COLUMBIANA COUNTY Way Station welcomes Chernobyl kids

The Columbiana-based organization allows children affected by the 1986 disaster to receive free clothing.
COLUMBIANA -- Several pairs of shorts, a few sets of play clothing and one dress added up to happiness for 9-year-old Yanina Shenderova.
Yanina, accompanied by host parent Colleen McCoy, picked out brightly colored clothing, feasted on fresh fruit and watched several clowns Saturday morning at The Way Station in Columbiana as part of the Children of Chernobyl outreach program.
"She arrived homesick Wednesday from Belarus," McCoy said, "but she is happy now."
McCoy is one of many parents who participate in the nationwide program, which is designed to help children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
The program's goal is to build up the children's immune systems by placing them with U.S. host families for two months during the summer, said trustee Jacques Harvey.
The Way Station is just one of many activities the children participate in, Harvey said.
700 strong
More than 700 Belarusian children have participated in the Youngstown chapter's program since 1992, Harvey said. Fifteen to 20 children and families participated in Saturday's event.
"Children of Chernobyl is funded through fund-raisers and donations," he said. "The first year, we bring the children over and the parents pay $100 for health insurance."
Beyond the first year, the host parents pay to bring the children back if they choose to do so, he said.
The Way Station established the program in 1998 after founder Tim Couchenour saw an advertisement on television for the program and wanted to help.
Vicki Hopper, Couchenour's daughter, and her husband Steven, became host parents to 9-year-old Tania Zubovich after hearing about the program through friends.
"Tania came here with three outfits," Steven Hopper said. "A lot of children come here with the clothes on their back."
"The Way Station helps parents have a stock of summer clothing ready for the children," Vicki Hopper said.
Many of the children cannot speak English, said interpreter Irene Potapova. Potapova, of Minsk State Linguistic University, translated for 14-year-old Julia Dzekhtsiaruk, who said she likes the people in the area and the clothing.
"The models and styles are different in some ways," Julia said in Russian.
However, some children, such as Sasha Kirelenko are fluent in English after participating in the program multiple years, Potapova said.
Sixteen-year-old Sasha, Harvey's adopted son, said he likes participating in the various activities the program offers. Sasha has been in the program nine years.
"I enjoy going to amusement parks, movies, concerts and eating pizza and hot dogs," he said.
Betty Sherrill, coordinator of the Way Station Children of Chernobyl, said she loves watching the children change and grow after seeing them for eight consecutive summers.

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