On July 22, 13 children from Ukraine arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after their first-ever trip on an airplane.
The youngsters — all orphans — are in the Pacific Northwest as part of a three-week hosting program organized by Karen Springs, a Redmond native who has been working with Ukrainian orphanages and living in the eastern European country since 2004.
“This is the first time I’ve brought the kids home with me, which is pretty exciting,” she said.
Springs works for Orphan’s Promise, an organization in Virginia Beach, Va. that works with orphanages in more than 50 countries. She has organized seven host programs with different groups of Ukrainian children, but most of trips have brought the orphans to Colorado and other states including Virginia, California, and New York.
To make the current trip possible, the 2000 Redmond High School graduate partnered with Window to Hope, an organization formed by a group of women from her home church, Northshore Baptist Church in Bothell.
“Karen approached me with the idea of partnering with her on a hosting program in our home church … about a year and a half ago,” said Window to Hope project coordinator Kara Filonov. “She’s helped coordinate several hosting programs through a church in Colorado, but had a growing desire to see her home church get involved in a similar way.”
The children, from 7 to 15 years old, have been paired with host families, giving them the opportunity to experience the day-to-day activities of family life. Springs said each host family will also give each child a birthday party, complete with a cake and gifts. Additionally, Filonov and Window to Hope have planned a few group activities such as a picnic, a trip to the beach and a trip to the zoo for all of the children and host families.
Filonov said Window to Hope’s other contributions to the program have been finding host families, raising more than $23,000 (mostly for airfare), organizing a clothing drive for the children and coordinating dental and eye exams for the children.
On Springs’ end was the job of selecting children for the trip and securing the correct travel documents for them. She also traveled with the kids from Ukraine to Seattle. Springs (left) said the trip was very eventful as it was filled with firsts, from flying on a plane to riding an escalator.
“This is all very new to them,” she said. “It was quite an adventure getting them here.”
Springs has been in Ukraine, living in the capital city of Kiev, for about six and a half years, but never intended to stay for more than eight months. She went right after graduating from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in theater and communication. And aside from a trip home to take a 10-week course to learn Russian and a few trips home each year, she has been in Ukraine ever since, working with various orphanages to promote national adoption as well as assisting Americans who want to adopt.
“I felt like I had to stay there. God had more work for me to do there,” she said. “Working with orphans was not in the game plan.”
Ukraine is roughly the size of Texas with a population of about 55 million with around five million in Kiev. Springs said there are about 100,000 orphans in the country, but this includes children living with relatives. The number of children who are wards of the state and adoptable is closer to 30,000. Springs said about 75 percent of the orphans she works with have living parents who have had their parental rights terminated due to alcoholism, neglect or similar reasons. Springs said this is one of the more difficult parts of her job because many of the kids have dreams of being reunited with their birth families.
“It’s not easy,” she said.
But Springs said she likes being an advocate for the orphans and sharing their stories with others who might be able to help them. This is one of her favorite things about the hosting programs. In exposing people to the orphans’ plight, she has seen people inquire about and apply for adoptions.
For more information about the hosting programs or adoption, email firstname.lastname@example.org.