Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Maharishi School has welcomed four Ukrainian high school students this year, all of whom are staying in the school’s boarding house while the rest of the families remain in Europe.
The four are Mariia, Helena, Sonya and Sviatoslav (who goes by Sviat). Their lives were turned upside down when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year. Their families fled, with some of them going to Western Ukraine and some to Turkey.
These brave youngsters were determined to continue their studies somehow, even if it meant going to a new country. They began searching for schools in the United States through the website niche.com, and discovered that the site rated Maharishi School in Fairfield as the top private school in Iowa. They liked that the school practiced yoga and meditation. They got in touch with the school to see if they could come.
Carol Chesnutt, former enrollment director at Maharishi School, was one of the key drivers in raising funds for the students to come to Fairfield. She started a GoFundMe account for the students. They would need to raise a little over $20,000 per student per year.
Initially, Chesnutt thought she was raising money for three Ukrainian students, but a fourth, Sonya, contacted the school to say she wanted to come, too. Ellen Jones and Janet Nichols stepped up to help raise another $20,000.
Last week, Chesnutt said the fundraising drive was so successful that they raised more than enough to cover the four Ukrainians, and are using the extra money to sponsor a fifth student at Maharishi School, who is from another war-torn country.
Chesnutt said she received donations from all over the country, including a group of women from Atlanta who were enthusiastic about helping young girls, and two foundations that have committed to help two of the students for the next two years.
“They all lost their housing, education opportunities, and their parents lost their jobs,” Chesnutt said. “For two of the students, their banks were bombed so they had no access to their savings.”
Springli Johnson, admissions director at Maharishi School, said it was a huge relief when the students arrived in Fairfield.
“I think we all shared this eager but helpless feeling witnessing this horrible unprovoked invasion, but providing them with a safe place to get a great education, helped all of our hearts,” she said.
Maharishi School opened Hildenbrand Hall, their residential dorm, days early to welcome Sviat and Mariia, the first two to arrive.
“Everyone was happy to make this effort and exception for two very engaging, intelligent, talented and much deserving seniors arriving tired and grateful,” Johnson said.
Greeting the Ukrainians on their arrival were Michelle Paton, Head of the Enrollment Management team, and Loreena Hansen, faculty and dorm supervisor in the residential life program.
“I was immediately charmed by them and felt blessed by their positivity, their liveliness, their obvious grit and their willingness to embrace their new routine and get settled into their next transition,” Paton said. “They are stellar students and they wanted to continue their strong progress toward graduation and college admission. Both of them were so mature and so eager to discuss their interests. It was a joy to see them so open and so eager to share of themselves.”
Sonya and her family arrived late in the night, and Johnson guided them to temporary housing in town. Paton arranged for Helena and her older sister, Albina, to have rooms in the AmericInn, and left welcome gifts for their stay to ensure their comfort as they rested and enjoyed Fairfield’s offerings prior to new student orientation activities.
Johnson said that David Pohlman, Residential LIfe Director, and the dorm team pulled everything together, quickly preparing extra beds, food planning or deliveries, extra Walmart runs, and ramping up to welcome all 21 dorm students back to campus after the end of a long travel journey in many cases.
“It was our great joy to finally meet them in person and to finally introduce them to the school, our great town, and the many loving people who helped get them all here,” Johnson said. “We feel so happy they have found our community and our school welcoming and a safe haven during this challenging time for them and their families and we hope to share further updates as they share their talents in school activities and their personal interests.”
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at email@example.com