KILLEEN, TX –  It’s true: everything is bigger in Texas, including our hearts.
This Labor Day weekend, Variety of Texas will host a 4-day, 3-night retreat for more than 50 Ukrainian child-refugees, ages 5-15, at Peaceable Kingdom by Variety.
More than twenty percent of the 100,000+ Ukrainian refugees currently taking shelter in the United States have entered the country at the US/ Mexico border. Many families have found temporary safety in Texas. But the trauma from fleeing their homes and the ongoing war remains a significant stressor – especially on children. According to Executive Director and President of Variety of Texas, Stacy Bruce, that’s how this weekend’s camp at Peaceable Kingdom by Variety will help kids in need during the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“This weekend’s camp will help Ukrainian child-refugees in Central Texas combat those feelings of fear, separation and loss of community – and a near total uncertainty about the future,” said Bruce. “We can’t predict what comes next for these families, but we can let them know we care, we can show them they are not alone, and we can create a space for them to connect with the Ukrainian-American community right here in Texas.”
The retreat will create relationships, promote social skills, and English language development, and allow scared children a chance to have fun – while being empowered by the outdoor adventures and activities at Peaceable Kingdom. Kids can just be kids while climbing the rock wall to the 40’ zip line, or taking an art class, or visiting the barn and meeting the pygmy goats and friends in the Animal Kingdom.
Variety of Texas has worked closely with members of the Central Texas Ukrainian community – including Nataliya Kovalchuk, Tonya Levchuk, and Polina Shabarova – to develop and organize this weekend’s camp. More than 20 volunteers from the Ukrainian community in Central Texas, including a registered nurse, are confirmed to volunteer throughout the weekend – many of them are bilingual.
Nataliya Kovalchuk’s family was one of the millions of Ukrainian families displaced from their homes since Russia invaded the Ukraine on Feb. 24. Her mother, sister and 9-year-old niece are now living with Kovalchuk and her husband in Austin, Texas.
“Ukrainian kids and families have gone through so much in the last 6 months,” said Kovalchuk. “I can tell this has been very hard for them and they are still going through the trauma of war. We, a Ukrainian community, want to make sure our refugee families are feeling loved and welcomed here. This camp is an amazing opportunity to let the kids build new friends, get distracted from the war and have some fun. The memories that will build in the camp are endless and will last a lifetime. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity. The support Ukrainian families have received is gratifying.”
Moral remains high among local refugees and Ukrainians. A recent survey from the International Republican Institute in Ukraine showed that 98% of respondents were certain Ukraine will win the war. Until then, Peaceable Kingdom by Variety is excited to welcome its newest campers from Ukraine and invite them to experience the healing power of nature and adventure alongside other children in similar circumstances.
A very special thank you to Rotary District 5870 for providing significant funding and 55 volunteers, serving over 350 hours to make this camp possible. This camp is also made possible by Variety International. No doubt, bonds will develop between Ukrainian campers and volunteers alike – creating and enhancing the network of support and confidence needed to move forward and thrive.
Variety of Texas is a charitable organization that opens up the world for kids with special needs and their families by providing resources and empowering experiences. We envision a world without isolation and stigma for children with special needs and their families.
Peaceable Kingdom by Variety, in Killeen, TX, is a beloved haven for thousands of children exploring their self-reliance and mobility each year. In support of our mission of healing through nature, we’ve tailored our gorgeous 122-acres to accommodate all campers’ needs. Peaceable Kingdom has become a place where kids of all abilities can make new friends, learn new things and challenge their personal limits while they discover the impact of spending time in nature. Learn more at www.varietytexas.org.