Ukranian Family Enrolls at Eastern Florida State College in Hopes to Change Life After Fleeing War
By Space Coast Daily // April 6, 2023
family came to Brevard County under the government’s Uniting for Ukraine program
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – A sister and brother from Ukraine who came to Brevard County under the U.S. government’s Uniting for Ukraine program, created to assist Ukrainians fleeing the war, are now computer science students at Eastern Florida State College thanks to a life-changing effort that started with a community volunteer.
Anastasia Shkirpan, 18, and 16-year-old Yelysei Shkirpan, along with their mother, Julia Shkirpan, made their way to the United States in January 2023.
They visited Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Indialantic seeking assistance, where they met Joan Wiggenhorn, a volunteer with the church’s St. Vincent De Paul Society.
“When we got to America, our next problem was trying to figure out how to get an education here,” said Yelysei.
“We went to the church where we met wonderful people who decided to help us. I feel much better than I felt a year ago because my father had passed away, and we didn’t know what to do at that moment.”
Wiggenhorn was able to connect the teens with Eastern Florida through a contact who led her to Dr. Michael Cadore, EFSC’s Community Engagement Executive Director, who quickly reached out to Melbourne Campus Admissions Director Kim Castle.
“When I first met the family, I didn’t know their story, but I came to know it later through Joan and Dr. Cadore,” Castle said.
“I just met a wonderful Ukrainian family that walked into admissions, and they made my job really easy. They did everything right. I could tell by their records they were smart students and that they were humble. They brought everything they needed.”
Under the special government program, the Shkirpan’s two-year visas expire in January 2025, so Castle worked quickly so the sister and brother could both enroll in a computer class for the shorter Minimester B spring term that started March 6.
“Kim moved mountains to get Anastasia and Yelysai accepted and able to register for classes,” said Wiggenhorn, who once worked as a teacher.
“From my background, I know how things work and how much it helped in getting these students started. My husband and I now consider them like our kids.”
Both Anastasia and Yelysei also have gotten jobs at a local McDonald’s, which in addition to their EFSC classes, has helped them practice English and improve their communication skills.
“We have made some friends and we enjoy our class. We only have about seven people in our class, which is good because we can get the help we need and the professor can focus on us individually as needed,” said Anastasia.
Janelis Rodriguez, an EFSC Student Advisor, is helping the students stay on track as they both work toward Associate in Science degrees in Computer Information Technology – Database Administration Specialization.
“I was up for helping these students right away,” said Rodriguez. “They knew exactly what they wanted to do. They are so intelligent, and I am so excited for what the future holds for them.”
Helping Students Succeed
The Shkirpans stay in touch with friends who are still in Ukraine and others who have moved to Canada or Europe. When they graduate they plan to open their own IT company.
“It is pretty nice to have my sister in my class,” said Yelysei. “If I am struggling with something then I have her to help me.”
Their mother is thankful they are making new friends and glad they can get the education they need to be successful in life.
“I want to say thank you to everyone who helped us,” said Julia.
“Joan and others from the church really helped us as well as those from EFSC. When we first arrived, I didn’t know what to do. I had a friend help, but only for so long. It is difficult to be in a different country and not know English very well.”
Cadore said he is grateful that community volunteers led the Shkirpan family to EFSC.
“It is amazing to have these young students come from Ukraine and see them succeed, said Cadore. “I am honored to be doing what we all love doing and that is helping our students succeed.”
“We are very thankful for everyone that has helped us, and we are also happy and thankful that Eastern Florida State College accepted us and gave us the opportunity to get an education here,” said Anastasia.
“It has really helped us and our mom so that she is not worried about our future right now.”
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