Salem University’s Camm Lounsbury has a lot on his plate. As Director of Criminal Justice Programs and also part of a small team of people serving as Associate Provosts, there are plenty of things to juggle. Still, when it came down to it, he and his wife Diane Lounsbury didn’t even hesitate to open their home Ukrainian refugees looking for safety from the war in their home country.
“We’ve been watching the war in Ukraine, and it’s just such a senseless, brutal thing going on over there. We wished there was something we could do to help,” Camm said. “Diane began to see a lot of posts on Facebook from Ukrainians trying to get out, so we decided to look into it.”
President Joe Biden had already announced a special program, Uniting for Ukraine, that would expedite the immigration process for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, run by a section of the Department of Homeland Security. But any government process comes with its fair share of lengthy forms and steps that can be challenging to navigate. So, while Camm looked into the program itself, Diane began to look for additional support through nonprofits.
That’s how they discovered North America for Ukraine (NA4U).
“This is an organization that’s working to bridge the gap, linking people up with Ukrainians they can host or sponsor, all in connection with the Department of Homeland Security,” said Camm. “Our coordinator Nicole was able to walk us through the whole process of exactly what needed to happen. She made the tedium of getting through the paperwork much easier.”
Once the Lounsburys’ profile was set up with NA4U, then came the process of working with Nicole to find a good match.
“We just put everything in there,” said Camm. “Every pet we own, all of our daily habits — whatever we can think of that would be a deal breaker. Then Nicole was able to use that to find candidate families, and it took a lot of the guesswork out of it.”
That process eventually led the Lounsburys to Luba Hurtova and her 14-year-old daughter Rita. While the NA4U getting-to-know-you process usually involves several steps, the two families agreed to an expedited process, skipping straight to video chats. The idea was that, if it was a good fit, the Hurtovas could get Rita settled in the U.S. before the school year started in earnest, minimizing disruptions to her education.
“It was just fascinating to me,” said Camm, “that we’re here on Eastern Time, Nicole is in Colorado, Luba and Rita are in Ukraine, and our interpreter was on the West Coast. And somehow Nicole was able to figure out a time when we could all get on the video. I’m looking at her and going, ‘I don’t know how you juggle, but it’s like the world’s biggest circus.’”
The call went great, and after that, things moved very quickly to get Luba and Rita over to the States.
“We’re talking about government agencies, and how fast does that run, right?” Camm said with a laugh. “But I filled out an immigration form online, and 12 hours later, they got an email that my form had been approved. And then they had to apply for travel authorization, and that came back in, like, four hours. I was speechless. It took them far longer to get travel arrangements than it did to get that paperwork approved.”
Luba and Rita have now been in the U.S. for about a month, with Rita attending a local school but also attending Ukrainian school online a few days a week. Luba’s husband remains in the Ukraine to care for his mother and her brother is fighting in the war. They’re able to keep in touch with him through almost daily phone calls. And while no big change is ever easy, the process has been made so much smoother by the work of NA4U and other nonprofit organizations.
“It’s interesting the things that you find out are available when you start poking around,” said Camm. “Diane got connected with a girl from Catholic Charities, and I don’t know if she could write notes fast enough. This girl was just listing all of these things you can apply for and what you can do, and it was great knowing that there was that additional support.”
The surrounding community, too — from family to colleagues to friends — turned out to be of use to the Hurtovas, who arrived in the U.S. with only a backpack each of clothes and possessions.
“I have six brothers and sisters,” said Camm. “They waited until it was official, but then they sent over this fairly sizable gift card for Rita and Luba to be able to shop for things. Our Dean of Education Renee Aiken has been utterly selfless in bringing things from her home and spending some of her time helping Luba learn English. One of our alumni who wife recently passed — he brought a bunch of her clothes. On Diane’s side, one of her cousins talked to her church, and they sent a check. The Hurtovas were just overwhelmed. They couldn’t believe that all of this stuff was for them.”
The outpouring of support has meant a lot to the Lounsburys as well.
“I mean, it gives you hope,” Camm said. “It’s impressive that in a country as divided as ours that there are still places you can go where these values still live.”
For anyone out there who, like Camm and Diane, have been watching the war in Ukraine and wishing they could do more, he encourages you to take that next step.
“If you’re are in a position to help like we were, you should look into North America for Ukraine,” he said. “They’re waiting for you. Their list gets larger by the day. This is an opportunity change a lot more than just one person’s life. It’s changed Diane’s and my life as well, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Tags: Higher Education