Seeking Courageous Families: Local couple spreads mission of hosting children from Ukraine
Hosting four siblings from Ukraine in 2015 changed Alexandria couple Paul and Lisa Bowden's life — quite literally, as they went on to adopt the four children.
Now, the Bowdens are encouraging other families to host through the organization birthed from their experience: Courageous Families.
"I look at Alexandria and it's an amazing community and the faith foundation here is deep," Lisa Bowden said. "It's widespread. It's a community that would make a difference. We felt like it was a great place to birth an organization like this."
The nonprofit organization, created a year ago, connects Ukrainian orphans with families in Alexandria and elsewhere. The children come to the U.S. in late June and leave in early August.
"It allows them to experience God's love and experience what it's like to be a part of a family," Lisa Bowden said. "They've not experienced a healthy Christian family. (This) shows them what's that like. It gives them a picture of something they can hope for and work toward."
While the organization benefits the Ukrainian children, it's also something that often changes the lives of those hosting.
"We find that obviously it's beneficial to the kids because they love it," Lisa Bowden said. "But it's beneficial to the host family as well, and for the kids hosting. They have an opportunity to give."
'Caught my heart'
When Paul and Lisa spoke about the organization at Alexandria Covenant Church last month, something about it pulled Felicia Morrissey in. She and her husband, Kellen, along with their four children — ages 17, 11, 9 and 6 — will be hosting two sisters from Ukraine this summer.
"It just really caught my heart," she said. "I knew it was something our family would like to do. The girls are 8 and 9, close to my youngest two's ages, and they're adorable."
In preparation for the girls' arrival in June, the Morrisseys are working to raise the $2,900 it costs for each child. The cost covers documentation preparation, travel, medical insurance, chaperone expenses and food.
"I'm just excited," Morrissey said. "I picture everything we're going to do with them. We're going to take them to the beach, go on the pontoon, take them to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. My kids are very excited. They refer to them as their sisters."
The Ukrainian children travel with a chaperone and translator, who also stay with a host family.
While the experience is an enjoyable one, Paul Bowden says it doesn't come without its challenges — challenges like the fundraising, the language barrier and ultimately, saying goodbye.
"The things that we look back on fondly a lot of times come through challenges or things that aren't easy," he said. This isn't easy, there are definite challenges that come up from start to finish. ... But through those kinds of experiences is where we find the most reward."
Though the Bowdens ultimately adopted, they say their organization is solely about hosting and families do not need to be interested in adoption.
But, Lisa says, if a family is interested in adoption they may express that.
"There is the rare case where adoption happens," she said. "It sometimes just works out that the kids are available and the parents and family are willing and want to pursue that."
More families needed
So far, Courageous Families has connected 12 Ukrainian children with families in the United States. But since 53 children from the orphanage are cleared for the program, more families are needed.
"We're looking for host families to step up," Lisa Bowden said. "It's a big commitment, financially and time. It's an emotional commitment as well. We want families that do step up to be supported by their friends and family and the community."
Despite the challenges that may arise, Paul Bowden says the impact on the children is what really matters.
"We look at it like a mission," he said. "It's like an international mission trip from your home. You can have an impact on someone overseas just by staying home. During those challenges, sometimes we just remind ourselves that we're on a mission."
How to host
If interested in serving as a host family, the Bowdens will set up a time to meet and talk over the process. There is an application to fill out, as well as a background check and references. Hosts will have the opportunity to choose children who will best fit into their families. To set up a meeting, email email@example.com, call 320-224-7359 or message the organization's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/courageousfamilies. Visit www.courageousfamilies.org for more information.
If you are not interesting in hosting but would like to assist families who are, donations can be made online at www.courageousfamilies.com/donate.