'It gives me hope': Farmington group increasing support for local Ukrainian immigrants

Donations of money, cars, other items still needed as more immigrants arrive

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − A group of local residents that is working to help ease the transition of some Ukrainian immigrants has seen its work grow considerably over the past several weeks.

The Rev. Rebecca Morgan, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington, is one of the leaders of the Gordon Glass Sponsoring Circle, an organization dedicated to supporting Ukrainians who recently have immigrated to San Juan County. She said the group, which started out helping one Ukrainian family in late May, now has taken on the task of supporting three other families from the war-torn Eastern European nation that is under siege by invading Russian troops.

The circle is named in honor Gordon Glass, a retired Farmington family counselor, community activist and avid outdoors enthusiast who died in January. While the group has dozens of individuals who contribute to its efforts, Morgan said a core group of six to eight people serves as the leadership team for the circle and keeps careful track of the funds that have been donated on behalf of the families.

"We've really tried to set up safety nets so we're doing with the donors' money what they expect us to do," she said.

Some members of the circle have gone even further. The U.S. government has required that the Ukrainian immigrants have a legal financial sponsor in this country, someone who has pledged to support them financially for two years. Morgan is one of four local individuals or couples who have shouldered that role.

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Katya, the mother of a Ukrainian family that recently relocated to Farmington, poses with her two children outside the Farmington Public Library.

"Our original Gordon Glass Sponsoring Circle thought they were signing up for a 90-day (financial commitment) for one family of Ukrainians," Morgan said. "Suddenly, that became a two-year gig."

The San Juan County sponsoring circle was the first such group in the country to bring in a Ukrainian family, Morgan said, and the success of that endeavor led the group to be asked to take in additional families by organizers of a Ukrainian rescue operation in Atlanta.

"They used us as a model," Morgan said.

Each of the families has been given or will be given a group name to help members of the sponsoring circle keep track of their needs. Morgan said the names − the Sunflowers, the Nightingales, the Daisies − reflect objects that are meaningful in Ukrainian society.

The first three families already are living here, while the fourth family is due to arrive this weekend, Morgan said. The first task for members of the sponsoring circle is to secure housing for the families, then see to their clothing, food, medical and transportation needs.

The first family − a mother, her sister and two preadolescent children − made it to Farmington on May 28 and has adapted very well, Morgan said.

"They're thriving – they're absolutely thriving," she said.

The mother, Katya, was a successful web designer in Ukraine and is eager to receive a work permit from the U.S. government so she can begin to support her family again, Morgan said. The sister, Tanya, also is a highly skilled worker and already has several job offers awaiting her when her work permit arrives.

Morgan said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been very cooperative with the support circle in helping the group address the needs of the Ukrainian families. But she said the process of securing those work permits − a crucial step in helping the immigrants achieve self-sufficiency and become fully integrated into American society − hasn't been as smooth.

"This delay to get people to work has been very frustrating," she said.

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The members of a Ukrainian family that recently arrived in Farmington are featured in this family photo, including the aunt, who is named Tanya.

All the Ukrainian adults are eager to work, Morgan said, noting that many of them have skills that are much in demand in San Juan County. She said the ability of those adults to provide for their families will be crucial to the long-term success of the Gordon Glass Sponsoring Circle, since donations to the group − which were plentiful a few months ago when the hardships that Ukrainian people were suffering from the war was fresh in the minds of Americans − already have taken a downturn.

"The well has not dried up, but it's not vibrant like it was at the beginning," she said.

Morgan said the families that are benefiting from those donations are stirring examples of human resilience.

"Each one of the families has amazing stories, and they're not all blood and guts," she said. "They've all risen up to different things."

Morgan said she finds those stories inspirational, offering some relief against a backdrop of despair.

"This horrific tragedy has brought out the best in some folks," she said. "And that's worth something, I think."

The sponsoring circle is asking first and foremost for donations of money, Morgan said, but it also needs automobiles, gift cards to retailers such as Walmart and Target for household essentials, and perhaps even some donations of furniture.

The experience of helping the Ukrainian families is one that Morgan said she has found very personally rewarding, and she encouraged others to give it a try.

"One woman in our group is a retired teacher and Realtor who has been involved in many different things over the years," she said. "And she said to me the other day, 'This is most rewarding thing I have ever done.'"

Morgan said she appreciates how many of her fellow San Juan County residents have extended themselves to be part of the support circle.

"It's one thing to have thoughts and prayers, and I don't denigrate that one bit," she said.

But the generosity and concern some residents have shown is overwhelming, she said.

"That's the gospel in action, for me, and I love it," she said. "It gives me hope in these days of sometimes hopelessness."

A benefit concert to raise money for the families is planned in October. To contribute to the Gordon Glass Sponsoring Circle, call 505-327-5231.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: