One woman’s journey to connection, impact, and service 

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Mila Doroshchuk, the Program Coordinator B5, a current School’s Out Washington (SOWA) Refugee School Impact Program (RSIP) is leading the organization’s Ukrainian After School Program. Immigrating to the United States at six, Mila still remembers how intimidating it felt to be in a new country.

Mila with her siblings and her dad. That was their family milk cow. Mila is wearing all pink. Mila was 5. Photo credit: Mila Doroshchuk

Born in a village in the Ukraine, Mila lived with her parents and six siblings. Her life would change forever when her parents announced they were moving to the US. “I had just turned six, so I hadn’t even gone to school yet. I was always only with my mom,” said Mila.

Stuffing as much of her belongings in her bag, the family made their way to the airport and got on a flight to the US. After arriving, Mila and her family encountered a major issue: the language barrier. “We’re all trying to figure it out,” said Mila. “My parents [didn’t] speak English at all. I remember getting lost at the airport.”

When Mila’s family finally entered their three-bedroom apartment for the first time. It was cramped for the nine-person family, but Mila and her siblings made the most of it. They played outside as often as they could. They skated to and from the park. They went to church every week. The family bonds only tightened as they navigated their new, unfamiliar lives in the US.

This is a picture of my parents and us siblings playing volleyball in our backyard. I’m the one sitting in the middle in pink, with glasses on. This picture was from Fall 2006. I was 9.
This is a picture of Mila’s family playing volleyball in their backyard. Mila is sitting in the middle in pink, with glasses on. This picture was taken in Fall 2006, when she was 9. Photo credit: Mila Doroshchuk

At school, Mila picked up English quickly. There weren’t any other Ukrainian kids in her classes, but she still made a few friends. Her teacher, especially, tried to make sure she was as comfortable as possible at school. “She went above and beyond, teaching me a little basic sign language so that I could show her when I needed help or to use the restroom,” said Mila. The stability Mila’s parents provided also helped with her transition to the US.

This isn’t to say it was all sunshine and rainbows. Language continued to be a barrier for Mila’s family. She was bullied at school, though this is a topic her work at B5 allows her to now contextualize as an adult. “Hurt people hurt people, right? So, if you’re hurting internally, you’re going to project that onto someone next to you,” said Mila.

This is a more recent picture of my siblings and I from fall 2023. We all went to a fall festival with our own families (most of us are now married with kids). I’m the second one from the right, wearing a dark green top with black pants.
This is a more recent picture of Mila and her sibling from the fall of 2023. They all went to a fall festival with their families (most of them are now married with kids). Mila is the second one from the right, wearing a dark green top with black pants. Photo credit: Mila Doroshchuk

Mila worked part-time as a massage therapist when, one day, she heard an announcement made at her church. B5 was looking for a few tutors for a new program they were starting. After calling and inquiring about the position, Mila learned about the program manager position. Mila had her doubts about this opportunity. “I didn’t even know that was a position that was open and felt really underqualified.”

After some internal discussion, Mila picked up the phone and called Theresa Roosendaal, B5’s Executive Director. Immediately, Mila fell in love with Theresa, the organization, and its work with refugee youth.

“You get to know who these kids are and what they went through.”

The kids playing a parachute game – I was leading so I’m not in the picture
The kids are playing a parachute game—Mila was leading, so she was not in the picture. Photo credit: B5

Eventually, Theresa brought on other tutors to help Mila with programming. With funding from SOWA secured and a strong Ukrainian presence in Kennewick, WA, the Ukrainian After School Program finally launched in the spring of 2023. The program provides a space for Ukrainian youth in the Tri-Cities region to get help with assignments, tutoring if they’re struggling with a subject, and other activities ranging from reading to field trips.

It’s the reading aspect that Mila thinks is the biggest benefit of the program. “Reading is kind of the main thing we’re focusing on because once you know how to read and what you’re reading, you’re going to do better with the homework, the tests, and the people better,” said Mila.

Funding from SOWA allowed Mila to do everything from purchase educational books for the refugee youth to rent a bus to go to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle this past summer. “A good portion of the money goes to just crafts and educational games and activities, which the kids love,” said Mila.

It is important to highlight the organizations working with refugee youth. It is just as important to highlight the people behind that work. To give a face to a name brings comfort and familiarity. That is human connectedness at work. That is what drives SOWA. We not only partner with youth development organizations, but with the people behind them, too.

Thanks to Mila’s work at B5, she has become the face for B5’s efforts with SOWA’s Afghan Refugee School Impact and Ukrainian Refugee School Impact programs. It’s a position made all the better because of the direct work she does with refugee youth.

“I want to be remembered as someone who will say yes, and serve, and go above and beyond, but also do it because I care and I want the best for you,” said Mila.

Me holding a hula hoop and explaining an activity we were going to do.
Mila held a hula hoop and explained an activity she and the kids at B5 were going to do. Phot credit: B5