By Laurean Love
One Baylor alumna is closing orphanages in Ukraine by helping children find families among Christian couples interested in adoption.
Baylor alumna Deneen Turner, who graduated with a bachelor of business administration in marketing and management, co-founded the nonprofit organization HopeHouse International, which assists Christian couples in adopting orphans within Ukraine.
“I know this is what God has called me to do,” said Turner. “Therefore, there is great fulfillment in living within his calling for my life.”
Turner currently serves as the organization’s president. Yuri Yakovlyev, a Ukrainian citizen, co-founded HopeHouse International with Turner and has been Turner’s partner for 23 years.
“Our goal is not to build orphanages but to eradicate them,” Turner said. “And to give these kids a forever family and salvation as they are adopted into a Christian family.”
Turner said HopeHouse only works with Christian couples in Ukraine, Moldova and where they might grow in the future. For HopeHouse, it is not just about winning the hearts and souls of children. In a Christian home, children are given the opportunity to know a personal relationship with Christ, she said.
Although the organization is discerning when it comes to single-parent Christians wanting to adopt, HopeHouse has had two single moms adopt orphans.
Statistics provided by Human Rights Watch show that before orphans are 21 years old, 70 percent of orphans in Ukraine will be homeless and unemployed, 20 percent will have criminal records and 10 percent will commit suicide.
Turner’s organization helps provide a better future for these at-risk youth.
“It was great just to hear the passion in her voice, which was completely driven by her own experience and of course the Lord’s leading,” said Leah Kay Gabriel, a 1987 Baylor graduate and former Miss Texas. “It has been amazing to watch HopeHouse explode over the years. She is held accountable for more than any other nonprofit ministry that I have ever seen; it is just completely above reproach. She is completely dedicated to the mission. They are just incredible.”
Turner said she knew from the time she was 15 years old that she wanted to work in ministry, although she always thought it would be in Christian music.
Turner graduated from Baylor in 1987, and while at Baylor, Turner was also in Pi Beta Phi sorority and an All-University Sing chair.
“I am still amazed at how the professors knew us by name, cared about us as individuals and wanted to see us grow, not only scholastically, but as strong men and women of faith,” Turner said.
Turner said that during her time at Baylor, her hunger to serve the Lord grew as she was involved in college ministries at church and at school.
After graduation, Turner started singing with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and continued with the organization for about 21 years.
During that time, Turner began singing in the Ukraine, which is the country of her heritage. Her father was born in Russia and her mother was born in the Ukraine.
Turner was inspired to work with orphans because she knew the feeling of being abandoned by a parent because her father left when she was a little girl.
Turner also adopted her son, Drew, from Kharkov, Ukraine, a mile away from where her mother was born. Because she sees Drew in every child, he has inspired HopeHouse to do more for other orphans.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute recently honored Turner for her work as co-founder and president of HopeHouse International, which was recently recognized by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee as a 2012 Angels in Adoption recipient for its outstanding advocacy of adoption.
“The Angels in Adoption program is unlike any other program in the nation’s capital. Because of it, over 1,800 Angels have come to share with Washington their adoption experience and left with a renewed excitement of all that adoption makes possible,” said Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the institute. “I learned one simple lesson from my time on the hill: knowledge is power. Angels in Adoption is meant to give members of Congress the knowledge they need to use the power they have toward making the dream of a family a reality for every child.”
According to Gabriel, more than 250 orphans have been adopted, an equivalence to five orphanages with a 100 percent success rate, meaning none of the children adopted have gone back.
“HopeHouse is not about just meeting needs, but it is really about souls,” Turner said. “These kids are coming to know Christ, and that is the most important thing we could do as a ministry.” Turner said she hopes the award will bring awareness to the mission of HopeHouse. “I believe it has credibility and validation to all of the supporters over the many years,” she said.