Fifth graders fundraise for refugees

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Creating a fundraising agenda by selling a local commodity, constructing presentations to urge donors to give money and dividing and allocating funds towards buying materials are all things that organizations do around the world. This isn’t as common, however, for a class of 5th graders.

After reading the book Refugee by Allen Gratz, Charlene Babb’s 5th-grade reading class at Sorenson Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities was inspired to go beyond just reading a book and wanted to help refugees in the area.

“I have to say that once we finished the book, we were all in tears,” said Kaya, one of Mrs. Babb’s students.

With the help of global technology developer Brinnon Mandel who was able to provide more insight into the refugee experience, the class spent a month planning the project and fundraising money so that they could create drawstring bags filled with supplies that refugees may need as they resettle in Spokane.

How did they raise such a large chunk of the money? Selling popsicles.

“We sold 281 Otter Pops just on our playground,” said Maiya.

The kids also created presentations at the Art Spirit Gallery in downtown Coeur d’Alene to urge donors to help their cause.

“I looked up refugee stories to tell and then gave information about what we were doing and what would happen if they donated,” said Vivi, one of the students who presented at the gallery.

Thanks, in part, to an anonymous donor giving the last $150, the kids raised their goal of $500 to start putting bags together.

After reaching out to World Relief Spokane to determine what kinds of items should be put in the bag, the kids quickly began to research bargains online so that they could get the best deals for their money.

“I came into class one day and they were all on Amazon trying to find where they could get the most stuff,” said Mrs. Babb.

In the end, three of the students volunteered to go to the Dollar Store together and pick out the bags’ items. Although the kids were hoping to find ten items per bag, they were so excited to find sales that would allow them to buy even more. The Dollar Store also donated the drawstring bags they could use to actually put everything in.

As the kids reached the check-out line with six heaping carts, a woman in front of them asked the students what they were doing. After they explained, the woman was inspired and donated an extra $24 to the cause.

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“It felt really good to know the whole community wanted to help contribute to us,” said Amalie.

The kids created two types of bags, one for any refugee and one for families. The bags were filled to the brim with cleaning supplies and hygiene items, both of which recently-resettled refugees need greatly.

After the students filled the bags completely, World Relief Spokane’s Jackson Lino came to pick up them up and share his story about being a refugee in South Sudan.

The kids anxiously listened as Jackson explained how he came to the United States when we were just a little older than the kids in the room and how, when he was their age, he would have to walk 13 miles twice a day to provide his family with water.

The kids had several questions afterward and were able to ask about his journey, refugee camps, what American culture was like to an outsider and more.

Then, the kids excitedly loaded all of the bags into Jackson’s car.

As so often happens when we choose to serve, the students felt that they got something out of the project as well: a new perspective.

“Not everyone has what we have; we are so lucky to have parents, homes, beds, blankets and lights;” said Lola, one of the 5th graders. “Not everyone has that and that’s just how the world works.”

Mariah Reneau, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.

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Local ministry creates home for refugees

Five years ago, Don Comi was working with a refugee that sparked his interest in investing more in the refugee community. The man that he was working with was shocked when he found out that Don was helping him for free.  “No one has ever done anything like this for me before,” he said, “Why do you do it?”

For Don, the answer was that he feels called to serve others as a follower of Christ. Don, Art Ellwanger, and a group of others from Holy Cross Lutheran Church got together and decided to look into ways that they could serve the refugee community.

After talking to World Relief Spokane, Don and Art learned that one of the greatest needs for refugees coming to Spokane is affordable housing. Refugees arriving in the United States are often still in the process of getting a job when they need to fill out housing applications, and with no credit to show, landlords are sometimes hesitant to rent to newly arrived refugees. Also, often refugees can only afford housing in low income areas that are often less than desirable neighborhoods.

When Art heard about the need, he saw an opportunity to use the skills that he already had to serve that need.

“In my lifetime I invested heavily in real-estate for over 30 years. If my expertise is in investing and making money, why can’t we do that in a Christian ministry arena?” Art said.

The result was the formation of Ten Talents Ministries, LLC (TTM), named after Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. The company seeks to provide affordable housing to refugees, but also transform the neighborhoods and provide opportunities for the church community to be the hands and feet of Jesus in serving the refugee community.

Currently, TTM owns a duplex that has housed two different refugee families in the last three years, one from Somalia and one from Ethiopia. TTM has investors that put in money to the overall pool, and in return are partial owners of the property.

But for Don and Art, the heart of the ministry goes far beyond the physical housing that they provide.

“We’re trying really hard to make an impact that just really shines God’s light into their lives. What does it mean to care for somebody without the expectation that you are going to get anything in return? I think that most of us as Christians aren’t actually very good at that. We easily invest in things where we expect return and a positive response, but not so willing to invest in things where we might get burned or not get anything back. I think we need to learn as a community more about what it means to give God’s provision away in a meaningful way” Don said.

In some ways, the missional part is the most difficult because people are busy and time is difficult to find. One investor is assigned to be the point person in reaching out to and building relationships with the tenants of the home. Someone at least calls the family monthly, but there are many different ways that people can serve the tenants of the home.

“The missional part can be anything. We want to make contact; we want to have a relationship. For the first family, we had a baby shower for his wife at our church. We brought them turkey dinners, bought them bunk beds, and a couple of ladies took them shopping” Art said.

“We’re committed to trying to screen the volunteers and make sure that the things people are offering are actually helpful. We can get caught up in helping people feel good about themselves. So we want to make sure that the things being offered are actually helpful and isn’t presented in a way that appears to need to be repaid in some way.” Don said”

TTM hopes to be a transformative presence for the neighborhood as well, working to be good neighbors and keep the home clean and well kept.

TTM is unique in its position as a for-profit ministry. But Art and Don believe that this puts them in a position to balance good business decisions with compassionate ministry that can run the risk of not being financially sustainable.

“At every one of our board meetings, we have a spiritual and philosophical discussion about what it means to make these kinds of decisions. It’s a very strange space to live in as we struggle to not let the business side take over or the compassionate side take over and we lose the business” Don said.

TTM is hoping to buy their second property as early as this July. It can be difficult for them to get publicity, but they are looking for ways to expand their pool of investors, and are looking at creative funding options such as getting loans from individuals who are willing and able to use their resources that way.

“It’s a pretty safe investment. It’s a win-win for refugees and for us as a business” Art said.

Whether TTM grows to two homes or ten in the next few years, Art and Don are confident that God will continue to guide them and provide for the ministry.

“Our hope is that each home can serve and grow the family that’s there into a contributing community member in a safe and stable space, transform that community, and give believers in our church community and beyond opportunities to be God’s hands and feet to that family and community” Don said.

“It’s exciting,” Art said, “I get a lot of joy out of working with refugees. I love it. It’s such a blessing for me to work with them.”

If you’re interested in investing in TTM or learning more about the ministry, contact Art at artellwanger@gmail.com or Don at dscomi@comcast.net

 

Kara Need, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.

An eye-opening experience

Hailey Kirsch.jpegHailey, a former World Relief intern, reflects on her experience working in the Reception and Placement Department.

I have had several experiences in my life that have impacted me on a greater level than I could have ever foreseen or imagined. You know, those experiences where in the moment it seems like just another season of your life, but then you take a step back and reflect on what happened and realize the magnitude of the impact it actually had on you? Those experiences that, once they’re over, you can’t remember what life looked like before it took place? For me, that was my time interning at World Relief.

I decided to intern with World Relief on a bit of a whim. A professor at my school notified students about internship positions for the spring of 2018. While I had heard a little about World Relief and the work they were doing, I thought the best way to truly understand would be to get involved. So I applied, anxiously waited to hear back on a decision, and eventually received an email stating that I had been accepted and would be interning in the Reception and Placement Department.

When I saw the department I would be working with, I was not fully sure what that entailed, but I was excited to find out. To be honest, I don’t think anything could have truly prepared me for what I was about to experience for the next three months. Of course, I had some general assumptions of what would most likely happen: I would be challenged on a professional and personal level, gain experience working in a professional environment, learn a lot about the organization and myself, and possibly gain a better understanding of what kind of work I wanted to pursue in the future.

Over the course of three months, all of my assumptions came to pass. However, there were many other elements of my time with World Relief that I did not anticipate.

I never could have prepared myself for how overwhelmed I would feel with the massive amount of new information I would have to learn on a daily basis; nor would I have been able to prepare myself for the satisfaction I would feel when I was finally able to understand what was going on. In some cases I was even able to offer my opinion on subjects that had at first been foreign to me. I never would have expected to meet so many wonderful coworkers, who, at the end of my time there, would come to feel more like family. I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful, caring, and inspiring clients, and establish beautiful and unique relationships with them. I never would have foreseen how my time at World Relief would completely transform my whole world and shatter some of my previously held beliefs. I was not only challenged professionally and intellectually, but also spiritually and personally.

During my time at World Relief, I met many people who whose cultures, countries and experiences all contributed to create such beautifully unique people, with equally inspiring stories. Some of the stories I had the privilege of hearing humbled challenged me – to understand and appreciate my own story, and to think differently about the way I saw the world, the people around me, and my faith. These conversations opened up new doors and ideas for me to explore ideas such as: my beliefs as a Christian, my viewpoint on current political issues, my understanding of certain cultures and religions, and my appreciation for the ability to be exposed to new ideas.

I am grateful to these clients who I had the opportunity to talk with and learn from. Because of them, I now see the world differently than I had when I walked into World Relief four months ago. I know now that my world will never be the same, and for that I will forever be indebted. I am also grateful for the wonderful staff I had the privilege of working with during my internship. Their patience and kindness shown towards me was so encouraging and valuable to my experience and made leaving World Relief at the end of my internship that much more difficult.

While it is difficult to accurately convey my entire internship experience and the impact it had on me, I believe it can best be summarized in this way: I stepped into this internship thinking I would just be getting some valuable professional and intellectual experience. Instead, I left with so much more. Now I can honestly say that I can’t remember what my life used to look like before this experience. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

“In love we demand that families belong together”

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World Relief Spokane Director, Mark Finney, spoke at the Families Belong Together rally on June 30:

Fear is a powerful force. Fear has the power to send someone running for their very life. Fear can move a mother or father to grab the hand of their child and flee their home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Fear can press people to cross borders. It can send people to cities where they are aliens. It can drive them to dwell where they cannot even communicate in the local language.

Some in our nation believe that fear should determine our attitude towards immigrants. They tell us to fear our immigrant neighbors or anyone else who doesn’t look like us. They attempt to deter immigrants with the terror and trauma of separating parents from children at our boarder.

But there is a greater power in the world than fear.

The holy scriptures of my Christian tradition tell me that perfect love drives out fear. And that is why we are here today: love. More than sentimentality, real love is a deep compassion that ignites action, even sacrifice.

So today, in love, we stand against the fear-mongering of current policies. In love we refuse to be held captive by fear.

We will be a nation that chooses to love our neighbors, whether those are our neighbors across the street, or our neighbors just across the border. In love we stand with the vulnerable. In love we declare “welcome” to the refugee. In love we renounce hate-filled rhetoric and partisan political posturing. In love we cry out for an end to the cruelty of this “zero-tolerance” policy.

And in love we demand that families belong together.

Building a New Life in a New Home

Before the Syrian civil war started, Enas was an Elementary school science teacher and her husband, Mahmoud, was a small business owner. The couple had two children and lived in Damascus Al-Ghouta.

As was the case for many Syrians, the eruption of a civil war changed almost everything they knew about their home. The war, which entered its seventh year in March, devastated the country and forced millions of Syrians, including Enas, Mahmoud, and their two children, to flee their homes.

“We almost died three times in Syria,” Enas said. “There was no food and no medicine. We had to leave.”

The family fled to Egypt. While there, Enas and her husband found whatever work they could, but it was very difficult for them. One of their children has autism, and Mahmoud has health issues that prevent him from taking certain kinds of work. They also had limited access to resources and few opportunities for their son or Mahmoud to get medical assistance. They managed to make enough money for the rent of an apartment about the size of a single office, 8-feet by 12-feet, in a dangerous neighborhood. Finding help in the country wasn’t an option. All the family could do was survive and hope for better days.

They applied for refugee status while they were in Egypt, but the wait for the American refugee vetting process seemed endless.

“America has a right to pick who comes here,” she said. “But some people really need to come here and get help.”

The good news came in May of 2016. Enas, Mahmoud, and their children were cleared to come to the United States. She still remembers the moment with palpable joy.

The start of the family’s time in America went as well as Enas could have hoped. One of the family’s case managers, Katie Carver, greeted them at the airport on June 28th, 2016, a date that Enas will remember forever. Katie took the family to live with a temporary host family while World Relief Spokane staff worked to find them affordable housing. The kindness of their hosts left an impact on the family.

“When we left, I was crying,” Enas said. “I didn’t want to leave them.”

World Relief helped them move into their new home, an apartment in north Spokane. With the exception of some small issues surrounding obtaining a recycling bin (the family wanted to be sure they could recycle in their new home), the move went smoothly and they took another step closer to having a normal life again.

Mark Finney, one of the family’s former case managers and current World Relief Spokane director, remembers the move-in well.

“From the day Enas arrived in Spokane I would describe her as hospitable and full of grace. Even when we were still moving furniture into their first apartment she was making tea and snacks for us.”

As is the case for many families that World Relief resettles, transitioning from Egypt to the United States was far from easy for Enas and Mahmoud. Heath issues exacerbated the difficulties of adjusting to life in the United States, and Enas’s son still needed extra help in school. It was also very difficult to navigate through Spokane while speaking very little English.

“Though it’s been hard for everyone, I’ve watched Enas persevere, fight for her family, grow leaps and bounds in English, learn to drive, and hold her family together despite all the huge challenges. I look forward to seeing her every time she’s in the office,” said Jami Austing, one of World Relief’s medical specialists.

When their time in the standard resettlement program was nearly up, Enas and Mahmoud joined PRIME, a World Relief program that assists refugees who need extended help.

World Relief staff also connected the family with a volunteer to help navigate the maze of the American healthcare system. Enas also exudes gratefulness for Melissa, the family’s PRIME case manager, “Melissa has done a lot for us.”

If you asked Melissa, she would say that the privilege was hers.

“Working alongside Enas and her family has been an incredible gift and privilege. Watching her continual perseverance, growth and courage through challenging times has brought me deep hope.”

When asked about her dreams for life in the United States, Enas laid out two wishes: “I want my son and husband to be healthy,” she said. “And I want to be a teacher’s assistant. I love kids.”

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of refugees like Enas, we recommend becoming a monthly donor or a volunteer.

“This is our country”: Family from Afghanistan finds home in US

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We elected to change Abida’s name and slightly alter identifying details from her life in Afghanistan in order to protect family members that are still in the country.

When Abida* was in her home country of Afghanistan, she rose at 5 a.m. to go to work under cover of darkness. She worked as a translator for the US Embassy in Kabul, but this connection with the United States put her in a lot of danger. The Taliban were in Kabul and threatened to kill anyone who worked for either the Afghan or the US governments.

“It was dangerous,” Abida said, “you never know who is Taliban and who isn’t.”

Abida has worked to support her family since she was 14 years old. She worked at the Embassy for 13 years. It was a good job and was necessary to help her support her family.

Starting in 2005, when the Taliban came back into Kabul, Afghanistan became dangerous for Abida. She kept her job at the Embassy a secret from most people in order to stay safe from the Taliban. However, although she had training on how to stay safe in her job, some members of the community still knew she worked at the Embassy and that put her and her family in danger.

Eventually Abida and her family had to flee their home country for their own safety. They arrived in Spokane in late 2016.

“I will never forget my first day in Spokane,” Abida said, “It was very very hard.”

When she first arrived in the Spokane airport, she was picked up by World Relief staff. Since then, volunteers and friends from World Relief have come alongside her to help her and her family transition to America. They showed them anything from how to drive, to how to eat and use the bath.

“Without World Relief it would be very hard, not only for me, but for everyone who is a refugee” Abida said.

Abida and her family faced many difficulties in their transition to Spokane. Abida worked at Global Neighborhood Thrift for a while, but when she became pregnant with twins, she had to stop working. Around the same time, her husband tore his ACL and the doctors told him he should not be working a full-time job.

“For a little while we were jobless,” Abida explained, “That was very hard. But World Relief helped us with our rent.”

Since then, Abida’s husband had been able to find a job that could support his growing family.

Abida and her husband currently live in a two bedroom apartment with their five children. They have a ten year old daughter, seven year old son, four year old daughter, and six month old twins. While Abida used to fear for the safety of her children, she no longer has to worry about that.

“I’m happy they have a good future,” Abida said. “In Afghanistan we had schools, but it is better here. They will have a good future.”

At first it was very hard for Abida’s kids to transition into American schools.

“They had a very hard time at the start. They cried. My daughter had language problem so it was very hard. But now they are happy at school.”

It is also hard for Abida to be away from her family back in Afghanistan. But even through the difficulties, Abida is thankful to be here.

“We feel this is our country,” Abida said. “In other countries, like Pakistan or Iran, it is not like this. They have their own schools for refugees. But this is our country. Our kids study with American kids. We go everywhere and we are not like refugees.”

We were able to support Abida and her family because of generous donors and volunteers. If you would like to help make a difference in refugees lives, you can become a monthly donor, or sign up to volunteer.

Kara Need, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.

Paying it Forward

If you ever need to find Adaga, look for the beaming smile.

“I just try to stay positive,” she says. “Other people’s smiles helped me when life was hard, so I try to do the same thing for them.”

Adaga is a former refugee from Eritrea, a small African nation which officially became its own country in 1997. It has no legislative elections and one of the worst human rights records in the world. In 2006, when Adaga’s family fled the nation for fear of their safety, Eritrea was known for intimidating its population as well as suppressing and persecuting religious minorities, including members of some Christian denominations. Adaga was seven when the family had to flee, so she doesn’t remember exactly why they left, just the journey away from her extended family and into a new country.

The family fled to Ethiopia, where they applied for refugee status. In late 2008, Adaga and her father, mother, and three brothers were cleared to resettle in Spokane. They were greeted at the airport by their World Relief case manager, who was a former refugee from Eritrea as well.

“It was exciting because everything was new, but it was hard to not know much about America. We didn’t speak the language or eat the same food.”

Adaga found ways to overcome the difficulties of living in a new city over the next several years in Spokane. Her family helped. “They were always there for me. After I had hard days at school, I knew they would understand when I got home.”

“I love my family.”

One of the challenges the family of six faced together was learning English. “At first, I couldn’t really talk to anyone. I had to keep my mouth shut,” Adaga said. “It was hard.” Still, she found silver linings in those difficult moments.  “At school, everyone was so nice, even when I didn’t understand what they were saying.”

Now, as a result of her hard work and the kindness of people around her, it’s nearly impossible to tell that Adaga wasn’t born in Spokane. Her English is nearly perfect. True to form, she credited her teachers and family for that success.

When her time in the public school system came to an end, Adaga started looking for a job so she could contribute to her family and community’s success. Her mother suggested that she go back to World Relief Spokane.

Employment Specialist Brian Olson helped Adaga search for a job. It took a couple of weeks to find the right fit, but they kept at it.

“Brian was awesome,” Adaga said. “He helped me with everything.”

The pair found a job at a senior care community in Spokane where Adaga now has the opportunity to give back to the community that welcomed her eight years ago. She works the night shift and completed a 75-hour training that took about three weeks. “Working at night was kind of hard at first, but I got used to it. I like it now. I get to work and help other people.”

Want to be the difference in a refugee’s life? Become a monthly donor or volunteer. 

Andrew Goodwin, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Assistant, wrote this story.