How It Began

The Founding Story of Rays of Hope for Bulgaria

In 2010, Kayla Whittaker, President and Project Director of Rays of Hope for Bulgaria, ventured out of her small town in Tennessee to study abroad in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. She decided to get involved with local outreach and mission work. She joined a student group at the university called ‘Better Community Club’ which was founded by students at the American University in Bulgaria. Here, she learned about local community service opportunities and volunteered each Saturday at the local orphanage. The orphanage conditions were very poor and although they tried their best with what they had, the truth remained that they were overwhelmingly understaffed. 85% of the children were of Roma (gypsy) background and suffered from a range of issues with social and developmental disabilities. Much of this being a result of the starvation for attention and proper care. After making friends through this group of service minded people, she was soon introduced to professors, Bill and Lisa Clark.

Bill and Lisa were able to introduce her to the local Roma people. Roma (or gypsies) are a subculture that reside all over Europe with high minority populations in Eastern Europe and within the town of the university in particular. Here, Kayla was witnessed the horrible living conditions resulting from extreme poverty, sickness, and struggle for acceptance by society that people in the community dealt with daily.

Kayla returned to America with a heavy heart, and longing to give back to the second home that she came to love. The next few years, she made connections and began thinking of ways to help the Roma community and orphanages in Bulgaria. 

Kayla decided to return to Bulgaria for vacation and to learn more about Bill and Lisa’s efforts to minister to the Roma. After this decision, it was discovered that her church was already involved in a project in Bulgaria. The church was supporting the quarterly mission tithe for building a church in Bulgaria. While reading the church website’s mission section, there was a story of a Bulgarian pastor asking for people to give to a cause that helped build a church in none other than Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Kayla instantly felt it was an opportunity to get involved and start here to make a difference. 

This led to the founding of a project that would benefit Roma people and underprivileged youth via education, orphanage sponsorships, and ministry that worked with these communities. Click on our three areas of service to find out more information about how we serve, visit


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