The Congo in Context: A Volunteer Perspective

Submitted by Nicole Burke

The “Congo in Context” Cultural Dinner was a unique opportunity that brought the whole community together. Among the guests were refugee families, dedicated volunteers, board members, and newcomers—all of The Welcome to America Project’s family. As everyone mingled and explored the native handicrafts and linens on their tables, it grew apparent that this would be a special night. It would be characterized by Congolese tradition, music, and history.

The evening began with an exotic meal. Mouth-watering, traditional dishes such as spiced goat, curried rice, and bananas were served. Next, a Phoenix-based Congolese choir regaled us with stories of their heritage through song. The younger singers were friendly and all smiles. Colorful, flower-patterned wraps and beaded bangles decorated the girls as they kept in perfect harmony for every song. The crowd was mesmerized by their gift of singing and dancing.

The Congo in Context

In addition to being entertained, the guests were also educated on the current state of affairs in the Congo. A university professor highlighted the past, present, and future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting the resilient spirit of the Congolese peoples and their struggle for peace in their war-stricken country. It was a somewhat bittersweet moment for me that night, because despite the celebration and happiness of the peoples’ extraordinary culture, I knew there were still many issues to solve in the country overseas before there is truly peace.

The Congo in Context

In the end, I really enjoyed all the elements of the evening, because it felt like a well-rounded look at the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s people, tradition, music, and history. I would not have wanted to spend my Sunday night anywhere else!

Photography by Nicole Burke

Volunteers and Refugees ‘Get in Gear’

Submitted by Sentari Minor

“Get in Gear”, a WTAP partnership with HandsOn Greater Phoenix was a rousing success this year. As part of a series of programming to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragedies that occurred on September 11th, “Get in Gear” partnered community volunteers with refugee families. Held at LifeBridge Community Alliance, refugees, volunteers and WTAP staff were all able to partake in an exciting event that connected diverse cultures and multiple generations.

Starting with a piece to memorialize and remember September 11th, volunteers shared stories of how they felt that day and how their lives were subsequently affected. We brought in the story of how WTAP was founded and how out of the tragedies of September 11th came an amazing organization that is still fully devoted to its mission 10 years later.

Excitement began as refugee children arrived and participated in the fun games and crafts. With something for everyone, kids were able to play ring toss, finger paint, make cards for troops serving overseas and get their faces painted. The three-legged race was by far the most popular activity, with children running, falling, and laughing with volunteers and WTAP staff. It was easy to see that everyone was having a great time and that the refugee children were truly enjoying themselves.

For all parties involved, it was a pleasurable experience that can hopefully be replicated next year. Mixing volunteers (of various ages and backgrounds) with refugee children–a population many had very limited experience–with was perhaps the most rewarding part of the event. With positive feedback from both camps, it seems as though everyone was happy interacting and learning while also having a little fun.

An Intimate Evening of Music

Music can bridge cultures and bring people together. This was certainly true when 70+ individuals gathered to support Baritone Ballads from Bach to Broadway, a benefit concert held August 19, 2011. Paul Hillebrand, the featured baritone of the evening, provided an excellent variety of show tunes and classics. Paul is the Director of music at St. Patrick Catholic Community in Scottsdale, who graciously hosted the event. Deborah Offenhauser provided piano accompaniment and wowed the crowd with a Beatles medley.

Major support for the event was provided by Alexander and Rosemary Cudzewicz, who raised over $1,500 that evening to support WTAP programs. Megan O’Connor thanked attendees for supporting such a worthy cause and reminded that, “Each refugee we touch has fled persecution, war, and fear of death. From the day they arrive, they contribute their talents and skills to our economy, educating their children and building a home here.”

If you are interested in hosting your own fundraising event contact us today.

An Afghan Anniversary

An Afghan AnniversaryThe recent WTAP event An Afghan Anniversary: A Celebration for Families was a huge success. Thanks to the warm outpouring of support, this dinner raised nearly three times the average amount of previous cultural events. As a way to thank everyone involved, here is a recipe to the delicious tender lamb kebab made by Leave It To Elizabeth Catering. Enjoy!

Tender Lamb Kebab with Cinnamon
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried ground coriander
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 lbs. lamb stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 large onions, peeled, sliced thin
Ground cinnamon

  • In a large bowl, mix yogurt, oil, garlic, coriander, pepper and salt and stir well.
  • Add the lamb and onions and coat evenly with the yogurt mixture.
    Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably refrigerate overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Take the lamb out of refrigerator 30 minutes before you are ready to cook. Put the lamb into large pot or Dutch oven and cover with a lid. Place in oven and cook until the lamb is very tender (about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours).
  • Remove the lid, stir, and continue to cook another 20 to 30 minutes until some of the liquid has reduced and you have a thick, oniony sauce.
  • Sprinkle the meat lightly with cinnamon and serve with warm naan bread and plain yogurt.

Note: You can season the yogurt with a little salt and stir in grated cucumbers or chopped mint if you prefer. Serves 4

Yoga in the Park

Every Saturday for 8 months, Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) Jennifer Noto hosted “Yoga in the Park” to benefit The Welcome to America Project and the launch of our new website.

“It was such a great experience using yoga to contribute to WTAP because I love teaching, helping my friends grow from week-to-week, and serving refugees in the process,” she explained.

Thanks to Jen’s efforts, $1,494 was raised, and the launch of the website has become a reality.

Thanks for you hard work and to everyone who participated in Yoga in the Park. Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a fundraiser of your own.

Yoga in the Park

Race to the Finish

For refugees who have escaped violence and danger by foot, the image of running is incredibly poignant. When Jen Crutchfield sets her mind on accomplishing something, she just goes out and does it.


Jen decided that 2010 would mark her first full marathon, and on December 15, she completed the 26-mile Tucson Marathon. In honor of the thousands of miles refugees travel to escape violence and fear, Jen challenged friends and family to support her to raise funds for The Welcome to America Project.

Her efforts raised over $1,000 to support WTAP, meaning 5 families can receive a warm welcome and desperately needed basic necessities. Congratulations Jen and thank you for your extraordinary efforts!

Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a fundraiser of your own.

The Annual Prom Fundraiser

The Welcome to America Project Prom 2011Over the past 10 years, The Welcome to America Project has held an annual prom fundraiser. Last year, WTAP kicked off the 10th anniversary with more than 200 guests and raised over $20,000 to help serve local resettled refugees.

This past year’s theme, Some Enchanted Evening, celebrated the moods and Music of Broadway and included musical performances by Paul Hillebrand and Michelle McLaughlin. Presenters included inspirational Iraqi refugee, Farman Muhammad and U.S. Congressman, Rep. David Schweikert who presented the Helping Hands Award to Carolyn and Phil Manning for their commitment to refugees over the past decade.

The 2010 disco-themed prom was equally a huge success, raising awareness and support for WTAP with the help of over 200 attendees. Refugee guest speaker, Saad Ghulam, gave a riveting speech to thank WTAP supporters for helping families like his.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the success of our annual fundraiser, we’re looking forward to the 2012 prom and we’ll keep you updated as details emerge.