Every human being is valuable, made in the image of God, and deserving of dignity. We provide our boys with a dignified life by not just doing things for them, but by being with them, as their friends and their family. We place a high priority on being present with our boys. We seek to provide our boys with the full human experience and assist them in growing and developing to their fullest potential. We value keeping our boys in their home country, surrounded by their native culture, and helping them to thrive in this place.
The core value of hope is lived out here as we help our boys to reach their fullest potential. We assume competence and assist them when it is needed. We believe that our boys can learn and we dream of what each of them could be capable of in the future. We value the spiritual life of each of our boys and actively teach them about God’s love for them and the hope we have in Him. We continue to dream and grow the work of Wide Awake, even in a time of war, because we have hope for a future Ukraine where people with disabilities are not hidden away in institutions, but are safe and loved in families of their own.
We believe that family is the center of healing and it is our dream that every person with a disability would know the love of a family here on earth. Our family homes are places of love and safety where our friends with disabilities can live out the rest of their days with dignity, surrounded by people who value them and love them deeply.
We believe that every life matters. We recognize the value of our friends with disabilities and are committed to showing that by providing them with consistent and unconditional love and care. We are a community that celebrates! We show our boys their value by acknowledging special holidays and milestones and taking time to celebrate them.
Each person is unique. We are committed to recognizing and celebrating each of our boys’ individuality and adapting their environment so that they can know safety and thrive.
We are committed to providing a high standard of care that takes into account the health of the whole person; spirit, mind, and body. We actively seek out the best local medical care for our boys, while also consulting with specialists abroad.
We are committed to providing our boys with the full human experience which includes relationships with people of all ages, contact with animals and the earth, training in occupation, and the opportunity to participate in community life. We invest time and energy into helping them to grow, develop, and reach their full potential.
Our Work Today
The mission of Wide Awake International is to bring dignity, love, and hope to boys and men with disabilities in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine. The mission is pretty straightforward but involves many moving parts. That’s another way of saying that there’s never a dull moment around here!
We call them “boys” as a term of our love and affection, but our friends with disabilities who have joined the Wide Awake family are actually men. We currently have legal guardianship of 7 men with disabilities whom we took out of an institution about an hour away from the Homestead where we live. The bulk of the work of Wide Awake is providing our boys with lives of dignity, love, and hope. Ukraine does not have sufficient social support in place for people with disabilities to thrive in society, so we work hard to create support and opportunities for our boys. We are their forever family and their forever home is here with us. It is our honor and joy to walk alongside them on their paths of healing and wholeness.
It takes many loving hands and committed hearts to make the dream of Wide Awake a daily reality. Our team of 19 includes daytime assistants for our boys, house parents, social support, medical support, therapists, and logistical support. We are incredibly thankful for a team that brings their whole selves to work. They deeply love our boys and are also deeply committed to seeing radical social change in their country.
Our work of deinstitutionalization is focused on one specific institution in the town of Romaniv, Ukraine. The institution is home to around 80 men with intellectual and physical disabilities. All of the boys in our Wide Awake family came from Romaniv and our team is committed to being a loving presence in that place. Members of our team travel to Romaniv weekly with the goal of providing friendship and love to the boys, encouraging the staff, and helping to improve the quality of care. Romaniv is a dark place and as long as it exists we are committed to bringing light into that darkness. The boys in the institution are so precious to us and we dream of the day when each one of them will know the love of a family.
Before our boys came to us they did not truly live, but merely existed. Their lives consisted of sitting on wooden benches day after day, waiting for the next meal or the occasional visitor. They were severely neglected, consistently abused, and deprived of learning even the basic skills of life. Our family homes are therapeutic environments, intentionally designed to be places of healing and learning. The assistants and house parents on our team provide the boys with stability, love, and a feeling of safety so that they can grow and learn all the things of life that they were never taught. Our development team provides the boys with speech therapy, occupational therapy, and special education.
A part of giving our boys dignity is providing them with opportunities to build friendships and participate in community life. Our boys love participating in local church services, attending art classes at the local library, and enjoying coffee in the city with our team and local volunteers. The time our boys spend out and about in the city is good for them and their development, but also, we hope, an inspiration to others that people with disabilities should not be hidden away, but can be active members of society. God has placed in our Wide Awake community several older mothers who have adult sons with disabilities. We are so happy to be a source of love and support for these Hero Mamas and a source of friendship for their sons.
We call the place of healing where we live with our boys “The Homestead.” The Homestead is in a village in the Zhytomyr Region of Ukraine. We believe that family is the center of healing, and the Homestead is the central location where that healing happens. It is a peaceful, although not necessarily quiet place, removed from the bustle of the city. There truly is something special about the Homestead. Even during the time of war it remains a place of peace and joy.
We purchased the Homestead land in the summer of 2016. At that time there was an old farmhouse and several small outer buildings. The house had no indoor plumbing and was not at all accessible for people with disabilities, so it was renovated to become what it is today. The Johnson family lives in that house with their children, including Vlad, who was adopted from Romaniv, and Boris. Next to the Johnson’s home is a summer kitchen (a Ukrainian village staple) and a small woodworking shop where the boys can work on small projects, together with the assistants. The woodshop is definitely Vlad’s favorite spot on the Homestead!
In 2018, with help from partners in the UK, we purchased the neighboring piece of land and in 2019 broke ground on the duplex. The duplex is just behind the Johnson’s home and was built to be two forever homes for three boys, with upstairs space for house parents. Currently, Vova and Yaroslav live with their house parent, Dajana in Side A of the duplex and Side B of the duplex is home to Anton, Sasha, and their house parents: Oleg and Masha. Assistants and therapists come to the Homestead every weekday to support the boys in their daily lives, as well as provide respite for the house parents.
At the front of the Homestead is a piece of land where we plan to build a multipurpose building that will house our offices and include space for large gatherings (we like parties around here). Attached to that building will be a couple of small apartments for our boys who will be able to live more independently in the future.
It is important that our boys have the opportunity to be connected to nature, as they were deprived of that for so much of their lives. Sunshine, dirt, and fresh air are healing and therapeutic and that is a big reason why we have chosen to live with our boys in the village and not in the city. We have a big garden, as is expected of any village home, and barn that houses our chickens, goats, and soon-to-be horses! One of our goals for the next three years is that our boys would be more involved with the care of the land and animals. The Homestead is the perfect place for them to gain those experiences and skills.
By the end of 2025 we plan to have completed all the construction on the territory of the Homestead and hope that four more of our friends from the institution will be living here in community with us.
Big-hearted Anton joined our family in 2018 at the age of 30 and lives in Side B of the duplex on the Homestead. Anton wears his emotions on his sleeve and is also very musical. He loves his family deeply.
“Bmo” joined our family in 2017 at the age of 25 and lives in the Johnson’s home on the Homestead. He is a lover of coffee and happiest when the room is full of his favorite people.
Fun-loving and outgoing, Ruslan joined our family in 2018 at the age of 31. He lives with Luda, our team member, in an apartment in the city. Ruslan is super social and really enjoys making new friends.
Our joy-bringer, Sasha, joined our family in 2021 at the age of 14 and lives in Side B of the duplex on the Homestead. Sasha’s smile absolutely lights up a room and everyone who meets him falls in love with him.
Superstar “Vlad-the-Builder” joined our family in 2015 at the age of 15. He is currently living in the US with his grandparents where he is receiving orthodontic treatment. Vlad is really creative and loves to work with tools.
Precious Vova joined our family in 2022 at the age of 27 and lives in Side A of the duplex on the Homestead. Vova is a quiet, gentle soul with so much love to give. We are so thankful for him.
Mr. Personality, Yaroslav, joined our family in 2022 at the age of 27 and lives in Side A of the duplex on the Homestead. Yaroslav loves to make people laugh and life with him is never boring!