Suliaman, Alassan, and their mother came to America from Sierra Leone with nothing. Steven, a former investment banker, had volunteered with the Peace Corps in Kiribati and with the United Nations in Sudan; and had some experience working with people from war-torn countries. He originally committed to tutor the boys once a week for six months, but he quickly realized he wanted to give the boys more: he wanted to be a mentor to them.
Three years later, Steven, Suliaman, and Alassan spend every Saturday together.
"They're great kids. These are phenomenal kids, great young men," says Steven proudly about the boys. "It's a great experience. It's really rewarding. I wonder who gets more out of it." Steven's life changed dramatically after September 11. He quit his job and sought out his version of happiness – service to others. The journey led him to the Peace Corps, to Chicago Public Schools, and to Heartland Alliance.
With help from Heartland Alliance's Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) program, newly arrived refugee families, like Suliaman and Alassan's, settle into their new lives in America. Staff and volunteers from RICS tutor families in English, help them find affordable apartments and winter clothes, run after-school and summer programs for the children, train parents in job skills, even help families identify healthy foods to eat and junk food to avoid.
Steven and the boys spend their Saturdays preparing for the upcoming ACT tests, doing volunteer work in service of others, attending soccer games, even meeting President Barack Obama. At 19 and 17, Suliaman and Alassan are high school juniors, and Steven is committed to seeing them both attend college.
Steven tells stories about the boys and smiles. He's amazed at how neither boy ever complains. The first time he took the boys shoe shopping, he realized that they'd never been measured for shoes. Alassan was measured at size 12, but was wearing size 9 shoes. Alassan's toes had been curled the entire time he'd worn those size 9 shoes, but he had never complained.
"Our time is the most valuable currency we have, and how we spend that wealth is a clear reflection of what we value" is one of Steven's favorite quotes, and both Sulaiman and Alassan have taken it to heart. Not only are both boys committed to the importance of their education, they are also dedicated to doing their part to give back to others. They look forward to a future where they can give their time to other young boys in need of a mentor.