What you can do today to stand with refugees

 

By Melanie Johnson, Volunteer Manager, LSG's Refugee & Immigration Services Department

As we all know, it’s been a very sad week for the refugee resettlement community and the vulnerable individuals and families who we serve. In light of the recent executive order temporarily banning all refugees, and indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, I wanted to share some ways that you could help.

1.  Donate to Lutheran Services of Georgia and encourage others to donate. 
For more than 30 years, we’ve been welcoming and walking alongside refugee families – we are committed to continuing this work to the best of our abilities under the new executive orders. Please consider donating to our refugee program as our federal funding will be significantly reduced during this ban. We need assistance to be able to retain our staff and resources, so we can continue to help the refugees who have already arrived and be fully prepared to continue resettling families when the 120-day halt in resettlement is lifted. Support LSG’s refugee families today by donating.  Click here to donate and choose the fund “refugee services.”

2.  Tell your elected officials that refugees are welcome in your community and that you oppose the refugee ban.  Go online right now to oppose the ban and support refugee rights at the national level (http://www.lirs.org/action)  and at the state level (http://bit.ly/2kxoDX2)

 

3.  Support the refugees that are already in our community. Hearing what is happening in the news has been very rough for our refugee clients. Let’s show them 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.  Here are some upcoming events in the Atlanta area:

  • Atlanta Stands with Muslims and Refugees Interfaith Rally scheduled for this Saturday, February 4, 12:00 – 3:00 pm at Masjid Al-Momineen, 837 N Indian Creek Dr, Clarkston, Georgia 30021
  • Georgia Loves Refugees Press Conference sponsored by the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies (CRSA) on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 11:00 am at the Clarkston Community Center, 3701 College Ave, Clarkston, GA 30021.  RSVP by emailing victoria.huynh@cpacs.org  by February 10.

4.  Continue to educate yourself and others. The national resettlement organizations, including our national partner, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, have jointly developed a series of videos and a social media campaign – Refugees Love America – to combat anti-refugee sentiment and open up important public dialogue.  Please use the videos with email/facebook/twitter; create your own content (make short videos and share other videos), request action (ask for Congress and the Administration to be reminded that Refugees Love America)!  Use #refugeeswelcome. 

See http://www.rcusa.org/refugees-love-america

Thank you so much for standing with refugees. We continue to be encouraged and inspired by the outpouring of support.

 

LSG Announces John Moeller as New CEO

 

Lutheran Services of Georgia recently announced the selection of Rev. John Moeller as its new Chief Executive Officer.  In this key leadership role, Moeller will steer the statewide organization as it looks to expand and enhance its services and programs and to strengthen its position as an industry leader.  Moeller will begin his new role effective February 15, 2017. At that time, Gary Johnstone, who has served as Interim CEO, will resume his position as Chief Operations Officer.

“The LSG staff and Board are thrilled to welcome John, and we anxiously await his expertise and leadership as we continue in our commitment to serve many of Georgia’s most vulnerable populations with an unwavering passion and the highest quality of services,” says Rev. Dr. David Hardy, Chair of the Board of Directors, Lutheran Services of Georgia.  “John has a reputation in the community as a visionary leader and as a builder and grower of organizations. Our Board and senior leadership unanimously agreed that John is the dynamic leader needed to propel LSG to the next level – to grow its programs and improve its services, so that ultimately we can better serve our clients and our community.”

“Lutheran Services of Georgia is known throughout the state as a leader in the program areas it serves.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this established and respected organization into the future,” says John Moeller.  “I am eager to get to work and look forward to increasing LSG’s impact around the state and advancing our vision and mission in the communities it serves.”

John is a veteran of the nonprofit industry with extensive experience leading faith-based Organizations.  He comes to LSG from Action Ministries in Atlanta, where he has served as President and CEO for the past five years. Under John’s leadership, Action Ministries has expanded its service territory and increased its revenues while revitalizing its relationship with its United Methodist Church roots. Prior to Action Ministries, John served as CEO of MUST Ministries in Marietta for ten years. John is ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church and served as Pastor to UMC congregations in North Georgia from 1991 to 2001 before being called to work in nonprofit human and social services. He retains his ordination status and currently serves as an ordained elder.

As an outdoor enthusiast, Moeller spends much of his leisure time hiking, biking and pursuing other activities in nature. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and received his Masters of Divinity from Emory University.

John looks forward to meeting and working with our many partners, donors, volunteers and other constituents.

 

LSG Volunteers Make MLK Day a "Day On, Not a Day Off"

 

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

On Monday, January 16th, people from all over the United States participated in the MLK Day of Service, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King by giving back to their communities by volunteering with various organizations.  Lutheran Services of Georgia's Refugee Services program held its annual Lutheran MLK Day of Service in conjunction with the national event.  More than 200 volunteers - adults and children, groups and individuals -  assembled at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain to help with service projects benefiting refugees and immigrants served by LSG. 

 

Rice for Refugees

Volunteers spent the morning portioning and repackaging more than 4,200 lbs of rice into family-sized bags.  The bags of rice will be distributed to refugee families that Lutheran Service of Georgia is resettling in the Atlanta area.  The rice, typically a staple of many refugees' diets,  will provide comforting and nutritious first meals for refugee families during an intense transition period in their lives.  

Volunteers join in blessing the 4,200 lbs of donated rice.

Volunteers join in blessing the 4,200 lbs of donated rice.

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Letters of Hope

Volunteers also wrote letters to immigrants currently being detained in detention facilities.  Detainees often have few to no visitors and little contact with the outside world.  Volunteers were invited to be a compassionate presence by writing letters of hope and encouragement to immigrants in detention facilities in Georgia and by creating cards for mothers and children in family detention centers in Texas.

Advocacy Training

Following the service projects, many volunteers attended an advocacy training session led by Jessica Jones, Esq., Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Rev. Kevin Jacobson, Assistant Director for Outreach, LIRS, and Stephanie Ali, LMSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways.  The training outlined methods and talking points for attendees to engage with their elected representatives and to advocate for refugees and immigrants. 

Jessica Jones, Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, provided practical tips and advice for communicating with elected officials and standing up for refugees

Jessica Jones, Acting Director for Advocacy, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, provided practical tips and advice for communicating with elected officials and standing up for refugees

Stephanie Ali, LCSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways, provided information on advocating at a state level.

Stephanie Ali, LCSW, Communications and Policy Coordinator, New American Pathways, provided information on advocating at a state level.

Thank you to all of our volunteers who attended the 2017 MLK Day of Service.  If you were unable to attend but are interested in volunteering with LSG's refugee services department, please email Melanie Johnson.

The Carter Effect - Fostering Hope in Young Men

 

Many young men and adult men who have come through Georgia’s Foster Care system attribute their success, despite a challenging home life, to the Carter Effect.

 

 
 
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The Carter Effect is an expression the youth who have lived in the foster home of Chevette Carter use to describe the positive impact Carter has had on their lives. Ms. Carter, a licensed foster parent with Lutheran Services of Georgia, opens her home to teenage males who have been placed in foster care through the Division of Family and Children Services. 

“I just want to see them be productive, but someone has to teach them, that’s why I do it,” said Carter.

Carter has been fostering for more than 16 years and during this time has touched the lives of more than 12 young men. She states that many of her foster children  come to her  from group homes, which lack the family-like setting that will allow these teens to thrive. Carter provides them with a normal home, where they can attend school with their peers, play sports, and prepare for the real world. 

Carter expressed that she also loves to be a support for the parents. She recollected a time when a birth mother gave her a hug and thanked her.

“That is why I do this, building people up is always a good thing,” reflects Carter.

Carter believes all children should have the right to grow up in a loving and nurturing environment. She explains the relationship she has with Lutheran Services of Georgia allows her to provide these youth with an opportunity to receive a fair chance at life.  

“There are approximately 9,000 children in foster care in the State of Georgia, and we at LSG want to spread the Carter Effect,” stated Akiva Ford, Foster Care Recruiter, Lutheran Services of Georgia. “We want to provide our children with homes like Ms. Carter’s.  A place where they can grow and thrive and have a connection even when they exit from out of the system. Lutheran Services of Georgia is truly indebted to Ms. Carter and all of our foster homes.”

If you would like to become a foster parent and provide Hope, Healing, and Strength to a child in need, visit our website and fill out a foster care inquiry form.

 

Getting Involved with LSG in 2017 - Volunteer in the New Year!

 

Making resolutions for the New Year has become a mainstay of American culture.  As new calendars are unwrapped, many men and women aim to lose weight, save money or be more organized. Others resolve to improve the world around them by serving others in their community and supporting nonprofit organizations that help others. 

Volunteering, a common goal for the New Year, benefits both the nonprofit and the individual.  While dedicated volunteers are critical to a nonprofit’s work, getting involved with a charity can also have many personal advantages. Volunteering is an ideal way to try out a new career, learn a new professional skill, meet likeminded people and improve self-esteem (helping others always makes you feel better about yourself!).

Are you looking for ways to get involved and give back in 2017?  Lutheran Services of Georgia has multiple opportunities throughout the year. 

Attend LSG's Refugee Services Lutheran MLK Day of Service on January 16 

Register to participate in the Lutheran MLK Day of Service to be held on Monday, January 16, 2017 from 9 am to 1 pm.  Youth and adults will gather at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church (5135 Memorial Dr., Stone Mountain, GA 30083) to learn how to stand for welcome with refugees and immigrants and to work on service projects.     

  Service projects  include packing donated rice for refugees and writing letters of hope to immigrants currently being held in Georgia's detention facilities. 

In addition, attendees can participate in Training for Immigration Advocacy by Jessica Jones, the Acting Director for Advocacy for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Washington, D.C. The training will equip participants to take a stand with refugees and immigrants as we learn to advocate together for just and fair laws and policies.  

Click here to register here for the Lutheran MLK Day of Service.

  

Walk or Run in the 2017 Hunger Walk/Run for LSG 

A simple yet tangible way to assist LSG is to register for and attend the 2017 Hunger Walk/Run.   

Held on March 5th, the Hunger Walk/Run is a community event and fundraiser organized by the Atlanta Community Food Bank.  As a beneficiary of the event, Lutheran Services of Georgia receives a portion of funds raised to provide nutritional support to many of the populations we serve.  LSG also gives a portion of the funds it receives to participating congregations and other agencies to help fund hunger relief programs of their own.    

 This family friendly event will be held downtown at 755 Hank Aaron Drive.  It features live music, activities and tasty eats from some of the city's best food trucks in addition to the 5k Walk and Run. 

 Click here to register

 Ongoing Service Opportunities For Individuals 

Interest in volunteering with one of our program areas?  In our refugee services department, we need volunteers to help in our Refugee Clothing Closet, to assist with driving refugees to appointments, to help with cultural orientation and more.  Click here for a list of opportunities in our Refugee Services program.  In addition, we have volunteer openings to assist in our Family Intervention Services program, click here to learn more

Do you love organizing parties and planning events? Volunteer to help with one of our special events!  We need volunteers to help with golf tournaments in Atlanta and Savannah, our annual Heroes of Hope Gala in September and other events.  Or host your own small, intimate fundraising event in your own home.  Click here for more information about how you can help spread awareness of LSG’s work and mission through a wine tasting, dinner party, brunch or other event. 

 

Engage Your Church or Community 

Individual support of our work is a blessing, but when our supporters engage their church, school, or other community organization, the power of that support increases exponentially. Coming together to support LSG is a meaningful way to strengthen your community by uniting your friends, neighbors and/or congregants to achieve a common goal. 

Projects ideas include holding a donation drive for a refugee family or hosting a baby shower for a new foster family.  Click here for a list of other group project ideas. 

Whatever your talent, skill or desired area of service, Lutheran Services of Georgia has a way for you to get involved.  Explore our website to learn more about LSG and how you can help. 

 

High School Student and Volunteer Creates Video to Highlight LSG's Refugee Clothing Closet

 
 

Isa Gerondelis is using her passion to help spread the word about one of Lutheran Services of Georgia's valuable programs for refugees resettled in the Atlanta area.  A high school student and LSG volunteer, Isa created the video above to highlight LSG's Refugee Clothing Closet at Rock of Ages Church in Stone Mountain.  

The Refugee Clothing Closet is a helpful resource for refugees who have recently been resettled in Atlanta and Clarkston, GA.  Refugees typically arrive with few personal possessions and have limited income to spend on necessities.  The Clothing Closet offers them an opportunity for to "shop" for clothing, shoes and other items.  The Clothing Closet relies on donations from the community to keep its shelves  stocked and on volunteers to keep the incoming donations organized and accessible. 

Isa's Idea

Isa's  church, St. John's Lutheran, has been very involved with LSG.  Last year, St. John's participated in the Lutheran MLK Day of Service, held at Rock of Ages.  (For more information on this year's Day of Service click here)

 
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"I heard the refugee stories on MLK day last year, and the Clothes Closet came up. It seemed like a really cool opportunity to help out and get involved," says Isa.  "I love making movies, so I thought that I could make a short film about the Clothes Closet to spread awareness."

Last summer Isa spent Wednesday mornings, which is the day designated for volunteers to organize and sort at the Clothing Closet, helping out and filming.   Once the summer wrapped up and she was back in school, she begin editing the film in her free time.

"This opportunity has been great because I can use something that I enjoy doing to impact others," says Isa. "Working at the Closet has been an eye-opening experience and I'm glad I can share it."

If you are interested in volunteering at LSG's Refugee Clothing Closet, contact Melanie Johnson for more information on that program and other volunteer needs in our Refugee Services Department.

Do you have gently used clothing or other items to donate?    Click here for more information on donating clothing, furniture or other items. Do you have a special talent, skill or passion that you could use to help Lutheran Services of Georgia continue its invaluable work with vulnerable populations throughout the state?  Contact Melissa Pinsky at LSG to share your ideas and find out how you can get started.

 

Hope Tree Bring Hope and Joy to Families in Georgia

 

At Lutheran Services of Georgia, we’ve just wrapped up another incredible year of our Hope Tree program.  Thanks to generous donations from our friends and supporters, the children and families we serve are able to experience the joy and hope of the holiday season.  In the truest spirit of Christmas, our donors provided toys, clothing, warm coats and cozy blankets to those who might otherwise not receive a gift.

This year's donations from churches, businesses, community organizations, LSG Board members and other friends of LSG, brought smiles to the faces of more than 1140 individuals throughout Georgia. Gifts were given to

  • 99 children in our Foster Care program
  • 198 children of parents in our Family Intervention Services program
  • 98 adults and children with developmental disabilities in our FACES program
  • 897 Refugee families who have been recently resettled by LSG

Christ the King Lutheran Church in Peachtree Corners provided gifts for 125 individuals.  Good Shepherd Lutheran in Woodstock provider 179 shoeboxes filled with gifts and necessities for children ages 9-18.  Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta donated gift for more than 100 adults and children and allowed us to use their church for sorting our gifts for the Atlanta refugees.

  Gift sorting at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

  Gift sorting at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

 In addition to the toys for the children, each refugee receives a winter coat.  Our refugees arrive from warm weather climates and need appropriate attire for the colder days.  The coats were delivered just in time for the recent dip in temperature.

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A young refugee boy opens a gift

A young refugee boy opens a gift

The local nonprofit For The Kid In All of Us provided more than 150 toys for Hope Tree as a part of their annual Toy Party toy drive.  In addition, other community groups and nonprofits such as Helping Mamas and Little Helpers provided a number of gifts.

Gifts from For The Kid in All of Us

Gifts from For The Kid in All of Us

Donors helped provide gifts to our Rome location for 50 children and adults in our Foster Care and FACES (disability services) programs in Northwest Georgia. 

A portion of gift received for our Rome FACES and Foster Care clients.

A portion of gift received for our Rome FACES and Foster Care clients.

Local Savannah businesses such as Memorial Health University Clinics (pictured) and Arconic manufacturing provided gifts for Savannah area families.  Other donations in Savannah were provided by local churches and other individual donors.

On behalf of all of those we serve - the recipients of these generous contributions - and our staff, we thank all the churches, organizations, and businesses that donated items for Hope Tree.  In addition, more than 40 LSG Board members and community members donated gifts.

We thank the following organizations for their donations:

Atlanta

  • Christ Lutheran (Oakwood)
  • Christ the King Lutheran (Peachtree Corners)
  • Christ the Shepherd Lutheran (Alpharetta)
  • Conference 10 (Magi Conference) of the SE Synod ELCA
  • Epiphany Lutheran (Conyers)
  • Epiphany Lutheran (Suwanee)
  • Faith Lutheran (Marietta)
  • First United Lutheran
  • For The Kid in All Of Us
  • God Smile Inc
  • Good Shepherd Lutheran (Woodstock)
  • Grace Lutheran (Atlanta)
  • Grace Lutheran (Carrollton)
  • Helping Mamas
  • Holy Trinity Lutheran (Marietta)
  • Little Helpers
  • Lutheran Church of Atonement
  • Lutheran Church of the Incarnation
  • Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Atlanta)
  • Living Hope Lutheran (Kennesaw)
  • Lord of Life Lutheran (Alpharetta)
  • Oak Road (Lilburn)
  • Peachtree Road United Methodist Church
  • Rivercliff Lutheran Church
  • Rock of Ages Lutheran Church
  • St. Paul Lutheran Church (Peachtree City)
  • St. Stephen's Lutheran Church (Decatur)
  • Trinity Lutheran Church

Albany

  • Trinity Lutheran Church  
  • MSA Surgery Center

Athens

  • Christus Victor
  • Trinity Lutheran Church

Columbus           

  • St. Matthew (Columbus)                    

Rome

  • Our Redeemer (Augusta)             
  • Christ Lutheran (Marietta)              

Savannah

  • Arconic Savannah
  • Asbury Methodist
  • Compassion Christian Church
  • Hilton Head First Presbyterian
  • Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency       
  • Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church  
  • Memorial Health University Clinics
  • Mt. Calvary Lutheran (Warner Robins)     
  • Redeemer Lutheran (Savannah)    
  • St. James Catholic Church   
  • St. John's Lutheran (Savannah)          
  • St. Paul's Lutheran Preschool      
  • St. Paul's WELCA (Savannah)    
  • St. Paul's Lutheran Church                          

               

 

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. 

OBAID RASOUL STARTED WORKING AS A JOB COUNSELOR WITH LSG IN 1983.  OVER THE YEARS, HE HAS HELPED MANY REFUGEES FIND THEIR FIRST JOB.

OBAID RASOUL STARTED WORKING AS A JOB COUNSELOR WITH LSG IN 1983.  OVER THE YEARS, HE HAS HELPED MANY REFUGEES FIND THEIR FIRST JOB.

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:
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/aleppos-children/cameraman-who-filmed-omran-daqneesh-s-rescue-aleppo-recounts-boy-n636561

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/19/middleeast/syria-omran-daqneesh-aylan-kurdi-reaction/index.html

 

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.  

 
IMG_6315 e.jpg
 

 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.