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The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, November 24

Color me Grey and then...

The sun will come out tomorrow....Like an old vinyl record stuck in a groove, I have been singing that song for 19 days. We're in a terrible weather pattern. That's right 19 days without sun. I wonder if the Russian language has a collection of words for cloudiness like I've heard the Eskimos have for snow.

Every day I open my eyes hoping to see something other than grey. Even the day light that seeps through the blanket of clouds is gone by about 3:30 pm. Night comes early and stays long in these parts.

It's true sometimes the weather teases me. Today it's a pale grey instead of the thick foggy grey or the deep dark grey or the wet raw grey. I think the clouds may part, but no. The weather is consistently grey...grey....grey.

The streets are a mess. Many of our roads in Konotop are unpaved. Rain digs into the dirt and gravel spreading little ponds and streams every where. Mud slimes across pathways making it difficult to walk. Yuck, I am slipping and sliding. Just look at my shoes

Ukrainians pride themselves in a neat appearance. So even though the grey wet weather makes it hard, clean shoes are expected. I got the message last week when a colleague asked if I needed a new pair of shoes. "No I don't think so," I said. "I just need to clean mine." She smiled.!



While Konotop has been wrapped in a wet grey blanket, my work at the Hearts Of Love Children's Center has sprung forward.

Every week I get to oversee an art session with the children. It's becoming rather popular with as many as a dozen kids at a session. They are all ages so it's challenging giving direction and doubly challenging to do so in Russian. The children take great delight in correcting my Russian language attempts.

We have been concentrating on flowers and sunny pictures. Do you think the weather is a factor? I look forward to Fridays. We all laugh and paint and have a good time.

About a month ago, Yelena (volunteer director of the Center) asked if I would help them develop a fund raising plan. She explained that they needed funds to heat the Hearts f Love Center.

There is bare minimum heat. While I have not guaged the temperature, I think it is hovering around 50 F degrees most days. I know that my nose gets real cold even with three layers of clothes and a skull cap. Everyone keep their coats on.

Fortunately, the grey cloud cover has also meant warmer than normal temperatures. So for now, we are spared the frigid winds and have a small reprieve from massive heating bills.

I am delighted to be asked to help with fund raising plans. The request comes out of the blue or is it the "grey."

I think it's a result of just consistently showing up every day and pitching in however I can. I think it is a result of people at the Hearts of Love Center being open to trying some new ideas. I think it is because more and more children are coming along with winter.

Whatever the reason, I take the weekend to pull together some ideas. I want the plan to be adaptable to Ukrainian conditions and over time, to build financial capacity. I am pleased with how the ideas flow and even translate them with the help of Google translator (a little Internet gadget that can come in handy.)

At a meeting on Monday, I lay out some suggestions like starting a Friends of the Center program, holding an Open House Celebration and identifying a few Major Donors. I pitch the idea of asking businesses for donations for a live and silent auction so that we can build our relationships with them. I included a few next steps.

Several weeks pass. I begin to wonder if this fund raising plan is stuck in the muck

But unknown to me, many conversations are taking place.

It seems like Ukrainian planning is less formalized than American. Ideas perculate until a kind of consensus emerges. At least that's what I think is happening at the Hearts of Love Center.

My suggestions are passed around and spark discussions until enough people are on board to move forward. "Can you help us with a training too," Yelena asks? She and other volunteers are nervous about asking businesses for help.

I couldn't be more delighted. I put together a training drawing upon my experience with the Lafayette Urban Ministry and my Legacy Work. The following press release summarizes our next steps.

Press Release

Contact: Yelena Yushenko, Volunteer Director of Hearts of Love Center and Charitable Fund

Here in Konotop children with special needs and disabilities are emerging from the shadows of isolation. They are discovering possibilities for a good life.

Their story may be one that most Ukrainians do not know. In former times, the old saying of out of sight and out of mind was practiced widely. Disabled children were expected to stay home or placed in institutions.

Even today in many communities, the sight of a disabled child in a public place is rare. Public awareness barely registers and understanding of special needs is minimal. A family with a disabled child can anticipate a life time of struggling with few resources, feeling helpless and coping with growing despair. The whole family system is affected - mother, father, brothers sisters and grandparents.

But in Konotop for the first time ever, the Hearts of Love Center is inviting their entire community to become aware and understand more.

On December 4th at 16:30 hours, they will hold an open house celebration in honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities. This special day recognizes the achievements and contributions of people with disabilities.

"We want to raise awareness," says Yelena Yushenko, volunteer director of the Hearts of Love Center that serves about 60 disabled children and their families. "We want Konotop to see the possibilities of our children. And how a little help can make their lives better."

As part of the open house celebration, the community will have a chance to meet families, see crafts that the children have made, and enjoy some entertainment and refreshments.

A highlight will be an auction just in time for holiday gift giving. Area businesses are showing their support by donating goods and services. People can bid on electronics, dinner for two at a local cafe, a massage and even a clown birthday party. Many crafts will also be on sale. Yelena and her team of volunteers hope to raise enough money to purchase 200 gifts for the children of the Center as well as others in the community with special needs.

This event is the beginning of building on-going local support for a cause whose time has come. "We are working hard at recruiting at least 100 new friends for the Hearts of Love Center during this event," says Jud Dolphin, US Peace Corps Volunteer who works at the Center. With more friends aware of the Hearts of Love Center, we can broaden understanding and develop new programs. Maybe one day we will have the resources for a much needed computer center and connect these special children and their families with the world."

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Wish us all well and remember us in your Thanksgiving Prayers.

Oh by the way, the sun came out today for several glorious hours.
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