When the Crystal Symphony docked in Odessa, Ukraine, passengers eagerly headed out to explore the city. Dubbed the “Pearl of the Black Sea,” and a former summer retreat of the czars, Odessa is home to lavish opera houses, opulent ballet theaters, ornate Preobrazhesky Cathedral, and the historic Potemkin Steps. There were private car tours with English-speaking guides, motor coach tours, guided walking excursions, museum visits, tickets to a musical performance at the beautifully-restored Opera House, and jaunts into the picturesque countryside.
But one small group of passengers did something entirely different. They headed to a ramshackle string of buildings in the center of town to volunteer at a social services center run by The Way Home, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless. The shelter, the first of its kind in Ukraine, was full of kids, once living in sewers, cellars, and abandoned tenement buildings. The center provides shelter, schooling, medical and emotional care, and legal services.