LSG Volunteer, Ignatian Volunteer Corps Member Mary Maio Lends a Hand, Creates Smiles

 

LSG volunteer Mary Maio helped create hundreds of smiles across Georgia this December.  Through her volunteer work with LSG's Hope Tree, many children in need were able to unwrap a Christmas gift picked out just for them.

A former microbiologist and past owner of her own medical transcription company, Mary found her way to LSG through the Atlanta chapter of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a volunteer group that provides men and women, mostly retirement age, with the opportunity to use their experience and talents to serve a nonprofit in need of help.

Since she started working with LSG last May, Mary has been integral to the success of many of our special events.  Mary helped procure and organize hundreds of silent auction items for our Heroes of Hope Gala and Savannah Golf Tournament.  This spring, she'll be helping out with other events like Hunger Walk/Run, the Prayer Breakfast and Low Country Pie Festival in Savannah.

“Working in LSG's development department has been a rewarding experience," says Mary.  "Witnessing the generosity of others has been really eye-opening.  In fundraising, we’re not often working face-to-face with the needy, but it feels good to know that by collecting donations and raising money, it makes that work possible.”

Without Mary’s behind-the-scenes work with Hope Tree, LSG wouldn’t have been able to provide for as many families in 2015. Part of her role was compiling the many wish lists from our Foster Care children and helping recruit churches and individuals to buy the gifts.

“Reading the wish lists of the children in Foster Care, and then watching the gifts pour in from our generous donors and seeing a whole office packed full of gifts was incredible," says Mary.  "Working at LSG has really made me aware of the different vulnerable populations that need our support. I was happy to be a part of providing so many refugees – who come from mostly warm climates – with a coat for the winter and so many children in Foster Care with what might be their only gift this year."

Prior to her volunteer work with Ignatian Volunteer Corps and Lutheran Services of Georgia, Mary spent much of her adult life exploring different areas of the United States as she and her husband Doug moved around the country as he was transferred for work. Originally from Louisiana, Mary and her husband moved between New York, Colorado, California, Georgia, and New Jersey over the years.  When it came time to retire in 2001, the couple chose Roswell to settle in.

She says that people are often surprised to learn that her background is not in fundraising, but she hopes others will be inspired by her to learn new skills and use their talents in new ways in retirement or a mid-life career change.

Can you help us?

LSG relies on volunteers like Mary.  Without volunteers, the many programs and services we offer just wouldn't be possible.  For information on volunteering, click here.  If you are interested in donating an item for a silent auction for our Pie Festival or Heroes of Hope gala, click to email Mary.

 

Hunger Walk/Run Helps LSG Foster Children

 

The hunger statistics from around Georgia are staggering. 28.2 percent of Georgia's children live in “food insecure homes” – that means homes where they can’t be sure when or where they’ll get their next meal. Many populations that Lutheran Services of Georgia serves are deeply impacted by hunger in their daily lives.  LSG helps make sure that these families have the food they need, and the money raised through Hunger Walk helps make it possible.

How Hunger Affects Our Foster Families

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Bringing in a foster child, particularly a medically fragile child or a child with special needs, is often more costly than the foster family may have anticipated. While families receive a stipend for opening their home to a foster child, it is sometimes not enough to cover all of the child’s expenses.  Families are impacted when a child requires multiple trips a week to the doctor or around-the-clock care that prevents the foster parent from working.  When children enter foster care due to neglect, the child may come to the foster home malnourished and with a host of medical problems that require a special, costly diet.

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Money that LSG raises through Hunger Walk helps provide food assistance to these children. That support allows the foster parents to concentrate on creating a secure environment and ensuring the best care possible for the child.

Hunger Walk funds go toward providing nutritional support for foster families, either directly through supplying food items or by providing grocery store gift cards to help them stretch their food budget.

In addition to supporting LSG’s own programs – foster care, refugee and immigration services, adoption, family intervention services and FACES (adults with developmental disabilities), a portion of the funds raised through the Hunger Walk/Run are given back to local Lutheran congregations to use in their own hunger relief programs, including non-perishable food pantries, bag lunch ministries,  Thanksgiving food boxes and monthly Saturday hot meal programs.

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Register to Walk Today

Help Lutheran Services of Georgia as we work to fight hunger in Atlanta by registering for the 2016 Hunger Walk/Run.  On March 13, more than 15,000 walkers and runners will come together at Turner Field for a family-friendly, fun-filled afternoon.  Gates will open at noon, so come early and enjoy live music and tasty eats from some of the city's best food trucks.  At 2:00 p.m., the walk/run will begin and take participants through historic downtown Atlanta and around the state Capitol. Click here sign up.  Start your own team with your friends, family, coworkers or congregation, or join an existing team.

Help us make sure foster families, and all our clients, receive the support they need. Register today!

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hunger walk 2015
 

Lutheran MLK Day of Service

 

Lutheran MLK Day of ServiceMonday, January 18, 2016 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM Rock of Ages Lutheran Church Stone Mountain

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Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others? -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Join volunteers from around Metro Atlanta to serve on the national day of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Against what seemed like impossible odds, Dr. King and scores of his fellow citizens of all races came together and, ultimately, helped bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. The upcoming commemoration of the MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 18 is an opportunity to remember that history and re-commit ourselves as citizens by volunteering in service to one another.

The Lutheran MLK Day of Service is co-sponsored by the Lutheran Theological Center of Atlanta and the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA and it benefits refugees and immigrants served by Lutheran Services of Georgia. Join others to donate and pack rice and other staple food items to stock the pantries of newly arrived refugees resettled by LSG in Georgia. Also come to engage in learning and action about how people from all faiths can help welcome refugees from around the world.

Any questions? Email Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org

REGISTER HERE for the Lutheran MLK Day of Service.

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Volunteers package rice for newly arrived refugee families at the 2015 Lutheran MLK Day of Service.

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Give the Gift of Home this Christmas

 
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Holiday_Headers-01

We go home for the holidays to be reminded of the unconditional love and security we felt as children, to wrap our arms around the people we love and to feel their arms wrapped around us. We go home to strengthen the bonds that tie us to those who raised us, those we grew up with and eventually, those we raised. Family is home, and a blessing that is always with us, and always growing. But not everyone has been blessed with a family, or a place to call home, yet.

This Christmas, you can give the most meaningful and life-changing gift of all: the gift of home. Our mission is to find, strengthen, and create homes for people in need throughout Georgia. You can make that mission possible by contributing to our work, or to a specific program, today.

Give to LSG Today and Help Bring People Home

 

How Should We Respond to the Refugee Crisis in Light of the Paris and Beirut Attacks?

 

The past five days have been really painful for humanity. The recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, not to mention the countless acts of violence in multiple places around the world have shocked and alarmed us. We are more connected than in any other time of human history, through 24/7 media outlets and social media, we know instantly what’s going on around the world.

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Refugee family mother and daughter

These events are scary for everyone. And in our fear, and in the uncertainty around us, and especially in the instantaneous ways we receive information, reactions are swift. So as a result, there has been significant backlash against Syrian refugees, and in some cases, refugees in general. We at Lutheran Services of Georgia have been serving refugees for over thirty years, so we have seen first hand the incredible contributions of refugees in Georgia. Our clients and even some of our staff are a perfect testimony of that, many of them fled violence and war and are now U.S citizens, working to serve their community. We do understand the concerns that people have expressed, so I wanted to address some of the key questions that have been posed:

  1. What is a Refugee anyway? According to the United Nations, a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." Essentially, refugees have fled violence or persecution and are unable to return to their home country.
  2. How are refugees processed? Are there security risks?  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another non-governmental organization (NGO) — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled, which can take four to 10 months.  Once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a multi-layered security screening process that could take several rounds, an in-person interview with Department of State personnel, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, "cultural orientation" classes, and final security screening. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil. The United States handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and they go through multiple layers of security checks, making them the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. Before a refugee can even be considered to come to the U.S., he or she must first be determined to be eligible. The security process takes at least 18 to 24 months.
  3. But what about Paris? The European process is different from the process of vetting in the United States. As mentioned above, the security screening process is very stringent.  Refugees are the most scrutinized and screened individuals to enter the United States. The robust and multi-layered series of security checks include biometrics, medical screenings, interagency intelligence sharing, and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials are an extraordinary tool to ensure that the refugees we seek to protect will not pose a safety threat to the United States.
  4. How many refugees are coming to the United States? Aren’t they a financial drain on the tax payers? The number of refugees admitted into the United States from all countries has averaged between 50,000 and 85,000 in recent years. For this coming fiscal year, the total number estimated was 85,000, an increase in 10,000 from the previous year. In Georgia, 82% of refugees are self sufficient, working and paying their own expenses after six months in the United States. Refugees contribute to the American economy in great ways.
  5. Is it true that only Muslim refugees are coming to the United States? What about only Syrian Men? They’re the only pictures I see. The United States resettles refugees of all faiths. Keeping some Syrian refugees out of this country based on their religion sends the wrong message to the rest of the world about who we are as Americans. We are a welcoming country with a religiously diverse society and our resettlement program should continue to reflect this. To not do so only feeds into ISIS’ propaganda and makes us all less safe. And in regards to gender, 76% of the refugees who have fled violence in Syria are women and children. For Lutheran Services of Georgia, in the federal fiscal year that just ended on September 30th, 76.5% of our clients were women and children. 47% of our clients were Christian, 13% were Buddhist or Hindu, and 40% were Muslim. We serve all faiths through the resettlement program.

Ultimately, we at LSG believe in bringing people home and creating welcome. We have a rich history as an organization in serving the vulnerable. And we have a rich history as a nation of being a country of immigrants, of people who escaped persecution in search for new futures. We hope you will join us as we welcome refugees to Georgia.

 

Celebrate National Adoption Month with LSG Rome!

national adoption month November is National Adoption Month! National Adoption Month is recognized each year to raise awareness of adoption throughout the country, to challenge myths about adoption, and to celebrate the love and support that is shared between adoptive families and their children.

This year, through our Specialized Foster Care program in Rome, we have matched many exceptional children with their forever families, who have opened their homes and welcomed them as their own. We think this incredible gift is something to celebrate!

We will be hosting an adoption appreciation pizza party to celebrate all of the life-changing connections that have been made between adoptive families and their children. We are so grateful for each family that has chosen to partner with us to start or expand their families, and we invite them to join us in celebration this Saturday:

LSG Adoption Appreciation Party Date: Saturday, November 7th Time: 11:30am-2:30pm Place: Mellow Mushroom              238 Broad St, Rome, GA 30161

The party is sure to be lots of fun, and a great way for children to socialize and make new friends, so please don’t miss it! We will have lots of fun activities for the kids and plenty of pizza and snacks for everyone. We encourage parents to bring their entire families so that they can get to know other families like theirs, and share stories and support with one another.

We know that the adoption process can be long, and that it is not always easy; however, to parents who have completed the process and gotten to welcome their child or children home, we say this: you did it! You not only changed the life of a child who longed for love and support, but you navigated a complicated process and came out on the other end as a stronger family with a wonderful addition.

We are so grateful for your partnership and the incredible gift that you have given, so please join us in celebrating your family!

Support LSG on Georgia Gives Day!

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November 12 is Georgia Gives Day and LSG needs your help!

Georgia Gives Day brings the state together as one community to raise as much money and awareness as possible for Georgia nonprofits in one 24-hour flash mob of giving. LSG is committed to raise $10,000 to serve children, adults, and families in need throughout Georgia. We can't do it alone! Here are three big ways you can help us reach our goal.

GIVE

On November 12, please go to our Georgia Gives profile and donate! Afterwards, tell your friends by sharing our profile via e-mail or social media. Donations are accepted through the Georgia Gives platform all year long, but donating on November 12 allows LSG to compete for additional funding only available on that date.

FUNDRAISE

Become a personal GA Gives fundraiser for us! Go to our Georgia Gives profile and click "Become a Fundraiser" to create your own profile. Use your profile to ask friends and family to support LSG. It's a great way to show how much you love LSG and inspire others to give. If you need help setting up your profile, click here for step-by-step instructions.

AMPLIFY

Help us spread the word about our participation in Georgia Gives Day! Share the link to our profile via social media and e-mail. You can also download our promotional materials:

For more information about Georgia Gives Day,  contact Allison Hood at ahood@lsga.org or 404-591-7067

LSG's Refugee School Impact Program Helps Refugee Students Succeed

 

Lutheran Services of Georgia is excited to announce that the Georgia Department of Human Services Refugee Programs Unit has renewed our Refugee School Impact Grant for the 2015-2016 school year!  This grant supports LSG's Refugee School Impact program, launched in the spring of 2015 to serve refugee students, their families, and their schools in Savannah.

The Refugee School Impact program aims to improve the academic performance and social adjustment of refugee children. Refugee students face unique challenges in U.S. schools. School staffmay lack the cultural knowledge and resources necessary to support refugee families.  Many refugee children and parents need help improving their English skills to fully navigate the school system. Transportation can be another obstacle, since getting the child signed up to take the school bus can be a long process. Refugees do not have cars when they arrive, so the child often has no alternate way to get to school.

 
 
 
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In the spring of 2015, LSG hired Christy Seifert to serve as School Liaison between refugee families, schools, and LSG. Christy conducts interviews with the child and parent to learn about the child's needs, hopes, and dreams. She then uses this information to create Individualized Service Plans that center the child's specific academic and social needs.

Christy is there from the very beginning, enrolling kids in school, registering them for free lunch, teaching them how to ride the bus, and locating and providing school supplies. Throughout the school year, Christy and a team of volunteers support families through tutoring and regular meetings with parents, teachers, and school administration. Three times a year, Christy assesses refugee student improvement in math, reading, and English.

Christy enjoys her work as the School Liaison. She said, "Having lived in foreign countries myself, I know how difficult cultural adjustments can be. I love being able to serve families and help make their transition into American life as smooth as possible. I love the excitement of new students as they watch their improvement on their assessments. I love watching parents get excited about their kids learning. I love being part of dreams coming true."

 

Christy has seen how, with a little extra help, refugee children can thrive in their new schools. She has seen a lot of progress in the children she serves and shared this story: "There is a child in our program that dreams BIG! He wants to be an astronaut. He loves to study science and is very driven. This child is always asking questions about history and loves to process all he is learning."

LSG's Refugee School Impact program supports refugees along a continuum of care. Parents may receive services through LSG's Family Intervention Services and refugee employment programs. LSG also connects refugees with organizations that offer additional support, including English language instruction for parents, tutoring, summer camp experiences for children, and more.

LSG's Refugee School Impact program served 13 children in the 2014-2015 school year and anticipates serving 24 children this year. LSG thanks the Office of Refugee Resettlement for renewing our Refugee School Impact Grant and is looking forward to another great school year.

To learn more about the Refugee School Impact program, contact Christy Seifert at cseifert@lsga.org.

 

LSG Receives Human Services Grant to Support Family Intervention Services

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Lutheran Services of Georgia recently received funding from the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, under the guidance of the Housing and Human Services Department Grant Program, to support LSG's Family Intervention Services program. The Human Services Grant program bridges the gap in direct government services by supporting etablished community-based non-profit organizations throughout Fulton County that provide programs in the areas of: Aging, Disability, Employment, HIV/AIDS, Homelessness & Housing, and Youth & Families.

LSG’s Family Intervention Services (FIS) program has three main goals: 1) That children are protected from abuse and neglect and safety maintained in their homes whenever possible; 2) That children have permanency and stability in their living situations; and 3) That families have enhanced capacity to provide for their children’s needs.

Most FIS clients are families who have been impacted by issues that put children at a higher risk of abuse or neglect or have experienced impaired family functioning. FIS clients may have children with medically fragile conditions, developmental disabilities, or behavioral and psychiatric disabilities. They may be experiencing factors that put the child at risk, including poverty, unemployment, unstable housing, domestic violence, lack of education, low literacy, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, dependence on relative caregivers, young/inexperienced parents, language barriers, and more.

FIS protects children and strengthens families through two key components: A+ Parents and Supervised Family Visitation. A+ Parents works to prevent family issues from escalating to the point of requiring Child Protective Services (CPS) intervention and/or out-of-home placements. Supervised Family Visitation serves children who have already entered foster care by providing structured opportunities for children to visit with birth parents, siblings, or other relatives in a safe, home-like setting. Both A+ Parents and Supervised Family Visitation offer parenting classes, assessments, case management, therapy, community linkages, and transportation assistance. In fiscal year 2014, FIS served 189 children and 143 adults in 100 families in Fulton County alone.

Lutheran Services of Georgia thanks the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and the Housing and Human Services Department for providing funding for Family Intervention Services.

LSG Celebrates Heroes of Hope at 8th Annual Gala

 

On Thursday, September 17, Lutheran Services of Georgia celebrated community heroes at the 8th Annual Heroes of Hope Gala. LSG staff, supporters, volunteers, donors, and clients gathered at the Historic Dekalb Courthouse for this evening of celebration.

Attendees enjoyed a buffet dinner, drinks, live music, and silent auction featuring items and experiences given by 43 generous donors. Rick Probst, host of radio show FaithTalk LiVE, served as emcee for the evening's program. LSG unveiled its brand-new agency video, created by vLink Solutions, to applause from the room.

Two LSG clients graciously shared their stories with the crowd. Mohamad Nazir Hussain, a refugee,  talked about his perilous journey from Burma to Thailand to Malaysia and finally to resettlement in the United States. He thanked LSG and his case managers for all their support in helping him, his wife, and his four children adjust to life in Georgia.

 
 

Mrs. Shamae Crosswhite spoke about her experience with LSG's Adoption program. She and her husband Perry are the proud parents of a brother and sister adopted through LSG. 9-year-old Nicolas and 6-year-old Kara joined their mother as she thanked LSG for helping make their family possible.

LSG then presented the 2015 Heroes of Hope awards to Kelly James and Kareem Ahmed of R. James Properties, John Timpe, and John Blend of Goshen Valley. The heroes spoke about their experiences with LSG and serving the community, and accepted their awards. Click here to read more about our 2015 Heroes.

 
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The program wrapped up with a live auction as attendees pledged $10,00- to support LSG's various programs throughout Georgia. Attendees stayed afterwards to place final silent auction bids and to chat with new and old friends.

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. LSG raised close to $40,000 to support individuals, children, and families throughout Georgia. More photos from the night are available on our Facebook page. Contact Allison Hood at ahood@lsga.org or 404-591-7067 for information regarding the 2016 Heroes and other events.

 

September 13-19 is Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week

ANCOR-2015DSPWeek02-14 LSG is excited to announce that the Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities has worked to secure a Proclamation from Governor Deal declaring September 13-19, 2015 as Direct Support Professionals Week. LSG thanks all of our direct support professionals, direct care workers, personal assistants, personal attendants, and in-home support workers for helping us serve our clients. Click the link below to read Governor Deal's Proclamation.

READ THE PROCLAMATION

Zakaria Becomes a U.S. Citizen!

zakcitizenIn 2010, Zakaria Abdulrazek arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Sudan  and was resettled through LSG. His resettlement story can be read on our blog. Now, Zak works as a case manager in LSG's Refugee and Immigration Services department. Zak recently became a U.S. citizen, a goal he's been working towards for five years.

On July 28, 2015, I became a U.S. citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen is a huge step for me and a big achievement. I've been looking forward to this for the past five years. Besides being able to vote, I will get to travel freely and I am looking forward to going back home to Sudan to visit my mother.

In March 2015, three months shy of my 5th anniversary in the U.S., I applied for U.S. citizenship through LSG's Immigration Services. The process was quite easy, but I was worried about the interview. I studied all 100 of the practice questions about U.S. history and I found they were not as hard as I thought they would be. I memorized them all! During the interview, I was only asked six questions and I answered all of them correctly. My family in Sudan were the first ones to know that they now have a U.S. citizen in the family, and they were very happy. I celebrated with friends.

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On Tuesday, August 28, exactly one month after I became an American, my LSG family surprised me with a party to celebrate my citizenship. It was totally unexpected and I am very happy that I have coworkers who care and took the time to celebrate with me. I've been a case manager for almost one year now, and I like being a member of the LSG family. As a case manager, I get to welcome "future U.S. citizens" on a daily basis. I love that I get to help refugees start a new life as I did, here in the U.S.

LSG thanks Zakaria for all his work to welcome refugees and congratulates him on receiving his citizenship!

Take Action: Help LSG Welcome Refugees to Georgia

IMG_0181 By Emily Laney, Atlanta Program Manager for Refugee and Immigration Services

Many of you were shocked and saddened by the pictures and story that have circulated of a sweet Syrian 3-year-old boy, Aylan. He and his family drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to safety. The plight of Syrian refugees and other refugees around the world is beyond what most of us can fathom. The pictures and story of this precious little boy are heartbreaking and can leave us feeling powerless. What can one person do?

Each year, LSG resettles hundreds of refugees from all around the world in the Atlanta and Savannah areas. We would love to help connect you with Georgia's refugees. Here are three ways you can help LSG welcome and support newcomers locally.

1) DONATE: Do you have a vehicle you are no longer using? What about furniture, kitchen items, household goods, or clothes? Refugees come to the United States with very few possessions, and any donations we can acquire for them help tremendously.

2) BEFRIEND: Are you a career professional? College student? Mom with a few kids? We can help anyone connect with a refugee family to befriend and mentor on U.S. culture, the workplace, parenting, and more. Whatever your passions and skills, there is probably a refugee family who would love to meet you!

3) GIVE: Whether you can give $25 for a MARTA transit pass, $250 to sponsor program costs for a client to attend cultural orientation, or  $1,100 to provide matching funds for our employment program, every dollar you give will help create a warm welcome for refugees in Atlanta and Savannah.

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, contact Melanie Johnson at 678-686-9619 or mjohnson@lsga.org.

Andrea Receives Board of Immigration Appeals Accreditation

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LSG staff member Andrea Pietri-Diaz was recently accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Here's what she had to say about her experience:

After LSG received Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recognition last October, I had an opportunity to apply for accreditation to administratively practice immigration law as a non-attorney. I felt that getting accredited would allow me to serve refugees and immigrants on a greater scale. I would contribute to LSG's Immigration Services department's growing capacity to take on more clients. This also helped me start a career path I would not previously have thought to follow.

It was not a short process. The BIA requires applicants to take a series of educational courses (webinars, e-learning courses, in-person courses, and seminars) to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of immigration law. Immigration law is complex, detail-oriented, and constantly changing. Applicants must gain hands-on experience under the supervision of an immigration attorney. I completed close to 100 hours of experience working under LSG Immigration Services attorney Killa Marti. She has been a phenomenal teacher, mentor, and role model during this process and I could not have asked for anyone better.

BIA accreditation allows me to administratively represent refugees and immigrants before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It also means our department is able to tackle more cases, providing more legal representation and assistance to refugees and immigrants at low or no cost to the client. The refugee and immigrant population is an already underserved and underrepresented population.  I've worked with immigrants and refugees for a few years now and it is constantly rewarding to help such a vast, yet vulnerable population.

LSG congratulates Andrea on her BIA accreditation. Click here for more information about Immigration Services.

Refugee Kids Go Back to School

backpack By Aimee Zangandou, Refugee and Immigration Services Case Manager

When I asked Jeanne about her new school, she smiled brightly and answered that it was "Fantastic!". Jeanne and her ten siblings are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They arrived in the United States on May 7, 2015 after spending three years in a refugee camp in Kenya. The kids  have been waiting all summer to start their new school - in America!

In early August, Jeanne and her siblings all received brand new backpacks filled with school supplies, thanks to Backpack in the Park. Backpack in the Park is an annual event organized by For the Kid in All of Us. Volunteers fill donated backpacks with school supplies, which are given to organizations serving children throughout the Atlanta area. This year, Lutheran Services of Georgia received 200 backpacks for kids in our programs.

When I dropped their backpacks off a couple days before school started, I could see their excitement. The day they had been anticipating for three months was almost here! I asked them if they were ready and they all replied "Yes" and told me how they were both excited and nervous. They were worried about not speaking English.

After two weeks of the school year, I asked them what stood out so far about American schools. Here's what they had to say:

1) It is nice to have a ride to school. They like that the school bus picks them up and drops them off right in front of their apartment. In Kenya, they had to walk quite a long ways to get to school.

2) The teachers are extremely nice and helpful. They were surprised that the teachers met them at their level, engaged them in conversation, and took time to get to know them. They got to choose their own seats. Back in Kenya, they were assigned seats and the teacher was unapproachable and feared.

3) They eat at school! They are fed breakfast and lunch at school, a totally new concept for them. Back in Kenya, schools are not associated with eating. Having enough food to eat was a daily struggle in the refugee camp. Being able to eat both breakfast and lunch at school is quite "awesome".

4) Changing classrooms through the day. For the two siblings in high school, they are now able to get to their classes without getting lost. In Kenya, teachers are the ones that change classrooms, not the students. The students in each particular classroom/grade have the same schedule and teachers are the ones who figure out what classroom is expecting them next.

LSG thanks Backpack in the Park for providing backpacks and school supplies so children can start the new school year in style.

LSG Receives COA Accreditation

coa logoLutheran Services of Georgia is pleased to announce the successful completion of the agency's peer review process with the Council on Accreditation (COA). LSG's accreditation by COA results from a detailed assessment of all service programs and administrative departments.  LSG's statewide services include foster care, host homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, family intervention services, adoption, refugee and immigration services, and disaster relief. COA assesses the policies and procedures on which service programs are built, along with how programs favorably impact the lives of clients. COA status demonstrates LSG's commitment to utilizing best practices to provide quality services for individuals and families throughout Georgia.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Gary Johnstone said, "COA was the ultimate challenge for LSG; it challenged us to examine our beliefs, our practices, our sense of community, and our commitment to excellence. In addition, the actual work and time required was a tremendous challenge. It was like building an airplane while already flying at 30,000 feet. COA accreditation is the highest honor we've received as an agency. We are justifiably proud of the outcomes and proud that we are now part of a community of like-minded organizations."

LSG thanks all those who made this success possible.

Amir the Tailor

amir Amir is a tailor and a refugee from Iran recently resettled through LSG in Savannah. Refugee Services Case Manager Amelia Iaderosa interviewed him about his work as a tailor, his refugee experience, and his hopes for life in the United States.

Amelia: Tell me about the work you did before you moved to America.

Amir: In Iran, my parents owned their own tailoring shop. I was born into the tailoring profession, and from the age of 10, I started learning the technical skills needed to become a tailor. When I had to flee Iran, I went to Turkey. In Turkey, I was able to use my knowledge of tailoring to find employment and support myself. I lived there for 4 years before I came to America. For the first two and a half years, I would go to different tailor shops and fill in as needed. During this time, I did not feel satisfied; I was working for employers that did not want my input or to use my skills and I was working 12 to 16 hours a day just to survive. I eventually moved to a new city and found a job working with a larger company that allowed me to utilize my skills more. Being able to use my skills and work with a company that saw my potential made me feel satisfied, but I was still looking for more in my life.

Amelia: Tell me about your job now that you are in America.

Amir: I feel alive here in America with my new job; my job is a part of who I am as a human being and I love that. I am working for a local designer who has started her own fashion line and it is growing daily. I create dress samples for the designer and I can see that she is satisfied with my work and that makes me very happy. I feel like I am being helpful and doing a good job.

Sometimes the designer will give me a garment and ask me how to make the garment look the best, how it should be adjusted to make it the best it can be for the company. I knew from my work in Turkey that I had talent working in bulk production, but I never was able to do the intricate work I am able to do at my new job. At my new job I have the opportunity to give my input and recommendations. I feel like I am a part of a team now, and that my position is very important to the future of the company. This is why I feel so alive in America; I see that I am really a very skilled tailor and I have a chance to improve my ability and get better and better at my trade.

Amelia: What are your hopes for the future?amir2

Amir: I want to excel in all things dressmaking and fashion design. I want to go to the top of the industry! To do this, I wish to study fashion design and learn all there is to create my own fashion line and my own business. I know I can do this because I am in America now and I have the opportunity to improve myself. Someday, you will see me with my own brand and new designs.

Amelia: What is a message that you want to send to others in America about your experience as a refugee?

Amir: I just want to say to American people, be grateful for what you have here in America. As a refugee who came to the US at the age of 24, I had to start a new life at level zero; all I had was my tailoring experience. Please use the opportunities you have to be successful in America.

Amelia: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Amir: I want to tell LSG, I am very appreciative of what you have done for me. I cannot say in words, or find a real way to thank you for everything you have done. I am just very thankful for everything you do. During this job I have found my talent and I am hopeful for my future and to make all of my dreams for the future come true.

I also want to say, I have learned something new in America, and I have found the value of time. When I was in Iran, I would work a few days of week and the other days I would just waste my time. Now here, I know how important it is to use my time wisely in order to be successful. I know now how important my time is because I have been born again in America. I have many difficult experiences in my past and I feel like I have lived more than 24 years because of this. But now that these experiences are behind me, I know that I can start new in America and fight through the bad and live my life the way I have always dreamed!

Announcing the 2015 Heroes of Hope

Hereos of Hope Logo-page-001Lutheran Services of Georgia is pleased to announce our 2015 Heroes of Hope! Each year, LSG honors community heroes at the annual Heroes of Hope, Healing, and Strength Gala.

John W. Blend, III

John W. Blend, III serves as Chairman andJohn Blend Chief Executive of Goshen Valley Foundation, the parent of Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, Goshen New Beginnings, and Goshen Homes. Established in 1998, the Cherokee County-based organization provides residential care, independent living programs for young men and young women entering adulthood, and foster homes for reunited siblings. John serves as a Lifetime Council member at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife Connie have 2 children and 4 granddaughters. John also serves as President and Chairman of Together Georgia, Georgia's Child Welfare Private Provider Associate.

John Timpe

John Timpe is a life-long Lutheran and a John Timpecharter member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, founded in 1981 in Alpharetta, Georgia. He served in the U.S. Navy before working as a salesman and executive in the food industry. Since moving to Georgia 38 years ago, John has been actively involved in the local community. He has been instrumental in raising awareness and funding for LSG over the past 14 years. John has one daughter.

R. James Properties, Inc:

R. James Properties, Inc. was formed in December 1993 by Richard James to provide management for apartment properties. The company presently manages approximately thirty properties totaling more than 4,000 units. In 2006, R. James Properties acquired Clarkston Townhomes, a 91-unit apartment community in Clarkston, Georgia. Since then, the management company has developed strong relationships with several refugee social service organizations and is committed to providing clean, affordable housing for refugees.

This year's Heroes of Hope, Healing, and Strength Gala will be held September 17 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Historic DeKalb Courthouse. Click here for more information, sponsorship opportunities, and to register.

LSG Kids Club Celebrates Successful First Season

_MG_3318 This summer, Lutheran Services of Georgia launched LSG Kids Club! LSG Kids Club provides fun, therapeutic day camp experiences for newly arrived refugee children. The program aims to promote healing, adjustment, and confidence-building for recently resettled refugee kids who have experienced trauma.

Beginning on July 13, LSG Kids Club held four weeks of summer camp for refugee kids. 47 children attended camp who were recently resettled from Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Together, the children spoke eight different languages: Somali, Nepali, Burmese, Rohingya, Malay, Swahili, Arabic, and Farsi. Kids participated in yoga, ballet, music and voice lessons, pet therapy, art projects, gardening, team and trust building activities, athletic activities, and fieldtrips to Piedmont Park and Zoo Atlanta.

Camp Coordinator Jessie Burnette reflected on the first season of LSG Kids Club:  "We have already received so many gracious thanks from parents who say their children benefited from their experiences with Kids Club. In our short pilot season, we saw children make great strides in processing fears, building friendships across language barriers, and leading other youth. I cannot wait to see what a full season combined with an ongoing mentor program can do for our children and the Clarkston community. It is our goal to serve each and every child that is resettled through our agency."

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LSG thanks the following organizations and volunteers for making this first season a success:

  • Living Grace Lutheran Church (Camp Venue)
  • Atlanta Pet Partners (Pet Therapy Group)
  • Funda Yilmaz, LPC (Yoga instructor and licensed therapist)
  • Kathryn Farmer (Ballet instructor)
  • Whitney Burnette (Voice/Music instructor)
  • Matthew Johnson (Volunteer/Camp Counselor)
  • Pam Amy-Cupp (Volunteer/Camp Counselor)
  • Annie Goodman (Intern/Camp Counselor)
  • Alix Janke (Driver/Fieldtrip Chaperone)
  • Natalie Yasson (LSG Staff: Driver/Field Chaperone)
  • Melanie Johnson (LSG Staff: Camp Assistant/Volunteer/Supporter)
  • Padam Rai (Nepali Interpeter)
  • Abdul Rahman (Somali Interpreter)
  • Safa Shamsuddin (Burmese/Rohingya Interpreter)
  • Christine Nzamuranga (Swahili Interpreter)
  • Jessie Burnette (Camp Coordinator)
  • VSA Arts (for providing Zoo Atlanta tickets)

LSG Kids Club will continue to serve newly arrived refugee children by hosting therapeutic camps throughout the year. LSG also plans to implement a mentoring program serving the same population of children. LSG Kids Club welcomes volunteers who would like to be a part of making a positive impact in the lives of refugee children by teaching a skillset, such as art, yoga, dance, music, theater, athletics, teaching, counseling, and more.

LSG Kids Club is supported, in part, through a grant from the Lutheran Services for Children Endowment at the ELCA Foundation. To see photos from the camp, click here. For more information or to inquire about volunteering, contact Jessie Burnette at jburnette@lsga.org.

 

 

Part of the Family

Anderson Family - Adoption

By Nortecia Morrow, Regional Adoption Supervisor in Savannah

When the Anderson family saw 16-year-old Jessie on a Wednesday's Child segment, she only had two years left before aging out of Georgia's foster care system. The Andersons were part of a foster/adoptive ministry at their church and Jessie's story inspired them to adopt from foster care through Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Throughout their approval process, the Andersons continually returned to the Wednesday's Child segment, but they never dreamed that Jessie would still be available for adoption when they had finished. Then, earlier this year, they attended a State Adoption Match meeting and discovered that Jessie was still searching for her forever family. They decided to learn more about her in hopes she would be a good match for them. On June 4, 2015, the now 17-year-old Jessie was placed in the Anderson home for the purpose of adoption.

As her 18th birthday approached, Jessie was beginning to lose hope that she would be adopted. Yet as soon as she met her new parents, she immediately felt like part of the family. Today, Jessie has two younger siblings in the home. The family members adore each other and are happy to have found one another. Jessie is enjoying her new life, and recently had her first-ever manicure and pedicure. The adoption will finalize at the end of this summer.

Lutheran Services of Georgia is seeking individuals and couples to provide permanent, adoptive homes for children in Georgia's foster care system. Click here to learn more.