Local District School President Aims to Help Ukrainian Refugees – Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

After successfully enrolling 60 Afghan refugees earlier this year, Access California and Valentina Purtell, president of North Orange Continuing Education, hope to provide similar support to Ukrainian refugees.

NOCE is a community college in the North Orange County Community College District, which is the district of Fullerton College.

Purtell, who has always had the best interests of international students at heart, moved to the United States in 1997 and began working in the English as a Second Language program at NOCE in 2002 and became the WEDDING Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2015.

NOCE Board Chair Valentina Purtell, from Ukraine, poses for a photo earlier this year. Photo credit: Valentina Purtell

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, displacing millions of Ukrainians from their homes. When Purtell first heard the news of the Russian invasion, she was both surprised and devastated.

“I was shocked, like the rest of the world, to learn of this unprovoked and absolutely unjustified war,” Purtell said. “And I call that war and outright invasion.”

Go to California is an organization that helps immigrant families with citizenship and health services. Purtell worked with this organization earlier in the year to provide Afghan refugees with education and social services.

If possible, Purtell would like to provide this type of assistance to Ukrainian refugees. She attended Access California’s annual gala on Saturday and spoke with her partners about the wave of Ukrainian refugees who will likely seek asylum.

“We will contact them in the same way. We offer free English lessons, access to technology, support, mental health assistance, school counseling and career advice,” Purtell said. “I will make myself available in any way I can.”

It’s still too early to know if Access California will take in Ukrainian refugees, but the city of Anaheim has given the organization a lease for a large center, located on Karl Kacher Drive near the NOCE Anaheim Center. This will allow for more potential collaborations between NOCE and Access California.

The recent invasion is personal to Purtell as she was born and raised in Ukraine or, as it used to be called, the Soviet Union. Ukraine was one of fifteen republics that formed the USSR until it gained sovereignty in 1991.

Ukrainians achieved this freedom by voting overwhelmingly for independence in a nationwide referendum.

“I remember witnessing it. I remember seeing it and being thrilled with my fellow Ukrainians as we were on the streets to really celebrate our independence,” Purtell recalled. “I saw this country gain its independence. I was there so it really devastates me personally and breaks my heart to see my homeland being invaded and violated in this way.

NOCE President Valentina Purtell uses her Zoom experience to remind her colleagues of her support for Ukraine.

NOCE President Valentina Purtell uses her Zoom experience to remind her colleagues of her support for Ukraine. Photo credit: Julie Schoepf

Many people like Purtell are actively finding ways to help people in crisis, but everyday citizens can help too.

“Just spread the word, raise awareness of the atrocity. I think we’re educating ourselves, not just about what’s happening in Ukraine, but what’s happening around the world,” Purtell said.

She explained that students in particular can help by showing kindness to other students who may have experienced such trauma first-hand.

“Be aware that we are surrounded by students, community members who have experienced the ugliness, brutality and atrocities of war,” Purtell said. “Do everything you can to show understanding, empathy, compassion and solidarity.”

Board Chair Valentina Purtell poses for the NOCE diversity poster.

Board Chair Valentina Purtell poses for the NOCE diversity poster. Photo credit: NOCE Campus Communications

Helping to defend Ukraine domestically is a delicate operation, but it’s not something the US government has shied away from.

“It’s a very complex situation. I am inspired by the US government to stand with Ukraine,” Purtell said. “This invasion united Americans because it gave many Americans the opportunity to stand up for what we have always stood for – our values ​​of democracy and humanity.”

Ukrainians have gone through many hardships to gain independence and defending Ukraine against one of the world’s greatest economic and military powers can be difficult, but Purtell stressed the importance of this battle.

“It’s not easy…the country’s right to choose its own path becomes an all-or-nothing fight. It is a fight for independence, democracy, land and national identity. So there are a lot of things tied into that,” Purtell said. “It is very humbling and very inspiring to have lived this story. It makes it even more devastating and hurtful to see this established democracy being threatened in such a violent way. »


Cyrus Burton is a Fullerton resident who enjoys running, reading, and playing board games in his spare time.

Author: Cyrus Burton

Cyrus Burton is a Fullerton resident who enjoys running, reading, and playing board games in his spare time.