After months of uncertainty, a sponsor in Brooklyn offers hope

Stories of Welcome

August 22, 2023


Welcome Connect provides family with stability and a new beginning

Shortly after the war broke out in Ukraine, Elena and her daughter Kate quickly gathered their essentials—a few T-shirts, important documents, and Kate’s dance medals—and traveled to Poland. But what they assumed would be a short stay turned into months of uncertainty. As the war intensified, their search for safety took them from Poland to Germany, then Portugal and Spain.

“I can say it was the hardest time of my life,” Elena said.

From his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jim Sailer followed the headlines about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He appreciated that Ukraine received strong support from the U.S. and global community. But he was moved to help in his own way.

”From what I could tell, hundreds of billions of dollars [were] being spent to support Ukraine. And I was very much in favor of that. But it wasn't as clear what individuals could do.”

When Jim learned about Uniting for Ukraine—a program that provides pathways for Ukrainians to come to the U.S. through private sponsorship—he didn’t hesitate to commit. He signed up and created a profile on the Welcome Connect platform, communicating with several different people before meeting Elena.

Jim and his community helped Kate (left) and Elena acclimate to life in New York.
After initial adjustments, Elena appreciates the city “where everything is huge… except for your apartment.”

Jim offered to sponsor Elena and Kate, a process that he said required a lot of trust. “I sent photos of my family, a little bit of my neighborhood, my home in Brooklyn, and things like that to increase the comfort,” he said.

Matching through Welcome Connect provided Elena and Kate with the stability they yearned for. They briefly returned to Ukraine to sell or donate most of their belongings, then prepared for life in New York.

In the meantime, Jim and his wife asked friends in their community for support. Some contributed money toward rent for an apartment in Brooklyn, while others volunteered their time.

Elena and Kate arrived in the U.S. on Oct. 1, 2022. The first few months were overwhelming, Elena admitted, as they navigated cultural and linguistic differences.

“But all the things I didn’t like about New York when I arrived, I now love,” she laughed. She appreciates the city’s diversity, the at-first "questionable" food carts, and living in a place “where everything is huge… except for your apartment.”

After the more official activities—paperwork, doctor appointments, applying for benefits—Jim and his family helped Elena and Kate experience the sights and sounds of New York.

The community played a crucial role in helping Elena and Kate transition to life in the U.S., Jim said, from accompanying Elena to a doctor’s appointment, applying for benefits, enrolling Kate in an after-school dance program, or simply navigating New York city grocery stores.

They’ve also had plenty of fun in the “city that never sleeps.” Jim, his wife, and their college-aged son introduced Elena and Kate to the off-Broadway show "Stomp," and they watched the Radio City Rockettes. They’ve even traveled to Washington, D.C., together.

Now that the pair is settled, Elena is working remotely as a therapist and also is a Ukrainian-speaking case manager for CAMBA, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit providing social services to New Yorkers in need.

The ability to see how people progress, what it means to them as individuals, and their development and growth as visitors in the U.S… that is an enormous reward.
Jim Sailer, Sponsor

Jim had such a positive experience with Elena and Kate that he was motivated to sponsor again. Now, he is helping a family reunite with relatives in Florida.

For Jim, the ongoing commitment to Elena and Kate has been far more rewarding than a one-off volunteer experience.

“Many people are willing to do that one thing, but they’re less willing to kind of make an ongoing commitment,” Jim said. “And what I would say from our experience is that the ongoing commitment is more time, and the rewards of that are much more significant because we get to see the benefits of what we wanted to see, which is to see people integrate into America and have a good experience in our country.”

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