He’s been a Spokane County commissioner and treasurer, budget director for Idaho and a growth management board member for Washington. Now Skip Chilberg is about to take on one of the world’s most confounding bureaucracies:
A Romanian orphanage.
Chilberg plans to travel to Braila near the Black Sea in May to negotiate the takeover of an orphanage serving 70 children, ages newborn to 4. He’ll also help set up an agricultural business to support the orphanage.
The rare privatization is the brainchild of Romanian and Spokane-area Christians who launched a private farm and seed factory near Braila. The International Assistance Program, headquartered in the basement of the Northview Bible Church in north Spokane, also plans to help open a Braila medical clinic in May and Bible college there in October.
Chilberg’s involvement comes as he travels exhaustively to hear land-use disputes and as his second wife expects the couple’s fourth child in July.
He’ll keep his day job, saying he can organize and raise money from Spokane. “I think I served on 12 boards as a commissioner. I can do this.”
In fact, Chilberg says everything from fatherhood to 26 years as a public administrator prepared him.
“A lot of things throughout my life seem to support this particular direction,” said Chilberg, 52.
That seems to be a phenomenon among the people who founded and support the IAP. Keith Davis, executive director and a close friend of Chilberg’s, teaches “From Success to Significance,” a class for men in midlife who find that monetary and political success is not as important as helping others and doing God’s work.
“Men today are looking for significance,” said Davis. “Success, position and power does not fill the void.”
Chilberg, who attends Northview, has been a student and lecturer in the classes Davis teaches at the church.
“I wouldn’t say the class was significant in changing any direction; it was more of a recognition that those changes had already taken place and an opportunity to focus on and spend time how I wanted,” Chilberg said.
This week, Chilberg, Davis and Spokane attorney Bruce Gore incorporated the Romanian Children’s Project, a nonprofit program based in Chilberg’s home near Deer Park.
The orphanage they’ll take over is one of seven institutions in Braila, a city of 300,000 on the Danube River.
They’ll collaborate with the Diakonia Charitable Foundation, the charitable arm of a 450-member evangelical Christian church led by Pastor Joseph Stefanuti. Stefanuti was a Baptist minister persecuted under communism who has worked since 1992 with American investors on businesses that will sustain Romanian churches and charities.
Plans have often stalled because of bureaucracy that made acquiring land and opening and operating businesses in Romania difficult.
Stefanuti envisions a model orphanage that will retain 70 children long-term. This contrasts sharply with the practice of moving children throughout their lives.
Davis says the staff would try to reunite children with their birth parents and help them out of poverty, since many Romanians give up their children after being impoverished by one of the worst economies in Europe. He also foresees children placed permanently with adoptive Romanian families through Stefanuti’s church.
“It’s not our vision, we’re buying into their vision,” says Davis of the plan. “Their people are capable of running programs and taking responsibility. It’s a matter of taking over the tools and management skills to do it.”
Davis said the orphanage needs a vegetable farm or agri-business supporting it so that it does not have to rely on U.S. charity. He’ll be traveling there to survey the needs next week.
Chilberg has an agriculture degree and is being advised by his former deputy budget director, who just returned from a three-year stint for the U.S. State Department in Romania.
Chilberg, who started working for former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus at age 26, became Spokane County treasurer in 1982. He served a decade until he was elected to the county commission. He resigned in 1995 to serve on a three-member regional growth management board.
While treasurer he was active in the United Church of Christ, serving as president of the Washington and North Idaho Conference, a group of 93 churches.
Chilberg will travel to Romania with his stepson, Jacob, 16. He also has four children from a previous marriage.
“I’ve been very blessed, there’s no question, and I think it’s time for me to return some of that.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.