids I saw, all the orphanages, all the handicapped kids’ homes. I just kept remembering all those faces. I realized that most of those kids I met would never have the chances and the hopes that my daughter did. I knew I had to do something. ”
God gave Robert a heart and a dream about the needs and what could be done in Vietnam, and in 2002 he and his wife, Dorothea, founded Giving It Back to Kids, a non-profit corporation dedicated to helping kids achieve their maximum potential through medical care, education, nutrition and love.
“I’d rather be called a fool one more time, than miss something God called us to do,” Robert said. “I said, ‘OK, God, let’s try it.’ We did, and there’s been a lot of fruit. We’re doing all we can, and we give a lot of love. We give them unconditional love and a lot of hugs; they don’t usually get hugs.”
The organization’s website (www.givingitbacktokids.com) shows many of the dramatic improvements made for orphans, including their housing, medical needs, nutritional needs, education, and disaster relief.
“We’ve funded about 340 heart surgeries, 580 orthopedic operations, 76 eye operations, and built 390 houses for poor families. We’ve distributed 55,000 wheelchairs with Free Wheelchair Mission, given 693 bikes and we have a pig program to help families establish business. We also know that orphans turn 18, and instead of just being on their own, we’ve built two college homes. We have 29 orphans going to university. Also, we have the first-of-its-kind home for unwed mothers, called ‘The Father’s House.’ Vietnam has the highest per capita abortion rate, that’s something not talked about, but something that we’re doing something about.”
Robert explained that funds for the organization come primarily from private donations.
“We also have matching grants for some of the surgeries,” he said. “Our primary fundraiser is on Oct. 8 at Harborside Restaurant in the Pavilion. Every December we also have one at Original Pizza Co. Even the staff works for free, and all the sales go to Giving It Back to Kids. It’s been a total God deal.”
Several churches from the US partner with Giving It Back to Kids, sending both adult and teen mission trips through the organization. The Crossing Church has sent adults and is planning a teen trip in 2012.
“The teen trips are awesome!” Robert said. “The students have had powerful experiences outside of the bubble of living here. Those trips and relationships made have really changed them. Many have come home, cleared stuff out of their room, saying they did not need them after seeing what kids have in Vietnam.”
“Many of those kids in Vietnam were going to end up working the streets in some capacity; our thing is to give them a chance, give them a hope, give them a dream; that’s what ‘Giving it Back to Kids’ is about. I see God’s fingerprints all over everything.”
Cindy can be reached at [email protected].