Nightingale Refugee Relief offers new beginnings

Lili Hakimi

When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Marin resident Jami Coulter immediately wanted to support people who were fleeing the country. By researching how to help, Coulter found a website, Ukraine Take Shelter, that connected people around the world to refugees. Wanting to do more, Coulter put out an ad and through a network, families began to reach out to her. 

“I started working separately to support families [getting] to safe places. Then I started having people within our community offer to volunteer, [or] to give money, supplies or housing. That was when I decided to start a nonprofit organization so I could accept bigger donations and be more organized,” Coulter said.

Coulter created a nonprofit organization, Nightingale Refugee Relief, in October 2022. Since then, Nightingale and its volunteers have worked every day to assist Ukrainian refugees.

One of the many refugees aided by Nightingale, Narine Iengibarian, was eight months pregnant when she made the journey from Ukraine to the United States. Iengibarian and her family arrived in Marin on April 24 and were among the last people allowed into the country under humanitarian parole. The journey to the U.S. took a month, since the family traveled first across the Russian border and then to Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Mexico.

While the journey was a difficulty for Iengibarian, leaving her old life behind was another challenge. 

“We lived [in Ukraine] for many years. I planned my whole life there. In just one day it was ruined. I was confused — I didn’t know what to do, where to go or how to leave. It was very emotional,” Iengibarian said.

Thanks to Coulter and Nightingale Refugee Relief, Iengibarian, and her family were able to buy a car and will be able to bring her parents to the United States soon. Iengibarian expressed gratitude to the nonprofit, emphasizing the emotional support she received. 

They gave us the most valuable thing for us at the moment — the feeling that we are at home. They are always in touch and ask if we need something. Such care is always pleasant and gives us a sense of confidence that we will succeed, as well as the feeling that we are not alone here,” Iengibarian said.

Iengibarian also spoke very highly of Coulter as an individual, as the two have developed a close relationship. 

“Jami has an infinitely kind heart. What she does for absolute strangers can only be compared with caring for family members. She is very understanding and incredibly tactful. We are all very lucky to have her.,” Iengibarian said.

Sofia Bikus is another Ukrainian refugee who has received aid from Nightingale. Bikus left Ukraine in March of 2022 and didn’t arrive in the U.S. until that May. Since then, Coulter has continuously provided Bikus support, helping her find housing and an education for her 11-year-old daughter, who had spent six months without schooling. 

“We have received so much care from [Coulter]. What she has done for us is what someone would do for their family. During Christmas [season, Coulter] brought handmade gifts, it was a special environment and touched my soul,” Bikus said.

Thanks to Nightingale Refugee Relief, many Ukrainian children were able to have presents this Christmas.

While there is no doubt that the work of Coulter and Nightingale Refugee Relief has impacted many Ukrainian families, Coulter expressed that the families have also had a powerful impact on her. 

“[The Ukranians] are all so grateful. I’ve been really struck by how similar we are in so many ways, and how easy it is to actually connect … When they explained their lives back home, they [said they] lived in a beautiful city [and] had a good life. Their kids took the same dance classes and volleyball lessons and all that stuff my kids take, and then it just got destroyed in a day,” Coulter said.

Due to Nightingale Refugee Relief, Bikus (left) has been able to find schooling for her daughter (center) and housing for her family.

Moving forward, Coulter hopes to collect donations on a larger scale, start asking for grants and expand her volunteer network.

“One hundred percent of what we get is what we give to them. No one is getting any salary. My family is personally paying for all the administrative costs,” Coulter said.

In the meantime, Coulter’s organization continues to help Ukrainian refugees find a home in the United States and shine as a beacon of hope for many families, including Iengibarian’s.

“We have not been here for long, but I have already managed to fall in love with this country. My son was born here, and for the first time in a long time my daughter has begun to smile,” Iengibarian said.

To donate to Nightingale Refugee Relief click here!