When Nadia Svorak goes to Mass at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead, she doesn’t just go to pray. She goes to look for Ukrainian families that are new to the area and need help registering their children for school.
“After Mass we have coffee, a time where we go and meet and talk,” Ms. Svorak said. “I’ve met people who were working as teachers in Ukraine or nurses in Ukraine, but coming here, one person could not register her son because they didn’t know English. Over the summer, I have some more free time, so I just said, ‘whenever you need help, here you go.’ ”
Ms. Svorak has worked at Southold Junior-Senior High School as a special education teacher’s aide since November.
“Teaching is something that is my passion, to help people,” she said. “Especially kids. They need to be at school, not at home.”
Ms. Svorak said that after East End United Community Partners sponsored a family to come to the area last September, more refugee families from Ukraine soon came to the North Fork. Since Russia invaded Ukraine and initiated a devastating war there more than a year ago, roughly 100 Ukrainian families have taken refuge on Long Island, according to Newsday. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are roughly 8,000 Suffolk County residents with Ukrainian heritage.
The population in the area is growing and Ms. Svorak knows of five Ukrainian families who have come to Cutchogue this year.
Ms. Svorak tries to go above and beyond simply registering kids for school. She also makes sure the families receive needed benefits such as discounted lunches and serves as a translator at parent-teacher conferences — She recently helped a family relocate from Calverton to Southold with the assistance of Southold Presbyterian Church.
She is currently working with two recently arrived families in Orient and one in Cutchogue.
Word of Ms. Svorak’s work has spread, and several parents of her students have asked to share her contact information when they learn of new Ukrainian families arriving in their area.
Ms. Svorak came to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1996. She moved to the North Fork three years ago from New Jersey, where she was also a teacher’s aide.
Whenever Ms. Svorak needs advice about how best to guide Ukrainian families, she goes to the church or the librarians at Southold Free Library, particularly Penny Kelley, the Teen Services Librarian.
“She’s a connection for me and a resource, even for my job,” Ms. Svorak said.
She added that it would be helpful to bring in more resources to the area, such as a Ukrainian-speaking translator or social worker at local schools.
She is thankful for all the support she’s received from the community.
“I just want to thank the residents that live on the North Fork,” she said. “Every place that I go they are so helpful, from Orient to Riverhead.”
Ms. Svorak said she hopes to continue helping families for as long as possible. Her long-term goal is to become a permanent resource and assist families in need become self-sufficient.
“I really want to find an office,” she said, “where I can help be a connection to everything.”