LEWISTON — Host Ukraine’s motto is, “Giving Ukrainian orphans an unforgettable family experience.” And that is just what families the L/A area are doing. 

Brad and Jessica Tripp, Tammy Rodrigue, and Josh Cousineau are all hosting orphans during Ukraine’s winter school break this year.

The children arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 16 and are here until Jan. 11.

Twenty youths, ages 7-16, have found host families in Maine this December, thanks in part to the work of Kristin Munsell Tripp, a volunteer who helps with the organization. 

Host Ukraine is a program that sets up orphaned children from Ukraine with host families in the U.S. Families can host in the summer and winter, for about five weeks at a time.

This winter term, 91 orphans are being hosted in America — and 20 of them are in Maine.

“Not just Maine, but all within a 30-minute radius,” Kristen Tripp said.

Tripp said the high number of youths hosted in Maine is rare.

“Most places get one or two families,” Tripp said. “We have 20 kids.”

“It’s a miracle none of the kids’ Visas were denied,” Cousineau said. “Out of 91 kids, not one was denied.”

Kristen Tripp helps to facilitate the hosting in Maine, and in the U.S., working tirelessly to make sure as many children get hosted as possible.

Tripp said she first got involved in 2014, when she saw a post about hosting orphans.

“I saw this one boy on the website, and I was just compelled,” she said.

The next winter, she was in Ukraine, adopting two brothers. 

Host Ukraine is not an adoption service, but they can recommend available agencies. Tripp estimated that between 60 to 80 percent of the orphans get adopted after being hosted.

Most of the children don’t know each other, unless they’ve been hosted before and have traveled together, and they are usually hosted separately, unless they’re a sibling group.

Five adults drove down in two 15-passenger vans to pick the children up from JFK. They said they got back to Auburn around 2 a.m.

Brad Tripp said though he and his wife both love kids, his wife is usually the one who is the most enthusiastic about hosting. This time, though, he said she was hesitant.

“I prompted it this time,” he said.

After discussing it with their three children, they decided to do it.

“When you make these decisions, you have to include the whole family,” he said. “This isn’t something you just do.”

After that, it’s about getting the necessary funds. They were very lucky because so many people in the community donated money, he said.

When the children come here, they get eye exams, dental checkups and cleaning. Many of the services are donated. 

“We want to help these kids while they’re here,” he said. “And it’s not just the families hosting — it’s the whole community that gets behind us.”

This is Brad and his wife’s first time hosting, he said. 

“It’s been a really cool experience,” he said. 

Three other host families are within five minutes of the Tripps’ house and the children enjoy spending time together. 

In Ukraine, there is more emphasis on the New Year, but it is still a holiday season.

“They’re on winter break from school,” he said.

Some of the children are excited to celebrate Christmas in America, but some of them are more hesitant. Tripp said the ones who have visited before are more excited because they know what to expect.

Cousineau said their host child is very shy and quiet.

“He’s more of an introvert, and he hasn’t been hosted before,” Cousineau said.

Some of the kids can be a little overwhelmed, he said. “But he is excited for soccer.”

Brad said his family has Americanized their host child, Victor.

“We’ve already brought him to three Christmas parties,” he said.

“Look through the eyes of an orphan,” Rodrigue said. “The manners are unbelievable. He brings my pocketbook to the car for me, and holds the door. He’s very sweet.

“The language structure is very different, but we’re working on it,” she said. “We communicate through Google Translate.”

They all agreed that it’s hard at the end of the term when the kids go back home.

“There’s probably going to be more than two vans going back to the airport,” Cousineau said. 

“Even the kids who don’t end up getting adopted, they get a family who they know cares about them,” Kristen Tripp said. 

“Adoption isn’t always just happy and easy,” Tripp said. “You often have kids dealing with trauma. But this is an encouraging, exciting first step.” 

“It definitely opens your eyes in a different way,” Brad Tripp said. “There’s a ripple effect and it just grows and grows.” 

A group of the host families in the area brought the kids to Ingersoll Arena Thursday afternoon to play soccer on the inside turf facility.

“We have 20 orphans who love soccer and it’s winter,” Cousineau said. “What can we do?”

A lot of local businesses and individuals are helping out and supporting these orphans.

“Everywhere you go, people have just been so helpful,” Brad Tripp said. 

Krsitin Tripp said they’re trying to get things going for the summer term as soon as they can.

“There’s fundraising, paperwork,” she said. “It’s a lot of work and Host Ukraine is all volunteer.”

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