Newest Circle of Welcome Greets Family at the Airport

 
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When the Circle of Welcome volunteers from Redeemer Lutheran Church learned that they would be paired with a young, African family coming to the U.S. in less than a month, they were filled with gratitude and anticipation.  Having recently heard from LSG staff members during a presentation and sermon on Refugee Sunday, the volunteers knew well how few refugees have been able to make it through the system, and they had expected to have to wait for months before the next refugee family arrived in Atlanta.

The team flew into action to prepare for the Shabani family’s arrival, mobilizing dozens of other church members to assist with a donation drive to equip the family’s apartment*. They recruited friends from their community with relevant language skills and circulated links to help one another learn about the region and culture of the family. 

Finally, the big day arrived, and a group of eager Circle of Welcome volunteers assembled at the Atlanta airport to welcome the Shabani family.  When the young couple with their two toddlers walked through to the revolving door into the baggage claim area, six Circle of Welcome members were there to greet them, along with several of the family’s relatives who had been resettled a few years before.  Soon, the Shabani’s were hugging and laughing with the Cirlce team. 

Zak, the LSG case manager, smilingly reported, “You don’t see that hugging each time, before they know each other, but the family was just so happy—happy that people were there for them!” 

Will your faith or community group be the next to embrace refugees in friendship and love? Email jmoore@lsga.org to learn more!  

 

*Family name has been changed for the protection of their privacy. 

 

Summer Camp Offers Welcome, Connection and Community for Refugee Children

 

By Whitney Conner, LSG's Camp Mosaic and Refugee After School Program Coordinator

I sat down across from Amare*, watching his little face as tears streamed down his cheeks. A few days into our first week of camp, it had been a rough morning for my newest elementary school friend. He was having a difficult time adjusting, unsure of himself and his new surroundings.

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I sat and listened as he told me about his home country. He described the food they ate and the games they played. I got teary eyed listening to him share pieces of his experience. We laughed together as he reminisced about fun times with his cousins, grandparents, and their farm. We were sad together as he shared how much he misses the extended family he left behind. Their home country remains unsafe for him and his family, but it is home nonetheless. He worried about being the only child at camp from his home country and the only one who speaks his language, unsure how to make friends when he struggles to communicate and doesn’t know who to trust. The words that came to mind as we sat together, reflecting on his journey in games and drawings, were fear, grief, transition, adjustment. However, the biggest was isolation.

It’s in moments like these that I am reminded why we do the work that we do, how we truly are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are called to embrace and love the foreigner, to welcome them. For, if we do not, who else will? For many, summer camp may simply be an opportunity to get their kids out of the house during the summer stretch, but for these children it is a source of needed connection and community. It is “welcome” to them!

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During Camp Mosaic, the children are encouraged to seek, celebrate and embrace all of our stories and cultures, painting a greater story as a mosaic of our community. Children from around the globe stepped into camp with cultural and ethnic walls, only to leave camp with deeper friendships and an empowered strength that allowed them to embrace their differences.  

At the end of our first year of camp, I am in awe of how Camp Mosaic served to paint a broader picture of community, crossing borders and mending hearts affected by conflict on a personal level. As I was driving camp carpool one morning, I discovered that I had two children from different sides of the same international conflict in the back seat of my 4Runner. The children jumped into my car, excited to share news from their home countries. Their leaders had met, hugged, and decided to move forward in peace. The kids were elated, sharing their joy that conflict was over. They were grateful that family members in their home country had been able to reconnect with friends and family from the opposing side after years of being forbidden to contact them. Peace and reconciliation had started in the backseat of an SUV during camp carpool weeks before, but was being evidenced in the celebration of two children in Clarkston, GA regarding international issues of their home countries.

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As I prepare to go back to Clarkston High School for our 2018-2019 after school program, continuing the work we began at Camp Mosaic, I am reminded of my elementary school friend Amare. You know, the one with the tear-streaked cheeks? He is starting school this week. But, he will not begin in the way he began camp.  Now Amare has a sense of belonging and connection. Through Camp Mosaic, he experienced the fruit of welcome and the bridging of gaps that helped him make friends. He is no longer alone in his community, for he found his place of belonging in a greater mosaic that is the Clarkston story.

Thank you to all who partnered in donating time, space at Living Grace Lutheran Church, sports equipment, and many other things! You played a key role in helping our kids thrive as they step into a different season of their stories, something that will serve as foundational in their ability to not just survive, but to thrive.

Thanks to your support, we had a wonderful summer!

 

About Camp Mosaic

Launched this summer, Mosaic is a trauma informed and resiliency development summer day camp, created to help refugee and immigrant kids aged k-12 to adjust to life in the United States. Kids also had the opportunity to be assessed for PTSD, anxiety, and other clinical mental health barriers they might be facing. In addition to receiving mental health support, kids were given one-on-one reading and literacy instruction, lessons in science and technology, math lessons, as well as opportunities to engage in therapeutic art and journaling activities.

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Teens in the program were given leadership roles, allowing the chance to complete required community service hours for high school graduation, as well as opportunities to feel empowered in their skills and abilities to lead. The children went on numerous field trips, giving them a chance to explore their new community and city, including a trip to Zoo Atlanta, which hosted a backstage tour just for our children.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

 

Refugees Connect with their Elected Officials through Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy

 
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In collaboration with LIRS, LSG recently hosted the two-day Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy in Clarkston.  Spearheaded by LSG staff members Meron Daniel and Aimee Zangandou, the academy was attended by former refugees resettled by LSG and a number of community members.  LSG staff members led workshops alongside special guests from Women Watch Afrika, Amnesty International, the American for Civil Liberties Union, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the Georgia Center for nonprofits on topics ranging from leadership to organizing and advocacy.

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Throughout the course of the Leadership Academy, participants had the opportunity to put what they had learned to action.  Attendees broke into small groups to meet with Clarkston City Council Member Awet Eyasu, Representative Hank Johnson, and Senator Johnny Isakson’s staffer to discuss their hopes and concerns.  During the meetings, these refugee leaders made sure their elected officials were aware that the U.S. is not on track to meet its commitment of resettling 45,000 refugees this year and asked each official to join them in advocating for the U.S. to welcome at least 75,000 refugees in 2019. Officials were also asked to join the Refugee Caucus and sign a Dear Colleague letter expressing their support for refugees and immigrants publicly.

While networking and strategizing over delicious meals from Ebrik, Kathmandu Kitchen, Lidet, and Tena Mart, one refrain clearly emerged: “We need to do this again!”

 

LSG's Response to the Reports on a Possible 25,000 Cap for FY 2019 Refugee Admissions

 

As the Administration prepares to announce the refugee admissions ceiling for FY 2019 next month, reports have emerged that the White House is considering another drastic reduction in the number of refugees the United States will admit. Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Administration is discussing one plan that would reduce the current refugee admissions cap by more than 40 percent – setting the limit for refugee arrivals at just 25,000.

Lutheran Services of Georgia urges the Administration to continue our nation’s proud tradition of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and to raise the refugee admission ceiling for FY 2019. 

The United States as long been a beacon of hope for persecuted and displaced individuals from around the world.  In the midst of the current refugee crisis, we are saddened that as the number of people who have been forcibly displaced increases, the United States continues to decrease the number we admit.  We believe our country and our state are better because we have welcomed these mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We celebrate the many contributions refugees bring to our communities – from their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit to the tax dollars they contribute and their positive impact on our economy.

In FY 2018, the administration cut the ceiling for refugee arrivals from 110,000 to an unprecedented low of 45,000. Lowering that number to 25,000, if implemented, would reflect more than a 77% decrease to the U.S. refugee ceiling in just three years.

For the last several months, our national partner LIRS has been leading an advocacy effort to encourage the Administration to set the refugee ceiling at 75,000 in FY19.  To learn more about how to advocate for refugees and to contact your Representative and Senators, visiting lirs.org/raise-the-ceiling.

Stay up-to-date with LSG's refugee and immigration program by signing up for our e-newsletter Crossing Oceans.  

 

Kaden Finds His Forever Family

 
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For Matt and Kimberly, adopting Kaden has been a whirlwind of emotions and mountains of paperwork in just a few short months.  Kimberly, an elementary school teacher, and Matt, director of his county’s parks and recreation department, weren’t thinking about adopting when five-year-old Kaden came into their lives. 

The opportunity to adopt came at a difficult time.  Matt and Kimberly, who had struggled with infertility for years, had suffered a devastating miscarriage after getting pregnancy through IVF fertility treatments.  Just days into grieving the new loss, Kimberly found out about Kaden.  Kaden was a kindergartner at the school where Kimberly teaches.  In the previous few weeks, the school counselor and his teacher began to realize that Kaden’s current foster home wasn’t a good fit for him.  They knew he needed a more nurturing, stable home as soon as possible. The close-knit staff was aware of Kimberly’s recent miscarriage, so they were hesitant to approach the Codys about the possibility of adopting Kaden.  However, the counselor felt Kaden’s situation was so dire that they needed to move fast.

Fresh off her recent heartbreak, Kimberly wasn’t sure she was ready, but when she met the adorable and sweet five year old and learned about his need of a home, she fell in love.  She believed that this was God’s answer to her prayers.

However, Matt wasn’t so sure. 

He told Kimberly that he would support her, but she was going to have to pursue this and do the leg work.  “I told her I was going to have to keep my distance. I just couldn’t put my heart out there,” said Matt.

So with help of the LSG adoptions team, Kimberly began the hard work of getting approved.  Typically, prospective parents spread out the mounds of paperwork over several months, but in order to fast track their approval the Codys had to fill it out in one sitting. The couple was able to get a home study in just three weeks, typically it takes between 3-6 months, and Kaden moved to their home just two months later.

For Matt and Kimberly, adding an energetic kindergartener to their lives was a big adjustment.

“Kaden handled it like a champ. He was settled right in.  He was never on edge,” says Matt.  Kimberly chimes in, “For us it was life changing.  The days of doing our own thing were over.”

But after a challenging first week, the Codys settled into a routine and schedule that worked for all of them and has Kaden thriving. 

Due to Kaden’s past experiences, Matt and Kimberly have had to work on building trust with Kaden.

In such a short time, the Codys and all of the staff at school have noticed a big change in Kaden. 

Laura Fowler, adoption recruiter, LSG, says, “Kaden was always so still and quiet.  Like he’d been told that children should be seen not heard.”  Now he’s a typical fun loving, often noisy, kindergartener.

While Matt was cautious about getting too attached during the home study and paperwork, once Kaden moved into their home just two months later, he was all in.  Kimberly says that one of the best parts of parenthood so far is seeing her husband become a dad.

And it’s clear that he is enjoying his new status as well. Matt beams with pride when he talks about coaching Kaden’s team for her first season of baseball and Kaden’s attempts to do things “like Daddy.”    

“It’s those little moments. It’s tiring but it’s so worth it.  It fills your heart,” says Kimberly.

 Before moving in with the Codys, Kaden had a difficult time at school. Now he is excelling. Matt and Kimberly want to instill in him that he can be anything he wants to be.

“He’s so smart.  I told him ‘you’re going to be a doctor,’” says Matt.  On career dress up day, the Codys made sure that Kaden was fully decked out in the career of his choice – a doctor’s coat along with a stethoscope and other accessories.

What was a low point in their lives turned into a miracle. “Now we realize that we weren’t meant to have a child through IVF,” says Kimberly. “We didn’t have that child, so we could have Kaden.”

 

LSG's Hurricane Irma Recovery Work in Coastal Georgia

 
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In the spring, LSG was awarded a grant from Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) for a 30-month Hurricane Irma disaster response program in coastal Georgia areas as well as funding from United Way of Coastal Georgia, and we have started our work in the area!

LSG has been involved in long-term disaster recovery work in Georgia for 13 years, assisting in home repairs, managing construction and coordinating volunteer groups to help with repair projects.  This new grant from LDR is now allowing LSG to use our expertise in the areas of case management to increase our impact in the area.  Now LSG helping those affected by Irma beyond their home repairs, assessing each family’s or individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs and ensuring those needs are met.

 
 

LSG, the South Georgia Conference of United Methodist Church, and the Salvation Army are currently working with 250 families in Chatham County to assess their comprehensive needs and guide them towards resources, and to ensure that those needs are met.  In addition to the case management work, LSG has also begun construction management for about 25 houses throughout the Coastal region.  The repairs range from minor touch up to major work including re-roofing, framing drywall, insulation and painting. Click here to read about a couple of individuals we are working with right now.

Who We Help

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Often the people we serve are the ‘forgotten’ following a disaster. Once the majority of the trees and debris have been cleaned up, and most of the houses in the most visible areas of town are repaired, the disaster is often forgotten by the public.  However, if you drive through many neighborhoods nine months to years following a disaster, you'll see tarps on roofs covering gaping holes and plywood in windows that were blown out during the storm.  If you were to step inside many of the homes, you’d see water damage on the walls and floors and mold through many of the rooms.  Many of the residence simply don’t have the money or the ability to access resources to make the necessary repairs.  In the case of Irma in Coastal Georgia, many homeowners had just finished up repairs from Hurricane Matthew when they were hit with more damages.

Often the people we help are economically disadvantage or those living paycheck to paycheck whose insurance did not adequately cover all the needed repairs to their home and property.  Those we serve may have received funds from FEMA, but that money only covered a portion of their repair costs.

You Can Help

In the event of a disaster, we rely on the generosity of others to provide help where it is most needed. LSG is in the beginning stages of its recovery work from Hurricane Irma in the Savannah area and our need for volunteers and donations is great. 

Volunteer

 Lutheran Services of Georgia is looking for faith groups and other community groups who are interested in volunteering to assist with recovery efforts.   Groups interested in volunteering should contact Lauren Cruickshank or Al Kates.

Support

Lutheran Services of Georgia both financial and in-kind donations (electrical, plumbing, HVAC services and construction materials are especially needed) to help with our repair and rebuilding efforts.  To make a financial gift, visit lsga.org/donate.  To donate in-kind gifts or offer materials at a discounted rate, contact Lauren Cruickshank and Al Kates.

 Need Assistance?

 Those affected by Irma in Georgia who are need of assistance, can email Karen Kouzmanoff or call her at (912) 353-8875.

 

Hundreds Show Support at World Refugee Day in Clarkston

 
 Photo credit: Artem Nazarov

Photo credit: Artem Nazarov

On June 23rd hundreds of supporters gathered at Refugee Coffee in Clarkston, Ga. to celebrate the many ways refugees make our country and our state a better place. At the annual World Refugee Day celebration, attendees viewed performances from Laotian and Peruvian dance groups, tasted various foods from around the world, shopped clothes and handicraft made by local refugees and immigrants and listened to inspirational messages from community leaders.

 Photo credit: Artem Nazarov

Photo credit: Artem Nazarov

The lineup of speakers included: Congressman Hank Johnson, who represents Clarkston and the rest of Georgia’s 4th Congressional district; Dr. Heval Kelli, a Syrian refugee, current Emory Cardiology Fellow; and LSG employee, Crispin Wilondja, who is also a Lutheran Minister and Congolese asylee.

Here's a video of Crispin's address to the crowd.

 Photo credit: Jade Johnson

Photo credit: Jade Johnson

Emily Laney, CRSA Chair and LSG’s Metro Atlanta Regional Director spoke to the Dekalb Champion about the incredible turnout for the event.  “The CRSA felt really supported and felt like our refugee families were appreciated—people would take the time out to come on a really hot Saturday morning to connect with refugee vendors and to take advocacy action as well,” said Emily, “It was very encouraging, from where I was standing, to see so many people that were there and engaged.”

 Photo credit: Joseph McBrayer

Photo credit: Joseph McBrayer

In a time when the number of refugees arriving is at all time low, it’s important for refugees who are here to know that there are many who support them.  “To know that people do welcome them and want them to be here is important right now because it can be so easy for negativity to drown out the reality, which is that Georgia really does love refugees,” said Emily.

 

LSG Helps Natural Disaster Victims in Georgia

 

LSG has been helping Georgians affected by natural disasters for more than 13 years.  We've recently started disaster work in the Coastal Georgia region, working with families affected by Hurricane Irma.   In the past six months, our disaster work has been focused on assisting those affected by Hurricane Matthew in the Savannah and Tybee Island regions as well as those with damage from the Tornadoes that hit the Albany area and that work is still continuing.

Here are a few of our recently completed projects:

The Jones Family

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When the Jones* Family was hit with Hurricane Irma, they had just recently completed repairs from Hurricane Matthew on their one story home on Tybee Island.  Irma’s flooding resulted in a lot of interior water damage, and while they did have insurance that covered some of the recovery, they were still left with items to replace and repairs to make. 

When LSG stepped in to help, project managers realized that there was also work to be done on the roof.  The Jones’ roof was first damaged by Hurricane Matthew and had been replaced by a contractor, but unfortunately, the contractor did a poor job.  LSG helped coordinate the materials and the labor for the roofing job. A group of volunteers from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Athens to assist with the roofing and other projects.  Our staff and volunteers assisted with the interior repairs and was able to get new furniture for the family.

 Volunteers take a break from their work to pose for a photo.

Volunteers take a break from their work to pose for a photo.

 

Leonard Heath*

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When Leonard’s home in Savannah was hit by Matthew, he was already in a rough place, physically and emotionally.  He was grieving two recent losses—both his adult son and his mother had recently passed away--and had health issues that had left him disabled.  LSG stepped in to help him replace his roof that was badly damaged in the hurricane.  Our team coordinated the repair of the roof, getting estimates, acquiring discounted materials, working with the contractor and then reviewing the work when the project was complete.  Though most of the damages from the hurricane were to the exterior of Leonard’s home, his interior needed work as well.  When our disaster recovery team first met with Leonard, he used crutches to get around his home and it was affecting his quality of life.  He needed to use a wheelchair, but the narrow doorways and few steps made his home inaccessible for a wheelchair.  LSG arrange for some volunteer groups to make his home more livable. The volunteers cleaned out the house and assisted in replacing broken windows.  LSG’s team and volunteers from Statesboro First United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville then worked to make his home more accessible.  Reworking his bathroom so his shower was stepless, widening door openings and putting in ramps.   

 Leonard's shower in the process of becoming wheelchair accessible.

Leonard's shower in the process of becoming wheelchair accessible.

Albany Area Recovery Work

LSG has been working with Albany Relief and Recovery to repair homes damaged by the 2017 tornadoes that struck the area.  Albany Relief and Recovery is coordinating recovery efforts for the area, working with LSG, other nonprofits, volunteer groups and donors to aid those affected by the storm. In all, Albany Relief and Recovery has repaired or replaced roofs on more than 500 homes in the region. 

Here are several pictures of the homes that LSG has helped repair or replace the roofs.

 

You Can Help

In the event of a disaster, we rely on the generosity of others to provide help where it is most needed. 

Is your church, community group or business interested in volunteering to help with repair and building projects? LSG is looking for volunteer groups who are interested in assisting with recovery efforts.  Groups interested in volunteering should contact Lauren Cruickshank or Al Kates.

 *Names were changed to protect privacy.

 

World Refugee Day: What You Can Do To Stand With Refugees

 
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 Today is World Refugee Day.  The United Nations (U.N.) designated World Refugee Day as a day to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. On World Refugee Day, refugee supporters also use this day an opportunity to celebrate the great contributions that refugees bring to our nation and our communities.

The United States has a proud tradition of welcoming those who been forced from their home due to violence, war and persecution.  According to the State Department website, “the U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ highest values and aspirations to compassion, generosity and leadership. Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. Refugees have built new lives, homes and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states.”

This year, the Trump administration set the Refugee Admission Ceiling at 45,000, the lowest on record.  And nine months into the fiscal year, only 15,000 have been admitted so far, making it extremely unlikely that we will reach anywhere near that number by the end of September. 

What can you do to help?

1.  Donate:

For more than 30 years, LSG has been welcoming and walking alongside refugee families, and we are committed to continuing this important work.  As refugee admissions have slowed, our need for in kind donations of furniture, clothing and household goods has slowed as well.  However, our need for financial support is greater than ever. Please consider donating to our refugee program, so we can continue to help the refugees who have already been resettled in Atlanta and Savannah and be fully prepared to continue resettling families as they arrive.  Click here to donate and choose the fund “refugee services.”

 
 
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2.  Advocate:

Tell your elected officials that your community welcomes refugees and that you support raising the refugee admission ceiling and increasing the number of refugees entering the U.S.  Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives by phone or written letter.

 

3.  Support:

Support the refugees that are already in our community. Show refugees that they are welcome here and that they have a community ready to support them.  Attend or organize events in your community to stand with refugees. This Saturday there are two events being held in honor of World Refugee Day.

  • A World Refugee Day celebration hosted by the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies (CRSA), which LSG is a member of, and Refuge Coffee Co., from 10-Noon in Clarkston.  Click for more info.
  •  WRD 2018: Resistance, Resilience, & Celebration from 2-5 p.m. at Clarkston United Methodist Church.  Click here for more info.

In addition, patronize refugee businesses. Here is a list of refugee owned and operated restaurants and stores.

4.  Educate:

 
 

Educate yourself and others. Know the facts about refugee resettlement and share them with others.  The Refugee Council USA  is a great resource of information, facts and figures on refugees. 

 
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Last year, the Refugee Council developed a series of videos and a social media campaign – Refugees Love America – to combat anti-refugee sentiment and open up important public dialogue. 

These videos are great for sharing on email/facebook/twitter.  Or create your own content – share stories of your personal experience with refugees – and use #refugeeswelcome in your posts.

Thank you so much for standing with refugees. We continue to be encouraged and inspired by our supporters!

 

LSG Case Manager Crispin Wilondja Welcomed As Roster Minister at ELCA Synod Assembly

 
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At the ELCA Southeastern Synod Assembly earlier this month, LSG Case Manager Crispin Wilondja was officially recognized as a rostered ELCA minister.  After receiving his Master’s in Theology in California, Crispin was first ordained as a Jesuit Priest in 2008 in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  After moving the United States in 2011 as an asylum seeker (a person fleeing their country of origin because of persecution or violence and has applied for protection in another country but has not yet had their claim for protection assessed), Crispin found a home in the Lutheran tradition and joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta. 

 Crispin with members of good samaritan ministry and John Moeller, CEO, LSG.

Crispin with members of good samaritan ministry and John Moeller, CEO, LSG.

Through his church, he learned about LSG’s work with refugees and immigrants and secured a job as an interpreter in 2014. The next year, Crispin was promoted to Resettlement and Immigration Case Manager where he worked for many years. Since March 2018, with the fewer number of refugees arriving to America, he has worked as an Employment Specialist Program Assistant. 

In addition to his work with LSG, Crispin started a new Lutheran congregation for refugees in February.  His church, Good Samaritan Ministry, worships every Sunday at 2pm in the sanctuary of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain.

What inspired you to work in ministry?

I wanted to work in ministry because I wanted to serve the church. Since I was young, very young I felt the call to be a priest. I was convinced that God was calling me to serve him as a priest and to preach the Good News to the poor. And after going to the Jesuit schools, I then joined the Jesuits to become a priest.

Being a priest is more a ministry rather than a job. I felt the call to serve and I was trained to imitate Jesus as loving, compassionate and more attentive to the human needs, especially the poor and marginalized.

How has your background as a minister influenced your work as a case manager at LSG?

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Being a priest has prepared me to easily embrace my job as a case manager…I always see LSG as a perfect place for ministry. Every morning when I was going to meet with refugee families, my prayer was: “Lord, open my heart and my eyes to be able to see you in these people. Help me serve them as if I am serving you my Lord and my Savior. Make me your instrument to bring joy and consolation to those who have been afflicted; those who have fled their homes; those who have lost everything. Make my hands become your hands; make my voice become your voice. And let your will be done.”

What do you miss about your home country?

As immigrants like to say “Home is home!” I miss my family (mother, siblings, …); I miss my parishioners. I miss being a priest in Congo. It was another context there. I am working harder with my new congregation but our members are still looking for more of a case manager rather than a pastor. In addition, I don’t have enough time as I would love to have in order to develop this mission. I have first to survive and be able to provide for the needs of my family while the congregation cannot pay me to have a decent living. I miss the life style, the joy and the togetherness. Back home people are very poor but they are happy and less stressed.

What do you love about the United States?

 Crispin meeting a refugee family from Central African republic at the airport

Crispin meeting a refugee family from Central African republic at the airport

I fled my country because my life was threatened; I was about to be killed due to my preaching and social engagement. In America I feel safe. I don’t have to live under the fear to be arrested any time. America is the country of opportunities. I dream to deepen myself in ministry, to build a congregation and to be pastor for all those who need love and compassion after fleeing their home countries. I love working in America and being paid; I love the freedom and the justice. I love the society and the culture being progressive. Despite some rays of discrimination and social justice issues, I like the society being more and more inclusive. I like to see that the basic needs of the population are fulfilled. I like to see refugees that I have welcomed becoming self-sufficient; I like to see kids adjusting well, going to school and speaking very good English and becoming interpreters for their parents. I like to see refugees fulfilling their dreams and supporting their families back home.

 

After School Program Has Successful First Year

 
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At the end of May, LSG's After School Program for refugee youth at Clarkston High School wrapped up its first year.  The program offers academic enrichment, science and technology lessons, literacy development, and English instruction along with trauma resiliency work to help children who have arrived as refugees thrive in a Western school environment.

"They work very hard to fit in the school while they adjust to a new environment and learn a new language. Our program understands those challenges and ensures that each student gets the necessary support that they all need," says Nur Abdi, case manager, LSG.

Here are few highlights from the year:

  • All participants received tutoring to help with their English skills and increase their understanding and abilities in various academic subjects. Many of the teens who participated regularly in the program saw their grades go from Ds and Fs to As and Bs.    As their confidence and abilities grew, many began to think about their future and consider college as one of the avenues available to them.
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  • In addition, students had opportunities to learn while having fun through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects.  They were also introduced to books that were chosen just for them; books that fit their reading level and included stories of refugees and immigrants that they could relate to.   One particular teenage girl from Rwanda, who had never shown an interest in reading or other school work, became enthralled when she was introduced to a novel focusing on a refugee like herself.  After this book sparked an interest in reading, she asked if she could take some books home with her to read and share with her family.
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  • Participants in the After School Program also had a chance to grow and cook their own food! During Garden Fridays, students worked on planting and tending a vegetable garden.  At the end of the year, students took a field trip to Fresh Harvest Garden, where they learned about chickens, how they are raised and maintained and egg production. They also learned about annuals and perennials, what you can do with different herbs for medicinal purposes, different uses for vegetables and herbs in their daily lives with cooking, as well as how a business is run.

 

 

 

  • Throughout the year, we had several speakers talk to the teens about various topics that are relevant to teens in America and teens who have experienced significant trauma in their lives.  One speaker came to talk to the group about cyber bullying.  The students learned about conflict resolution and how to use their voice and establish healthy boundaries with others.  One boy who was being targeted online was able to use the lessons from the program to find his voice, work through his problem and stop the bullying.

 

  • The teens in the program found support and friendship in one another.  Though many of them have been through similar circumstances and experienced similar traumas, their different ethnicities and different native languages would have otherwise kept them separate.  Through the After School Program, they began to get to know others who were different from them but shared many of the same hopes, dreams and fears.  Many friendships grew between the teens and offered a great support system for them outside the program.

We look forward to next year's After School program and seeing the lives that will be touched in various ways.  

 

Two Mothers: A Story of Friendship

 
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Joan and Ginger enjoy spending time together, whether it's on the phone or over a cup of coffee, swapping stories about their children and sharing the trials and joys along the journey of motherhood.  Though their friendship seems rather ordinary, it began in an unlikely way.

Two years ago, new foster parents Ginger Chandler and her husband Eric welcomed their first set of siblings in their home: Robin and Charlie, two young children whose mother Joan was struggling with substance abuse.  At first, their mother showed little interest in working with her social workers  or taking the necessary steps to get her children back in her home.  However, soon after the children were moved,  Joan started at an in-patient drug treatment center.  When Joan graduated from the center several months later, and the Chandlers were excited about her progress and were hopeful for her future with the children. However, the joy was short lived. Joan quickly relapsed and was out of touch with the family and her caseworkers for several months. 

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When Joan reconnected with the Chandlers months later, she had made the decision to try again, and she began another drug treatment program.  Through determination and hard work, she completed the program and stayed on track.  Over the next few months, Joan obtained a job, housing, and transportation.  She had started turning her life around.

One day, while the children were still in her care, Ginger unexpectedly received a letter from Joan.  In the letter, Joan shared how appreciative she was of how well the Chandlers were taking care of her children, and she apologized for all the mistakes she had made. At first, Ginger was very hesitant to reach out to Joan and asked Laura Fowler, LSG’s foster care case manager, what she should do.

“I asked her to take some time and pray about it before she made a decision,” said Laura.  “When I made my next home visit, Ginger told me that she had prayed about the situation and she had a realization that God gives everyone grace and love and this is what she needed to show this birth mother.”  

Ginger contacted Joan, and the women ended up talking multiple times a week on the phone. Ginger was able to be a mentor and, most importantly, a friend to Joan. Because of the open and warm relationship between the two women, Ginger was able to welcome Robin and Charlie back in her home with a smooth transition.

Ginger and Joan have continued their friendship, and see each other multiple times a month. Both women received a beautiful gift from their unique relationship.

Ginger and Eric continue to share love and grace to the birth parents of the foster children in their home.  Foster parents like the Chandlers, who not only care for children but go the extra mile to help the birth parents, make families and their communities stronger. We are thankful to have them be a part of our LSG family!

 

Healthy Families Provides Guidance and Support To A Savannah-Area Single Mom

 
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Janean is a  26-year-old single mother of two boys, J’mitri, age 9, and Jiovani, age 1. Janean was referred to LSG's Healthy Families while she was pregnant with her youngest son and has now been in the program for over a year.  Janean said she was interested in Healthy Families because she “just wanted some support.”  She works full time and is pursuing a degree in college.  

What are the most helpful skills or information that you have learned through the Healthy Families program?

“Oh wow, that’s a lot. What’s the maximum word count?” Janean laughed. “Parenting skills, maternity information, breastfeeding, social interaction, basic care with my child, teething, all of that.”

Would you recommend Healthy Families to other parents? Why or Why not?

“Yes, I feel like it’s a positive influence on me and baby. The Family Support Workers are really supportive and down to earth.”

What advice would you give someone who is a new parent and about to start Healthy Families? Any tips for getting the most out of it?

“If you’re ever concerned or worried about something to do with your baby always ask. Just know you will always have someone.”

What is the hardest thing about being a parent? What is the best thing about being a parent?

“The hardest is being full time work and school. I just want to be with them all of the time, and I can’t. The best thing is the way that my kids love me and seeing them happy. They make me feel like parenting isn’t a job.”

Healthy Families is a voluntary home visit program for families with children ages 0-5 designed to help reduce child abuse and neglect. During home visits, participants receive parenting assistance and guidance in areas such as basic care, social/emotional development, physical/brain development, communication skills, becoming more self-sufficient, problem solving, school readiness, reducing stress, and providing a safe and healthy home. For more information, visit lsga.org/family-intervention or contact our Savannah office at (912) 353-8875.

 

Seeking Volunteers with American Sign Language Skills

 

Are you or anyone in your community fluent in ASL?  We are currently working with two individuals who are hearing impaired and in need of First Friend Cultural Mentors to offer guidance and help them acclimate to life in the U.S.

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Meet Paw. Paw and his parents were resettled by Lutheran Services of Georgia last winter after fleeing Burma as refugees.  Paw was born deaf and spent 20 years of his life in a refugee camp in Thailand, where he had no access to schooling or formal sign language education.  When he arrived to the U.S., Paw became very isolated at home, with no way to communicate with anyone outside of his immediate family. Upon enrollment in the Intensive Case Management program, an LSG case manager connected Paw with a local nonprofit through the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to find an American Sign Language (ASL) teacher.  With the support of numerous private donors, Paw started ASL classes in his home!

During Paw's first ASL class, he quickly began learning to sign the alphabet, his name, and the words for objects around his home.  At the age of 37, Paw is now able to communicate with people outside of his family. With ongoing weekly ASL classes, Paw will soon be able to access more formal education.

 We would love to pair Paw and Prince, a Central African refugee who is also hearing impaired, with a First Friend Cultural Mentor! We are currently looking for at least two volunteers!

First Friends work with refugee families or individuals on a weekly basis for six months to a year. These volunteers help their First Friends learn about their communities here in the U.S., explore cultural differences, and settle into their new lives.  Will you help us get the word out to your communities and introduce us to anyone who might be interested in becoming First Friend Cultural Mentors? We can't wait for Paw and Prince to experience the joys of having a First Friend during this time of transition in their lives!

Contact Janelle Moore at jmoore@lsga.org to learn more.

 

Volunteers Needed For New Summer Camp for Refugee Children and Youth

 Participants in LSG's after school club pose during a recent field trip to Amicalola Falls

Participants in LSG's after school club pose during a recent field trip to Amicalola Falls

 

This summer, children and youth who have been recently resettled in Georgia will have a chance to have fun, increase their emotional health and grow in their school skills at LSG's summer camp for refugee children and youth!  This camp will combine traditional summer camp activities with literacy education and therapeutic exercises specifically designed for children who have endured trauma.

We are looking for a few specific types of volunteers to help out.  Volunteer opportunities:

·         A photographer to capture some fun camp memories!
·        Volunteers and interns to work with a cohort of campers as counselors
·         A volunteer nurse to help administer medication as needed and be onsite in the case of allergic reactions or injuries
·         Artists/ Creatives: Can you make interactive art projects, teach drama, or lead fun physical activities?  If so, we would love to partner with you to offer even more engaging opportunities to campers!

If you are interested in volunteering, please email your area of interest and summer availability to jmoore@lsga.org

 

200-plus Serve at Lutheran MLK Day of Service

 

On Monday, January 15th,  more than 200 volunteers from 28 different congregations and community groups came together to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of service and activism at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain.  The Lutheran MLK Day of Service is an annual tradition at Lutheran Services of Georgia combining service projects that benefit children and families served by LSG with opportunities for participants to take part in advocacy education and action.   

 Volunteers pray a blessing over the donations for the MLK Lutheran Day of Service projects.

Volunteers pray a blessing over the donations for the MLK Lutheran Day of Service projects.

In previous years, this event had been dubbed “Rice for Refugees,” however this year LSG expanded beyond is signature service project of bagging rice for recently resettled refugees, and added several service projects for LSG’s other program areas. 

 A group assembles toiletry kits for unaccompanied immigrant minor children that LSG Serves

A group assembles toiletry kits for unaccompanied immigrant minor children that LSG Serves

Rice for Refugees on MLK Day of Service

Volunteers donated materials and worked to completed eight different projects for those served in our foster care and adoptions program, our family intervention services program, host homes for adults with developmentally disabilities, and unaccompanied immigrant minors.  At the end of the day, volunteers accomplished an amazing amount of work in a short time, and LSG was blessed with many items to help those we serve, including

  • 2,000 pounds of rice bagged in family-sized bags for refugee families
  •  Four Emergency Disaster kits for our Disability Services host homes
  •  50 "welcome" cards and key chains for the first homes of newly arrived refugees
  •  21 Emergency Disaster Kits for Foster Families
  •  More than 50 letters of encouragement written to immigrants in detention
  •  39 toiletry kits and 18 backpacks of school supplies for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
  •  44 bags of emergency food for families in our Family Intervention Services program.

Volunteers came from all over metro Atlanta to serve, representing a large range of ages from young children, teens and college students to adults and seniors.

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In addition, in our Advocacy Room, volunteers wrote 258 letters to state and federal legislators to advocate for justice for Dreamers, people impacted by hunger, and more refugee arrivals.

MLK Day of Service Advocacy Letters

Around 55 people attended the workshop on Racial Justice led by Judith Roberts from ELCA Racial Justice Ministries.  

 Workshop participants gathered in groups for a learning exercise during the racial justice workshop

Workshop participants gathered in groups for a learning exercise during the racial justice workshop

LSG is grateful to all of our volunteers, staff and others who helped make the 2018 MLK Lutheran Day of Service a success.  Thank you for supporting LSG and helping  those we serve!

 

Annual Event Celebrates Refugees, Honors Volunteers and Community Partners

 
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On the 19th of November, close to 250 people gathered to share food and friendship at our annual Breaking Bread and Building Bridges potluck. 

Refugees, individuals, and faith volunteers alike enjoyed delicious homemade dishes from the U.S., Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Nepal, and more. 

Attendees had fun discussing their favorite cultural holidays and meals with one another, and several Congolese refugees present performed a traditional dance for the group.  

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·Several volunteers, faith partners, and community members were honored for their outstanding contributions to our clients.  Honorees included:    

St. John’s Lutheran Church, for their assistance furnishing numerous apartments for newly arrived refugees and for their participation as a Circle of Welcome partner.

 Craig Storlie, accepting the award on behalf of St. John’s Lutheran Church

Craig Storlie, accepting the award on behalf of St. John’s Lutheran Church

Susan Lyke, for the many times she has shared her ESOL training and curriculum with Circle of Welcome teams and individual volunteers.

Randy Potts and the Youth Group of Christ the Shepherd Lutheran, for their annual donation and delivery of welcome bags to newly arrived refugee families.

 Randy Potts, who leads the Youth Group at Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church

Randy Potts, who leads the Youth Group at Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church

Katie Curtis and Dario Bilakovic, for their committed service as First Friend Cultural Mentors to a number of refugee families.

Cheryl Bopp, Mary Kay Kates, and the whole Rock of Ages Clothing Closet Team, for their commitment to operating the clothing closet every week for many years, ensuring that our refugee clients have the clothing items they need.

 Mary Kay Kates, accepting on behalf of the Rock of Ages Clothing Closet volunteers

Mary Kay Kates, accepting on behalf of the Rock of Ages Clothing Closet volunteers

Guru Chhetri, for his volunteer work following his employment with LSG, providing interpretation and transportation assistance; and for his support of our fundraising initiatives this past year.

 LSG Staff Crispin Wiljonda and Melanie Johnson pose with Guru Chhetri.

LSG Staff Crispin Wiljonda and Melanie Johnson pose with Guru Chhetri.

Obaid Rasoul, for his over 30 years of service as an employment specialist with LSG and his ongoing volunteer work with refugees.

Dorothy Beasley, for her advocacy on behalf of refugees, her work as a First Friend Cultural Mentor, and her previous volunteer work with LSG’s cultural orientation and citizenship classes.

 Aimmee Zongondou (LSG), Dorthy Beasley and Melanie Johnson (LSG).

Aimmee Zongondou (LSG), Dorthy Beasley and Melanie Johnson (LSG).

In spite of the challenging year the resettlement community has faced—not to mention the cold and rainy weather of the evening—potluck attendees left in high spirits, warmed by the lively conversations and new friendships struck up while gathered around the table.    

Thank you to everyone who came out and made this event an overwhelming success!

 

The McAdams Family Grows Again!

 
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November is National Adoption Month, a month to knowledge and celebrate families touched by adoption!  At LSG, we are fortunate to witness many lives changed when children in foster care find their permanent home.

Earlier this month, nine-year-old Gavin was welcomed into his forever family. His parents and eight new siblings celebrated the finalization of his adoption as he officially became a “McAdams!”

His parents Candy and Kevin have made a huge impact on many children’s lives over the years.  They’ve opened their home as foster parents to multiple children in need of a temporary home and have adopted five of those children.  They’ve also recruited several of their friends to foster with LSG, including the Roers who recently finalized the adoption of their two children.

The McAdams have nine children total – seven through adoption and two through childbirth.  Their adoption journey began in 2000 when the couple adopted their nieces after Candy’s sister died.   Then Candy, who works as an elementary school teacher, learned that Timothy, one of her students with special needs, was in need of a permanent home, and she felt like she was being called to open her home again.

After the couple adopted Timothy, LSG began contacting them about other children who needed homes, and there answer was almost always “yes.”

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The McAdams have learned a lot about love, children and welcoming in their years as foster parents.

 “One of the biggest challenges is gain the trust of the children.  They’ve been through a lot.  You have to teach them and show them that when you say you are going to do something, you’re going to do it,” says McAdams.

Candy says that dealing with the ups and downs of fostering and adopting through foster care can be difficult.  Gavin first came to their home when he was four years old.  The McAdams hoped they would be able to adopt him years ago, but then a family member requested custody.  Gavin moved in with the family member for a year, but the arrangement didn’t work out. When he returned to their home, the McAdams were thrilled and welcomed him with open arms, and they begin the process of adopting him.

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Candy has always made sure that children they foster are treated the same as any member of the family.  “We don’t treat our foster children differently than our biological or adopted children.  When we go on a vacation, the whole family goes.”

What inspires Candy and Kevin to continue opening their home and growing their family?  “It’s knowing that we are helping those who need it.  That maybe we can change the world one child at a time.  I think that one child can do great things if they have a good foundation, and I think about the person they’ll be when they grow up.”

When asked if she has any advice for those considering fostering or adopting a children in foster care, Candy says that you have be able to love all kinds of children.  Candy says “you are not necessarily going to receive the love that you are giving, but it’s still worth it in the end.”

 

Stand Sunday: Standing for Children, Standing for Adoption

By Chris Hayes, Children and Family Services Supervisor for Lutheran Services of Georgia's Northwest Region.

 
 
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If you are anything like me, you probably woke up this morning trying to figure out how in the world it is already November. This year has flown by. However, November is a great month. Not only do we get Thanksgiving, but we get National Adoption Month, which is another great opportunity to bring light to the dark fact that there are literally thousands of children who are without a permanent home. I have long believed that while the problem is huge and complex, the solution is actually quite simple. The church.

I will come back to the solution shortly, but it’s important to try and comprehend the need first so we know what needs solving. In order to narrow the issue a little, I’m going to focus on Georgia. On any given day, there is somewhere around 13,000 children in foster care in the state. Close to 1,800 of those children are sitting around ready to be adopted, but just need a family to bring them home as their forever family. The good news, which brings me back to the solution, is that there are close to 15,000 churches in the state. I’m not an elite mathematician, but even I can see that there are more than enough churches to not only solve the issue of needing more homes, but there is enough resources and people to wrap around those families and children to support them through a variety of means.

 Chris Hayes, Children & Family Services Supervisor

Chris Hayes, Children & Family Services Supervisor

And with that, we are now just a couple days from Stand Sunday, formerly known as Orphan Sunday, though I like the name change. To give some background, Bishop Aaron Blake, who is a pastor and foster/adoptive father in Texas, coined the term “Stand Sunday” back in 2004 while giving a sermon to his congregation. He decided to shift gears from the sermon he had prepared to inform his congregation that there were 30,000 children in foster care in Texas and then he asked a question, one that was not intended to illicit a verbal response. He asked, “Who will stand with me to defend, care, and support abused, abandon, and neglected children in our community?” After he paused for a moment, an incredible thing happened. People started standing up saying that they would answer the call. Over the past 12 years, families in their church has fostered and adopted hundreds of children and now their county has too many families compared to the number of children in care. What?? Yes, so it can happen. We can end the crisis.

I often tell families that not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can do something. It’s imperative that foster families not do this work alone. It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s sad. But it’s also rewarding and necessary. If you can’t foster or adopt, then sign up to babysit or mentor or make meals for families with new placements. Maybe you can collect clothing and supplies for children and families. Maybe you want to mentor birth families. Maybe you can start a prayer group or maybe you can write a check. The truth is, there is a role and a need for everyone, including you. No matter what your passion or gifting or talent, use it for the glory of God and to serve these children and families.

For some of you, there is that burning within where God is calling you to step out of your comfort zone to foster and/or adopt. I can help you with that. Here at Lutheran Services of Georgia, we are committed to providing excellent services that not only help you become an approved family, but that also strongly support and encourage and guide you throughout the entire journey.

For others, maybe you want to see your church become like Bishop Blake’s. I’d love to come out and meet with you and/or your pastor(s) to talk about how we can partner together to not simply recruit more families and support volunteers, but to truly make an eternal impact in your community as we serve the least of these. Our vision is Restored Hope, Transformed Lives, Healthy Tomorrows. Together we can see children and families achieve those things. Together we can break the cycle of neglect and abuse so many families have experienced for generations. Together, we can follow the Biblical mandate set before us in James 1:27 and watch the Lord do incredible things as lives are changed forever, including yours.

However you can serve, my plea is that you will serve. Help us create more awareness by sharing the need as well as the solution so that others will join the movement. Will you stand this Sunday? Will you join us and become part of the solution? Will you pray for the children without homes right now? Will you pray for the families who are thinking about fostering or adopting? Will your church be willing to accept the call and serve in this work? If yes to any of those, don’t wait. Don't put it off. Call or email me today and let’s just talk about how you can get involved. Or, if you aren’t in or near NW Georgia, call one of our offices close to your area. It’s time to stand up and get in the game. Let’s do it together!

https://vimeo.com/224756922

Chris Hayes
Children and Family Services Supervisor
Lutheran Services of Georgia – Northwest Region
chayes@lsga.org 
404-769-4253

 

Rachel's Transformation

 
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This week is Direct Support Professionals (DSP) Week (Sept. 10-17).  At LSG, we are grateful for our many host home providers who open their homes and care for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  One of our caring and compassionate DSPs is Mary Evans.

Mary welcomed Rachel Moore, a 21-year-old woman with intellectual disabilities, in her home almost a year ago.   Rachel’s mom had passed away several years ago, and she was living with her dad.  While her dad loved Rachel deeply, he found himself unable to meet her care needs and provide the supervision needed for Rachel’s safety and well-being. 

After she moved in the Mary, Rachel’s health and hygiene has improved dramatically.  Mary has her eating more nutritious foods and well balanced meals, and now Rachel at a more healthy weight.  Mary dedicates time to teaching Rachel proper hygiene and self care, boosting Rachel’s independence and self-esteem.

LSG Supervisor/Recruiter Connie Parrish has noticed a significant change in Rachel since she’s been in Mary’s care.

“Mary has spent time with Rachel introducing her to things that she has not been exposed to.  She’s taken her to get her nails done, her hair cut in a more flattering way and purchasing age appropriate clothing for Rachel. Rachel lights up whenever she does any of those activities and enjoys showing off what they have done," says Parrish.

While living with her dad, Rachel spent a lot of time alone and unsupervised.  Her dad’s long hours at work and his home in the country far from neighbors and community resources left Rachel with little socialization.

“Now Rachel has become much more outgoing.  She used to be very quiet, but now she’s more talkative and loves going to her day center,” says Mary.  “She’s really doing great.  She’s flourishing.”