If you get my emails, then you know that our family has a big financial undertaking coming up. We have never done anything of this magnitude before and that’s exciting and scary at the same time.
We are preparing to sponsor a family of Ukrainian refugees through Uniting for Ukraine, the US government’s program to help people fleeing from the war. The program allows them to come to the United States and stay (currently for a 2-year period) if they have a resident sponsor who is willing to provide financial support during their stay.
We learned about the program through a friend who was volunteering with REACH Humanity, an organization on the ground in Poland to help with the refugee crisis. The organization helps to match sponsors in the US with refugees who are looking to go to the United States.
We are just waiting for the paperwork to go through so that our new Ukrainian friends (a single mom with three children) can get their travel authorization.
As I have talked with friends and family about our experience preparing to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee family, many have asked the same questions. I thought it might be helpful to share some of those discussions here. If you have other questions that I don’t cover, feel free to ask. I’m happy to share our plan and thoughts (and experience once we have some!).
Q: Do you have a big house?
A: Compared to many people in the world, yes. By American standards, our house is pretty average. Our family of 8 lives in a 2200 square foot home. Adding four more people to our home would be tight, but doable. But, we actually have an additional 600 square foot apartment on our property. In the past be have rented it out, both as a long-term traditional rental and through Airbnb as a short-term rental. For the past year or so we have been earning about $2,000 per month from our rental, so that is income we won’t be earning while we are sponsoring the refugee family.
Q: What will you be financially responsible for?
A: Ultimately we are financially responsible for everything, though there are some resources that will help (I’ll cover that in a minute). This includes but is not limited to:
- Household and personal items
The idea is that in the beginning they will be totally reliant on us, but as they learn English and find work, they can become more self-sufficient.
Q: How long will you be financially responsible for the refugee family?
A: The Uniting for Ukraine program allows for a 2-year parole. Currently the program requires them to return to Ukraine after two years, but that could change depending on what happens with the war.
Q: What will they be able to bring with them?
A: Different refugees will have different situations, but the answer is generally, not very much. For the family coming to stay with us, because Kherson was under Russian military occupation when they fled, they could only bring a few of the kids’ things in a car full of refugees. Between the destruction of property since the invasion and living as refugees in Poland for the last six months, their financial resources are pretty well used up.
Q: What government and community resources are available?
A: Government and community resources to help Ukrainian refugees vary by state. Until our new friends arrive we won’t know exactly what is available, as different programs have different requirements and eligibility depends on their particular circumstances. They will eventually qualify for food assistance and state-sponsored health insurance, though it may take several months to get that all set up. There may be other aid available from community and faith-based organizations, but we can’t be sure what that will be at this point. Many of them have limited resources that are renewed and exhausted as donations arrive and are used.
Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Usually this “question” is phrased more like “Woah, that’s a huge commitment!” or “Wow! That will be a lot of money!”
It’s been a while that we’ve been feeling like we should give a little more. We feel very blessed with the life that we have and feel like we can share what we have with others.
Years ago I remember reading something from C.S. Lewis that struck me and has stayed with me.
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.
In addition to having a desire, there are a few ways that our family is uniquely equipped to serve in this particular capacity.
Not everyone has space for another family in their house, but we have a second residence on our property. Having a private apartment next door is pretty ideal to help out in a situation like this, as the refugees will need lots of one-on-one support as they get settled in a completely foreign country where they don’t know the culture or speak the language.
As a family of eight already, we’re kind of equipped for chaos. While I don’t think it could ever be trivial to suddenly adopt a family of four, it might be even more overwhelming for a single person or a smaller family to take on those additions. We’ve been easing into increased complexity for years as our family grows. Although this is a different sort of complexity, we feel maybe less intimidated by four new family members than a smaller family might feel.
There’s nothing really stopping us. There are a lot of people whose situations might wholly preclude them from sponsoring a refugee family. We are so fortunate right now. We qualify under the federal requirements for the program. We aren’t facing any really challenging illness or disability. We have space. We aren’t living on the teetering edge of financial solvency. There is no hard barrier that would stop us from sharing. So we’ll try it.
We’ve spent many years learning and practicing frugal living. Knowing how to budget and live frugally can help us provide for another family most cost efficiently. We can help them be wise in managing money in a foreign economic system so that they can be successful when they are out on their own.
My own experience includes a unique qualification because I studied TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in college. Before our children arrived, I was an English teacher to adults from all over the world. Learning English will be one of the biggest factors in their successful integration.
We are hoping that with us taking care of the complexity, housing, teaching English, and helping with language and culture integration, we will be able to count on help from our “village” with regard to finances. We realize that’s taking a leap of faith to count on our community (both locally and virtually) to help with the financial burden that comes with wholly supporting a new family, but we have a pretty amazing community.
Q: How can we help?
A: This is my favorite question because in I envisioned this being a community effort. We have the apartment, our time, and our talents that we are willing to dedicate to the cause, but we want to share the opportunity to give and serve (along with the blessings that will surely come).
Here are some WAYS YOU CAN HELP from anywhere:
- Donate any amount— If you have the flexibility in your budget to make a monthly recurring donation, you will have that option through that same link. Having your support on a recurring basis would be really amazing! One-time donations are, of course, also much appreciated!
- Target registry— I made a wish list of the items that the family will need so that we can have the apartment stocked when they arrive. They’ll be coming essentially with just the clothes on their backs.
- Target gift cards (at bottom of registry)– In addition to the specific items on the registry, you can simply order a gift card. This will allow our Ukrainian friends to choose and purchase clothes, shoes, and other personal items themselves. There is no shipping or tax on gift cards and there are no extra fees, so if you buy a $20 gift card, the family will get the full $20.