Stories of Change

Top: McPherson Welcomers at a church gathering; middle: McPherson team preparing for new arrivals; bottom: McPherson welcomers members playing with a newly arrived Ukrainian minor

Bonds of Welcome: How McPherson Embraced Ukrainian Refugees

In the heart of McPherson, Kansas, a community of just over 14,000 residents, a dedicated group of individuals has come together with a singular mission: to sponsor and support Ukrainian families seeking refuge and opportunity in their town. Nancy Magnall and Tina Burkholder, two remarkable members of the McPherson Welcomers, spoke to Church World Service about their sponsorship experiences through CWS’ Neighbor Network and the impact they’ve had on their community.

Nancy, along with her retired husband, made the move to McPherson seven years ago from Iowa, driven by a desire to be closer to family. With a background in working with foster parents for fifteen years, Nancy brought a wealth of experience and compassion to the table. Tina, a native of western Kansas, has spent nine years as a first-grade teacher in Nebraska where many of her students were immigrants and refugees that reflected the rich diversity of the world. “There is something about working with people from other countries,” Tina reflects. “Their children as well as their parents, it’s just something I really took to like a fish to water.”

Their journey began in August 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nancy stumbled upon an article about the “Uniting for Ukraine” initiative and, together with Tina, who was already part of their church’s outreach team, felt compelled to take action. “Do you guys think we can do this?” Nancy posed the question to their church community, and the response was immediate. A diverse group, including retired educators, missionaries, medical professionals and attorneys, banded together to form a sponsorship team. Through Welcome.US, they were matched with a Ukrainian family, marking the beginning of a transformative journey.

Armed with training and resources from Welcome.US and organizations like Refugee Welcome Collective, Church World Service and International Rescue Committee, Nancy and Tina’s group navigated the complexities of sponsorship with confidence. “These organizations made it so easy for us,” Nancy remarks. “From obtaining fact sheets, training materials; all the resources were invaluable for our path forward. We’ve learned so much that helped us in the process of sponsorship.”

The first Ukrainian family, a family of four, arrived in December 2022 and were greeted with open arms by Nancy and Tina at the airport. The group rallied together, providing support every step of the way. Over the course of the following year, they sponsored a total of nine individuals, with two more families of four expected to arrive in the near future.

Their partnership with Church World Service and the International Rescue Committee proved instrumental, providing remote support and access to match grants for the Ukrainian families. From English lessons to driver’s education classes, medical appointments to cultural excursions, the group’s dedication knows no bounds. Nancy shared, “We are thinking down the road, and our group may do Welcome Corps. I think we are ready to sponsor other nationalities”

Nancy and Tina have a message for those considering sponsorship: “Connections are important,” Tina emphasizes. “Take advantage of the resources like CWS and Welcome.US offer, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” They’ve even taken their message beyond their own church, presenting to other denominations to inspire similar acts of compassion and community-building.

Now, McPherson boasts its own vibrant Ukrainian community, with newly arrived residents putting down roots and contributing to the fabric of the town. Many of the adult Ukrainians find employment at Pfizer, further strengthening ties between the newcomers and their adopted home. The bond between the sponsor group and the Ukrainian families was celebrated on Ukrainian Independence Day, a joyous occasion filled with food, fellowship and a shared sense of belonging.

As Nancy aptly puts it, “We have our own little Ukrainian community in this town. A remote place in Kansas, we are thrilled to see the communities of Ukrainians growing and thriving in our own McPherson town. They put down their roots here.”

To learn more about CWS’ Neighbor Network and how your group can help welcome a refugee newcomer, click here.