Senior Edition 2018: Features
Article by Ryan O’Donnell
25 percent of the children who age out of their orphanages in Eastern Europe commit suicide, 60 percent of those males become incarcerated, and 70 percent of those females become sex slaves. One young man from Ukraine was able to overcome those odds, excel in the obstacle course of unfortunate events that is life, score as many soccer goals as John Mayer scores dates, and dazzle his peers with his electric personality. This man answers to the name of Ruslan Burnside.
“I met my family in the summer of 2015 my first time when I came to visit,” Ruslan recalls. “I love America, I love the people, [I love the] friends. I have everything I need. Life would be harder in Ukraine, but I’d be studying and playing [soccer] somewhere, just like here.”
The Burnside family adopted their oldest daughter, Zana, from Russia at the start of 2012. A year later, Angel Burnside was asked to join Guglielmo’s Hope, a program for hosting children. The hosting program was conceived as a result of tragic statistics relating to Eastern European children.
Ruslan’s father, Rob Burnside says, “During the first day of the Kings Freshman Camp, I received a panicked phone call from my wife Angel, stating that she had received a message that asked ‘If money were not an object, would we be willing to host?’ She stated yes and it was explained to her that there was a 14-year-old boy from Ukraine who had already been told he was going to be hosted by a family in Texas but that someone in the family had an illness that required extensive medical treatment and they were unable to fulfill this obligation. However, they still wanted the child to be able to come to the U.S. but they needed a family who had a current home study and teenage boys.” The Burnside clan fit this description to a tee, so naturally, they decided to seize the opportunity.
Rob remembers the journey they embarked on to help Ruslan become a member of their family.
“We had to drive to Chicago to pick up Ruslan at O’Hare International Airport on June 29th (my birthday), and he stayed with us for 6 weeks, returning to Ukraine on August 13th.”
Rob fondly remembers early kinship they built with Ruslan.
“For the first two weeks, he was very shy but then when we went on a guys’ outing to play disc golf, he seemed to cut loose and come out of his shell, and we were able to see what a goofball he was. We had a great time the rest of the summer, and the day he had to return to Ukraine was probably the saddest of our lives.”
In spite of this sad farewell, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
“However, we did keep in communication with him via Facebook, and we agreed to host him again during the Winter Hosting period for 4 weeks, so we raised the money to do so. On his final day here, we were at Culver’s after church and he said to our sons, ‘Me America forever. Bye bye Ukraine.’ Later that night, after we had thrown him an early birthday party – his birthday was January 18 and it was January 12 – we asked him if he was saying he wanted us to adopt him. He stated yes, and we began the process of paperwork and fundraising immediately.”
Many of Ruslan’s peers admire him for his irresistible positivity and his gift at finding the bright side of every situation, in spite of his life’s struggles.
“Ruslan is a unique person because he has faced many challenges in his life that most Americans cannot imagine,” says teacher Rhonda Allen-Harman. “In spite of all that, Ruslan is a very kind and gentle young man with a great sense of humor.”
Proving to be quite the opposite of a teacher’s pet, the love for Ruslan extends past school faculty. Junior soccer player Quinn Adler speaks of his admiration for Ruslan, “I love Ruslan. I played soccer with him for 3 years and always got along with him.”
Senior soccer player Caleb Owens agrees, “He’s really outgoing.You may think he’s quiet when you first meet him, but he’s not. He’s one of the best soccer players I’ve ever seen. He started off as a freestyle player, but then changed his game, and that was cool to witness.”
Whether it be his thick accent, his unabated goofiness, his soccer skills, or even his envy-provoking ability to get along with just about anybody he comes into contact with, Ruslan certainly left his mark on Kings High School. With a contagious smile and infectious laugh, Ruslan’s charisma is undeniable and it has led to many long-lasting friendships. Students and staff at Kings have made it clear that he will be missed dearly after graduating, and that his legacy will live on much past his tenure as a student.