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“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and…

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“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou

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Volunteer Experience: Peter Tlale

Submitted by Peter Tlale

Volunteering with The Welcome to America Project really impacted my life in a progressive way. It made me think of how privileged I am to be residing in a country with less violent behaviors compared to other countries globally. One aspect that opened my eyes was the fact that a person does not have to be rich in order to make a difference in other people’s lives; it just takes effort, sacrifice, and putting another person’s needs before your own.

Peter TlaleIt is really heartbreaking because refugees do not ask for their country to be affected by so much political instability and unending problems. They are robbed of ever seeing their family members again and some do not have the desire to go back to their country. These refugees are on the verge of breaking but still must seek employment and learn a new language, which is why I think it is up to us to make the adjustment easier.

This situation makes me think of difficult questions. What if it was me who was told to shut down my business or else my family would die? Would I have survived this traumatic experience? What can I do to help refugees as they flock to my country?

I also got to see the real face of American people, their humanitarian spirit towards others. Engaging yourself in community activities shapes a society. As an individual it inspires you to do more and give back to the community because there is always someone who is crying for help. Let us unite and be responsible citizens.

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“Laughter has no foreign accent” Paul Lowney

While I have always loved this quote, these words took on a new meaning two weeks ago on a delivery to a family from Bhutan. The father greeted us eagerly in the parking lot and cheerfully welcomed us (the volunteers) into his home. After the furniture was arranged just right, all twenty of us huddled together in the living room to hear about the family’s journey.

The father spoke some English but most of the communication came from contagious smiles, glistening eyes, and joyful laughs. Any small moment of silence was broken by a rich laugh from the father that seemed to say just about everything.  It was not a laugh of humor, although there were many of those as well. It was almost as if he possessed so much joy on the inside that it overflowed as laughter; laughter that expressed his relief to finally be safe with his family, laughter that showed his gratefulness, and laughter that revealed his excitement for a new life in the United States.

The delivery with this family was something special. I discovered the power of a laugh and the connection that it brings between people of any language.


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An Interview with Sue Koesser: A Peek into the Clothes Closet

Clothes Closet

This month’s blog post highlights one of our amazing volunteers, Sue Koesser. Sue is an amazing woman who has faithfully committed three years to The Welcome to America’s Clothes Closet. Continue reading for more information about Sue and the Clothes Closet.

WTAP: What is the clothes closet?

Sue: The Clothes Closet is an event that occurs every other Saturday morning. It is held once a month at two apartment complexes, one in Phoenix and the other in Glendale….(The)  Clothes Closet events are fun mornings…as we welcome the refugees and provide a “shopping experience” for them.

WTAP: Why did you get involved with the Clothes closet?

Sue: I initially volunteered because of a sense of wanting to give back for the many blessings I have had in my life…I wanted the refugees to feel good about Americans and for them to feel welcomed and hopeful . But I can tell you that the true benefactor of my volunteering is myself. The smiles and hugs, the warm feelings of friendship, the patience I have learned from the calm way the refugees wait their turn amaze me.

For more information on how to volunteer with the Clothes Closet, please take a look at the “volunteer” tab on the Welcome to America Project website. Thank you Sue for all you have done for the refugees in Phoenix!

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2012 Prom Recap

Prom: the quintessential right-of-passage event reserved for high school seniors (and the lucky, popular juniors) nationwide. A night of limousines, rented tuxedos and more fun than most parents would ever want to hear about; for most, the prom marks the end of an era and the start of new beginnings. However, most remember prom as a night where everyone, regardless of who they were, their backgrounds, their cliques, their groups, mingled and mixed together and had an amazing time.

An amalgam of people laughing, fraternizing and enjoying a fun-filled night was the goal of The Welcome to America Project’s 2012 prom and it was a clear and apparent success.

Interestingly (and rather fortuitously), I ended up inviting and filling my table with all of my high school friends. These were the same people I attended prom with in the spring of 2003 and I knew it would be a great time. I was beyond elated when everyone agreed to attend as I knew from previous experience that the WTAP prom offers a fantastic opportunity, year after year, for groups of friends to come relive their own prom experience (or try prom for the first time). The major difference is that tickets, dresses and corsages were purchased to support not a school but a common and noteworthy cause.

The programming was captivating and led seamlessly by Channel 12’s James Quinones. Between his lively persona and banter between WTAP’s Executive Director Megan O’Connor, the night was certainly full of laughs. Megan’s own admission of her disastrous prom experience had the audience smiling endlessly and was a welcome addition.
James Quiñones and Megan O'Connor

Perhaps the most poignant part of the night was Alexis Niragira’s touching story of his journey to the United States and how WTAP helped him acclimate and assimilate. It was this story that really conveyed just how powerful the welcome can be and how absolutely vital The Welcome to America Project is to this population. I’ll admit, there was not a dry-eye at my table.

Of course the best part of the evening was seeing everyone let loose and enjoy themselves. Patrons and refugees alike moved from table to table, mingled and danced and the night brought together so many different backgrounds and cultures under the guise and premise of neighborly understanding mixed in with fun.

As a proud member of The Welcome to America Project’s Board of Directors, I was so elated to have my closest friends share in WTAP’s mission and get to see the impact this wonderful organization has on Phoenix’s refugees. The prom does a great job showcasing all that we work so tirelessly to achieve and is the signature event that not only strives for a fun-filled evening but to bring awareness to an organization that is truly one-of-a-kind. Hopefully patrons had as much fun as I did and were moved and prompted to sign up to volunteer or donate. If anything, I bet everyone who was there Saturday night are already waiting for their invitations for next year.

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Comfort is Overrated

Comfort: a condition of feeling pleasure and ease.

This is something all humans seek. However, I have recently discovered that when we glorify comfort, it can lead to an apathetic and static lifestyle. Seeking comfort above all else separates us from reality and keeps us from venturing outside ourselves to gain perspective.

Refugees are people whose lives are far from comfort.

Refugees are people whose lives are far from comfortable. They have endured the pain of losing family members. They have traveled hundreds of miles to a foreign land not knowing a single soul. They have faced persecution and been forced to leave their homes. Yet through all of this, the refugees I have met exhibit immense joy and strength. Their suffering has led to personal growth, which can only be brought upon by difficulties.

So let’s get uncomfortable.

The notion is not to be uncomfortable merely for the sake of being uncomfortable, but for a greater cause. It could be for freedom, for a dream, for family, or for faith. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to step outside of ease and experience life.

I will end with a simple yet inspiring quote by author Isabel Allende. “Comfort is overrated. There is nothing wrong with a little pain.”

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Save the Date for WTAP’s 2012 Prom

Submitted by Alex Cudzewicz

The prom fundraiser hosted by The Welcome to America Project will be April 21, 2012 at St. Patrick Catholic Community Center. Save the date for another magical evening, with all proceeds benefitting local refugees.

This annual charity event is a cause for great celebration. For those of you who didn’t attend last year’s prom, here is a brief recap:  the theme for last year’s event was Some Enchanted Evening, and it focused on the sights and sounds of Broadway musicals. The walls at the Fenlon Hospitality Center were decorated with colorful posters from West Side Story, Cats, Les Miserables, and Jersey Boys; and many attendees got into the spirit of the evening by wearing festive and flashy costumes.

WTAP 2011 PromThe sounds of Broadway entertained guests as they eagerly bid on 60+ items featured in the Silent Auction. When not engaged in active bidding on Southwest Airlines tickets and signed sports memorabilia, guests made funny faces in an old-fashioned Photo Booth and listened to the baritone voice of Paul Hillebrand and the angelic soprano of Michelle McLaughlin. Authentic Italian fare was served by Pasta Brioni and sweet treats were dished up by St. Patrick’s Blessed Bakers.

The entertainment of the evening was also thanks in part to the presentations from U.S. Representative, David Schweikert and Farman Mohammed, an Iraqi refugee who recounted his journey to America. Schweikert then presented the first annual Helping Hands Award to Phil and Carolyn Manning to honor WTAP’s 10th year of serving refugees in the Valley.

WTAP 2011 PromDon’t miss out on this year’s grand event, save the date for April 21, 2012 or purchase tickets now!

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A Life-Changing Eagle Scout Project

Submitted by Max Thomas

My name is Max Thomas, I am 13 years old, and I am part of Boy Scout Troop 6. The highest rank in Boy Scouts is Eagle Scout; to be an Eagle, you need to complete a community service project. Last summer, I was working on finding an Eagle Project at the same time I was volunteering with WTAP. After spending time looking for projects, I decided that I should ask WTAP if I could do anything for them. Megan (the executive director of WTAP) gladly accepted my offer and told me about their Clothing Closet at the Serrano Village apartments.

The Clothing Closet is an apartment filled with clothes that refugees can take. These refugees usually only have the clothes on their backs. WTAP kindly worked with me through the planning of my project. For my project, I worked alongside other Troop 6 volunteers, and we built shelving and storage units for the Clothing Closet, and we reorganized the closet space. We even had enough money left over from my fundraising efforts to build 15 tables for refugee families! Working with WTAP has genuinely been one of the best experiences of my life.

Arizona Eagle Scouts

Volunteering with WTAP, not only for my project but for weekly deliveries too, has been very rewarding. The refugees we help couldn’t be more thankful. I’ve also found that when doing weekly deliveries, I really connect with other cultures. The staff and volunteers at WTAP have been more than nice, always working as a team, with smiles on their faces. My family and I are looking forward to volunteering for deliveries again on January 7. I can’t wait to help!

Max Thomas Arizona Eagle Scouts

Max Thomas Arizona Eagle Scouts

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A Shared Language Makes a World of Difference

Submitted by Anne Bosch

As a native French speaker, I was recently asked by Megan O’Connor to attend a delivery as a translator. We helped a family from the Central African Republic, and I soon realized that our common language helped us build a special relationship that would help a father support and feed his family of 11.

Meeting the Family

When I first arrived on this delivery day, several children greeted us in French and shared their heartwarming stories. They explained how they had to walk for weeks on end around their village in the hope that the rebels would finally give up and leave, but when they realized these rebels were tenacious in their pursuit, they decided they would walk north to a refugee camp in the southern tip of Chad. It was difficult to fathom the extent of their suffering — they lost a brother and were forced to flee their homes with nothing more than a small bag and a few seeds and plants as nourishment.

Even as they explained their arduous journey, these boys smiled and I got the sense they were ready to put their past behind them and embrace their new lives in America. I soon learned that these children were a part of a family of 11: their father, Damien, his wife, seven children, and two nephews (who came to America with this family after their mother passed away).

Helping Damien Learn English

The delivery itself was a success, and about a week later, Damien called WTAP and asked if we could donate diapers to his family since they recently ran out. I used this opportunity to see how his English classes were going. He explained that he was on a waiting list until December, so I started making phone calls and learned there were actually several spots still available. The teacher warmly welcomed Damien and someone even offered to drive him home after class so he wouldn’t have to take the bus. He was extremely thankful, and while we spoke, I realized how difficult it must be to support this large family.

Putting Food on the Table

As a way to help Damien support his family, I called the owner of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The owner, Stella, recently mentioned that her farm had grown so much she needed help to keep up with the demand of the season. I used this opportunity to suggest Damien, and before I knew it, he had his first interview. Right away, Stella and Damien connected (with the help of our translation) and they agreed that he would start the following week. She handed him a bag of fresh vegetables and said he would receive this produce in addition to his hourly wages, a huge benefit for someone who has 11 mouths to feed.

In the end, this story reflects the vision of The Welcome to America Project. People from all different cultural backgrounds came together to discover ways that would make each other’s lives a little easier. Damien now has the ability to learn English and put food on his family’s table thanks to the heartwarming support of his new community.

Ed. Note: Thank you Anne for helping make a difference for this family in need. You went above and beyond to ensure this family’s transition to America was as smooth as possible.

Names changed to protect identity.

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