Full House, Full Heart

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Lisa Holmes has been opening her home to children in need for nearly twenty years.  As both a foster and adoptive parent, she’s has had an incredible impact on those children who have been blessed to be a member of her family, whether it’s temporarily or permanently.   And by adding them to her family, she’s been tremendously blessed in return.

Lisa recently adopted her sixth child through Lutheran Services of Georgia.  In October she welcomed 13-year-old Taemar into her ever growing family. 

 “Adopting is my way of giving back.  God has been good to my family,” says Lisa. 

In addition to her five adopted children, Lisa has two children by birth.  Taemar’s new forever family consists of his mom Lisa and his brothers Coy (26), Daniel (18) and Bradley (17), and his sisters Leah (32), Aaliyaha (13), Rebecca (25) and Samantha (20).

Lisa’s passion for helping children started when her oldest daughter Leah was in second grade.  Leah would often bring kids home with her to play.  Occasionally these children would have problems at home or be dealing with bullying at school.  Lisa would take the time to go to the school and advocate for them.

She loved helping these children, and she wanted to take it a step further and begin fostering.   Once she began fostering, she saw how kids could benefit from the stability that a permanent home provided.

“I heard stories about kids moving from foster home to foster home, and I didn’t want that for my kids,” says Lisa.  “Kids need permanent homes, so they can be the person God intended them to be.  This can’t happen if they don’t have a stable home.”

Lisa began the process to start fostering while she was living in Kansas.  She took the classes necessary to become a foster parent, but her work schedule forced her to put the dream on hold.   At one point, Lisa ended up in the hospital.  She went in for surgery and had to extend her stay when she became sick.  As she lay in the hospital bed unsure of her future, Lisa made a bargain with God that if she made it out of there, she would start fostering.  Soon after, her fever diminished and she was released from the hospital.

Soon after, she moved to Georgia. 

“After I got out, I looked up LSG in the yellow pages, and the rest is history,” says Lisa.

With seven children, life can be hectic and challenging at times.  While some of Lisa’s children entered foster care with physical and emotional issues, she knows that these are the kids who really benefit from the love and stability that a permanent home offers.

“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” says Lisa. “Adopting has been a blessing to me; it’s taught me a lot.  God is not partial – and it taught me to be impartial.”

Lisa says that fostering and adopting has taught her unconditional love.  Despite the difficulties, “the love they give you is worth it,” says Lisa.

Lisa encourages those who are consider adopting a foster child to take the leap.

“We have room in our house.  As long as you have room, you should adopt.  First you start with the room in your heart and then make room in your home,” says Lisa.


Adoption Myths Debunked


November is National Adoption Month, and all month long we're celebrating families that were created through adoption.  

If you’re thinking about adopting a child, you may have heard a lot of the common myths regarding adopting children in foster care.  If this is a path you or a family member are considering, make sure you know the facts.


Parents must a “perfect” married couple to adopt.

Prospective adoptive parents do not have to be rich, married, own a home, or live in a certain area to become an adoptive parent (Nearly one-third of adoptions from foster care are by single parents).  At LSG, we work with all types of families and individuals who are willing and committed to becoming adoptive parents. In fact, our families are as diverse as the children who are available for adoption. Patience, a good sense of humor, a love of children and the commitment to be a good parent are the most important characteristics. 

Note: Prospective parents must be at least 25 years of age and at least 10 years older than the child(ren) placed.


All children in foster care have some kind of physical, mental or emotional disability; that’s why they are classified as “special needs.”

 The term “special needs” in adoption and foster care is somewhat misleading. “Special needs” is defined in Georgia as

  • A child who has been out of the custody of his or her legal or biological parent for more than 24 consecutive months
  •  Siblings who need to be placement together
  • Children who have been diagnosed with physical, emotional or behavioral disabilities

Children who are dealing with physical, behavioral or emotional issues need the nurturing support only a permanent family can provide. Many children in foster care are in the “system” because their birth parents weren’t protective and nurturing caretakers— not because the children did anything wrong or because there is something wrong with them.


Adopting a child from foster care is expensive.


Actually, adopting children from foster care can be very affordable, and a growing number of companies and government agencies offer adoption assistance as part of their employee benefits packages, including time off for maternity/paternity leave, financial incentives, and other benefits.

Congress has also made federal tax credits available for foster care adoptions to help offset required fees, court costs, and legal and travel expenses. In 2014, the maximum federal tax credit for qualifying expenses was $13,190. These types of benefits enable more families to adopt children from foster care into their homes. 

Adoptive parents receive adoption assistance from the day a child is placed in their home and continues once the child is adopted if the child meets the “special needs” definition listed above.  The children also may qualify for Medicaid to cover most medical costs.


Children in foster care have too much “baggage.”

This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. Children in foster care—just like all children—have enormous potential to thrive given love, patience and a stable environment.

 For more information on adopting a child from foster care, please visit our website, www.lsga.org, and click on adoption.  


Danielle and Darien Find Their Forever Home


Dwayne and Diana Mitchell had always planned on having a child, but they never thought their path to parenthood would be so complicated.  After years of failed fertility treatments and heartbreaking miscarriages, the couple began to consider adoption.  They started researching options, and when they decided to pursue adopting children in foster care, they reached out to Lutheran Services of Georgia.


After attending the foster and adoption training, Diana found out she was pregnant.  Though the pregnancy ended in miscarriage, the Mitchells put their adoption plans on hold.  They wanted to be sure that adoption was the right path for them.  A few months later when Diana reconnected with a woman she met at the adoption trainings, she felt a stirring in her heart.  She and Dwayne worked to quickly complete their adoption paperwork.   

“The adoption process is tedious and overwhelming.  The amounts of paperwork you have to go through seems endless,” says Diana.  “However, if you go through a great agency like Lutheran Services of Georgia, they walk you through each step.  They’ll be responsive when you need help.”

Once they were approved, one of LSG's adoption recruiters began the search for a perfect match for the Mitchells.  She learned about a pair of siblings - a three-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl – in need of a forever home. The Mitchells had originally only planned on adopting one child, but when they were approached about the sibling pair, they began to reconsider.

“You have to be able to adapt,” says Dwayne.  “We originally only wanted one child, but when the opportunity came up to adopt a sibling group, we took it.”

Dwayne and Diana met the children in May and were overjoyed – they'd found their forever family.

“We fell in love with them,” says Dwayne.

“We were nervous with excitement and careful to make sure we did everything right,” says Diana.  “We remained positive that everything would work out and concentrated on making sure our home was ready for them to come.”

The children moved in with them in July.  After some initial adjustments to their new home, the children settled into their new life quickly.  In December the adoption was finalized.  Today the kids – Danielle and Darien – have been officially part of the family for nearly a year, and Dwayne and Diana are enjoying parenthood. 

Among many activities the family enjoys, Dwayne likes to take both kids fishing at local lakes around their area.  Dwayne remembers how excited Danielle was when she caught her first fish.

“We’d been sitting there for a while and she started to complain about being bored, and at that exact moment, a fish bit her hook.  When she reeled it in she was so happy and a little scared.  I love seeing the excitement on their face when they do something for the first time.”

The kids enjoy playing outside with their scooters or going to the park and playing Frisbee.  Danielle loves to sing, while Darien is a fan of Falcons football.

“They are loving kids, says Dwayne. “They tell us all the time.  We’ll be riding along in the car or tying their shoes, and they’ll say ‘You know, Mommy and Daddy, I love you so much.”

“The process in this journey toward parenthood has had many ups and downs; however, the end result of being gifted with these children – was worth the pursuit,” says Diana.  “We couldn’t have done better with what God has gifted us.”


Bringing Makayla Back Home


Last year, 26-year-old Jennifer Franklin* faced one of the biggest challenges of her life.  When her daughter Makayla was just one year old, the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) took Makayla from her home and placed her in foster care.  Jennifer loved her daughter and wanted to be a good mom, so she turned to Lutheran Services of Georgia’s Family Intervention Services (FIS) to help get her life back on track and bring her daughter back home.

Jennifer's own childhood was difficult.  As a teen, she turned to drugs to help her cope - starting with marijuana at age 14 and moving on to cocaine at 18.  When her daughter Makayla was born, Jennifer worked on staying clean and focused on being a good parent.  However, when Jennifer's father became sick, she found herself repeating the patterns of her youth.  She suffered from depression and began using drugs again to deal with the stress of her father's illness.  

Makayla’s removal from their home was the wake-up call Jennifer needed.  In November, she began in the Supervised Family Visitation program at LSG’s Savannah location.  Jennifer participated in family visitation, parenting group, and anger management counseling through LSG, while regularly participating in substance abuse and individual counseling through another agency. 

It wasn’t easy.  Jennifer struggled at different times through the program, especially as she was trying to find the right depression medication and dealing with her father’s death.  Uncertain about her ability to parent, she would often times become paralyzed by her fears.  

The FIS staff took time to encourage her and to keep her moving forward in the right direction, checking in when she tried to withdraw and encouraging her not to give up. Through the support of the program, Jennifer completed her counseling and found a full-time job. She built an active, positive support system in her community.  She was reunified with Makayla in June. 

As a part of the DFCS plan, Jennifer receives follow up visits to ensure that she is continuing to succeed as a parent.  With support of the FIS staff and through her own determination, Jennifer continues to grow in her parenting skills and abilities.  Now, caring for her daughter has become Jennifer’s number one priority.  She’s successfully maintained her sobriety and mental health while creating a safe environment for her daughter.

For more information on Lutheran Services of Georgia’s Family Intervention Services, visit lsga.org. 

*Names have been changed.

Building Parenting Skills Through Education


In partnership with Great Start Georgia and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Lutheran Services of Georgia provides parents in the Savannah area with an opportunity to grow their parenting skills.  These services are available at no cost to expectant parents and parents of children under the age of five residing in Chatham or Liberty Counties.

First Steps

When parents sign up for First Steps, they are connected with a First Steps Coordinator.  The Coordinator focuses on each family’s specific needs and helps identify community resources that can support them in being successful parents and in creating healthy and safe homes. 

First Steps works with parents to help them cope with family stress, to understand child development and to provide support in multiple areas by connecting them with other resources.  Often these families are referred to our Health Families program.

 Healthy Families

Healthy Families provides weekly parenting support and education to families in the their home.  Services either start during pregnancy or immediately following birth and can continue until a child is five years old.

Families are teamed with a trained Family Support Worker who helps the parents develop goals, to identify necessary resources and to engage in fun activities to learn more about multiple aspects of being a successful parent and creating a safe and healthy home.  

Evidence has shown that outcomes for families that participate in Healthy Families include:

  • Reduced child maltreatment;
  • Increased utilization of prenatal care and decreased pre-term, low weight babies;
  • Improved parent-child interaction and school readiness;
  • Decreased dependency on welfare, or TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and other social services;
  • Increased access to primary care medical services; and
  • Increased immunization rates. 

For more information on our First Steps and Healthy Families Services, contact our Savannah office at (912) 353-8875


Farewell to Obaid Rasoul: Former Refugee and LSG's Longest-Serving Employee Retires


On October 2, a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon, friends, family and colleagues gathered with Obaid Rasoul at the Clarkston Community Center to celebrate his 33 years of service to Lutheran Services of Georgia and the refugee community.  The end of September marked the final days of Obaid's long and meaningful career with LSG and the beginning of a well-earned retirement. 

As LSG’s longest-serving employee, Obaid has spent the last three decades helping newly arrived refugees make their way in America by finding jobs and achieving self-sufficiency.  It's a journey Obaid, a former refugee from Afghanistan, knows well.  Arriving in the Atlanta area in 1983, after fleeing war and destruction in his home country, Obaid experienced the same challenges that all refugees face when searching for employment.  Fortunately for the many whose lives he would touch, Obaid secured a job as an employment counselor at LSG five months after his arrival. 



IN 2009, Obaid was honored with LSG's Heroes of Hope award.

IN 2009, Obaid was honored with LSG's Heroes of Hope award.

“In my interview, the Executive Director told me, ‘This job is hard.  You have to take people from welfare to the work force.  Can you do it?’ remembers Obaid. “’I’ll do my best’ I told him.”

And he’s stuck to his word.  Over the years, Obaid has helped place hundreds of refugees in their first job in United States.  For many, Obaid was an example of what could be achieved in America.  He demonstrated the epitome of the American Dream and showed many refugees what that dream could mean for them.

“When I am in Clarkston, I have people to stop and thank me. They say ‘you gave me a job and I started my own shop or you gave me this job, and I founded this business,'” says Obaid.

While many refugees are grateful to Obaid and Lutheran Services of Georgia for aiding in their resettlement and helping them create a new life in a new country, Obaid recognizes the positive impact refugees have had on this country and our state.

“So many refugees come to the U.S. with a skill set – It’s a gift to the U.S.  They may not know English but they have a skill,” says Obaid.  He also feels that refugees have brought other cultural gifts to the Atlanta area. “So many foods and spices have been introduced to the people of Atlanta by refugees, and handicrafts, too.”

As a former refugee, Obaid knows from personal experience the challenges that refugees face finding employment in the U.S.

As a former refugee, Obaid knows from personal experience the challenges that refugees face finding employment in the U.S.

Celebrating for A Life of Service

On Sunday at his retirement celebration, Obaid was surrounded by his family, his wife Tourpeka, his daughter Wajma, his son Hasib and his daughter-in-law Salina and his granddaughter Noor.  He was also joined by colleagues from LSG and other government and non-profit organizations dedicated to refugee resettlement, by employers of refugees, and former refugees that Obaid has worked with over the years.  

Obaid's family joined in the retirement celebration on Oct. 2.

Obaid's family joined in the retirement celebration on Oct. 2.

His refugee clients expressed gratitude and shared stories of how Obaid helped them get their first job in the States.  Colleagues praised his dedication to his work, his strong relationships with employers around the Metro area, and the humor and goodwill he brought to every meeting and event.  LSG volunteers thanked him for the way he engaged them in valuable service.  One government official shared how instrumental Obaid was in bringing together law enforcement and the Muslim community after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

 As stories were shared, it became apparent that Obaid has touched many lives during his career with LSG.

Natalie Yasson, former Director of Refugee Services, summarized the feelings of the entire room, when she said to Obaid and the crowd, “So, on behalf of the many thousands of people whose lives you have touched over the years, Obaid, please allow me to say 'thank you' for your passion, your dedication and hard work over the last thirty three years. Congratulations on a career to be proud of and best wishes in your retirement.”

obaid surrounded by members of the refugee services staff.

obaid surrounded by members of the refugee services staff.


What’s Next for Obaid?

Before coming to the U.S., Obaid worked as a criminal attorney in Afghanistan and then later with the U.S. Embassy teaching English and cultural classes and the U.S. Peace Corps.  After his career in Afghanistan and his career with LSG, Obaid is looking forward to slowing down and enjoying retirement.

He looks forward to spending more time with his family, especially his 9-month-old granddaughter.  He also plans to travel around the country and see more of the United States.  He hopes to make a trip overseas to visit Italy.


Foster Care Case Manager Tywannda Kiegler: a Hero to Foster Care Families


Last month, we acknowledged individuals and organizations who are making a difference in our community at our annual Heroes of Hope Gala.   This month, we’re turning our attention to a few of the many heroes on our staff at LSG.

Tywannda Kiegler
Case Manager, Foster Care


For the past six years, Tywannda Kiegler has been a comforting presence to children and families navigating Georgia’s foster care system.  As a Case Manager with Lutheran Services of Georgia in Albany, she oversees the care of children in foster care and provides support and guidance to LSG’s foster parents in the Southwest Georgia region.

Tywannda began her career more than 18 years ago, working as a paraprofessional in a special needs classroom at an elementary school.  There, Tywannda discovered her passion for helping children with developmental disabilities.  After earning a Bachelor’s in Sociology and a Master’s in Professional Counseling, Tywannda took on roles as a children’s advocate and a support coordinator for children with developmental disabilities.   Eventually she felt herself drawn toward specialized foster care and landed at LSG.

For Tywannda, her job is more than just a job, it’s a calling.   She puts her whole heart into ensuring that each child receives the best possible care.  Throughout her career, Tywannda has witnessed many children’s lives transformed through their time in foster care.

“Sometimes foster care is given a bad name, but it takes a special person to be a foster parent.  The foster parents we work with are loving and nurturing.  They provide safety and security for the child,” says Tywannda. 

When Tywannda searches for a home for a child, she seeks out families she knows will go above and beyond to welcome the child in as a member of the family.

“For these children, I want a home that’s family-oriented.  I look for parents that are willing to include the child on vacations,” says Tywannda.  “Foster parents that will put pictures in their rooms and make their house feel like a true home for the child.”

By working so tirelessly to match each child with the right family, Tywannda has seen many children whose physical and emotional health has greatly improved under the right care. As a testament, she can share dozens of stories of children who remain connected with their foster family after they’ve returned to live with their birth parents.  

“I had a little girl who was in foster for just three weeks before she was reunited with her family.  She and her mother wrote a letter to the foster parent to say 'thank you' and sent a care package to the other foster children in the home,” says Tywannda.  “The mom was grateful for her daughter’s time with the foster family.” 

The most rewarding part of her job is seeing the smiles on a children’s faces when they are reunited with their family. 

“It can be sad in a way for me because I know I won’t be seeing that child as much, but my greatest joy is to help children get back with their families.  I know their parents love them, and they all want to be together.”


Patricia and Woody: A FACES Success Story


Woody is well-known in his regular spots around town.  When Patricia, his Support Companion, runs errands in her suburban Savannah, Ga. community, Woody is happy to come along.  He has a smile and friendly words for everyone he encounters and can’t help but affect those around him with his positive attitude.   

Patricia is one of Lutheran Services of Georgia’s host home providers for FACES, a program that places adults with developmental disabilities in residential settings.  She has been caring for Woody for the last six years.   Woody, 53, has been diagnosed with pervasive developmental disability disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.  But that doesn’t stop Woody from enjoying life.

“He’s very independent,” says Patricia.  “He likes to do things on his own, and he will let you know when he can. He also knows when to ask for help.”

But Woody wasn’t always so independent.  While under the care of Patricia, he’s improved tremendously.  He came to Patricia from another service provider in Savannah, but before that he had been living in an institution in Augusta.

“When Woody first came to our house, he was very dependent on me and my husband.  He wasn’t very positive.  Each year he becomes more verbal and open,” says Patricia.

Now, Woody is known for his sense of humor. Patricia says, “Woody loves to make others laugh and loves to dance.”

 It took a warm, patient, loving caregiver to bring that out of him.

Patricia has always had an open heart and an open door for those in need.  For the last nine years, she has been a host home for LSG’s FACES program.  However, she has been caring for people most of her life. 

She raised six children of her own (four of them her children by birth and two were adopted).  She’s worked in daycare and even owned her own daycare at one point. Before becoming involved with LSG’s FACES program, she was a Foster parent for more than 20 years.

“I became a Support Companion with LSG because there was a need,” she says.  She explains that she was inspired by a friend to do something positive.  “My friend was at one time suicidal, but she turned her life around.  Then she went into the special needs/disability field.  She’s been a mentor and educator to me…That’s what made me want to be more into service.”

Woody has extensive medical needs, so a lot of what Patricia does for Woody revolves around his medical care.  He has a list of doctors that he visits on a regular basis and requires a walker to get around.

As much work as Patricia puts into caring for Woody, what she gets in return is immeasurable.

 A few years ago Patricia’s husband and Woody’s co-caregiver passed away.  “Woody really helped me get through that.  It’s been a joy to me to have him here.  Losing my husband made me want to take care of him even more.”


Syria's Children


A video captured the world’s attention last week. A four year old boy named Omran was filmed immediately after being rescued from a bombing in Aleppo. His family’s home was leveled, and his older brother was killed. Omran stared into space after being rescued, likely in shock. And just like little Alyan, whose drowning as his family attempted to flee Syria captured our attention this time last year, Omran’s face and innocence are a reminder of what children in Syria are experiencing every single day. 


It is easy to become desensitized by stories such as this. We are bombarded every day with accounts of disaster, tragedy and crises, intermingled with a constant barrage of political commentary and discourse. But when an image comes across like this, it’s very difficult for most of us to ignore it. He is an innocent little boy who has only known an Aleppo ravaged by war. His face was void of emotion, he didn’t cry. His family was forever changed by this tragedy. Some may wonder why people feel the need to flee Syria, but when you look at the video footage of Omran, it’s easy to understand why so many have made the perilous journey across the sea, risking their lives as they focus on the slight hope that the life on the other side of the sea will be somewhat better for their family. 


I’ll never forget reading the background on one of the first Syrian families LSG resettled this past spring. We had been eagerly anticipating the day when we would be able to resettle a Syrian family, and that first notice of travel was met with excitement by our staff. As I read the background information, my eyes stopped where the paper stated the city that they fled: Aleppo. I paused for a moment to think about what this family had experienced. This city in northern Syria has been the site of some of the most violent fighting and bombings. Countless innocent people have died and so many have fled for their lives, clinging to the hope that somewhere things are better. I can’t even fathom having to make such a choice for my family. 


I hope we do not forget Aleppo and its children. I hope that we do not forget the millions of Syrians who have fled violence and are seeking a new future. LSG has resettled quite a few Syrian families over the past few months, and they are incredible people. They are eager to work and provide for their families, and are so grateful for the opportunity to be here in the United States. We would love for you to join us in welcoming these amazing families. We have several families coming in September to both our Atlanta and Savannah offices. Our families love to make new friends in the United States and we are always looking for volunteers to help us welcome these families. 

Please check out our website for volunteer opportunities and contact information for both our Atlanta and Savannah offices.

Links for Omran’s story:



LSG Volunteer Brings Hope to Immigrants Held in Detention Facility


Once a month, volunteers of varying ages and different backgrounds come together to make the two-and-a-half hour trip to Lumpkin, Georgia to visit detainees being held at Stewart Detention Center.  These volunteers give their time and open their hearts to bring hope to immigrants who are facing an uncertain future.

The detainees at Stewart and other Immigrant Detention Facilities around the country are affected by what advocates call a flawed policy of mandatory detention for immigrants who may have only committed civil, not criminal, violations. These immigrants are subject to the harsh conditions while awaiting deportation or approval for asylum.  Lutheran Immigration of Refugee Services (LIRS) estimates that there are more 400,000 immigrant detainees housed in the U.S.

The immigrants who are fortunate enough to have friends and family in Georgia see them very infrequently while detained.  Typically the travel from Atlanta to Lumpkin takes around two-and-a-half hours, making it difficult for family members and friends – who may not even have their own transportation - to make the trip to visit a loved one in detention. That’s why the Friends in Hope program is so important – it brings compassionate visitors to those who need to experience a warm, caring human connection and a friendly face.

Jenna Barone is one of LSG’s Friends in Hope volunteers.  She’s been involved with Friends in Hope for a few months, visiting the detention center twice.  In an interview, Jenna shares her experiences as a Friends in Hope volunteer.


What fueled your desire to help refugee and immigrant populations in particular?

Jenna: I had an Americorp internship when I first moved to Atlanta four years ago where I helped set up sustainable food programs for refugees who were resettled in Clarkston. This helped give me insight into the needs of this population and how the public systems we have in place are not enough to help them get by. My desire to help this particular population comes from the fact that every human being has the right to live in a safe environment and have access to resources, like food and water, and I want to personally help make sure that every human has access to these basic human rights.

 Why did you decide to get involved with Friends in Hope - visiting immigrants in the detention facility? Why do think this is an important area of service?

Jenna: People who are detained already have a host of people working against them and being confined and away from loved ones can exacerbate the feelings of despair and hopelessness. I felt personally affected by the way my country was treating immigrants in these facilities.   I felt it was important for these immigrants in detention to have people talking to them.  They probably don’t have a great sense of hope and wanted to do what I could to help alleviate hopelessness.

What is a visit to the detention facility like?

Jenna:  It's stark.  It's pretty much a maximum security prison.  The guards are often cold and unfriendly - that surprised me that they treated me that way. There is a lot of waiting and sometimes they'll allow you to read or write, other times they don't allow you to bring anything inside of the facility. So once you enter in the doors, you are almost as much on lock down as the people behind the glass. Sometimes they take you into a room where there are stalls and multiple people talk in one room. Other times you are in a private room.  The visits last for one hour.  

Any stories or people that made an impression while on a visit that you’d like to share?

Some of the detainees know the process. They know that you are just there to lend an ear. But some of them think that you might be able to help them or give them legal advice or any advice on how to get out. That's the hardest part. You're so limited in what you can provide and you can see how desperate some of them are.

 I talked to one man who had a harsher sentence because, not only did he break the law by being in the country illegally, but he was also charged with fraud and money laundering. It's hard to look at a person who has knowingly committed a crime and have sympathy for them, but this is the moment that you really feel like you are doing the best thing for them. Yes, they committed a crime and should be punished but that doesn't make them any less human. He shared stories of his kids and I shared stories of my family. We laughed! Something as simple as that can make profound changes in your life.  It doesn't always happen but I do think it's worth trying.

What would you say to a new "Friends in Hope" volunteer?

Don't get discouraged.  There's only so much you can do, but being there for them can make a big difference.

Friends in Hope visits for the remainder of 2016 are scheduled for Saturday, September 24; Saturday, October 22; and Saturday, November 19. If you are interest in learning more about becoming a Friends in Hope volunteer, please contact Melanie Johnson at 678-686-9619. or mjohnson@lsga.org.


Ninth Annual Heroes of Hope Gala Awards Community Heroes, Celebrates LSG's Work


On Thursday, August 11, LSG staff, supporters, volunteers, donors, and clients gathered at Heritage Sandy Springs to celebrate community heroes at the 9th Annual Heroes of Hope Gala. 



 Attendees enjoyed a buffet dinner, drinks, live music, and silent auction featuring items and experiences donated by approximately 50 companies and individuals. Deidra Dukes, weekend anchor for Fox 5 Atlanta, served as emcee for the evening's program.  

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 During the presentation, LSG’s client Monica Sherriff shared her story. Monica spoke of her journey from war-torn Liberia, where she suffered torture that left her blind, to resettlement in Georgia to becoming a U.S. Citizen.  Monica moved the crowd as she expressed her appreciation for LSG and its staff and volunteers and her love of the United States. 


Jacqui Williams, a program manager at LSG, shared stories from her experiences working with clients in LSG’s Family Invention Services program. She recounted families who were successful in the program: families whose children had been removed from their home, but after completing LSG’s parenting education programs, improved their parenting skills and were reunited with their children. 


 LSG then presented the 2016 Heroes of Hope awards to the Hilton Downtown Atlanta and Tyra Walker of Winshape Homes. Brad Koeneman, General Manager of the Hilton, accepted the award.  He spoke about the Hilton’s positive experience hiring refugees and praised the partnership between Hilton and LSG.  Tyra spoke of her work with children who are victims of  circumstances and applauded LSG employees and board for their work with children in the Foster Care system.   


 Lutheran Services of Georgia wants to thank everyone who made this event possible: our staff, supporters, silent auction donors, sponsors, clients, and, of course, our Heroes of Hope.  The event sponsor included Chik-fil-A, Publix Super Markets Charities, Thrivent Financial –the East Metro Team, CBIZ, Inc., Alston & Bird, LLC, Greystone Power and Konica Minolta.  

More photos from the night are available on our Facebook page.



Immigration Attorney Ashley LaRiccia Wraps Up a Two-Year Fellowship with LSG


Attorney Ashley LaRiccia will soon complete a two year fellowship with Lutheran Services of Georgia. As she prepares for the next step in her career, Ashley offers a look back on the last two years and her work representing unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the Atlanta Immigration Court. 


By Ashley LaRiccia

Over the past two years, I have been working at Lutheran Services of Georgia as an immigration attorney through the Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program with sponsorship of McGuireWoods LLP and DuPoint. The mission of Equal Justice Works is to create a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. Applicants to the fellowship program develop a project with a host site and then submit the proposal to Equal Justice Works. Potential sponsors are then given an opportunity to review the project proposals and select a project and fellow to fund. The goal of my fellowship project has been to expand legal representation to unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in removal proceedings at the Atlanta Immigration Court.

A UAC is a minor who has entered the United States without his or her parents. These minors are placed in removal proceedings and often go unrepresented due to the prohibitive costs of private attorney. A number of national and local non-profits have been working together to increase the number of pro bono and low-cost attorneys available to represent these children in proceedings. About 50% of children appear in immigration court without an attorney, and of these children nine out of ten will be removed or deported to their country of origin. 

Ashley Riccia (right) poses with Amiee Zangandou (left) and new United States Citizen Monica Sherriff at Monica's Citizenship Ceremony.

Ashley Riccia (right) poses with Amiee Zangandou (left) and new United States Citizen Monica Sherriff at Monica's Citizenship Ceremony.

Over the past two years I have provided direct representation to a number of minors in removal proceedings. I recently won asylum for a hearing impaired UAC who before coming to the United States had never been to school and had no knowledge of sign language. Through my interactions with these minors I have become intimately acquainted with the daily fear and anxiety that comes with living as an undocumented youth in the United States. These minors have come to US to escape violence, abuse, neglect and to reunite with family members they have not seen in many years. The majority of UAC in immigration proceedings are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. A quick google search of the conditions in these countries will reveal they suffer from the highest murder rates in the world.

Beyond my work with UAC I have also been able to represent other ILS clients including our refugee clients who return to Lutheran Services for immigration legal assistance with application including green card and citizenship applications. One of my favorite experiences of the past two years has been teaching a monthly class on Immigration Law to newly arrived refugees through the Extended Cultural Orientation program. While the subject matter of the class is serious, we inevitably end up smiling and laughing together through humor and jokes that transcend cultural and language barriers.

As I finish up my fellowship I would like to thank everyone who has made these two years so fulfilling: clients, colleagues, and the volunteers who have supported my work both at LSG and throughout the Atlanta community. I will return to the Washington DC area this fall to continue my career in public interest law.

LSG wishes Ashley the best of luck in DC.  She will be missed!




Kids Club Underway For Another Great Summer of Healing, Growing, Learning



LSG has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Kids Club, our therapeutic program for refugee children.  Support our campaign by clicking here and making a donation! 

Read more about our Kids Club program and how it's impacting refugee children who have recently resettled in the United States.

This summer, groups of children from different countries will gather together for week-long program consisting of therapeutic activities, English lessons and cultural orientation. They don’t all speak the same languages, and they have different styles of dress and customs.  However, these children share a common experience:  they are all refugees whose families have recently been resettled in the Atlanta area.



Last summer, LSG launched Kids Club, a program to help refugee children adjust to life in the United States.  Forced from their homes and countries by violence and turmoil, refugee children have witnessed horrific atrocities and experienced circumstances and conditions that most of us can't fathom.  Often they spend years in a refugee camp before arriving to the U.S. with few possessions.  While there are programs in place to help adult family members, the children's specific and unique needs are often overlooked.  Kids Club was developed as a way to help these children deal with the trauma of their past circumstances and cope with the culture shock of a new, unfamiliar country.  

In June and July, LSG will host four week-long sessions with approximately 30 kids each week.  The children participate in a wide range of educational, team building and therapeutic activities.  Licensed therapists lead sessions in art therapy, grounded yoga therapy, adventure therapy and animal-assisted therapy. The kid will also have music and dance lessons, English language skill development, sports and physical activities, and arts and crafts.    

So, how does all this help a child during this difficult time in his or her life?  Our Kids Club coordinator Jessie Burnette shares a transformation she witnessed in two siblings during our spring break session of Kids Club in April. 

My heart skipped a beat as I glanced up at the bridge where a number of children were playing on our visit to a local park on the last day of camp. As I sat beneath a gazebo chaperoning youth from six different countries feeding ducks and fish swimming in the pond, I noticed one Syrian child without his sibling on the bridge above. I sprinted from my gazebo post to the top of the bridge to locate the missing sibling. As I frantically searched for her face in the crowd of 30-plus refugee children, I felt physically ill with worry. Then, just as quickly as I had ‘lost’ the child, I spotted her. She was laughing, with a new Sudanese friend, as she looked over the opposite side of the bridge at turtles basking in the sun. Feeling of relief and then amazement overcame me as I watched this incredible event unfold. 

 It took a moment for me to fully process what I was seeing. This particular pair of siblings had refused to leave the other’s sides since I had met them two weeks earlier. When they were away from their parents, they clung tightly to one another with every step they took. They were incredibly dependent upon one another. Their attachment was so intense that they became visibly upset and uncomfortable if they were separated. Then, suddenly- without any prompting- they were courageous and comfortable enough to walk away from the other one. Here in this moment, I witnessed a child grow confident enough to stray from the grasp of her sibling that had previously been her cloak of safety. At that time, each sibling displayed a new sense of self and trust in their surroundings.   

 This is how Kids Club is making a difference in the lives of newly resettled children. We allow them to develop a sense of trust in their community, while building skills needed to cope with daily stressors of resettlement. Social and coping skills are cultivated in an encouraging and safe environment, promoting resiliency and confidence in an otherwise trying time in their lives 

 If you are interested in helping make a lasting impact on a refugee child’s life?  Support LSG’s Kids Club either by donating money or supplies or volunteering your time.  For more information on how you can help, please contact LSG at 404-875-0201.


World Refugee Day - Recognizing the Stuggles, Celebrating the Contributions of Refugees


By Emily Laney, Director, Refugee and Immigration Services at LSG

Today is World Refugee Day - a time when people gather together across the globe to remember the struggles refugees face, but also to celebrate the amazing ways they contribute in their new communities. We’ve been working with refugees for over 30 years at LSG, and have seen thousands of refugees find success in the state of Georgia. We feel so blessed to be able to meet and engage with so many incredible people year after year as they start their lives anew in our state. So far this year, we’ve welcomed several hundred refugees to Atlanta and Savannah, including nearly 50 Syrians.

Refugees have been in the spotlight quite a while now. The Syrian civil war, along with other increasing conflicts around the world, have created 60 million displaced people- the most since the Second World War. The drowning death of a three-year-old boy shocked the world last fall and gave even more weight to the humanity of these 60 million precious people.  But in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, refugee resettlement was thrust into the spotlight for very different reasons, and the work to create new futures for refugees was questioned by many. It has most certainly been quite a year for those of us who work with refugees.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to lead our Refugee and Immigration Services team. Each day when I come to work, I have the privilege of seeing how refugee resettlement has created so many new futures. I see our staff members who were resettled by LSG several years ago and now work tirelessly to guide new clients through the resettlement process.

I’ve celebrated as colleagues pass their citizenship tests. I’ve heard stories from former refugees who have found success in Georgia and lead our team. I see the nervous smiles of new clients as they’re shown around the office for the first time. I hear volunteers working on resumes with refugees down the hall from my office as they prepare for their first jobs in America. The occasional former client may stop by to see the employment specialists and the case managers that helped them when they first arrived.

Every day I see proof of what I know so well: refugees are incredible people. They are resilient, they are survivors. Adjusting to life in America is hard, but so many remain optimistic. They are eager to work and support their families. They cherish and value education and prioritize it for their children. They are part of what makes America so great.

Our work with refugees was never intended to be just resettlement agencies completing a checklist of resettlement for new clients. It has always taken collective efforts from the community to create welcome for these new families. And we at LSG have seen those efforts in tremendous ways in both Atlanta and Savannah.

So on a day like today, we want to say thank you. We are grateful for all of our volunteers and supporters around the state who have helped us welcome refugees. We are grateful for the advocates who posted positive messages about refugees on their social media accounts, or engaged in conversations with their friends about all the amazing things refugees bring to our communities. Thank you to all of the churches, employers, and community groups who provide support to refugees. Thank you to everyone who has donated to our work, whether it be furniture, clothing, time or finances- each item and each dollar do so much to create welcome.

Join us at LSG as we honor refugees today. And feel free to come join us on this journey with these amazing newcomers. We would love to have you. Visit our website to learn more about volunteer opportunities and other ways you can help.


LSG Presents Awards Bridge Awards at Multicultural Potluck Dinner


On May 22, 2016, 150 refugee clients along with 70 volunteers and faith and community partners gathered at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain for LSG’s Breaking Bread and Building Bridges potluck dinner.   

“All around the world, people join together to break bread and share a meal as a way of building relationships with neighbors and strengthen their community,” said Melanie Johnson, program manager, Lutheran Services of Georgia.  “At our annual potluck dinner, congregation members, community partners, volunteers, and refugees are able to gather around a table, learn from each other, and make new friends."

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This is LSG’s third year hosting this multicultural meal.

During the event, LSG’s Refugee and Immigration staff presented several LSG Bridge Awards to honor those who build bridges between people from many cultures.

This year’s LSG Bridge Awards were presented to the following groups and individuals:

Something New

 In 2015, LSG Kids Club began partnering with Something New to provide recreational and therapeutic arts programs for newly resettled refugee youth.    

Pictured (left to right): Julie McGowen, a Something New volunteer; Jessie Burnette, LSG Kids Club Coordinator; and Amanda Farnsworth, Something New’s New Expressions (arts program) Director. 

Aden M. Hussein and Halal Pizza

After arriving to the United States from Somalia many years ago, Mr. Hussein was able to find work through the help of LSG refugee employment specialist Obaid Rasoul.  Now that he owns and operates Halal Pizza, Mr. Hussein has shown his gratitude by donating food for this and several other LSG events for refugees.

Melanie Johnson (left), Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation and Community Engagement, LSG, and Emily Laney (center), Director of Refugee and Immigration Services, LSG, are pictured with Aden Hussein, owner, Halal Pizza.   

Airport Chaplains: Whitney Robichaux,  Barbara Pendergrast and Donna Mote

Each week, chaplains at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport greet refugee families arriving in Atlanta in their first moments stepping off the airplane. LSG’s resettlement case managers are not allowed to pass the security gates. Thanks to the chaplains, our refugee clients are warmly welcomed at their arrival gate and guided through the busy airport. The chaplains have gone above and beyond, welcoming clients at all hours of the night and often greeting multiple arrivals per day. 

Pictured NurAbdi, LSG; Rev. Whitney Robichaux, Christ the King Cathedral; Crispin Wiljonda, LSG; Barbara Pendergrast, Chaplain, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport; Zakaria Abdulrazek, LSG.

Cheryl Bopp, Sharon King and Allison Cooper - Clothes Closet Volunteers

LSG is fortunate to receive many clothing donations from the community for our refugee clients.  The Clothing Closet, housed at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church, relies heavily on volunteers to organize the large amounts of donations we receive, and Cheryl, Sharon, and Allison have been instrumental in keeping this program running. In addition, they meet each newly arrived refugee family to help them select clothing for their new life in Georgia.

Pictured: Volunteers  Sharon King (left) and heryl Bopp (center) with Emily Laney, LSG (right).

Passion City Church

Passion City Church hosted a donation drive called Project Supply: Clarkston.  Congregation members helped “set the table” for LSG refugee families through donations of kitchen supplies.  PCC volunteers Phillip and Liande Heyns accepted award.

Phu Phu

Phu Phu is a refugee from Burma who was resettled along with her family (Mom and Dad, older brother) by LSG in 2014.  Phu Phu is currently working a job but also making preparations to eventually go to college.  She is one of LSG’s newest Refugee and Immigration Services volunteers.  This summer she’ll be working with refugee children and youth as a LSG Kid’s Club counselor.

Are you interested in building bridges in our community?

LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services programs are always in need of volunteers.  For information on how you can get involved, contact our volunteer manager Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org.


LSG Announces Record Fundraising Year for 2016 Hunger Walk


Results are in from Hunger Walk/Run 2016! Together, Lutheran Services of Georgia’s church and community partner teams raised a record $88,459.10 for Lutheran Services of Georgia and the Atlanta Community Food Bank.  This amount surpassed LSG’s 2015 Hunger Walk total by more than $10,000 and earned LSG the honor of top fundraiser out of Hunger Walk’s five benefiting partner agencies.  

 Our top fundraising team for 2016 was Trinity Lutheran Church in Lilburn, raising $12,775.69 to fight hunger!

Trinity Lutheran Church, LIlburn, GA

Trinity Lutheran Church, LIlburn, GA

Thanks to all who joined LSG in fighting hunger at the 2016 Hunger Walk/Run. LSG had 41 teams participate with 550 walkers and runners. LSG appreciates all those who walked, ran, volunteered, or otherwise supported us.

 Congratulations to our top ten fundraising teams from 2016:

  1.    Trinity Lutheran, Lilburn:  $12,775.69
  2.    Cross of Life, Roswell: $9,475
  3.    St. John, Atlanta: $6,975
  4.    Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Marietta: $5,814.50
  5.    Rivercliff Lutheran, Roswell: $5,611
  6.    Grace Lutheran, Carrollton: $5,278
  7.    Prince of Peace, Alpharetta: $4,990
  8.    Epiphany Lutheran, Conyers: $3,673
  9.   Walking for the Hungry (The HH Foundation): $3,025
  10.   Holy Trinity Lutheran, Marietta: $2,765.50



This year’s Hunger Walk/Run raised $925,015 total to support food programs in Atlanta!  LSG is honored to be chosen as a beneficiary of the Hunger Walk/Run by the Atlanta Community Food Bank. We appreciate the opportunity to work with them each year on this event. LSG has been a benefiting partner for almost 30 years and we look forward to another great Hunger Walk/Run in 2017!

LSG Foster Parents Welcome Triplets Home


For Sean and Adrienne, the past two years have been a whirlwind of bottles and diapers. While keeping up with three 2-year-olds is no easy feat, the couple wouldn’t have it any other way.  The foster parents welcomed triplets – two boys and one girl - into their home in 2014, and the toddlers will soon become a permanent part of their family.

“We didn’t expect triplets, and we certainly were not looking for them and yet they seem to bring the right kind of madness into our world,” says Adrienne.

Though the couple bravely chose to welcome three premature babies into their home, they did not make the initial decision to become foster parents lightly.  After being encouraged by a friend who was a foster parent, Sean and Adrienne began to consider fostering through Lutheran Services of Georgia.  Initially they rejected the idea, thinking that fostering wasn’t for them.  They had no children of their own, and the stories of the trials and challenges scared them.

“Like many, I was nervous about opening my home to strangers,” says Adrienne.  “I had stereotypes of what types of children come into the foster care system.  I was unsure about letting go of my freedom.  However, our whole perception changed after attending a foster parent orientation.”


As they learned more about LSG’s Specialized Foster Program, Sean and Adrienne warmed to the idea.   Once they learned that foster parents have input into which children were placed in their home, they felt more at ease.  Then they found out about LSG’s matching process, which places a child in the home best equipped to care for that particular child’s needs.  Through the orientation, they learned about the great care that goes into each child’s placement and about the support that LSG offers its foster parents.


The couple was deeply moved by the stories of children in DFCS custody and decided to take the plunge.

 “Some people have asked us what benefit there is in fostering a child,” says Adrienne. “I reply that it’s knowing that you’re doing what you can to make a difference in a child’s life.”

After being approved to be foster parents, the couple started out providing respite services to other LSG foster parents.  In 2014, they received a call about the triplets.  The babies were born premature at 32 weeks gestation, and needed to remain in the hospital until they were healthy and strong enough to be discharged.  While the triplets were in the hospital, Sean and Adrienne visited the babies often – giving them a chance to bond with the children.  During that time, the hospital staff was able to train them in how to care for premature babies.  After 30 days, they were able to take them home.

Adrienne and Sean both supported the plan to eventually reunite the babies with their birth parents and cooperated with DFCS and the birth parents.   When the birth parents chose to voluntarily terminate their rights, the Adrienne and Sean decided to adopt them.  Soon, the triplets will officially be members of their family.

“Some might feel we are a blessing for them, but honestly we think they are a blessing for us.  They remind us every day what’s really important in life – family,” says Adrienne.  “Fostering is not for everyone. The challenges and struggles are real, but for a person who can make room, it’s well worth it. "



Monica's Journey From Refugee to U.S. Citizen


This December Lutheran Services of Georgia staff members watched in eager anticipation as Monica Sheriff became a citizen of the United States.  On what was one of the most important days of Monica’s life, her friends at LSG felt the magnitude as well. When Monica first arrived to the United States from Liberia, it was LSG that resettled her, and five years later assisted her through the process of citizenship.  Though Monica suffered unimaginable hardships in her life, including torture that left her completely blind, her resolve and tenacity to succeed has helped her thrive as an American.

Monica's Escape from Liberia

When civil war broke in Liberia in nineties, Monica was one of millions of West Africans who were displaced.  Many Liberians watched their families murdered, their homes destroyed and their communities wiped-out at the hands of warring rebel factions.

In a moment, Monica’s life as she knew it was shattered.  One day while working in her family’s store, two men barged in demanding money.  Her husband emptied the cash register, giving the intruders every bit of money in the store, but it wasn’t enough.  The men shot and killed him on the spot.

The men forced Monica, her daughter and granddaughters to travel to their base. Knowing they were in grave danger, Monica and the girls attempted to escape through the African bush, but they were discovered.  As punishment, they spent the next two weeks lying on their backs on the ground, forced to look directly at the sun for hours a day.  When a group from an opposing faction raided her capturer’s base two week later, Monica and her family used the chance to escape.  They walked for weeks looking for a village – Monica’s eyes watered and her sight began to fade.

When they finally reached a nearby village, they received help and were sent to a refugee camp in Sierra Leone.  Monica and her granddaughters lived in the camp for six years before they were granted entry into the United States.

When she received the news that she’d be sent to America, Monica was no longer fearful and she was full of hope for the future.  There was no life for her in Africa anymore.

“While I was in the camp, they asked us to go back to Liberia because there was no war anymore,” says Monica.  “As for me, I couldn’t go back.  Imagine what they would do to me.  They get me blind and my house was burned down.  Even in freedom in Sierra Leone where we were residing, they raped the smallest girl.  So I didn’t feel safe to go back to Liberia or stay in Sierra Leone,” said Monica.


Monica's New Life Begins

aimee zangandou from LSG's Refugee Services Department and ashley lariccia from LSG's Immigration department pose with monica Sherrif at her naturalization ceremony

Every refugee faces difficulty rebuilding their life in a new country, but as a blind woman, Monica had additional challenges.  

From the moment she stepped off the plane in Atlanta, Lutheran Services of Georgia was there to help her adjust to life in a new country.  LSG arranged housing for Monica and her two granddaughters, helped them navigate paperwork and connected them to resources available.

Monica also had several volunteers from LSG’s First Friends program, which recruits volunteers to provide support and friendship for refugees as they adjust to live in Georgia. 

First Friends volunteers, Sharon and Paul and then Beth were matched with Monica.  Sharon and Paul visited Monica and assisted her with reading her mail during her first year in the U.S.  Then Beth helped Monica get involved with therapeutic and practical activities.  Beth took Monica to pottery classes where she made pots and bowls and helped her create a garden, growing greens, carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables for her to eat.

In addition to the typical cultural orientations that refugees receive, LSG set Monica up with classes at the Center for the Visually Impaired, where she learned Braille and took classes on mobility and learned how to be more independent.

 “In Africa, when you are blind people keep away from you and you hardly get any help.  In America, everyone likes you.  They come around you and you get assistance.  You feel like any other person who is not blind.  They appreciate you,” says Monica. “In Africa, if you have a disability, it’s almost like you’re dead.  In America, I feel alive.  There are opportunities for me.”


Monica 's Dream of Citizenship Becomes Reality

Monica was determined to get her United States citizenship, and LSG was there to help.

Monica on her citizenship day

Lutheran Services of Georgia arranged for braille and audio materials to help Monica study her citizenship.  Volunteers worked with Monica and until she knew the material backwards and forward. Our immigration services program attorneys helped her file her naturalization application and were with her during the interview.

When it came time for her exam, though she knew the material, Monica said she was very worried. 

“I was told that I would need to write and I didn’t know how I would do it, but I did it.  The person who interviewed me was surprised how well I did.  She said she was very impressed,” says Monica.  “It’s important to be a citizen where you live.  I love America and I love Lutheran Services that brought me here and helped me. They’ve been so nice and kind to me.  I’m happy that I’m a citizen today.”

Though getting her citizenship was a big goal in Monica’s life, she has many wishes and goals for the future.  She believes in making the most of her time.  Her next goal is to use the skills that she learned at CVI to find a job.  She says that all refugees coming to the United States should work to improve their position in life, “If you are in school, learn something more.  If you have a career, you can add to that,” says Monica.

Lutheran Services of Georgia offers services in both refugee resettlement and immigration services.  Helping those escaping war-torn countries from the moment they arrive in the United States and aiding them in reaching their goal of U.S. citizenship. 

LSG employees and volunteers had the pleasure walking alongside Monica throughout her transition from refugee to citizen.


High School Senior Josh Buchanan Helps Refugees Through Woodworking


Josh Buchanan's senior project turned into a major blessing for one of LSG's refugee families.  In order to graduate,  Josh, a senior at Wheeler High School, is required to receive mentoring in a skill or field that he is interested in and use that mentoring to create a product that benefits the community.  Josh is headed to Virginia Tech in the fall to major in Product Design, so he’s very interested in designing and making useful things. He chose woodworking as the skill to learn and, with the guidance of his mentor, built his first piece of furniture – a chest of drawers . He asked LSG if he could donate it to a newly arrived refugee family who might need it.  Josh learned about LSG’s refugee resettlement work through his church, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, a congregation that’s partnered with LSG to resettle several refugee families.  His chest of drawers went to a Syrian family who gratefully received Josh’s donation!


Here’s what Josh had to say about his experience:

Chest Made by Josh Buchanan.jpg
Every semester at Wheeler High School in Cobb County, seniors go through the process called Senior Project. This is a nearly semester-long process in which the seniors, as part of their English class, learn something new from a professional mentor and present it to teachers and community members. This learning has to result in some sort of product that benefits the community. The product can range from a physical object to an event organized by the student. I chose to learn more about the area of woodworking. I used this opportunity to build a wooden chest-of-drawers that I then donated to Lutheran Services of Georgia in hopes that they would use it to furnish the homes of the numerous refugee families that they assist.
 The chest of drawers is a 28” by 35.5” by 20.5” piece made of primarily of ¼” plywood and ¾” pine. Each drawer is a 24” by 19.5” and the entire construction was made possible by wood glue and nail gun studs. Under the supervision of my mentor in his woodshop in Acworth, I used a table saw, band saw and router to craft the piece.
 I learned several lessons through this process. Beyond the obvious woodworking skills that I needed to learn to successfully complete the project, I learned that woodworking, like many endeavors in life, is done best when you do not rush through the work. Instead of trying to accomplish as many things in as little time as possible, the best work is done when you take the time to focus and be mindful of what you are doing. That is a lesson that I am still trying to apply to my life, not only in woodworking, but in everything I do.

 Thank you Josh for helping support LSG and our refugee clients!



Jessica Finds Her Forever Home


Like many couples today, Melody and Gary King of Savannah didn’t jump into parenthood right after marriage.  After exchanging ‘I do’s', the couple spent several years living internationally while Gary served in the military.  Upon returning the States, the couple continued to relish their carefree lifestyle.  They built busy careers, while staying active by running or working out at the gym.  Weekends were spent on their hobby – riding motorcycles.  

As the Kings both neared their mid-thirties, they felt the time was right to add a child to their lives.  While Melody had often dreamed of adopting a child, she quickly the reality overwhelming:  substantial financial costs, waiting time, and the emotional stress involved in adopting.

After exploring several private avenues for adopting, Melody and Gary became frustrated when they seemed to get nowhere.  Through their research, the Kings learned of another path to adoption – adopting a child who has been placed in Foster Care by the Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS). 

That’s when Melody and Gary called Lutheran Services of Georgia.

The Adoption Journey Begins

“We were nervous about what they were getting into, but we felt like we had reached the end of a road,” says Melody “It was either adopt or give up.”  

When they learned about the many older children in Foster Care waiting to be adopting, the Kings decided that this was how they wanted to add to their family.  

“We really didn’t think about children until we were older, and I’ve never been a baby person,” she says.  The couple considered their active lifestyle and decided that an older child would fit into their lifestyle more easily than an infant. 

The Kings were put in touch with LSG’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter Tacarra Hayes.    

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is a program that is part of the Dave Thomas Adoption Fund.  Through grants provided by Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, Lutheran Services of Georgia employs two Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters, who use a child-center approach to recruiting.  WWK recruiters often focus on older children or sibling groups in Foster Care – kids that are often harder to place than single children or infants and toddlers.

Tacarra started the process quickly by sending the Kings a few profiles of children who were in Foster Care and eligible for adoption.  When they read Jessica’s profile, they immediately wanted to meet her.

After the Kings met Jessica, they were in agreement - they wanted Jessica to join their family.  Jessica finished out the school year living with her foster family, but spent her weekends with Melody and Gary. 

Jessica joined her new family full-time that summer, and in December her adoption was finalized.

A New Life for the Kings

Until joining the King’s family, Jessica wasn’t a particularly active kid.  Like many teenagers she preferred videos games to exercise.  But with Melody’s encourage Jessica began running with her and getting in shape. Jessica just recently joined her school’s soccer team, which has now become her passion.

In addition to love of soccer, Jessica is a typical teenage girl – indulging in celebrity gossip, hair, and make-up, and of course, shopping.

“With adopting a teenager, every day is a new test for learning about each other and how we work together as a family…” says Melody.  “There is never a dull moment.  Every day I wake and just wonder, “what will happen today? That may seem scary for some people, but scary can also be exciting and this is how you have to approach these situations.”

Melody’s Advice to Adoptive Parents

When asked what advice she’d give those considering adopting an older child, Melody says, “Adopting an older child is not for the faint of heart.  They have a personality of their own, they have habits from their previous life that you may not agree with, but they are children in need of parents.”

She says that others were worried for her – that it would be hard to love an older child or feel a strong mother-daughter bond. 

“You were not born loving your spouse, you fell in love with them.  There may be times when you dislike what they do, but you love them regardless.  Earning the love of a children through adoption is harder that having that biological bond, but you will learn that.  That kind of love is so much stronger than what people give it credit for.”

Help us find forever homes for more deserving children. Donate to LSG today!