Barnes receives Ukrainian humanitarian award

Published 9:34 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

Patricia Barnes sat quietly and thoughtfully beneath the “canopy” of Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls.

The silver medal hanging from her neck caught the sunlight from the window. She held the medal loosely for a minute before she spoke of the importance of what it represented.

“This isn’t really all mine,” said Patricia Barnes, founder of Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls. “It belongs to so many who have believed in a dream and supported it in so many ways.”

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The Silver Gorlov Medal was presented to Barnes by the City of Gorlovka, Ukraine in recognition of her humanitarian efforts to provide places of safe refuge for the orphan children of the area. The Gorlov Medal is the highest honor the Ukraine bestows on its citizens. The medal had never been awarded to anyone with a foreign passport until Ivan Sakharchunk, the mayor of Gorlovka City, presented the prestigious award to the American philanthropist.

The award was presented to Barnes in recognition of and appreciation for her efforts to establish Sasha’s Home, an eight-apartment foster care facility that presently provides warm and loving care for 38 abandoned Ukrainian children who are awaiting adoption by their “forever” families. Sasha’s Home is equipped to care for as many as 60 children.

“Receiving the Gorlov Medal was a wonderful and humbling way to start the year 2009,” Barnes said. “It makes me feel humbled and grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to help these children. There are more than 100,000 orphaned children in the Ukraine and most of them are crowded with sick children in state-run hospitals and have little chance of adoption.”

Sasha’s Home is an outgrowth of Barnes’ earlier humanitarian campaign in the Ukraine.

“About 10 years ago, Kenny Payne, a missionary to the Ukraine, was working through the Church of Christ in Luverne,” Barnes said. “He asked for help with sending food and medicines to the many, many orphaned and abandoned children in the Ukraine and I wanted to do what I could to help.”

After three years of support from across the miles, Barnes visited the Ukraine and saw first-hand the desperate plight of the orphaned and abandoned children.

“These children were placed in any facility that was available,” she said. “It might be a hospital, a prison or a mental institution. It was heartbreaking to see the conditions they were living in and I knew I had to do something. I didn’t know what, but something.”

That “something” was an acquired wing of a hospital where these “thrown away” children could be cared for and loved until they could be placed in an orphanage or taken in by a foster family.

Barnes also became a mother to a Ukrainian boy, Aleksey, whose mother had been murdered and his father was unknown. Because of a physical limitation, Aleksey was destined to live on the streets and eat what he could salvage from garbage cans. Barnes and her husband, George, took the little boy into their hearts and, after much red tape, into their home.

“Alex has brought so much love and joy into our lives so we knew how much love these children have to give and how much they need love,” Barnes said. “I knew we had to do more.”

After visiting one of the Ukrainian orphanages, she knew what she wanted to do.

“I was appalled at the living conditions,” Barnes said. “I knew then what I wanted to do.”

With the mayor of Gorlovka as an ally, Barnes was able to overcome the skepticism of the City Soviet and purchase an abandoned building in the downtown area of Donbas and reconstruct it as a home for children without families.

“I knew from the beginning that the home would be called Sasha’s Home,” Barnes said. Sasha is a Ukrainian nickname or pet name for Alex or Alexandria. Alex is our adopted son’s name so it should be Sasha’s Home. It couldn’t be anything else.”

The logo for Sasha’s Home is a teddy bear because bears are so prominent in Russian lore.

“It just all came together,” Barnes said. “Sasha’s Home is home to foster families and they are some of the most wonderful people in the world. They have big and loving hearts and are completely dedicated to the children they foster.”

Barnes told of one couple that came to the orphanage thinking they would become foster parents to one child.

But the little boy had three other siblings at the orphanage and the couple didn’t want the children to be separated so they took all four.

“Later, the mother of the children had another baby that she couldn’t care for,” Barnes said. “That wonderful couple took the baby so all of the children could be together. They had two children of their own and have added five more. That’s the kind of loving people who live at Sasha’s Home.”

Sasha’s Home is “home” to the foster families as long as they want to stay. If after a time, the “parents” decide for some reason to no longer foster children, other couples will be accepted into Sasha’s Home.

“It’s such a warm and loving place to be,” Barnes said. “It brings tears to my eyes every time I’m there. Sasha’s Home is such a blessing – a dream come true because so many have believed and cared.”

Sasha’s Home is funded by the Barnes Family Foundation and donations to the foundation. Barnes’ second cookbook titled “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters” will be published in May and proceeds from the book will go toward funding Sasha’s Home.

Barnes has learned to follow her heart. It has taken her to places she never dreamed of going and brought more joys than she could have imagined.

“I thank God every day for what He has enabled me to do,” she said.