Ponte Vedra woman who lost mother to breast cancer comes full circle

Woman adopted from Ukraine builds career helping children in need

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Like many girls, Julia Kalinski grew up admiring her mother.

A neurologist in Kiev, Ukraine, Kalinski’s mother worked tirelessly with victims of the Chernobyl disaster. She watched as her mother tended to patients and educated visiting physicians from Florida Hospital about the effects of the nuclear incident.

When Kalinski’s mother was later diagnosed with breast cancer, those same American physicians raised funds for her treatment at Florida Hospital’s Walt Disney Memorial Cancer Institute in Orlando, giving her an additional two years of life. During her mother’s final days, Kalinski, then 13, flew from her home in Ukraine to Orlando in hopes of making it in time to say goodbye. But those hopes were shattered when Kalinski learned her mother, 46, had passed away just hours before her plane landed.

Her mother’s last wish was for an American family to adopt her daughter so she could create a life for herself in what she called “the land of boundless opportunity.” In 1999, that wish came true when Rod and Carol Lyon adopted Kalinski just before her 14th birthday. Her mother’s example as a doctor and the generosity of the Americans who helped her family inspired Kalinski – now a Ponte Vedra resident – to pursue a career in which she too could serve others.

At the University of North Florida, she received a bachelor’s in psychology with a focus in social welfare and recently a master’s in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management. During her senior year of college, Kalinski interned at Daniel Kids – an experience she said allowed her to realize her potential in the nonprofit sector.

Kalinski began working at Daniel Kids in 2007. In a sense, her life had come full circle, since Daniel Kids is the oldest child-service agency and home of Florida’s Adoption Information Center. Recently named the director of resource development for the nonprofit, Kalinski is eager to increase volunteer participation and donor giving, which will ultimately help Daniel Kids continue to serve nearly 2,000 abused, neglected and emotionally troubled children every day.

“Growing up, I had the privilege of witnessing selfless leaders in service,” Kalinski said. “Now that I have a career I am passionate about at Daniel Kids, I plan to never stop learning, growing and serving.”

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