By Lee Davis
Over the past 15 years, Todd Yelton has built Samford’s women’s soccer program into one of the best in the Southeast.
Under his leadership, the Bulldogs are perennial powers in the Southern Conference and have played in four NCAA Tournaments.
In a country far away, Yelton is helping to build something far more important than championships. He is building hope for young girls who otherwise might not have any.
Yelton leads an effort to build a transitional orphans’ home for older teen girls in the Eastern European nation of Ukraine.
The need is real.
When a Ukrainian orphan ages out of an orphanage at age 18, there is a 70 percent to 80 percent chance that he or she will experience crime, prostitution, suicide or drug overdose within two years, according to Lifesong for Orphans, an international organization dedicated to building transitional homes that is working in conjunction with Yelton’s charity.
Yelton named his group Shauna’s House after his late wife, who passed away from cancer in 2015.
“All of this started as a passion for Shauna years ago,” Yelton said. “If she saw a way she could help people, she wasn’t the type who sat around and talked about it – she found a way to help.”
Shauna Yelton went to Ukraine accompanied by her close friend Marty Dunn, the wife of Samford baseball coach Casey Dunn. After that visit, the first glimmer of passion grew into a cause. Through the years, she visited the Ukraine on at least a half dozen occasions, working with Lifesong to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and find safe transition housing for girls who have aged out of Ukrainian orphanages.
After several trips to the Eastern European republic, Shauna Yelton persuaded her husband to join her. Yelton said the experience was life-changing.
“The best way to describe it is ‘humbling,’” Yelton explained. “It made me realize how much we take for granted in this country. In a place such as the Ukraine, having a T-shirt can be considered a luxury to a kid.”
Even after being diagnosed with cervical cancer, Shauna Yelton continued to visit Ukraine until her failing health made it impossible to do so. She died Nov. 4, 2015.
After her passing, Yelton decided to start the charity – with an initial goal of building a transitional home for young women in Chernigov, a city of about 200,000 people in northern Ukraine.
“Anyone who knew anything about Shauna knew that she was passionate about the Ukranian orphans,” Yelton said. “A transition home would be a place for them to have a great start in their lives.”
Yelton said his late wife would be pleased with the charity, except for one detail.
“Shauna never wanted any attention to be brought to herself, so she would have been furious that I named (the charity) Shauna’s House,” Yelton said. “But I wanted to do it as a way to honor her.”
About $93,000 was required to build the home, which will house as many as 16 young women.
“I’m a soccer coach, not a fundraiser,” said Yelton. “But it was unbelievable the way the Samford University family and the community at large came together to honor Shauna and help young women who live thousands of miles away.”
In October, Samford played a benefit game against Western Carolina that raised more than $16,000 for Shauna’s House.
“It was overwhelming,” Yelton said. “I would have been thrilled if we’d raised $2,000. I was so touched the way people supported Shauna’s House and supported us.”
By the end of 2016, more than $67,000 had been raised for the cause.
Another big fundraiser came in February when Samford’s popular Step-Sing competition chose Shauna’s House as its philanthropy and raised more than $14,000.
Shauna’s House is expected to be completed by this fall.
Yelton said he planned to visit Ukraine again soon, along with his daughter, MacKenzie, a student at Auburn University and son, Colin, who attends Homewood High School. The coach said a future goal of Shauna’s House is to build a transition home for Ukrainian boys.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor Shauna’s memory than to serve those in need,” Yelton said. “God has blessed us richly and this community has been wonderful.”
Todd Yelton has made an outstanding impact on the sport of soccer in Alabama, but the impact of Shauna’s House is going far beyond.
For details on supporting Shauna’s House visit: mystory.lifesongfororphans.org/stories/shaunas-house.