In June 2017, with the help of the Rotary Club of Longmont in Colorado, USA, and in partnership with the non-profit, The Inclusion Collective, we along with three other community members from Colorado volunteered in Kiev, Ukraine, in specialized settings for children with disabilities. By every measurement, this project was a success. This opportunity never would have happened without the life-changing support of Rotary members.

This project idea came about in 2014 when the Rotary Club of Longmont brought a delegation from Ukraine to Longmont, Colorado, via the Open World Program. While on the trip, Marianna Onufryk from Ukraine was introduced to Christopher DiRosa, the founder of the Inclusion Collective. Marianna and Chris began to talk about the possibility of bringing professionals working in the field of developmental disabilities to Kiev work side by side with instructors and families at a center called Rodyna and to host a training seminar for parents and caregivers through the US Embassy. The two remained in contact and began to organize the program, which would take place three years later.

During the planning phase, we also connected with Rotarians Leona Stoecker and Dick Richards who helped us strategize and raise funds. Their assistance was paramount to realizing our dream.

While in Ukraine, the Rotary Club of Kiev-Centre saw to our every need. They provided us with daily rides to Rodyna, translators, tour guides and even our own apartment. With their help, our time at Rodyna was extremely fruitful for the families we worked with. We were able to train with the children, their families and the instructors and show them some principles that have been successful in the United States while learning some tips and tools from them as well.

The training conference we conducted was heavily attended by many service provides across different regions of Ukraine. In the days after our conference, members of our team met with the Commissioner to the President on Children’s Rights, Nikolai Kuleba, who is also an Open World Alumna. We brainstormed what the future of Ukraine’s services for the special needs community could look like. Two weeks after our trip concluded, Ukraine passed a law which requires all schools to provide a place for children with disabilities in an act to promote inclusion.

This is just one example of service above self that was made possible through Rotary. The Inclusion Collective is thankful for Rotarians and the immense amount of support families received through this program. We are preparing for a similar trip to Armenia in the summer of 2019 and planning to return to Ukraine in 2020. From all of us, thank you. Together with Rotarians, this opportunity truly left a lasting impact on the lives of many.