JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

Many of us have felt like refugees at some time in our lives, perhaps after serving in a military conflict, having to leave one’s family or hometown without a clear prospect of return, or through abandonment. Even without imminent danger, we have always known that somewhere there was a place of refuge we could seek within religious institutions, community sanctuaries, or even the safety accorded traditionally by schools. Until recently, no one feared those options when left alone somewhere new.

Now with the ubiquitous imagery from international media, we are aware more than ever about the lack of safe alternatives for people who need refuge. Sometimes, I almost don’t want to watch the news, seeing what is happening to the innocent citizens of Ukraine, especially grieving mothers with their children, having experienced a reality that they could lose them at the whim of a dictator.

The only time I have ever sensed that kind of fear was when my home burned down just 15 minutes after my then 2-year-old and I left in our Volkswagen without even minimal survival items filling the trunk. I was wearing grubby cooking clothes and, after securing my napping baby in the car, I had grabbed a couple of boxes I thought were packed with family photos. Amidst smoke and fleeing horses, I felt bereft and uprooted but grateful that we had survived.

The difference was that even though our neighborhood resembled a war zone, it was not. We were young enough to overcome the changes and losses that we incurred. We lived in a free country with friends and family who cared for us emotionally and physically. We were NOT refugees.

Since then, with a sense of empathy that I have been told is futile, I have indeed identified with the now millions of people who have been dispossessed of their homes, families or, in many cases, homelands. As a younger woman, I volunteered in several countries to do what I could to help those less fortunate than I. I believe that my teaching career also helped me evaluate my own attitudes toward other world citizens. One of my last teaching assignments was for a high school class studying writing by refugees about their experiences, and each student composed a final paper about what they would do if they became a refugee without funds and contacts. Their empathy was fully evident in their writing.

So what can I do, other than donate aid money to help support these fraught Ukrainians? I understand that Polish citizens are offering refuge to them, as I would hope I would do if there. Instead, I can only offer support and compassion. Beyond that, I am aware that my limited recourse is to try in my own small way to do what my mother taught me, to leave my world a teeny bit better for my having lived in it. I would wish that for all of humanity. If so, we might not need places of refuge.