Neighbors join forces to support Ukrainian refugee family

Goal is to find them a home and raise $50,000 in funds

For the past six months, Ukrainians Olena, her mother Valentyna and her 1-year-old daughter have been staying in a shelter in the war-torn country after their home was destroyed in the first wave of destruction after Russia’s invasion. 

But with the help of the nonprofit WelcomeNST (Neighborhood Support Teams), the three are prepared to resettle in America while leaving their spouses behind. Cherry Hill resident Joanne Boden and Tabernacle resident Jill Foulk are spearheading the effort to get the family here, acting as team leaders for the South Jersey Refugee Connection, a branch of WelcomeNST that trains and provides resources to neighborhood groups to support refugees through the resettling process. 

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“Everyone watches the news and everyone sees what’s happening and it’s kind of a helpless feeling, so when I got that email that said, ‘Hey, you can come to this group and learn what you can do to help,’ I was so happy to step forward,” Foulk recalled. 

She explained that the difference between what WelcomeNST and government resettlement groups do is that the former will continue to provide ongoing support for families once they are  in the U.S. and help a family become self-sufficient.

“Our goal is really not to take care of them, but to teach them to become independent,” Boden said. “We are not here giving charity alone, but it’s a training charity. How do we help them become self-sufficient so that they can care for themselves? And that’s what they want. 

“They don’t want to come here and just live on the dole, they want to come here and participate in the community.”

When the Boden and Foulk were first introduced to Olena and her family – their last names have been withheld for privacy – what they recalled most about the meeting was that the family was afraid.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m afraid because somebody’s dropping bombs on my home.’ That’s a given,” Boden noted. “But to now live in limbo and be put into a position where you’re moving to some place where you don’t speak the language, you’re going into the unknown, and you’re taking your baby? That is scary for them.”

The most pressing issues for the team now are finding housing for the family and raising the funds to help bring them here. Their goal is to help them move in December, after the baby’s birthday in November, so Olena and her husband, who is serving in the Ukrainian military, can celebrate together.

“If anyone has an apartment that is vacant, or maybe a basement apartment that’s not currently rented that they would like to donate, that would be the number-one perfect solution,” said Foulk. 

She said the family would need two bedrooms, one for Olena and the baby and one for her mother. A reduction in rent would also be helpful, since the family will be supported financially during their time in the U.S., a period estimated to be anywhere from six months to two years. Anyone able to help would be given a tax receipt for the rental amount or reduction in rent.

Once the refugees arrive, the South Jersey Refugee Connection will help provide transportation and other basics such as food, utilities and connecting the family with employment, childcare and education. The group will also have a translator on hand to help with the language barrier.

“A lot of people don’t have the money, but they do have good muscles, do have a car to drive somebody to the doctors,” Boden pointed out. “They can make a welcome meal, and so every little bit helps, and that’s what the whole point of community is.

“Everybody brings their piece of the pie to the table so we can all dine together.”

To donate, visit To volunteer, visit or contact Joanne Boden at, with the subject line SJRC. 

To learn more about WelcomeNST, visit


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