A helping hand: Darien’s host family is working to bring a Ukrainian student from the United States to Canada | Featured Story

DARIEN CENTER — Anastasiia “Ana” Sobol, a Ukrainian student currently attending college in Canada, was living with Jim and Lorrie Gammack of the Darien Center as part of an exchange program.

With her school year at Seneca College in Toronto due to end on April 22, she is unable to return home with the war in Ukraine and her family unable to pay for her education.

The Gammacks raised money for her through a GoFundMe site. As for a place to live after school is out, they have spoken to the US State Department and are in contact with officials in Washington to try to secure a visa for Sobol to come and live with them in that country. .

In the meantime, the Gammacks arranged for her to live with their friends, Andy and Marlene Fuest, in St. Catharines, Ontario, during the summer.

The Gammacks were Ana Sobol’s host family in 2019-20 when she attended Batavia High School as an exchange student. The GoFundMe site organized by Lorrie Gammack, “Help Ana the Exchange Student”, had raised $8,820 against a target of $10,000 on Tuesday.

“We help him because we love him! She came to live with us as an exchange student and we consider her our own daughter,” said Lorrie Gammack. “As a citizen of Ukraine, she cannot enter our country without a visa.”

The money raised will help Sobol in any way she might need, said Lorrie Gammack.

“While that sounds like a lot, it’s not enough to cover his tuition next year. The Government of Canada is helping Ukrainian citizens with free visas and work permits, but they don’t offer tuition. free higher education. If Ana is not able to pay, she will not be able to continue her studies. As for her future, where she will live and go to school, it is in God’s hands.

On its travel information webpage, travel.state.gov, the Department of State indicates that, as a general rule, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa. – either a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.

In the application process, the waiting time for an interview depends on factors such as the number of people applying at a particular embassy or consulate, workload and staff, and the type of visa involved. There are several types of visas that a person can apply for.

On the State Department’s travel webpage, the department said Tuesday that at the U.S. Consulate General in Toronto, the wait time for a visitor visa interview was 174 calendar days and approximately 300 days for all other nonimmigrant visas.

Lorrie Gammack said she contacted Assemblyman Steve Hawley’s office, R-Batavia, in early March. Hawley’s staff referred her to the office of Congressman Chris Jacobs.

Hawley said in a March 30 statement that he stayed in touch with Lorrie Gammack through his district office.

“We have been contacted directly by Lorrie Gammack via Facebook and text regarding the difficult situation Ana is facing as she seeks to move in with Lorrie and her family here in the United States,” Hawley said. “Since this is an international matter and I am a state representative, I advised him to work with Congressman Jacobs’ office and personally provided him with his contact information. That said, we sincerely hope she can get the visa she needs to join the Gammack family and enjoy all that our country has to offer.

Jacobs Monday did not comment specifically on the case involving the Gammacks and Ana Sobol.

“My office regularly engages with the Department of State to assist constituents on a variety of issues, from securing passports to international travel. I urge any voter who needs help with the State Department to reach out and we will work to find a solution,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Lorrie Gammack said that since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, she and her husband spoke to their former exchange student almost daily.

“The social media attention has prompted many offers of help and we are in constant communication on ways forward,” Gammack told the Daily News. “We are very pleased with the amount of money that has been raised through GoFundMe and donations from generous people. Ana is an exceptional student. It would be a shame if her education stopped due to a war in her country.

The Gammacks also contacted the senses. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, said Lorrie Gammack.

“MP Jacobs’ office and senses. Schumer and Gillibrand both contacted us after the reports,” she said.

Gammack said her husband, Jim, felt being a foster parent in 2019-20 was the best decision they could have made. The Gammacks have two adult children and five grandchildren.

“We are so grateful to have brought her to our home. We learned to love her like our own daughter,” said Lorrie Gammack. “She is an excellent student. When she came to the United States as a As an exchange student, she participated in the FLEX – Future Leader exchange program.

FLEX is a cultural exchange program of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered in Ukraine by the American Councils for International Education, according to the American Councils’ website, https://americancouncils.org. au/en/.

FLEX is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. It offers Ukrainian students the opportunity to study at an American high school and live with an American host family for one school year.

“They have a rigorous testing and interview period. It went on for several days, it’s not a one-time thing,” Gammack said. “She beat several hundred students.”

What kind of person is Sobol?

“She’s just a great person. She is very nice, very caring. He is a person who sees a problem and wants to hear both sides of a situation and wants to develop solutions that are acceptable to both sides. When she sees something wrong, she wants to fix it,” Lorrie Gammack said.

Sobol’s hopes for 2019-20 in Genesee County — going to school in Batavia and going to activities with his friends there — didn’t materialize in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she ended up at the Gammacks’, away from her high school friends in Batavia.

“She ended up staying with us. She was isolated from anyone. I said, “I’m not driving you to Batavia when we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” said Lorrie Gammack, who taught at Batavia. “She ended up spending those months with my husband and I in our house. My husband commented on his studious. She has never missed an online class. All of his online homework was well done.

Gammack said Sobol understood, but was very sad, about the situation in the spring of 2020.

“She cried. We comforted her,” Gammack said. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be this year. That’s not how it’s supposed to be in this whole world.

At college in Toronto, Sobol tried to stay in touch with his parents every day, Gammack said.

After Sobol’s story was posted on Facebook, things “got a little crazy,” Gammack said.

Within days of posting Sobol’s story on Facebook, Gammack said, regional media contacted the family, as did at least one Toronto-based news agency.

“With all this attention, I think we will have a good result,” she said. “There are people from all over the United States and Canada who sent checks every day. I got a check here at school (Batavia High School),” she said. “Someone sent a check from Georgia to the school.”

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