By Dan Parks, Rotary Club of Wilmington East, North Carolina, USA
At the end of December, two Ukrainian families arrived in North Carolina, USA, after a whirlwind departure from Kyiv on Christmas day. They traveled through Warsaw and Chicago enroute to North Carolina. It’s been a busy three weeks as I’ve helped get the mothers signed up for Medicaid and their children enrolled in school or settled into daycare.
In late September, I was contacted by a representative from Welcome.US, a nonpartisan national initiative in the United States that was created to inspire, mobilize, and empower Americans from all corners of the country to support those seeking refuge here. The program started in September 2021 to assist those fleeing Afghanistan, but it has since expanded to embrace refugees from the war in Ukraine. Welcome.US is collaborating with Rotary to find hosts for refugee families.
After setting up an account and taking the online training, I agreed to become a sponsor with the help of fellow Rotarians. I worked on raising the $6,500 necessary to fly four people to the U.S. and an additional $15,000 for their first three months here. That covers housing, groceries, and transportation. I also had to help the new arrivals get social security cards, work permits, appointments with doctors and dentists, and jobs!
After completing the training, you get to review six to seven families. It’s a bit tough selecting families, but the decision is softened by the knowledge that each has three potential sponsors. I finally agreed on two young mothers and their two children – a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and a seven-and-a-half-year-old girl. The mothers were friends in college and decided to try coming to the U.S. together. Right now, men can’t leave Ukraine.
Prior to their arrival, we initially communicated through the Welcome Connect platform, but then started using WhatsApp and checking each other out on Facebook. You get very attached quickly and worry about their safety. Thanks to our chats over WhatsApp, I was aware of Russian shelling before it was on the news. It was chilling. Frequently they had no running water, electricity, or heat. Temperatures were below freezing, with snow on the ground.
We texted every day or so. I found myself making up excuses to communicate with them, such as asking what types of food they liked. They sent pictures of a park in Kyiv during better times that showed what a beautiful city Kyiv is. A photo of the young boy showed him and his dad watching cartoons by a kerosene lantern. They can’t have too many lights on at night. I was texting back and forth when I realized it was 3 a.m. their time. I encouraged the young mother to get some rest, but she replied that she didn’t sleep well at night because that was when the shelling occurred.
As an assistant governor in District 7730 (North Carolina, USA), I have more than 300 Rotarians to whom I’m reaching out for help (financially and otherwise). So far, it’s gone well. News spreads fast among family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone wants to help. My son’s mother-in-law is an eye doctor and said she would take care of eye exams and glasses. One retired Rotarian, a dentist, is taking care of their dental needs. Another doctor with Ukrainian parents is addressing any diabetic concerns they may have.
Neighbors have come up with cookware, bedding, kitchen utensils, and much more. I have a pool/guest house on my property that has a full kitchen and bath, a queen-sized bed, and a couple of cots. There is a television. They’ll stay there until they find employment. I’ve been collecting frozen foods for them and have enrolled them in a food pantry where I volunteer.
Both moms are now enrolled in English classes Monday through Friday in the mornings. They have bank accounts set up. They’ve been grocery shopping several times and have gone to a few parks, out to a horse farm, to the beach and to a couple of restaurants. One mom said that every day gets a little easier.
I can’t describe the sense of satisfaction you get from helping families who’ve faced so much. I would encourage as many of my fellow Rotary members as feel able to check out this opportunity.
Learn more about sponsorship by downloading the Rotary-Welcome.US flyer. Rotary clubs can use district grant funds to help with resettlement costs. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or find resources and answers to some common questions on the Welcome.US website.
As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approached, Rotary magazine’s Wen Huang traveled to Europe to see firsthand how Rotary members are responding to this humanitarian crisis. In the first installment of his two-part report, Huang visits Poland en route to Ukraine
I can’t praise enough the work that Dan Parks has done for these families. He’s tireless and selfless. A true Rotarian
Hi i am Rotarian since 1983 and the only founder in my Rotary Club Condesa (District 4170) in Mexico City. I congratulate to North Carolina Rotarians for your human support to Ukranians refugee Families, that action show the strong support that mean the Rotary ideology around the world. i am going coment to my friends in my Club to start a program sopport to the Ukrania people and families, YOUR EXAMPLE MOTIVATION OTHERS CLUBS thank you.
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