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By Anna Pavlova
“Shabbat shalom!” we said, greeting about 25 client families of the Hesed social welfare center here in Kharkov, Ukraine, who had gathered in the concert hall of the city’s Beit Dan JCC.
The kids are all completely different, with separate passions and interests, but at the same time, they share something in common — the hope that their dreams will come true.
For these at-risk children, it was a special Shabbat, full of games, activities, and music — but most importantly, it was the Shabbat where they received free backpacks full of school supplies.
The bags were the result of a volunteer initiative coordinated by JDC and a host of other Jewish organizations in Kharkov: the JCC, the Jewish Youth Association, the Hesed, Hillel, Volunteer Community, Volunteer Platform, Metsuda, Post-Metsuda and the Wohl Livelihood Development Programme.
Though the project in years past involved standing in front of school supply stores and encouraging shoppers to donate, this year’s effort marshaled the collective resources of Kharkov’s Jewish community.
Community members received information about the campaign through phone calls, e-mails, and social media messages, encouraging them to transfer money to a bank card. We were able to use that money to buy the backpacks and fill them with everything these children needed for school.
It’s easy to get to the community to come together when we’re working for one common goal: to help our community’s kids. For some people, “family at risk” is just semantics or even jargon, but for us, we know that every family has a unique story — like the Vinogradovs, Hesed clients since 2012.
Elena is a single mother of three, and both her oldest and youngest are disabled and have been since birth. She lives alone with her three boys in a two-bedroom apartment.
Her eldest son Misha, 19, suffers from frequent seizures, has a heart condition, and cannot speak or feed himself. Elena shares her bed with Misha, because sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, suffering from an attack and frightening his younger siblings.
Denis, 7, also has epilepsy and some developmental delays. Syvatoslav, 9, has no medical difficulties.
Since last summer, the family has received assistance from Hesed, a lifesaver for Elena and a great opportunity for her kids, who now attend children’s programming. Syvatoslav was even the lead in a recent play put on by the youth club.
“This volunteer project to give families like ours backpacks and school supplies will help my son’s confidence,” Elena says. “Now, Syvatoslav will feel more ready to join school and have a bright and happy experience there. On the eve of the school year, thank you for not only giving us supplies, but the feeling of being part of a large, friendly, and caring family.”
Stories like Elena's are what keep me going.
Anna Pavlova is JDC's PR and missions coordinator in Kharkov, Ukraine.