Tega Cay family hosting girl from Ukraine

These days, it’s the international news that hits closest to home with the Ingerslews.

Because for another couple of weeks, their home is also home for Nastya, 12, an orphan from eastern Ukraine. She’s living in Tega Cay with the Ingerslews as part of the Project 143 Orphan Host Program.

Sophie Ingerslew, mother of five children ranging in age from 9-year-old twins to a 17-year-old, can’t say for sure where Nastya comes from other than it’s “inaccessible right now.” She can’t even say Nastya’s last name.

Ingerslew knows orphans were brought out from Nastya’s region by the trainload as tension mounted between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces. Nastya’s home isn’t far from where a Malaysia Airlines plane went down, apparently from a missile strike, in July.

Plans to bring Nastya here began well before her homeland turned violent, but the Ingerslews are thankful for what they see as providential timing. They’re also thankful to be working toward their initial goal.

“It’s kind of an opportunity for these students to experience a family,” Ingerslew said.

Eternal Church devoted a Sunday morning last fall to orphans. Ingerslew didn’t expect her family’s response.

“I have five kids, so any time we talked about taking care of orphans, I kind of felt like my plate was full,” she said.

The church gave options beyond adoption. One was Project 143, which has four- and 10-week programs for hosting children from Latvia, China and Ukraine.

The Tega Cay family’s decision to host was part divine inspiration, part cold hard statistics, they said. The Inglerslews heard about the 100,000 Ukrainian orphans, about half as “social orphans” who for various reasons can’t be adopted. They heard of children aging out of orphanages at 16. More than half the boys turn to crime and the girls to prostitution, the Ingerslews heard.

About 10 percent attempt suicide.

So the family went through applications and parent training. They raised thousands of dollars for the train, plane and automobile rides to Kiev, then Atlanta, then Tega Cay. All to add a plus-one for family visits, trips to the pool and Carowinds, and the end-of-summer beach trip before Nastya’s visa expires at the end of the month.

“It allows the kids to feel connected,” Ingerslew said.

The Ingerslews saw photos of so many orphans, sifting through to find the one meant for their home. With her three oldest children and one of the two twins boys, there was a criterion: It wouldn’t be another boy.

“We couldn’t do that to my daughter,” Ingerslew said.

Sharing a home

Nastya arrived June 21. The transition from an orphanage in Ukraine to Tega Cay hasn’t been simple. She’s a preteen, a stage presenting its own challenges for opening up to strangers. Nastya doesn’t say much to people she doesn’t know.

Even when she wants to communicate, it isn’t easy. The best iPhone translator app they’ve found still swaps English and Russian four times slower than a uni-lingual conversation.

But there are moments when the Ingerslews see how much this experiment is helping. And not just helping Nastya.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Ingerslew said. “She’s a doer. It’s pulled us out of our routine, out of the norm.”

Nastya loves riding a bike; she lights up a screen connecting with friends, some in Ukraine and others on similar host trips, through the Russian version of Facebook.

She escapes into card games with Megan, who until her “summer sister” arrived was all on her own.

“I like having a girl around the house so it is not just me with four boys,” Megan said.

Nastya hasn’t been with the family long, but don’t try telling Megan.

“Nastya is funny and loves to go outside, like me,” Megan said. “I love her as much as my family and wish she can stay here with me forever.”

The family hopes that in a way, Nastya will. And that the experience they provide will stay with her too.

Offering hope not in the idea of a perfect family, but that one exists. The Ingerslews hope Nastya will grow to find her own family in time, added to the far away one she already has.