A Year Without the Socials

A little over a year ago Wide Awake International and we, personally, left social media. At the time it felt like such a HUGE deal to me. I actually cried quite a few tears about it. I had so many fears about what would happen. Would everyone forget about us? Would we become, somehow, “irrelevant”? I worried what people would think of us and I even worried about money. I thought “How will people who might want to partner with us even know we exist?” But even with all those worries I just knew that leaving social media was the right thing for us. I even felt like it was what God was asking us to do. So after a year of fighting myself about it, in October of last year we left the platforms for good. (Technically our pages still exist, but I don’t know how to sign in to them and I don’t post new content. They’re just historical artifacts now 😉)

Annnnnd, I’m happy to report that we are still alive! We still exist- even without social media! 😂 I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Kinda.

When we first signed off I felt like I was somehow an outsider to the rest of the world. It just felt weird to not be connected in those spaces anymore and I wasn’t quite sure how to just “be”. Something funny would happen, or the boys would be looking especially precious and I would feel that tug to share them with the world. But then I would remember that there was no way for me to do that, so I would just take a picture and share it with Jed, or with our team instead. Or, I would just be in that moment and not share it with anyone.

Then, after several months of being out of those online spaces I started to forget that they even existed! I mean, obviously I still knew about them, but I was so detached that I forgot that other people, in fact most people, still were very much attached. I just didn’t think about Facebook or Instagram, and I guess that’s the space I’m still in now. Social media is just off my radar and I simply don’t think of it anymore. 🤷‍♀️ I decided I like that feeling.

Before we finally made the decision to take the nonprofit off of social media I searched high and low online for someone who had gone before us. I wanted to read about other people in the nonprofit world who went off of social media and I wanted to know how it was going for them. Actually, I wanted to hear that they were “better than ever!” without those tools. Ha! I didn’t really find much at all, much to my dismay. I did find some personal stories of people who went off social media and I found those helpful. So in case you are wondering how things are for me personally, I thought I’d write it out here, just in case any of you are contemplating taking the leap yourselves.

What I’ve learned in a year without social media:

1.I’m not lonely. After moving to Ukraine Facebook and Instagram were major players in my relationships with other people. I had so many connections all over the world and I was so afraid of losing those by leaving the platforms. I did lose many of those relationships. That’s the truth. There are people that I only knew through social media and many of those friendships have not translated to real life friendships. But that’s okay. The relationships right here in front of me, and the long-distance friendships I already had with loved ones far away are wonderful and fulfilling. I’m not lonely. I’m in-real-life surrounded by love. (Watch out. That might end up being it’s own blog post…)

2. I’m a better person without an audience. Okay, the fact that the social medias are called “platforms” has always rubbed me the wrong way. But sometimes I’d have a really hard day here, I’d post on social media, the audience would tell me how wonderful I was and how they were in awe of the amazing work we’re doing here and I’d feel a bit better- for a minute. Guys, that is so gross!!! What the heck? I’m disgusted by myself and I’m so glad I don’t even have that option anymore. The last thing I need to be doing is standing on a platform for everyone to see me and applaud me. I know myself. I know my weaknesses and failures and what I need is more humility, not more attention and more admirers. A life without social media helps keep my heart in the right place.

3. I’m happier when I can’t play the comparison game. Without social media I don’t see the highlights of everyone’s spectacular lives. I don’t see perfect moms and perfect houses. I don’t see “missed” opportunities for my kids. I don’t see recipes that require alllll the ingredients that I can’t buy here. I don’t see what I can’t have and I am 100% better off for it.

4. Wide Awake International is doing fine. The people who have loved this work and supported it with prayer, encouragement, and finances were there when we had the socials, and they have stuck with us since we moved off. I think less people are finding out about our work here, but we’re choosing to trust God on that one. A cool thing is that our base of monthly supporters has actually gone up 25% in this past year! God’s plans for us and our boys are perfect and He knows our needs. We don’t worry about tomorrow. (Or at least we try not to…😉) And to all you wonderful partners out there- we love you!!! Thank you for your trust, love, and support. We could not do this without you!

5. I’m more present and rooted here in Ukraine. This is a big one. Without social media my world became so much smaller. The world right in front of my face is so important and full. I don’t need to go searching for meaning in other places. I’m digging my roots deep, right here in my little village and it’s much easier to do that without the socials.

6. Books are wonderful. I already knew that before, but I have read so.many.books in this past year. It’s insane! It’s amazing how much reading you can do when you have nothing to scroll. 😂

7. My trust in God has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s a little embarrassing to admit how much faith I was putting into Instagram, Facebook, and my own skills in beating the algorithm. For realzzz. 🤦‍♀️ Like I said before, God knows our needs. He cares for this work more than we do. He will keep his promises. He loves Ukraine and her people and his father heart breaks over how many of them are locked away. He will see this work through. We do not need to be afraid and we do not have to put our energy into sharing this work in spaces that are unhealthy for our souls.

And on and on. Basically, my heart is at peace with the decision we made a year ago and I’m so thankful we pulled the plug. Also, I said it last year and I’ll say it again: I am not placing any judgement on anybody who’s participating in social media. The decision we made was our own. Who am I to judge your decisions? Nobody. 😊

So, what’s next? We’re researching, considering, and praying about using some other medium to engage more with the Wide Awake community. We have our weekly newsletters and this blog, but those are mostly one sided and don’t lend themselves to spontaneity. I do miss that about the socials. We’re thinking about a way to be more engaged that would avoid some of the Instagram Facebook pitfalls. We have some issues with those companies themselves and really don’t want to be in those spaces, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a space that is healthy for us. If we decide to launch out somewhere new we’ll make sure you all know.

Thanks for all your massive love and support over the years. Thanks for sticking with us, even when we did stuff that doesn’t make much sense to most people. We’re a bit nutty. You already knew that, right? 😜

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

How Life Works Now

Hi Friends! Fall is here and I’m there for it. I LOVE FALL. It’s sunny but cool, the leaves are starting to turn, pumpkins and squashes are showing up in the market. It’s wonderful! This season makes me want to bake every single day. I have to hold myself back for the sake of all our waistlines. 😆 Fall treats and beverages aren’t a thing here, and you won’t find any pumpkin patches or corn mazes, but that’s okay. We have to make the fall magic up ourselves and I’m ready. Let’s do it!

If you are subscribed to our newsletter you heard the news that Max and Morgan, the house parents in the duplex, were moving back to the US. It was a very sudden move and kind of turned life on its head. They just left on Thursday and we are figuring out what our new normal will look like around here. I’ve had a lot of questions about what that means for us here and how things look without house parents, so I thought I’d share.

Right now Anton and Sasha live in the duplex. There is space there for two more boys, so in the future 4 boys will live in that home. But right now there’s just the two. Every week, Monday through Friday, an assistant (or two) comes to the duplex at 8:00 am and assumes care of the boys until 5:00pm. The assistant helps bathe them, fixes their meals and helps them to eat, plays with them, takes them for walks, loves them and treasures them. We have the best assistants!! For reals. Everyone on our team loves our boys deeply, and each of the boys has some level of attachment to our different team members. They are not lacking in love, that’s for sure! Then, for now, Jed goes to Anton and Sasha at 5:00 when the assistant leaves and we kind of tag-team both houses until the boys go to bed at 8:30pm. Then Jed sleeps at the duplex and is with them in the morning until the assistant arrives. On the weekend we tag-team both houses, since assistants have those days off. Some of our team members have volunteered to help out on some weekends, so whenever they are available to do that we will be super grateful!

It’s certainly not ideal, but we know that God is with us and will give us everything we need. Our boys are safe and loved. We want to make them the priority during this time of transition and make sure they feel nothing but love from us. We have decided that in this time we need to just make our lives and our world really small. These boys are why we are here and now is the time to lean into that. We aren’t quickly making sure their needs are met so we can get on to the next thing, because our life with them is the thing! They are our family and we are honored to love them.

As far as our kids go, they are totally good with it. They are taking turns spending time with Jed at the duplex and spending the night there. Our kids also love the boys and see them as family, so they understand that Anton and Sasha need all of us to step up and help each other.

This plan is working for now, but it’s obviously not sustainable for the long haul. I really like living with my husband…😆 So, if you would be praying with us for God to provide more helping hands and open hearts we would really appreciate it. We have boys we love deeply sitting in the institution, and a two big, beautiful homes ready for them to live in. All we lack are people to love and care for them.

I know God will provide, in His perfect timing.

Thank you for loving us and praying for us!

Addy and Anton

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Ruslan and Anton: Three Years Free

This past week was a big milestone for our family. We celebrated three years of freedom for Anton and Ruslan. Three years!! It seems like they have been with us for so much longer. It’s a little hard to remember life without them. Three years ago when we brought them out of Romaniv to join our family we committed to them for life. We committed to love them and care for them always. We naively thought we knew them then. Now I think of how much they’ve changed and I can see that we really didn’t know them at all. They had never had the opportunity to truly be known, and I’m incredibly thankful that now they are loved and known and treasured by many, many people.

If you’ve followed our journey for a while you know that life with Ruslan and Anton has not been an easy one. We have had our fair share of struggles along the way. When we committed to them for life we thought we knew what that would look like. We thought they would live with us in our home, like Boris, forever. Well, that dream lasted a year and a half, and then we realized it was 100% not sustainable. Together we have journeyed through times of great joy and great sorrow, great healing and great pain, great suffering and great hope. It has been a massive rollercoaster. BUT- I am happy to report that God has always been with us. He has never left us or our boys and he has always given us exactly what we needed. He has taught us and helped us and we are all better having traveled this path.

The day we took Anton and Ruslan home ❤️

Ruslan is living with Luda, a member of our team, and her teenage son, Nazar. They live in an apartment about 10 minutes away from our village and Ruslan is doing FABULOUSLY well. He is happy and thriving. Since living in the apartment he has grown so much in independence. We are seeing now the man that God created Ruslan to be and we are so proud of him. He brings us lots of laughs and his love for “cappuccinkos” rivals the biggest coffee fanatics’ out there. 😂 Ruslan still struggles a lot with the trauma of his past and life with him is not all butterflies and unicorns, but Luda has great patience and they really are suited so well for life together. God blessed us abundantly when he brought us our dear Luda. What a gift.

Anton is living in the duplex, right outside our back door, with Max, Morgan, and Sasha. Life in the duplex is the best of both worlds for our Antoshka. We learned that he’s not well-suited for life in a big family, and over time it became unsafe for him to live with our family since we have small children in the home. But, he really does best when he is close to us and can see us every day. He’s a mama’s boy and I love him right back, so the duplex is the perfect place for him. Also, the proximity allows Jed and I to be a support when Anton is struggling. Man, I’m so thankful for that home! Anton has also grown and changed so much in the past three years. He is saying more words and we are all learning how he communicates and what he needs in his environment to thrive. He still struggles with anger and aggression, but he is also learning about sadness. He is learning that it’s okay to be sad and not every negative emotion he feels needs to go straight to anger. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to make mistakes. Over and over our team shows him that he is loved no matter what. His road to healing has been a steep one, but we love him dearly and we will not stop walking with him.

Last Sunday, on the anniversary of Ruslan and Anton’s freedom, our family picked them up before church and took them out for coffee. It was the first time it was just the 11 of us since Anton and Ruslan lived with us. I can’t even tell you what a precious time it was. Every time I think of it I get all emotional! We have all come so far together. I just kept looking at their faces and feeling overcome with thankfulness that they are our family. I was reminded of what blessings they are and what an honor it is to love them and be loved by them. When our boys love, they do so without restraint. They have like a sixth sense about people and when they feel that you truly love them you will have a friend for life. They are our precious, precious gifts from God and I so needed that reminder.

Our Boys

Sometimes in the daily grind of life here our focus can shift. We can get caught up in problem-solving, scheduling, budgeting, and team management. Our boys can easily become problems to be taken care of or tasks to completed. We always love them, but their demands and needs are so great that if we aren’t careful they can become our “burdens” when God is inviting us to recognize that they are our blessings. They are so valuable and our lives are forever changed because of them. I’ll be the first to admit that I have had seasons of feeling burdened by the responsibility of our boys. The responsibility for their lives is huge! But that responsibility is an honor- not a burden. My prayer is that our hearts would always remain soft to our boys. That in the good times and the bad we would recognize that they are our blessings- our gifts. They bring us joy. They teach us to love unconditionally. In loving them and caring for them our own weaknesses are brought to light and we have the great privilege of working that stuff out and not being allowed to just sit in that place of weakness and selfishness. As their lives are changed, so our lives are changed. Not one of us remains the same on this journey of bringing the lonely into family. Praise God for that. ❤️

BeLOVE[d]


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Vlad the Worker Man

When we adopted Vlad we really had no idea what to expect for his future. He could say a handful of words, but they were pretty difficult to understand. His behaviors were VERY institutional. He would screech and scream in public, he flapped his arms and made strange sounds. He had zero concept of appropriate social norms and personal space. He was a little bit like a wild animal, to be honest. But he was curious and he wanted to learn, so we started to teach him. 

The day we adopted Vlad

Over the past 6 years, Vlad has far exceeded anyone’s expectations. He can read and write in Ukrainian and he is fluent in Ukrainian and in English. He’s grown from a 15-year-old who wore size 8 boys’ clothes into a 21-year-old man who is taller than me and still growing! He is responsible and smart and never forgets a face. Vlad is a miracle. 

One of the dreams we have for our boys is that they would each grow into their full potential. That they would be allowed, in this space of healing and love, to fully become the men they were created to be. For Vlad, we saw his great potential for growth, and an impossible dream began to grow in our hearts. We began to dream that Vlad would one day have a job. 

Vlad is a hard worker around the house and once he understands a task, he completes it in a timely fashion. We knew he would make a great employee, but the barrier to employment was a cultural one. People like Vlad, with significant intellectual and physical disabilities do not work here in Ukraine, in general. I mean, it would be extremely rare to see someone like our boys out in about in public, let alone working at a public establishment. You just never ever see it! But still, we dreamed of a future in which Vlad could work and grow in his independence. 

Then we met Dima. Dima owns an electrical supply store in Zhytomyr. Jed met him through the construction of the duplex. They did some business together and discovered that they had mutual friends. Dima had even visited Romaniv once! Jed and Dima developed a friendship and Dima became interested in our work. He came out to visit a few times and began to more fully understand what we are doing here. Then he told us he wanted to help. Jed heard those words and decided to not hold back. 😉 “You want to really help? Would you consider giving Vlad a job in your shop?” Without hesitation, Dima said that yes, he would be happy to give Vlad work. Oh.my.word. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Vlad as happy as he was the day he learned he was going to be a “worker man”, as he put it. 😆

Vlad and Dima on his first day of work

On May 11th Vlad began to work in Dima’s shop. For the first couple of days Tanya, our special ed teacher, joined him to help coach him on appropriate behavior in the workplace, and to help Dima find the best tasks for Vlad. He started out working twice a week for a couple of hours at a time, and now works 3 days a week for 4 hours each day. He is one happy dude. Vlad mostly works in the back of the store, bringing inventory from storage to the front and helping with counting inventory and such. Dima told me this week that he has to check up to make sure Vlad doesn’t make mistakes, but that he has progressed a lot in his abilities over the past couple of months. They are so patient there and truly want to help Vlad to be successful in his work. It’s become a bit of a mission for the store employees. It seems like they all feel joy and pride in the sense of purpose the work brings to Vlad’s life.

Vlad at work

This month Vlad became an official, documented employee. I can’t emphasize enough what a miracle that is. It just doesn’t happen! We are so proud of Vlad and so thankful to Dima and his staff for making this happen for our guy. Vlad is growing in independence and maturity and having an occupation is a priceless gift in Vlad’s life.

Yesterday we celebrated Vlad’s 21st birthday. He’s an adult. He has a job, responsibility, a paycheck. I think back to the little tiny 15-year-old we adopted and marvel at all God has done. He has brought the right people into Vlad’s life at just the right time. We are so thankful and so proud.

Who is Wide Awake/Dim Hidnostiy?

Last week our friends from Hands of Hope in Indiana were visiting us and it was such a great time together! They are some of the partners who have been with us the longest and it is always a joy to see the work through their eyes. Last year they weren’t able to visit because of COVID, so it had been 2 full years since their last visit. Things have really changed in the last two years! One side of the duplex is already a home, the other side is nearly finished, Max and Morgan moved here, we brought Sasha out of the institution, and several other team members and friends with special needs have been added to the crew. It’s an exciting time here in Ukraine, but sometimes I forget that. I get hung up in the dishes and laundry and parenting. When people come and point out how things have grown I gain a new appreciation for how far God has brought us.

Last year I introduced our team on social media, but I’m not sure I ever did it here. I thought it’s high time you had a clearer picture of who’s who around these parts. I’ll also share our Org. Chart with you so you can see where everyone’s fits into the puzzle. I’ll intro the Ukrainian side of the team in this post, and then next time I’ll intro the American side. Let’s introduce you to our team!

CEO

Jed. I know he wouldn’t want to go first, but when you look at the chart it just makes sense. Jed is my husband and we founded Wide Awake International together in 2013. He is the visionary and our leader. Jed’s background in non-profit management has been a huge asset to our team. I’m partial, but I think he’s the cat’s pajamas.

Care Team

Kim. The Care Team is led by me, Kim. I’m hoping to sooner, rather than later pass that leadership role off to someone else. But for now, it’s me. I’m responsible for our daytime assistants, our live-in assistants, and the overall well-being of our boys and the people who care for them. I’m an RN, so medical supervision of the boys falls under me as well.
Max and Morgan. I’m writing about them together, mostly because I really love this photo. 😆 Max and Morgan are the house parents in Side B of the duplex, “Hope Home B”. They moved here in January from the US and are living in the Hope Home with Anton and Sasha. I can’t even express to you how thankful we are that God brought them to us. They are committed, loving, patient, and wise. They bring all of us so much joy and inspire us to do better.
Tonya. Tonya joined our team when we moved Anton our of our home. We were in desperate need of someone to be with Anton on the weekends during that super rough time. Tonya stepped in and she truly is God’s gift to us. She just has a way with the boys that they respond to so well. She’s “The Anton Whisperer”. For reals. We love our Tonya so much. Tonya works as a daytime assistant 4 days a week.
Luda. We are so thankful Luda has joined our team!! Luda came to us just this past January. She and her son, Nazar, moved in with Ruslan. At this point they are committed to living with Ruslan till the end of the year and it’s going great. Ruslan is thriving with Luda and she does a wonderful job with him. Luda also joined our team as a daytime assistant and works 4 days a week with our boys. She, like Tonya, has a wonderful, peaceful way with our boys and they all love her.
Oleg. Our team would literally fall apart if it weren’t for Oleg. 😂 He is not only a daytime assistant, but a friend, a spiritual support, our team driver, handyman, and favorite of everyone. What a wonderful gift. Oleg has been a part of our team for nearly three years now and we hope he stays with us forever. He has been through it all with us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are thankful for his commitment and for his heart. We love our Oleg.

Services- The Multidisciplinary “M” Team

Lesya. Lesya is our psychologist and the leader of the “M Team”- our therapy team. Lesya began as a volunteer with Wide Awake more than 6 years ago. That led to her doing the internship and then completing her degree in psychology. Lesya helps with the boys, for sure, but her main role at this time is helping her team to do their jobs well. She supports them, helps them to grow and reach their goals, and also really helps us work with our boys in the area of emotional health and growth. Lesya always wants to do her best and her desire to grow and change is a wonderful inspiration to the rest of us.
Mira. Mira also began as a volunteer more than 6 years ago. I feel like she’s grown up with us, and now she’s married and expecting a baby! Mira was in our first intern cohort and this year she will finish her degree in Physical and Occupational Therapy. She is the leader of our weekly work at Romaniv and does a really wonderful job with that. Mira also helps us work through challenging behaviors with our boys. She’s the resident “Behavior Specialist” and we are so thankful for her wisdom and creativity!
Masha. Masha is our sunshine. Her laugh is contagious and she brings joy to all she does. Masha began as a volunteer 5 years ago and then completed our internship. She has just finished her first year of university and is studying to become a speech therapist. We are so excited that she’s discovered a love for this work because we really need that specialty! I know Masha will do wonderful at it.
Tanya. We met Tanya our first summer in Ukraine and she quickly became a volunteer. After completing the internship she went on to get her degree in Special Education. Tanya is our teacher and she is a wonderful one at that. She has a passion for her work and goes above and beyond to do things well. She is also in charge of our volunteers and works hard to build relationships with the moms of our friends with disabilities. We are so extremely thankful for all she does! There’s no way we would be where we are today if Tanya wasn’t with us.
Maxim. We finally have our Max back! Max also began as a volunteer 6 years ago (catching a theme here?) and then completed the internship. Just last month Max graduated from university with a degree in Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Wahoo! He moved back to our city and is now beginning to work as a part of the team again. We missed him while he was gone and are so excited to have him back. Our boys and our team really need what Max has to offer.

Operations

Masha. Masha has become an indispensable jack-of-all-trades on our team. What would we do without Masha? She started as a volunteer back in the day and then after completing the internship she came on as our social worker/HR/document-chaser. Masha helps with the legal processes that keeps Dim Hidnostiy, the Ukrainian arm of Wide Awake, running. She works as a translator when we have visitors, does payroll, and makes the work schedule. And so much more!! Seriously. We are so thankful for all Masha does. She is organized and efficient and that girl knows how to get things done. 💪
Ruslan. See that ginormous duplex in the background? Ruslan made that happen. He is the building project manager and is rocking it. Rus finds the best prices and purchases all the building materials. He keeps the builders on target and keeps us in the budget. As Jed’s wife, I’m so thankful we have Ruslan, because before, Jed was doing all that! Ruslan has high standards and is a man of inegrity. We’re so grateful to have him on the team.

Development

Jed, Masha, and I are all working together on development. I do the communications in English, and Masha runs our Ukrainian social media. At some point we’ll need more help in development, but for now we’re making it work with the three of us.

I hope that helps you understand who’s who over here! Next time I’ll introduce you to our Board of Directors in the US. If you have any questions, let me know!