Dennis Lewis has logged a lot of miles flying to and from Russia. The chairman of Colorado Technical University's Project Management program just returned from his 12th trip to the other side of the world.
However, his time abroad isn't devoted to business or a typical vacation. Lewis, 56, spends his time overseas helping orphans.
"One person makes a difference," he said. "It's such a daunting task."
There are about 143 million orphans around the world, Lewis said. Russia has had a particular struggle caring for them because so much of the support system for the children had to be built after the collapse of the Soviet Union. When orphans turn 16, they are released from the system and must make their way on their own, he said.
Lewis speaks fluent Russian, and he’s married to a “wonderful Russian lady.” Trips to Russia combine his skills and family heritage, while he gives back.
Russia orphanages couldn’t even feed the kids in the 1990s, he said. The first time he went to Russia, he saw that orphanages had countless needs. He wanted to help the orphans to not just survive, but thrive.
His early trips to Russia involved taking suitcases full of basic supplies like toothpaste and toothbrushes to orphanages. He’s taken recent trips as part of a team organized by a local nonprofit, Children’s Hope Chest. The faith-based group, like many others, is allowed to work in Russia only as long as it remains sanctioned by the government.
“We have a pretty developed child welfare system,” Lewis said of the United States. “We don’t think about orphans.”
He wants to do whatever will help the kids long term, he said. Sometimes, that’s building playgrounds with the kids, and sometimes it’s just talking to them. Bible lessons offer a moral grounding.
“The idea is to provide another avenue,” he said, so volunteers encourage orphans to pursue additional schooling and lifelong careers.
Statistics are staggering, he said, with the majority of Russia’s orphaned boys ending up involved in crime or drugs. Many of the Russian orphan girls end up in prostitution.
Lewis said his work has enriched his life, but more importantly it has made a critical difference in others’ lives.
He has sponsored several boys, which includes spending time with them, sending them basic living and educational supplies, and keeping in touch. One was dropped off at the orphanage as an 8-year-old. The boy’s mother couldn’t care for him, and his father was in prison for murder. The boy went from being in constant trouble, to performing well in school.
“It changed his life,” Lewis said of the time he spent with the boy.
Lewis’ passion has directed his professional life. His experiences are the foundation for his dissertation for CTU’s doctorate in management, Global Leadership program, that he plans to complete by 2014.
Lewis said he has witnessed the difference mentoring and leadership can make in the lives of orphans in Russia. The same skills are used to effectively grow businesses and execute projects.
“You can’t solve the world’s problems,” he said, adding that there are things that can be done to improve the lives of children in need.
Ultimately, he wants to help government and other groups find better ways of helping children around the world.
“The more we help other people, the more it enriches society,” Lewis said.