It was the Beslan school siege that spurred Natalia Vodianova to set up Naked Heart Foundation. Desperate to figure out how to help the affected children, she made a simple decision. Those who survived the tragedy needed to be distracted by playing for at least five minutes a day, thus helping them overcome the consequences of their ordeal. The emergence of a new play space would be a kind of therapy. Having grown up in poverty, Natalia was very aware of the need for play and all the consequences of its absence in a child's life.
For reasons beyond the Foundation's control, it was not possible to open a play park in Beslan until 2009. By that time Naked Heart opened 39 play facilities already. Having realised during this time that play is important for all children in Russia, and remembering her own childhood experiences and lack of space to walk and play with her special sister, Natalia started working to create inclusive spaces where children of all ages and abilities can play. The first play park opened in 2006 in Natalia's hometown, Nizhny Novgorod.
In 2010, in addition to creating inclusive play facilities, Foundation began developing a support system for families raising children and young people with special needs in order to break the sad tradition of abandonment of such children. The programme was named Every Child Deserves a Family and first Naked Heart Family Support Centre became one of its key projects.
Since the launch of the Every Child Deserves a Family programme, Foundation has been working to strengthen the professional community of Russian-speaking and international child development specialists so that they have access to the latest knowledge and evidence-based practices. The annual Every Child Deserves a Family International Forum became the main project to reach this goal, and was held for the first time in Moscow in October 2012.
In 2013, a project to develop inclusive education was added to the Foundation's key projects. We want every child to go to school, make friends and be part of society regardless of their needs. That is why we have started educating teachers on evidence-based methods of working with children with autism. We want specialists to have skills, to share their experience with colleagues and to have access to educational seminars with leading experts.
In 2016, we launched an Early Intervention project for kids with special needs. Our early intervention services help children with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy prepare for kindergarten and school, and enable them to live the same kind of life as their typically developing peers - making friends and learning new things. Such services not only give parents more confidence, but also give them the knowledge of how they can help their child on their own.
In December 2019, Foundation celebrated its 15th anniversary. Over these years, we have helped more than 10,000 families raising children and teenagers with special needs and created more than 200 inclusive parks and playgrounds in 157 cities across Russia and beyond. Thousands of professionals and parents of children with special needs use our free information platform nakedheart.online.
The pandemic that began in 2020 did not stop the Foundation's work. We continued to educate and share knowledge: we held free webinars online, held scheduled specialist supervisions via Zoom, helped parents remotely, published books and did everything we could to support families raising children with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy every day. Not only did we keep our current projects going, but we also launched a new one: supported employment for people with ASD.