Oleg Lougheed has overcome a lot in his life, which began in a small Russian town 26 years ago. He was born to an alcoholic mother and absent father and was raised mostly by his much older biological sister until he was 9. At that time he chose to enter a local orphanage in the hopes of forging a new life away from the poverty and trauma from his early years. That decision would ultimately lead him to an adoptive family in Michigan where, at age 12, Lougheed had to learn English and find a way to adapt to life in America with a family – something starkly different from his previous experiences.
“I faced a lot of challenges learning the language and adjusting to family life,” Lougheed said.
Lougheed graduated from high school and then college, finding success at each juncture along the way. But the same couldn’t be said for some of the children Lougheed knew who were also adopted from Russian orphanages. They struggled in their new lives with their new families, in ways that Lougheed strived to understand.
“Seeing all of the other kids and parents and the challenges they were facing made me wonder: ‘Is it just me? Was it because I was able to work through a lot of things or was it just my parents?’” Lougheed said. Those experiences and questions led him to ask more questions, like: “Why was I put in this place?”
Lougheed is now answering those questions through the nonprofit he founded, Overcoming Odds, that brings together voices of others who’ve walked a path similar to his through foster care and adoption. In the past almost two years, he’s created a website where others share their experiences and has begun hosting events across the country that bring together people with similar backgrounds.
On Saturday, Overcoming Odds will host an event in Los Angeles at National University, highlighting some of those stories. The event theme is Survive to Thrive and will feature nine presenters who have lived experience in foster care or being adopted, some of whom are now therapists and authors. The 30-minute sessions allow the presenters to share their stories related to the theme and small breakout sessions provide attendees the opportunity to share and discuss with others.
Lougheed said he hopes attendees come away inspired.
“I want them to know everyone has a story and everyone’s story is unique,” Lougheed said. “It’s important to live that story.”
Overcoming Odds is hosting a number of additional thematic events this year, including:
- Be a Voice, Not an Echo: March 9 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Seeing is Believing: March 16 in Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Never Say, “Can’t”: April 27 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
For Lougheed, providing these venues is a way for him to help others better understand the challenges faced by those who have lived in orphanages and foster care systems, and for those with that lived experience to relate to each other. He says his hope is that people will take away from his personal story an understanding that you can overcome challenges and difficulties in life to become successful and happy.
“There was just so much to go through,” Lougheed said. “Every single thing from those experiences helped shape this.”
Lougheed is also working on a book and he hopes to revisit Russia after it’s complete.