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PHOTO COURESTY OF THE STEaRNS FAMILY HOST FAMILY: The Stearns family of Middleboro will be a host family this summer for the Children's Chernobyl Project where they will be taking in two children from the Ukraine for four weeks beginning June 26. Clockwise from bottom right are Talbot, Braeden, Connor, Bob, Quinten, Laura and Parker.
May 17, 2007

By JASON KENNEY

Special Writer

MIDDLEBORO — Can you imagine what it would be like having your children exposed to the large amounts of radiation that were released into the air by the fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident? Can you imagine how you would long for them to live in a different environment even for a few weeks or a couple of days?

Although the Chernobyl disaster doesn't occupy the headlines as often as it once did, the aftermath of this tragedy continues to have devastating effects on the lives of the people living in the Ukraine and Belarus. Now, over two decades later, contaminated soil and water have contributed to radiation-induced illnesses for the people living in this region, especially the children.

To make sure these children are not forgotten, several residents of Middleboro and Lakeville have partnered with the Chernobyl Children's Project (CCP) in Boston to bring 100 young people from Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine to Massachusetts this summer for a month-long visit.

While they are here, the children will get a chance to flush from their systems the toxins they breathe daily in their home countries, potentially reducing the severity of physical problems they will experience as they grow into adulthood. Meanwhile, they will have the opportunity to live with their host families, receive dental cleaning and work, visit area parks, relax, receive clothes, toys, medicines and gifts for their families at home, and, most of all, be loved and share their love.

Middleboro resident Lorna Brunelle, who was a "support parent" for two children from Belarus last summer, recruited this year's host families from the area and is in charge of raising the money required for a visa and air fare for each child.

"After experiencing firsthand how important this program was for the children, I asked Patty Doyle (the director of the CCP) how I could be more hands-on and how I could reach the communities, raise money, and help get more students to come here," she said. "As a result, almost a quarter (22) of the 100 children coming to Massachusetts are coming to Middleboro and Lakeville. I'm really excited about this."

Equally excited are the host families who will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the "Chernobyl children."

"This is a wonderful program because you're able to help so many young children," said Middleboro resident Laura Stern, who, along with her husband and five sons, will be the host family for two children next month. "Over in the Ukraine and Belarus areas, the children don't get the medical attention that kids in our country receive. Some of these kids are coming here with conditions that are undiagnosed and we'll be able to get them the proper medical assistance and care they so desperately need."

Rober and Cathie Rashid, the owners of Gudmundsson Chiropractic in Middleboro, agreed with Ms. Stern.

"I felt really bad for the kids to have that kind of radiation poisoning and to not be able to have any treatment in their own country," said Dr. Rashid. "Here it's such free trade and we have what we want while over there they have nothing. The kids just come with the shirts on their back and that's all they have."

The Rashids will be taking four children into their home this summer and are planning to buy each of them a suitcase and fill it up with clothes and school supplies to take back home. In addition, they plan on taking them to a Brockton Rox game and possibly a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

The Sterns are also planning to have as much fun as possible with the children.

"We're just going to enjoy time with some other friends that have kids and let them have fun," she said. "We're going to take it by ear on what we actually plan to do. It all depends on what their medical issues are, but we'll try to plan for some time to go to Plymouth and maybe even Martha's Vineyard."

Ms. Brunelle said that it costs approximately $1,500 per child to bring the children to America and back home. Consequently, she is hoping to raise over $30,000 from the community and local organizations to assist the host families.

"I am hoping to raise enough money for each child to come here," she said. "The host families are not supposed to pay any out-of-pocket expenses, even though many of them do. Their generous contribution is just opening up their homes to the children over the summer."

So far, she said she has already conducted two fund-raisers in the community, but other events are being planned for the upcoming weeks.

Anyone who is interested in making a donation can make checks payable to Chernobyl Children's Project and mail them to Burt Wood School for the Performing Arts, 63 Anderson Avenue, Suite B, Middleboro, MA 02347.

In addition, Ms. Brunelle is looking for two more host families — one for two children and the other for an adult translator. If you are interested or need additional information, you can contact Ms. Brunelle at 508-946-1071.

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