From "Bridges" magazine published May 31, 2020
Sunlight Rays Keep the Glow
"Sunlight Orphan Aid for Lithuania" ( Lietuvos vaiku globos burelis "Saulute") began in the spring of 1993 as a committee of "The Lithuanian World Community, Inc. (PLB), but in 2007 registered as a separate not for profit charity organization. The objective was to help needy children in Lithuania, especially orphans and children, who were placed in "children homes" because the parent's rights were terminated. On TV we had seen videos of the dire neglect found in orphanages in Yugoslavia, and we wondered what the conditions were of similar places in Lithuania after 50 years of brutal occupation by Soviet Russia after the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which locked Lithuania away from the Western world by the "Iron Curtain". After visiting Lithuania, we were pleased to find the conditions were better in Lithuania than in Yugoslavia, yet additional assistance was strongly needed. Having roots in both Lithuanian and America, I felt an urgency to help.
I was born in Lithuania in October, 1939. My mother was born in Chicago and through her I was also a USA citizen. Our family left Lithuania in 1944 to escape from the German Nazi and Soviet terror, which descended on the country. Everyone thought it was a temporary move, but it turned out to be different... Lithuania was no longer on the map... It was incorporated into a big red Soviet bloc... After three years in a United Nation’s Displaced Person's Camp in Germany, in 1947 we emigrated to America.
I grew up in Chicago, where many of my mother's relatives still lived since their arrival about 1903. Some had businesses in the Bridgeport area with the beautiful St. George's Church, where my mother was baptized. We always knew that we were as advocates in the Western world for reestablishment of Lithuanian independence, since Lithuania's voice was silenced by the Iron Curtain.
When we arrived in Chicago, our relatives already had businesses and other enterprises . In the Bridgeport area, on Halsted Street, uncle Joe Spaitis had a "butcher shop" (meat store), which he called "bucerne", and a very modern store to sell aluminum framed windows. On the corner of Halsted and Lituanica was the Malela electrical shop. Joseph Spaitis had a large tract of land in the Willowbrook area, and it is said that the lovely ghost of Mary wanders around there at night. Al Capone ran his bootlegging operations in this area. Mrs. Gedmin, my maternal grandmother's sister had a beautiful grey car, and a large plot of land, which is now 95th and Ashland. I think she grew corn on part of it, aromatic lilac trees dotted part of the periphery, and her son's, my uncle Ed's, used car lot occupied part of her property. Uncle Ed was a colorful figure, telling stories about meeting Frank Sinatra and other celebrities in Las Vegas. His sister, my aunt Emma, same name as my mother’s, was married to Mr. Kosiak, who looked like Prince Phillip. They had two sons, Mikey and Joey, who were younger than my sister and I. When we went out to play in the unfenced yard, we were strongly cautioned not to open the of large fenced enclosure, which housed several German Shepherds. Later, a baby sister Mary Ann came into the Kosiak family. When we lived in the 20th and Ashland, and Bridgeport areas, uncle Barney used to take us to Lemont, to picnics by Holy Villa, a senior living facility run by the Sisters of St. Casimir. Mrs. Gedmin knew the founder of the order Mother Marija Kaupas, and the other nuns. Uncle Barney used to say to my mother -Emily, buy land in Lemont". ("Miliute, pirk zemes Lemonte.) Unfortunately, uncle Barney lost his life in a car accident.
I grew up in the Chicago area, married, taught high school science classes until the first of our four children started arriving, and, later did some substitute teaching. In general, I was a housewife. For a few years we had a foster son, who subsequently went to back to live with his relatives. In all that time, I had not been back to Lithuania. Then my mother visited occupied Lithuania in 1976 with a tour group, followed by my father, then in 1978 my husband. In 1979, I went with our 4 children, and in 1980 I went alone. In those days the Soviets only allowed a five-day visit, and you could stay only in Vilnius or Kaunas. If the relatives wanted to meet you, they had to do so in one of those cities. Besides getting acquainted and touring, only with the assigned tour guide, there was no time to see anything else.
Consequently, after starting the "Sunlight" ("Saulute") committee for The Lithuanian World Community (PLB), I traveled to Lithuania in January of 1994 to acquaint myself with the conditions and situations surrounding children in need. I visited about 50 children’s homes in various places and found that there large facilities with about 200 children, some facilities in conjunction with the parish church, some are family like settings where a person is hired to be the “father” or “mother” to about 4 children. Some children were in foster homes. We decided to send packages of donated items to the larger homes (“internatai”) and shelters for abused mothers and their babies, but give financial aid to needy families recommended to us by our trustworthy local residents. We had concerts, lecture series, participated in our parish or craft fairs, and accepted donations from individuals and various businesses. A very great help in procuring donations were nurse anesthetist Ginger Houghton and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Bob Duda, who discovered his Lithuanian roots. They also worked with the US National Guard and were residents of the eastern part of the USA. Sister Dorothy Dempsey of St. Patrick’s parish in St. Charles, Illinois was invaluable. She organized that on the third Sunday of every month parishioners could bring their donated items to a parish hall, and our volunteers would pick them up, bring them to the Lithuanian center where they would be sorted, packaged, and sent out to Lithuania.
However, time flies, and we are not getting younger. We considered closing the organization. Lithuania has won its independence, was the first to break up the Soviet Union thirty years ago, but families with various needs are everywhere. We were so happy to find out, that Daina Siliunas and Lina Smilgiene asked their friends, several of which had helped us prepare for our parish Christmas bazaar by baking holiday cookies, or making traditional Christmas tree straw ornaments, if they would like to join “Saulute” on a permanent basis. Many answered in the affirmative.
On February 29, 2020, a meeting was called at the Lisle, Illinois residence of Daina Siliunas, where the present and new members met. The seniors talked about the history of “Saulute”, Sunlight Orphan Aid, and their experiences working as volunteers (there are no salaried workers). The new members shared their plans about future activities. Now there new officers for “Sunlight Orphan Aid”: Co-chair. Lina Smilgiene and Daina Siliunas, Treasurer Ramune Rackauskas, Secretaries Laima Braune, Birute Nalis, Ilona Didzbalis, Website Coordinator Dalia Naris, Sponsor a Child Program chair Daiva Kisielius, Event Planners Faustina Varaneckas and Judy Sidrys, Liaison with Lithuania Daiva Majauskas, and new members Rita Pasile, Lina Zlioba, Ale Lelis, Vaiva Vygantas and Ziba Pranckevicius. Mary Kriauciunas has agreed to help coordinate the annual Christmas cookie decorating. Indre Tijunelis will be an advisory to the co-chairs, the senior members will remain and work together with the new members, who all happen to be of a younger generation. “Sunlight Orphan Aid for Lithuania” encourages adopting or fostering children, integrating the handicapped into mainstream society, making as many places as possible handicapped accessible. Inquiries regarding Sunlight Orphan Aid (Saulute) can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 630-852-3204. Donations can be sent to the previous address – 1133 Amber Drive, Lemont, IL 60439.