December 15, 2010 at 7:42 p.m.
This story gets its start with three young ladies given the gift of a future, being adopted and welcomed into a household on the south end of Chisago Lake.
They were also given the sometimes tumultuous, but sacred gift of getting to be somebody's sister.
Over the past few years the three: Anna, Anastasia and Luba Ferguson, have been giving back to their new community, volunteering for a host of activities in total gratitude completing the embrace of opportunity and love they've felt in their new lives here.
The girls are now 17 and 18 years old, on the verge of graduating from Chisago Lakes high school and they will head off into adulthood leaving this community a little better off than it was before they arrived.
Anna seems to be the organized, methodical one of the three sisters. During our recent interview she explained her goal of becoming a children's nurse and the tests she's already taking to apply for schools.
Anastasia is a Wildcat cheerleader, who waterskis with a competitive club and is youngest of the three. She'd like to go to college to work in elementary education.
Luba has an artist's sensitive side, and her creative outlet has been in pursuing dance. She is the listener of the three. Luba is thinking about skipping post secondary school next year and volunteering to work with AIDS babies in the Third World or be an unpaid staff member on-board a medical mercy ship.
The underlying theme in all of their lives is to better the experiences of children. They all volunteer in local programs that improve the plight of youngsters-- be it at Hannah's Arms, where they watch the children of mothers participating in the Saturday workshops, and The Baby Blanket. They volunteer with youth church school programs and the babysitting evenings/days the church youth provide as fundraisers at Trinity in Lindstrom.
Chief among their volunteer efforts has been the Operation Shoebox Christmas effort, that provides impoverished and forgotten children with a shoebox-sized package of gifts.
The girls are able to speak rather matter-of-factly about the life and family members they left behind in Russia. They recall the orphanage where they first met and when they received their own shoebox gifts from Samaritan's Purse. They were little but they carry with them how much these mean to one who has nothing.
Think back to when the USSR disintegrated in the 1990s. Russian lives were being turned upside down. Most of what was covered by the media centered on the promise of a newly organized vast culture and the long awaited collapse of Communism.
Away from the camera lens, though, thousands of Russian families were disintegrating. Overwhelmed by the loss of their way of life, with their cultural norms and their socialist guaranteed employment gone -- countless Russian parents gave up their children and babies were taken for their own welfare.
It was in this population of orphans that Luba, Anna and Anastasia first formed a friendship in a seven-bed dormroom at the orphanage. They were adopted at different times by Laura and Gregg Ferguson, who opened their home after getting involved in an adoption program called Journey to Hope.
Of the girls, Laura commented, "We have asked a lot of them and they've done what we asked."
Not available for the sit down interview, Gregg commented in writing, "...it seems as if, when there is a need in the community our phone rings asking for the girls to help." He adds, that Anastasia, Anna and Luba know that their lives would be much different now, if they had not come here and were instead 18-year-olds in Russia today.
Their favorite volunteer activity is helping with the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox effort.
Anastasia said she remembers getting a shoebox filled with small items when she was at the orphanage and it made a lasting impression there were people who cared. She said, "It gave me hope, I know that...you don't quit you just keep going."
Anna traveled to Bolivia this past summer, with about 20 hand picked volunteers, to distribute shoebox gifts to needy children there.
"They appreciated it so much, it makes me want to go back," she said.
Luba was featured in the Press in 2009 announcing that she was organizing a collection of gifts and shoeboxes at Parmly Senior Campus, where she has worked in the dining room at Point Pleasant Heights for two years. Luba remains very active in this gift program, and she and her sisters have spoken to area organizations and civic groups about it.
To learn more about the non-profit shoebox program, which started in 1993 and has operated in 130 countries, go to www.samaritanspurse.org.