NAMPA — There’s a new sign over the entrance of the building located at 304 16th Ave. N in Nampa, one that’s yellow and blue and dons a sunflower and an outline of Idaho.
Formerly the Lighthouse Rescue Mission, the building — now known as the Ukrainian Welcome Center — serves as a gathering place for Ukrainian residents and refugees.
Its new signage, featuring the colors of Ukraine’s flag and its national flower, was seen by many for the first time Thursday morning at an event that highlighted three Ukrainian families who recently came to Idaho. It was attended by Gov. Brad Little, Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue and other dignitaries.
The Lighthouse Rescue Mission provided shelter for men, but closed on March 1 because it was housing “fewer than three men,” according to its website. The men were transferred to shelters in Boise, and the organization teamed with the Idaho Alliance for Ukrainian Refugees and Immigrants to relaunch the facility with a renewed purpose.
The alliance will use the building for at least the next six months.
“We have an agreement that they’re going to run their programs out of our building and we’re going to let them use our building, and we’re going to donate some funds to help with utilities and so forth, and some staff,” Jean Lockhart, chief operating officer of Boise Rescue Mission Ministries, said. “It’s got a commercial kitchen, so they can cook meals, and there are also rooms that refugees can stay in if they need to.”
Around 60 people gathered at the center on Thursday. Speakers included Tina Polishchuk and Vlad Goretoy — directors of the Idaho Alliance for Ukrainian Refugees and Immigrants — Little, Chris Socha of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Consul General of Ukraine Dmytro Kushneruk, and members of three Ukrainian families, who told stories of hardship that led them to Idaho.
Each family included multiple young children, and they expressed gratitude to Idahoans for accepting them into their schools. One family traveled through Mexico before arriving in Idaho. Another is trying to get their family seeking refuge in Missouri to join them in the Gem State.
They also emphasized their desire to work.
Currently, Ukrainian refugees can stay and work in the United States under the humanitarian parole system. But they need to be sponsored by a legal U.S. resident first.
Socha, who’s on the staff of U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said discussions around work permits are taking place in Washington, D.C.
Risch is a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We’ve heard a lot today about work permit issues, and actually as we were talking, I was confirming with some of my staff in Washington (that) there are some provisions in the supplemental requests that are being voted on in the Senate,” Socha told the audience. “That will provide some opportunities for relief to try to help get those work permits for people.
“But this is just one small step to help you all here, as well as your family and friends back in Ukraine. We see this as a long struggle. You will have our support through the entire process.”
More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February, according to data from the United Nations. Polishchuk, of the Idaho Alliance for Ukrainian Refugees and Immigrants, told KTVB in April the alliance expects around 60 families to relocate to Idaho from Ukraine in the next six months.
“My heart goes out to you,” Little said to the families and crowd. “Idaho will do all we can. These are very humble requests that you have made.”