ALVORD—Three teenagers from Ukraine are experiencing a N’West Iowa Christmas for the first time.
Siblings Viktoria, 19, nicknamed Vika, Elliott, 17 and Jordan, 15, were adopted by the Denny and Anita Van Veldhuizen family in January.
This is not their first American Christmas, however. They spent Christmas 2016 with a family in Maine, but the teens still are gaining plenty of new experiences.
“They are pretty excited about it, yet we are often putting their expectations in check,” Anita said. “The unfortunate thing about where they’ve come from is they know about the Hollywood and big business America where everything is fabricated to be better and easier than it is in little old northwest Iowa. So, we have had to have conversations about this and be very frank with them that this is our family, this is our life. This is not glamorous, but this is love and security and the little we do have is greater than anything they would have today if God hadn’t planned our family as it is.”
Even though the three teenagers are from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, they speak Russian. This has not proven to be the biggest challenge, though.
The Van Veldhuizens were living in Minnesota when they brought the siblings back in February. They moved to Alvord in March to help out on Anita’s family farm.
“The biggest challenges of living in small family-oriented Alvord versus their Ukrainian city of 486,000 people is lifestyle and culture differences,” Anita said. “For example, as orphans in a large city, they had more freedom to wander and come and go as they pleased with no one to care about their whereabouts, who they are with, expectations to return at a certain time and so on.
“Another adjustment is going from 100 percent living for themselves and protecting themselves to living as a dependent of two loving, invested, interested parents who communicate with one another, their schools and their employers about their successes and shortcomings.”
Denny and Anita signed a letter of commitment in January 2017 to adopt the teens, but began the process in March 2016, after seeing some Facebook posts about three orphaned Ukrainian siblings. They discussed and prayed about the possibility of adding three more children to their family of five.
To make sure that would work, they hosted Vika and Jordan during the summer of 2016, thanks to a program called Project 143. The program allows families to take in orphans from Ukraine, Kyrgystan and Latvia, all former states of the Soviet Union. Elliott was unable to partake in that summer because he was housed in a separate orphanage for children with mild mental delays.
Considered social orphans, their parents were not capable of caring for and meeting the daily needs of the three children. Anita said they were all placed in orphanages as young children.
Each of the teenagers has their own personality.
- Vika is creative, artistic, enjoys new things and surprises, knows what she wants and has the spirit of a caretaker. Anita said Vika always is looking out for little children, and their youngest kids — son, Tyson, 5, and twin daughters Jazaya and Delaney, 2. She played volleyball at West Lyon High School, where she is a junior, and takes lessons at Allison’s Dance Studio in Rock Rapids. Vika works part-time as a dietary aide at the nursing home.
- Elliott is happy and helpful. He enjoys being social with people and has a curiosity about what things are since he was the most sheltered in Ukraine. Anita said Elliott also is very scheduled. He loves playing video and computer games and is on the freshman basketball team at West Lyon.
- Jordan, also a freshman, is the most well-rounded and has had the easiest time adjusting to family life. Anita said he is confident, competitive and determined. Jordan is a natural soccer player and played on the high school football team. He also enjoys playing video games and playing with the family dogs.
“We didn’t know they were ours until God made it clear He’d created them for us and us for them,” Anita said. “There was nothing about them that convinced us they were the ones. It was only the work of the Holy Spirit in both of our hearts that convinced us we needed to be obedient to God’s command to care for orphans, specifically this sibling trio. Once we fully committed to His will and His time, there was peace about adding these three to our family.”