A teacher for 40 years, Aylin gets a little teary remembering the hats, shawls, and scarves she used to knit for her students back in Iraq. But she now donates her knitwear to Heartland Alliance, to distribute to children and families in its programs. "There's a saying in Arabic; it's hard to translate, but it's like 'name to name.' Your name says something about you. And for Heartland, that is right. This is a place about the heart," she says.
Aylin arrived in the U.S. as a refugee in April 2009. She is one of many seniors who are learning English and getting to know their new country through Heartland Alliance's Bright Ideas program. Aylin and her son left Iraq after her daughter's husband was killed and Aylin began to get threatening phone calls. "Our hearts were broken in our country," she says. "But now we look forward, not back."
After a year in Jordan, they arrived in Chicago, where Heartland Alliance had a furnished apartment waiting for them in Rogers Park. Through our Resettlement Program for seniors, she was quickly connected to the programs and services needed to build an independent life, including Social Security enrollment, a CTA senior transit pass, and medical services.
"Our caseworkers work with each participant individually to find what they need," says Andrea Brandell, Aylin's case manager. "One person might be eligible for food stamps, another might be ready for work preparation. We work with them to get an ID and Social Security quickly; that can be a tough system to figure out for them, but it's very important."
The program also helps the seniors work toward citizenship and acclimate to life in the U.S., including lessons on healthy produce and other food available in American grocery stores and field trips to Chicago's cultural sites. "We come together in friendship, people from many countries in this class," Aylin says.
"When we came here, everything was new for us," she adds. "But the American people I see, they are always smiling. And I like Heartland Alliance very much. When I come here it is like my home; the people are like my family."