Crisis in Ukraine hits close to home for Nashville nonprofit serving youth in the country

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 19:34:46-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The crisis in Ukraine is hitting close to home for one local organization. Nashville-based nonprofit Sea Star Kids helps disadvantaged youth in Ukraine.

For ten years, the nonprofit has worked with locals in the European country to teach the children about the Bible.

Founder and president of SeaStar kids Dr. Gary Jerkins said he was just there in October and is worried about his friends and children who call Ukraine home.

Like most of the world, Jerkins said he's been glued to the news when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"It's real because we know these people and they have names and faces and you've eaten dinner with them in their homes. And you've seen these kids play and it's real," he said.

Jerkins is an ophthalmologist by trade and when he's not specializing in eye and vision care, his heart is in Ukraine.

He has made more than 40 trips to Ukraine since 1995. He also helps medical students there with other local doctors. Jerkins says he is worried about them all.

"There's some of them, some people that we heard back from immediately and gave some details. Some people [we] hadn't heard from. They're in harm's way and I don't know if they're safe," Jerkins said.

John Durham, who is also part of the team, taught English to students at Ukrainian universities.

"I got a note from one of my friends there that he'd never thought that he would be awakened to shelling and bombing," Durham said.

Both men just want their friends and their families to be safe.

Jerkins says in the meantime, they're communicating with the locals in Ukraine and looking for ways to send care packages.