Ukraine gave them a son
Plus: Classical music station tops radio ratings; N.C. attorney general investigating TikTok; Plans for apartment tower at Dilworth Starbucks; Bruton Smith wished happy 95th with yard display
Half a world away, the Maddex family of Waxhaw worries about their adopted son’s homeland of Ukraine and the friends they have there; ‘it should matter to everybody’
Zeke, 14, (far left) is the comedian of the Maddex family. “He’ll do anything if he thinks you’ll laugh at it,” says mom, Laurie (second from left), pictured with Gavin, 12; dad, Bryan; Chase, 14 and Ian, 17. (Photo by Leah Custer/Leah Custer Photography & Design)
by Cristina Bolling
Laurie Maddex was a busy mom with 3 boys under age 6 in 2010, when poking around on a fundraising webpage one day for friends who were trying to adopt a child from Ukraine, she saw him — a sweet-cheeked, smiling 3-year-old boy who’d been living in a Ukrainian orphanage for 2 years.
Laurie and her husband, Bryan, had no plans to add another child to their family, but something about this boy in the photograph struck her. He had Down syndrome like their middle son, 3-year-old Chase.
She showed the photo to Bryan. “Look at this little boy,” she said. “I think he’s supposed to be a Maddex.”
And so began a long journey that would not only lead to falling in love with the child who would become their fourth son, but to forging forever friendships with people they would meet in Ukraine, and a feeling of solidarity for the country.
Now, from their home in Waxhaw, they watch and worry for friends who have become like family as Ukrainian cities fall to Russian invasion, and they’re working to find ways to help.
“It does feel so far away and that we (as Americans) are not really affected by it,” Laurie Maddex said. “But there are real connections and real people there, and it should matter to everybody.”
Heartstrings and toothbrushes: Bryan Maddex wasn’t instantly on board when Laurie showed him the photo of little Danya in the Ukrainian orphanage in the outskirts of Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine and the country’s second-largest city.
In fact, his response was a little flip, but understandable, for a parent of boys aged 5, 3 and 1 year: “You’re crazy.”
Laurie understood, and she found another way to support Danya, helping raise money for him on a non-profit fundraising site for special needs adoptions called Reece’s Rainbow, so his future adoptive family would have help with adoption and travel expenses.
Still, for the next 6 months, the Maddexes kept feeling a tug at their hearts to do more. They’d go to church and hear a calling “in little bits and pieces,” Laurie says.
In Ukraine, it’s commonplace for families to put children with special needs like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy in orphanages almost as soon as they are born, Laurie Maddex says. The country lacks resources that people in the United States take for granted, like speech therapy and occupational therapy, so without a system set up to care for people with disabilities, many live their entire lives in institutions.
One day after the 2010 Christmas holidays, Bryan Maddex was at his bank job when a colleague said she’d come back from spending her holidays in her home country of Ukraine. Bryan told her that he and his wife were thinking of adopting a child from there. It was something he’d never said out loud before.
“You have to do it,” he recalls his colleague saying. She told him she always made a point to visit an orphanage when she went home, and on this recent trip had brought the children toothbrushes because she’d learned they were all using the same one.
“We have a lot of toothbrushes,” Bryan replied.
A journey, and new friends: With both Bryan and Laurie on board, they raised $45,000 through Reece’s Rainbow — a sum that is pretty typical of what international adoptions cost.
It took them 9 months to get mountains of paperwork filed. About a month before they left, they met with the pastor of a Ukrainian church in Charlotte to help familiarize themselves with Ukrainian culture.
The pastor put them in touch with friends they could connect with once they arrived in Kharkiv, and one couple in particular would become like family for the 11 weeks it would take to adopt Danya: an American expat missionary from Cleveland named Nate Medlong, and his Ukrainian-born wife, Diana.
Once the Maddexes arrived in Ukraine in the summer of 2011 (their children stayed back at home in the care of family and friends), Laurie and Bryan and Nate and Diana hit it off quick. They had game nights together, and Nate and Diana introduced the Maddexes to more friends at barbecues and birthday parties. If Laurie and Bryan got flummoxed ordering in Russian at a restaurant, Nate and Diana were just a phone call away to help out.
The legal process dragged on, with repeated hearings, court filings and meetings, but every day the Maddexes would head to the orphanage to see Danya. They’d bring photo albums for him to look at and play blocks and memory games with him.
Bryan was lucky that the bank he worked for gave him unlimited paid time off while he had to be out of the country. They were fortunate to have a team of family and friends caring for their three children back home, as the four to five weeks they’d expected to be gone stretched to more than twice that.
During their daily visits, they taught Danya baby sign language, which they’d found to be hugely helpful for Chase, who is only five days younger than Danya.
And they decided that once the adoption was final, they would change Danya’s name. Not because they didn’t like it, but because they knew for a child with speech delays, it would be helpful to have a name that is easy to say.
They decided on Zeke.
Start of a new life: On Sept. 27, 2011, a panel of judges in Kharkiv declared the adoption was final. Laurie and Bryan went to the orphanage the next day to pick up Zeke. He left with just two possessions: a Lego tucked in his little left hand and a colored pencil in his right hand.
IT’S OFFICIAL: Zeke with his new mom and dad (and his pencil and Lego) on his “gotcha day” — Sept. 28, 2011. (Photo courtesy of the Maddex family)
The trio took an overnight train to Kyiv and the following days were a blur of required doctor visits, visa photos and paperwork, embassy appointments and other hurdles, mixed with a first trip to McDonald’s, visits to playgrounds and naps curled up with mom and dad.
Shepherding them through the final hurdles was a man named Serge Zevlever, whose calling was to help adoptive families bring home their new children.
A few days later, they were back home in Waxhaw, introducing Zeke to his new brothers.
Waiting for messages: Fast-forward 10 years, and Zeke is a healthy, funny, people-pleasing 14-year-old who is in the eighth grade at Cuthbertson Middle School in Union County.
As he’s grown, his parents have told him about his adoption story, and his ears perk up each time he hears the word “Ukraine” — which is often, these days.
Laurie and Bryan have explained the unrest that is happening there but try not to go into great details or share too deeply the heartache they are feeling.
“This stuff is scary,” Laurie says.
Serge, the man who led them through the week in Kyiv that followed Zeke’s release from the orphanage, left a bomb shelter and was shot to death in Kyiv last Saturday.
In Kharkiv, where they know Zeke’s biological family members reside, Russian strikes hit at least three schools and damaged a cathedral and shops on Wednesday.
Nate and Diana, who have remained close friends with the Maddexes during the last decade, fled to Hungary and are now headed to the U.S., but they continue to organize safe houses and food distribution for people who cannot leave. They now have two biological children and three adopted teens from Ukrainian orphanages.
Laurie and Bryan Maddex are constantly watching the news and looking for ways to help. Bryan, who is big into crypto currency, is helping Nate move money for donations that way.
Laurie struggles with a world that feels “so dichotomous” — living a comfortable life in the United States, while worrying intensely about a country and people she feels close to.
Each day, she types out a Facebook message to friends she met during those 11 weeks in Ukraine. Then she waits and she prays.
“I send a message out,” she says, “and I just hope it will be answered.”
➡️ Want to help? There are a variety of charities that are accepting donations to help the Ukrainian people. Here is a list of how to help.
Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: firstname.lastname@example.org
Radio milestone: A classical music radio station topped Charlotte-area ratings in January
Move over, Bob & Sheri. Take a seat, Maney, Roy & LauRen. Better luck next time, Mike Collins.
Classical music station WDAV 89.9 says it has achieved a first in January — topping the Nielsen radio ratings in the Charlotte area. An independent radio ratings analyst confirmed that it’s the first time that a classical music station has won the ratings in a top-100 market, dating back to the start of measured ratings in 1965.
The station, a classical public radio station based at Davidson College, had the most listeners per average quarter hour in the Charlotte region in the month of January, according to information from the Radio Research Consortium, which produces local audience estimates using Nielsen data.
In an article last week, trade publication Radio Insight wrote: “Classical 89.9 WDAV Charlotte has done something today that had never been done in PPM history. … Ratings Expert Chris Huff notes that it has become the very first Classical station to lead its market in PPM.” (A PPM is a “portable people meter,” a device that Nielsen ratings people wear to measure exposure to radio stations.)
WDAV averaged 6,100 listeners per quarter hour in January, beating out Power 98 (5,600), 102.9 The Lake (5,300), 105.3 (5,100), 99.7 The Fox (5,000) and V101.9 (4,800). The station said it also placed first in the morning drive, evening and weekend segments.
Will Keible, WDAV’s director of marketing and corporate support, tells The Ledger: “The achievement has resonated throughout the worlds of radio and public media. We’ve been receiving emails of astonishment and praise from peers across the country.”
General manager Frank Dominguez wrote in a blog post:
We’re delighted that so many radio listeners in the Charlotte region care about classical music and turn to WDAV to experience it. Public media like WDAV isn’t traditionally driven by the ratings, but this landmark does serve to demonstrate the impact we have in the community, and the special way in which we engage with our listeners.
How to measure: In our experience, there are different ways of measuring ratings — if you have a smaller number of listeners tuning in a lot, is that better than a larger number of listeners tuning in for a few minutes? Commercial radio stations might argue in favor of other ways to measure listenership. When The Ledger last looked at local radio ratings a little over two years ago, WDAV was #18 in “daily cume persons,” the number of people tuning in each day for 5 minutes or more.
It’s a big achievement for WDAV. Hats off. —TM
Related Ledger article:
“Podcasts and streaming music are wounding Charlotte radio” (May 13, 2019)
N.C. attorney general says he’s investigating TikTok
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a group of attorneys general in other states in an investigation into TikTok’s effect on the mental health of youngsters.
The probe focuses on TikTok’s techniques of keeping users engaged, and what it knows about the potential harms of watching repeated videos.
Stein, a Democrat who has been attorney general since 2017, said in a news release:
I’m very concerned about the ways in which social media companies may be using their technology to hook our kids without regard for their emotional or mental health. This investigation will shed more light on TikTok’s business practices and how they may harm our children.
In response, TikTok told CNN:
We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users. We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.
It seems unlikely that TikTok will be hit with any criminal sanctions, but groups of top lawyers in each state can wield some influence in the business practices of social media companies. The group has previously pressured Facebook to hold off on offering a version of Instagram available to children under the age of 13.
Related Ledger articles:
“New Charlotte shortage: feta cheese, thanks to TikTok” (Feb. 11, 2021)
“Are cheese-throwing bandits on the loose in south Charlotte?” (Nov. 18, 2020)
Bruton Smith wished a happy 95th with cupcake-themed yard display
Bruton Smith’s house in the SouthPark area was decorated Wednesday with a yard display wishing the Charlotte business titan a happy birthday — complete with cupcake signs with different colors of frosting. Wednesday was Smith’s 95th birthday, according to Wikipedia.
Developer files plans to redevelop Dilworth Starbucks site
A developer has filed plans with the city to replace the Starbucks building in Dilworth with a mix of 300 apartments and office and retail space.
The new building on the corner of East Boulevard and Scott Avenue could be as high as 92 feet, according to documents filed with the city this week by SunCap Property Group. That would place it among the taller buildings in Dilworth.
It’s one of a number of projects underway along East Boulevard in Dilworth, including:
plans for an apartment building with up to 170 units by Selwyn Property Group across the street at the old Epicurean lot, a vacant lot often used for pumpkin patches and Christmas tree sales.
excavation underway for a mixed-use development down the street toward Freedom Park, near Lombardy Circle. Developers Brian Phillips and Jim Gross are reportedly building 334 luxury apartments on the site.
The potential redevelopment of Alpine Ski Center, which could be replaced with retail shops and a restaurant with a rooftop patio after April 2022. The half-acre lot sold in 2020 for $2.55M in 2020.
The Ledger reported in November 2020 that the site, which contains the Starbucks and the adjacent Key Man building, was being considered for a new mixed-use building, and that the Starbucks itself would remain as a part of the new development. At the time, the thinking was it would be mainly an office building.
The plans filed this week by SunCap Property Group call for 300 apartments, 20,000 s.f. of office and 15,000 s.f. of retail. A SunCap executive told the Charlotte Business Journal that depending on the timing of a rezoning approval, construction could begin in early 2023 and be complete a year and a half later.
Dilworth is known for having an active and vigilant neighborhood group, the Dilworth Community Association, so don’t assume that rezoning approval is a given. —TM
Related Ledger article:
“New development plans in Dilworth” (Nov. 10, 2020)
Study details Covid learning loss: A new study of educational learning loss during the pandemic shows that the more time students spent in remote learning, the more ground they lost academically. “Our biggest takeaway is that the majority of students need regular interaction and direct personal engagement with their principals, their teachers and their peers,” a researcher told the state Board of Education. The drops were largest among Black, Native American and multiracial students. During the pandemic, Mecklenburg County’s school board kept students out of classrooms longer than in surrounding counties, citing health concerns. (WFAE)
Innovation district to be called ‘The Pearl’: Atrium Health announced a name for its innovation district by its new medical school in the Dilworth/Midtown area: “The Pearl.” It’s a reference to nearby Pearl Street Park, one of the only surviving parts of the former Brooklyn neighborhood. CEO Gene Woods said it “will be a place where Charlotte’s historic vitality meets its innovative future.” (WBTV)
Apartments in ‘opportunity zones’: Charlotte-based Grubb Properties has raised about $350M from 800 investors to develop apartments in “opportunity zones” that offer tax advantages for building in economically disadvantaged areas. The company knows of no other North Carolina group that has raised as much money for opportunity zone apartments. (Business North Carolina)
Republican slate announced: City Council member Tariq Bokhari unveiled a slate of Republican candidates to run for mayor and for four at-large council spots. He said the group is “expecting a red wave like we saw in Virginia, New Jersey and the San Francisco School Board,” but a Democratic strategist said they’re “untested, basically rookie candidates” and that Republican victories in Charlotte “would be the biggest Houdini trick I’ve seen in my life.” Democrats have held a 9-2 majority on the City Council since 2011. (WSOC)
Political comeback: Former longtime City Council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell is expected to file for an at-large seat on the council today. Mitchell, a Democrat, resigned a little over a year ago to lead R.J. Leeper Construction but parted ways with the company last summer. (Joe Bruno on Twitter)
Newspaper union recognized: Management of The Charlotte Observer has agreed to recognize the Charlotte Observer News Guild as a union representing its journalists. That means that the union and management can start negotiations on a contract. “Voluntary recognition of the Charlotte Observer Guild allows us to quickly begin negotiations and ensure our shared steadfast commitment as public servants to our communities remains strong,” Observer editor Rana Cash wrote on social media.
Pink robots in Plaza-Midwood: Food-delivery robots from a Toronto company turned heads in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon. The founder of the startup Tiny Mile said the robots, which crossed streets and moved along sidewalks near Central Avenue, were a demonstration for a potential business partner. (Observer)
Smoke bombs banned at Charlotte FC opener: Ahead of Saturday’s home opener for Charlotte FC, the Charlotte Fire Department says the soccer tradition of lighting smoke bombs is forbidden. A fire department official said: “These smoke bombs are actually considered a 1.4 explosive. When it is used as a pyrotechnic display, it requires approval from the fire department, fire code official and permit as well.” He has been working with fan groups to spread the word and says Saturday’s game “will be a learning experience for everyone.” (Fox 46)
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