We Are Safe

Dear Friends,
Thank you for all your love and care for us during this uncertain time. We are still in Ukraine, on the Homestead, and we are safe. There have been rumors that some kind of invasion could happen today, but so far all is well. Assistants are with the boys, I took the kids to school, and am now sitting down with coffee to write to you. It feels almost like a normal morning, except Jed is on the phone right now with Ruslan planning the route for picking up all of our families in the city, if there were to be an invasion. And the kids’ school wrote that they are stepping up emergency drills with the kids. Sooooo…almost normal? 🤷‍♀️

We are watching the news very carefully and have made plans for every scenario we can think of. What will we do if we lose cell service?  What will we do if we lose internet?  What will we do if public transportation stops running? What will we do if there are Russian troops actually in our city?  We have done our best to prepare, and now all we can do is live our lives and see what happens. 

✅ On Monday we bought :
50kg of buckwheat
10kg of sugar
50kg of rice
20L of oil
50kg of oats
60kg of carrots
120kg of potatoes
40kg of onions
60kg of beets
5kg of garlic
Salt
So we’re all set to feed our crew of 40ish, should we all need to hunker down here in the village.

✅ Yesterday we filled all the vehicles with diesel and have plenty of fuel on reserve that Ruslan has been buying over this past month.

✅ Yesterday we finally purchased 3 generators (one for each home) and tomorrow they will be installed.

✅ Today we will hopefully hear that Sasha’s passport is ready. It’s past the date when it should be ready, so we hope to hear good news today on that front. 

✅ All important documents for everyone are compiled and scanned onto thumb drives as well. 

We are as ready as we can be, and I have to tell you we feel at peace. We really don’t feel afraid. We know we are exactly where we are supposed to be, and we will stay here as long as God has us here. We aren’t being hyper-spiritual about it, but also, we are not going to panic. Moving our huge group is too much of an undertaking to do it just for rumors. We will wait and see if it is actually necessary to leave before we make any big moves. We are committed to being here. Ukraine is our home and we are committed to our Wide Awake Family. 

We wanted to thank everyone who has reached out recently and shown their love and support for us and our team. We feel absolutely loved and cared for by you. Many of you have asked how you can help and our main answer has been “pray and donate so we don’t have to worry about money, should an emergency arrive”. You have stepped up in amazing ways. In the past month our partner churches in the Pacific Northwest, plus many generous individuals have donated $20,000 specifically towards helping the Homestead become more energy independent. Thank you thank you thank you!!  We are blown away by your giving hearts. Having the generators in our possession brings us a lot of peace of mind. 

Grant is still coming and is scheduled to arrive next week. We have plans for how to get to him if the airport is inaccessible or if commercial flights are not allowed to fly in Ukrainian airspace. He told us “I’ll walk to you guys if I have to.” 😆 We are eagerly awaiting his arrival and are thankful for his commitment to this work. 

Please pray for Vasya. He is the husband of our team member, Nina. He is stationed on the front in Eastern Ukraine. He has been stationed there off and on since the war began in 2014. But of course, now it feels quite a bit more stressful for Nina to have him there. Pray for Vasya’s safety and for Nina’s heart to have peace. Thank you.

Nina and her son, Seriozha

President Zelenskyy made a great speech on Monday and declared today, the possible day of attack, as the “Day of Unity”. Ukrainian flags will fly and everyone is encouraged to show their support of Ukrainian sovereignty. I encourage you to read his speech and dare you not to fall in love with Ukraine even more. 

We will let you know if our situation changes. Please continue to pray and reach out. Never apologize for writing to us and checking in! We are not annoyed, we are only thankful and we feel the love. BeLOVE[d]

❤️ 🇺🇦 ❤️

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How Are the Boys?

It’s been a while since I wrote an update about all our boys, right? I tried valiantly, for a while, to do the prayer team updates once a month, but I got a little burned out on that. It just ended up being too much. So…it kinda fizzled. Sorry about that. 🤷‍♀️ I’ll make it up to you now with an update about each of the boys you love so much. As you’ll see below, they are just doing really, really well. We are thankful that right now all of our boys are happy, healthy, and thriving.

Vlad. Can you believe our Vlad is 21 years old now? He’s officially an adult, so he’s working hard at learning how an adult should behave and taking on more adult responsibilities. Vlad has taken on the responsibility of caring for the goats along with the chickens and I have to admit that I get a good chuckle watching him try to wrangle them into the yard at night. It is a sight to behold and probably the only time you will ever see Vlad angry at any living being. 😂 He still goes to work at the electrical shop 3 days a week for about 4 hours and it’s going “okay”. There are good days, and not so good days. Vlad has the most wonderful, kind, patient boss, but it’s still a challenge for him to stay focused and motivated at work without mom or dad there to keep him in line 🤦‍♀️. I hope he can keep his job, but he’s going to need to rise up to the challenge if he wants to keep working. We’re also searching for the balance of what kind of work can challenge Vlad so he can grow, but also work in which he can be successful. It’s all one big experiment.

Physically, Vlad is doing great. We decided to wait until next winter to being working on his orthodontics back in the US. Right now he is needs a lot of support from us and it just doesn’t seem like the right time for him to be so far away. We’ll see! He is generally happy and thriving. The other day he brought me his Christmas list that he wrote out himself. It was written in a mixture of Ukrainian and English and it just made me smile. He is such a joy and we are thankful that he is our son.

Boris. Our sweet Bmo is doing so great!! He really is growing and changing right now. He has started to communicate more and more of his needs and desires and I think that brings him joy- when we understand him. He mostly communicates by bringing us the thing he wants (like a cup when he wants a drink, or his blanket when he wants to sleep), but he also will occasionally use cards. It’s encouraging to see him trying to communicate. He’s also using the toilet more frequently with great success. We are all super happy about that!

Boris is still med-free and self-harm-free. We stopped giving him meds at the beginning of last year and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t hit himself even once. I’m still in awe of that miracle. I never dreamed he would have a life without hurting himself. He has been laughing a lot lately and is just generally really happy and content. The past couple of weeks he has been vocalizing more too! It’s so strange to hear consonant sounds coming from his mouth. What if someday he speaks!? 🤩

Ruslan. Rus is still living with Luda and her son, Nazar, in an apartment in town and it is great. Luda is really the perfect person for Ruslan and they do so well together. She gives him a lot of independence and he is thriving in that. He is growing and maturing, emotionally, and is all around happy! Of course he still has his moments when trauma rears its ugly head, but he is growing in that. He is better able to handle unexpected changes in plans and negative emotions. The team has been working hard on that with him.

Ruslan loves meeting friends for coffee. When he goes to a cafe he always orders a “cappuccinko”. 😂 He is so super social and I love watching him at church, how he walks up and greets all the different people he knows. Such a man! I’m really proud of Ruslan. He is making great strides and brings us a lot of joy and laughter. In the past my relationship with him has gone through some difficulties, but God has brought a lot of healing to my heart and I’m so thankful that I am in a place right now where I can just delight in Ruslan. He is a precious gift to our family and our team. 🥰

Anton. Antoshka is talking up a storm! In the past, Anton has really only spoken we have asked him to, when was repeating after us, or when he was angry. But right now he is in a season of exploding vocabulary! He is talking on his own accord and saying things we have never heard him say before. He’s singing a lot too, which usually is a sign with him that all is well. He’s in a really good place these days.

Back in the late summer, early fall he was really stressed and had lost some weight. He was looking pretty skinny and just not healthy, in general. But, over the last two months he has gained 12 pounds! Anton really shows us his emotional well-being through his body- his skin coloring, his weight. So a chubby Anton is a happy Anton. And that makes the rest of us happy too. 🥰 Anton is taking more “responsibility” for Sasha and will even take things away from him if he knows Sasha is holding something he’s not allowed to have. The other day I was in the kitchen at the duplex and I heard Anton yell “Sashaaaaaaa!!!” I ran to the bathroom and Sasha was trying to climb into the (empty) bathtub while Anton was trying to stop him. Big brother was watching out for Sasha. 😊 This is huge because in the past Anton has really only ever seemed to care about Anton. The fact that he is watching Sasha and interacting with him like that is actually a big step for Anton. I’m proud. ❤️

Sasha. Oh Sasha. He just brings us all so much joy! I remember back when we first decided to pursue guardianship of Sasha, we felt the Lord speak to us that he would bring joy to us all, and that has totally been true. His transition to family life has been the easiest of all the boys- by a mile. He was just ready! He is the cuddliest, sweetest man-child (😆) ever. Often Sasha is in content in his own world, but as time goes by he is more and more willing to engage. He responds to his name now (sometimes) and will follow some simple commands. Sasha loves to cuddle, sing, run, spin in circles, play with water bottles, and grab everything in sight that he’s not supposed to have. 😉 He also really loves to eat, but I think that goes without saying. He is a 15 year old boy, after all and he’s growing like a weed. He’s about to grow out of all of his pants and has gained about 25lbs. since he came home to us in May. 😱

Sasha has epilepsy and when he came to us he was on two medications: one he took twice a day and one he took three times a day. Now, six months later, he takes only one of those medications, twice a day. Woot! The neurologist is happy with the changes in Sasha’s brain activity and now that he is on less medication he is more interactive and alert throughout the day. Sleep is sometimes a bit hit or miss, but mostly fine. We are just so incredibly thankful that Sasha is in our family and we all adore him. He is a gift.

Thanks to everyone who prays for our boys. It is such a joy to share how they are developing and changing. Sometimes it feels like we struggle with the same things over and over, month after month, year after year, (because we do…😜) but when I sit down and write out an update like this I marvel at how much they really have grown! These are not little children we are talking about! Besides Sasha, these are grown men, yet they still change and grow. They have so much to overcome every single day, but they do it. They allow us into their worlds and they let us love them. And then they love us back. I know I’ve said it a bazillion times, but I just can’t even begin to imagine our lives without our boys. They are God’s gifts to us.

BeLOVE[d]

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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? 😜

BeLOVE[d]

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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.
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!

Birthdays Comin’ Out Our Ears 🥳

I’m tellin’ you what, we have been celebrating like crazy around here! Birthday after birthday after birthday. The past month or so has been a birthday explosion, and I’m not a weighing type person, but if I were, I’m certain the scales would indicate just how much we’ve partied. 😂

Celebrations around here are sweet. They don’t call for many ingredients. Simplicity is at the core. All you need for a Wide Awake celebration is some tasty baked treats (gluten and lactose free for our Anton), fruit, tea with sugar, a speaker, and some music. Decorations are nice, but the treats and the dancing are the main focus of every celebration. Our boys and our team love a good dance party- the louder the music, the better.

I love love love seeing our boys celebrated by so many people. I love seeing the gifts our team members buy for the boys because it just shows how well each of them are known. Our team knows just the thing that each of them will like. For Anton it’s anything that can spin and anything he can eat. For Bmo it’s mainly just candy. Haha. They are known and they are seen as individuals. That is no small thing.

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” -Jean Vanier