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? 😜

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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.
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!

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

In Loving Memory

Two weeks ago we heard the news, but it’s taken me a while to write about it. I’m not sure if I’ll find the right words tonight, but I’ll try, because their lives deserve to be honored. They should be known and celebrated by as many people as possible, because they were valuable and wonderful and their lives mattered.

I’m so sad to share that we have lost two of our friends. Vitya and Vova, two of our dear friends from Romaniv, have died and are now with Jesus. We are just so sad. On one hand, we are thankful that they suffer no longer. We know they are now free and they have no pain, no tears, no fear. But on the other hand we mourn so deeply for what they had to endure here on earth. We mourn that they never knew the love of a family and we weep that we didn’t get them out in time. Lots of emotions- a different one each moment. I guess we all remember anew just how important this work really is.

I’d love to share about our boys, if you’d like to know them better. I want to honor their memories by sharing with as many people as I can, just how wonderful they were.


Let’s start with Vitya. 🙂 I didn’t know Vitya quite as well as I knew Vova. We spent less time together over the years because Vitya didn’t move to the Isolation Hall until the last couple years of his life, and the Isolation Hall is where our team spends the majority of our time.

Before he was moved to the Isolation Hall, Vitya was in the same group as our Anton. He was nonverbal, but he could most definitely communicate! He was really very smart. I think anyone who visited Romaniv with us will remember Vitya. He was always ready with a handshake or a hug. When he smiled his eyes would close soooooo tightly! Vitya loved to dance and when we did our weekly dance class, back in the day, he was in absolute heaven. He had big emotions and was either very happy, or very sad, but his face showed it all. Vitya loved to pray. Any time we were going to have snack, or anytime a class ended, Vitya made certain that we stopped to pray. I will always remember that about him.

A couple of years ago Vitya was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and as his symptoms progressed he was moved to the Isolation Hall. He would fall often and just didn’t understand how to keep himself safe. We really saw him decline before quarantine. It is good and right that he is suffering no longer. But oh, we loved our Vitya and will miss his smiling face and tight hugs. I really can’t imagine Romaniv without him. He was a star and our team will never, ever forget him.

And now on to our precious Vova. Deep sigh.

I can’t help but cry as I write this. It’s heartbreaking to know that our Vova is gone. He is with Jesus, and I’m so so happy that he is free and safe and loved. We all feel that joy. But Vova’s death is a tremendous loss to our team. We planned that he would be the first to move into the second side of the duplex. We dreamed of his future as a part of our big Wide Awake Family. We imagined how he would grow and change and thrive. We wondered how he would transition and if he would maybe ever speak. We fully intended to set him free here on earth, but it will never be. He left us before we could show him that love and our heart break because of it.

I remember the first time Jed and I ever saw Vova. It was when we visited Romaniv in the spring of 2012. We were in Ukraine for the first time, scouting it out and listening for how God would have us respond to this great need, this great injustice. We visited Romaniv with Mission to Ukraine and knew at once that those boys were our people. That first visit was a bit overwhelming, but Jed and I both remembered Vova. He stood out to us because he was in such terrible condition. I’ll be honest that my first emotion upon seeing him, was fear. He was self-harming and blood was running down the side of his face. He was groaning and rocking, fiercely avoiding all human contact. He was just existing, cast away by society. His days consisted of rocking, and searching for string to swirl between his fingers.

I remember his sounds and I remember my fear. But that was not the Vova we eventually came to know. That was just a shell of a man. Our Vova had a deep laugh and an infectious smile. If you could get Vova to smile, then your day was made. Our Vova was curious. He didn’t always love to be touched and he didn’t always love to interact, but I think I can safely say that by the end of his life he had learned that some humans could be loving and good and safe. I pray that he knew he was loved by us. I know that I know that Vova knew he was loved by God. I just have to trust God’s faithfulness on that one. He promised to be a father to the fatherless, so I trust that Vova felt and knew that love. To be honest, that’s a leap of faith because Vova died from something preventable and treatable. He lived a life of abuse and neglect and in a way, he never even got to begin living. I find myself asking God a lot of questions, but in the end I choose to trust that he was near to Vova in ways we couldn’t see.

Our team visited and loved Vova for 6 years, and during 4 of those years the interns were also working closely with him on developing functional skills. It seems to us that out of all the boys in the Isolation he is one of the ones who benefited the most from that time of relationship. He really did change over time. It’s beautiful to look back through pictures and see the change in him.

The loss of Vova was a big shock to our team and we mourn him because he was loved. We will miss our friend. We are honored and thankful that we were able to know him and be witnesses to his life. As we start to bring more boys into the duplex we will remember our friend and our great love for him. His life mattered. You were loved, our Vova. You mattered to us. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to you fast enough. We will never forget you.

I’ll leave you with Vova’s laugh. This is how we want to remember our friend. Happy, curious, and gentle. Precious, and of immense value.

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The View From a Distance

You know how it is when you get so close to something that you can’t really see it clearly? What’s that saying? “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. Yeah, that’s me. I get so involved in the details of our day to day work, that it’s hard to pick my head up and see the big picture of what God is doing. I get bogged down in diapers and feeding people and the team schedule and documents, and can easily forget what we are actually aiming for in Ukraine. I mean, of course our work is our ministry is our life- all wrapped up in one, so I’m always “doing the stuff”, but sometimes I can kind of miss the heart of it when the details overwhelm.

It really is necessary though, to pick my head up every so often and remember why we are doing what we are doing. It’s important to pull back a bit and recognize the bigger picture of what God is doing. A good way to do that is to leave our life for a few weeks and watch the work happen from a distance. 🙂 We aren’t in Ukraine right now and we don’t have much control over what happens there while we are gone. We get to sit back and watch our team do their thing from a distance. The only glimpses we get of our Anton and Ruslan are videos and pics from the team- and that bit of distance, well, it does wonders for the heart.

From a distance I can see more clearly how far our boys have come. Man, I’m so proud of them! I see them safe and loved and I see a team that is working so hard to help them in any way they can. I see a group of people committed to changing their country and I see their dedication to do this thing right. I see them building something amazing. I see how God has provided everything we’ve needed right on time, and my faith is built up again as I remember that He will continue to be faithful in the days ahead. We have some very pressing needs coming up soon, so this increase in faith is much needed. (And, it has to be said that I definitely have not arrived. I still lose sleep over those pressing needs…but I’m deciding to trust Jesus in those wee morning hours instead of losing more sleep)

From a distance the rough patches in my heart begin to soften again as I rest and regain perspective. If you have been close to this work at all then you know that my relationship with our Ruslan has been a difficult one. We know that we know that God asked us to take Ruslan out of the institution. We don’t question that. But, it has not been an easy road for me at all. Ruslan struggles with his relationship with women- not in an unsafe way, but still in a very real way, and his feelings for me are a jumbled up mess. We realized after he had lived with us for over a year that it would be much better for him to live with only men, or with a much older woman. That played a part in the decision for him to move from our home last February. That, and then his increased need for independence and anxiety living with a large family. It just made a whole lot of sense on a lot of levels for him to move to an apartment.

Even after Ruslan moved out of our home, I still struggled with my feelings toward him. It was just so hard for me to live with him, and my heart felt let down, guilty, and ashamed of how difficult it was. I felt shame for a long time that I was “unable” to live with Ruslan any longer. I know there was no reason to feel shame and guilt, but those feelings were/are still there. I had many months of questioning God and asking him why he asked us to choose Ruslan when he knew we would not be able to keep him in our home, and when he knew how hard it would be for me. It’s been a journey. But, getting just a bit of distance has really helped my heart.

Earlier this week I was writing an update to Ruslan’s prayer team and I compiled a video of him, showcasing his love for music. In one part of the videos he is singing his favorite worship song and just going for it. He is worshiping with his whole heart and when I watched it my heart just broke. I remembered again where he came from and my heart softened again as I thought of all the terror and abuse he has endured in his life. I felt just so darn thankful that God asked us to take him from that horrible place. I can’t imagine him there!! He belongs with us. He is ours. Yes, living with him was the most difficult time of my life. Yes, I still don’t understand fully God’s purposes in it. Yes, I still have some places in my heart that need healing, but 100 times YES I am thankful that our guy is free. My heart needed that view from a distance.

When I look at our work in Ukraine from a distance I get so excited about what God is doing. Guys, it is amazing. It is freedom work. It is justice work. It is life-saving work. I’m just so pumped to be a part of it. It’s good to feel that again. 🙂

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