By Mark Ambrogi
For Russian School of Indiana Executive Director Natalia Rekhter, receiving the Serve Indiana Award for Excellence in volunteerism was special.
Making it far more special was when she learned the nomination came from her son, Ilya.
“It was a moving moment,” said Rekhter, who was presented the award at a November ceremony. “As a mother and a person who donated so much time to the school, it was unbelievable. I was very pleased.”
Serve Indiana is a state volunteer service agency, connecting Hoosier-based organizations to grants and other resources. Ilya, 28, had watched his mother spend countless hours volunteering with the Russian School of Indiana.
“If you take someone like her who is an immigrant, who was not only able to learn a new language and get her master’s from the University of Michigan, and now she’s a professor at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, and she still donates most of her time to those who immigrated,” Ilya said. “She can kind of share her experiences. I thought there is no one more deserving than her.”
Ilya estimated his mother has volunteered 13,000 hours, but he said it is a conservative guess.
“It’s probably more than that, because when people call, you talk to them,” Rekhter said. “It’s really a labor of love. I like helping people. I like seeing the positive results.”
Rekhter, a Carmel resident, moved to the United States in 1991 from Ivanovo, Russia, and to the Indianapolis area in 2003. She wanted to get involved in the school for her younger son, Misha, now a Carmel High School sophomore.
“I was concerned, in a typical immigrant situation, that the kids are quickly losing their Russian or any other language,” Rekhter said. “I thought it would be nice to be going there. So I joined and saw a growing need for the Russian community to have a more organized school. We moved it to Carmel, expanded it and brought more classes.”
The school moved to University High School in Carmel in the fall of 2009. It previously held classes at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis. The classes are held on Sundays.
“Before JCC, classes were held under a tree,” Rekhter said.
The school has increased from 24 to more than 125 students.
“She decided to take what existed on a smaller level and invest her time into it to help make it what it is today,” said Ilya, a 2006 CHS graduate who serves on the school’s board of directors.
Ilya said he has learned the example of giving back from his mother.
“She always taught me you should always be doing something else, especially within your community,” said Ilya, whose parents left Russia when he was 3 years old. “Even after I started my tech company (DoubleMap), I’ve stayed involved with my community. I’m on the Russian School board and I’m also on the board for TechPoint Foundation for Youth.”
Rekhter started teaching Russian in 2004. She also taught other classes, including theater. In 2008, she assumed an administrative role as director of marketing and business development. She became executive director in 2014.
“I wanted to do everything I could to help this school thrive and be successful,” Rekhter said. “We opened classes not just for Russians but for Americans with Russian as a foreign language. Plus, we have math and art, not just for the kids, but also for adults.”
The school is open 30 to 35 weekends a year.
“The school is an educational entity, but it’s also a community center,” Rekhter said. “Sometimes parents contact me directly, and I help them whenever I can. It’s somewhere that people can get answers and get hope for a better future. We have families that have questions on how to navigate the school system. I’ve heard stories where the mother says, ‘My kid brings loose papers home and I just throw it away.’ Those loose papers were homework assignments.”
Rekhter said some families don’t have the English experience to help with their children’s college applications or to apply for college scholarships.
Katya Klaus, a Carmel resident, serves as the school principal.
“We created a hiring practice, because we wanted to have real teachers, not just the parents,” Rekhter said.
Because the school needs to pay for building rental and teachers, Rekhter said the school charges for the classes.
In addition, Rekhter organizes the Russian Festival, which was held for the second time in May 2016 at University.
“We had about 2,000 the first year and nearly 5,000 last year,” Rekhter said. “I’m not sure where it will be this year, because we need a much larger place.”
For more on the Russian School, visit indydeti.com.
MEET NATALIA REKHTER
Has served as assistant professor and director of master of health care administration program for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute since 2015. She started as an adjunct faculty at Eastern Michigan University. From 2003 to 2008, she was a trustee lecturer at the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She then served as director of the undergraduate health care administration program at Lincoln (Ill.) College. She has earned two Fulbright Scholar Awards, teaching at Russia State University for the Humanities for three weeks in Moscow in 2013 and Southern Federal University for three weeks in 2016. Her husband, Mark, received his post-doctoral training at the University of Michigan and works as a researcher for Eli Lilly.