The trip from her native Ukraine to Columbia is more than 5,500 miles.
But getting Victoria Kern to where she is today — in a safe, stable home with a loving family, ready to graduate from Columbia High School this Sunday — was by far the roughest journey she’s ever taken.
Adopted from Ukraine by a Columbia family at the age of 15, along with her then-14-year-old biological sister, Victoria said she never felt welcomed in her new home.
After bouncing among the homes of her adoptive parents’ relatives, and even spending five months with a family in Italy, Victoria finally found a home with Timothy Holmes and Christina Morris, also relatives of Victoria’s adoptive parents.
“(Morris and Holmes) are amazing people, really generous,” said Victoria, now 19.
Knowing very little English when she arrived in the U.S., Victoria attended CHS her freshman year.
“Everything that she’d hoped, to be a new family and a new life, started to unravel,” said Tiffany Falgier, Christina Morris’ sister and Victoria’s mentor from the time she arrived. “Family and friends pleaded desperately with the parents to try to calm things down, but it was already too late.”
“It was horrible,” Victoria said. “There’s been a lot of crying.”
But she persevered, even as she moved among eight houses and two school districts in three years.
“Victoria had two roads she could have taken,” Morris said. “The give-up road would have been way easier.”
Instead, she stayed in school and kept her grades up. She tried to live the life of a normal teenager.
“I’ve got goals,” Victoria said. “I’m not going to get depressed about what happened to me.”
She stayed at the Morris-Holmes residence on several occasions when she found herself without a stable place to stay. In November 2012, Victoria found what she had been searching for since she entered her first orphanage at the age of 8 — a home and family of her own.
The decision to expand their family, adding a teenager no less, was not one Morris and Holmes made lightly.
“My husband looked at me one night and said, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” Morris said. “It’s not what we planned but maybe it was someone else’s plan.”
The couple have a daughter in middle school, and for a couple months, Victoria had to sleep on their couch. Morris and Holmes finished building Victoria’s bedroom earlier this year.
“Now I can close the door and be private, do my own things,” Victoria said.
She was named her CHS senior class’s March Student of the Month. After graduation on Sunday, she will attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and hopes to become a nurse practitioner.
Victoria looks forward to living in the dorm and playing volleyball — something she’s wanted to do since arriving in the U.S.
She also is secure in knowing she never has to worry again where she will be staying — or if her welcome will wear out.
“Victoria has a place at our home for as long as she needs one,” Morris said.