World Refugee Day: David and Shirley

David and Shirley Holdeman have done it all. Married for 50 years, the two have travelled the world – for both business and pleasure – and have maintained that spirit for adventure through service here in Chicago. The two are longtime volunteers at Heartland Alliance’s refugee resettlement program commonly known as RICS (Refugee and Immigrant Community Services). Their journey to becoming service-workers began around the time David had retired. The two were living in Tulsa, Oklahoma – and life was good.

 

“I was doing some part time work, and Dave was spending a lot of his time golfing. It was great, but we knew there could be more.”

With a daughter living and working in Chicago, the two had come through town several times before. They had loved the sense of action and diversity they experienced in the past, and decided to add some flare to their golden years here in the second city.

Very early on, the couple was introduced to their new hometown by their new neighbor – a longtime Chicagoan ready to open up and share his own experiences. That welcoming nature had an impact on the couple, and helped inspire the two to give back to their new hometown.

“What is around you should be taken care of – your community, your neighbors, it’s up to you to take care of them.”

They found that inspiration at their new church, where they met one Lea Tienou. A longtime social worker, Lea is the director of RICS – and the three connected over a shared interest in service. Among their conversations, David and Shirley learned more about the resettlement process – and how difficult that transition can oftentimes be. When refugees first move to their resettlement country, they most often come with very little.

Remembering their warm welcome to Chicago, the couple saw an opportunity to pass it on. At first, they started off small – sending in donations of toiletries and kitchen items. The apartments that refugees find themselves in come relatively bare, with just the essentials. David and Shirley quickly picked up on that need, and started to donate more household items – from decorations to furniture.

“We done a lot of traveling in our time, and have seen refugee camps in Nepal and other places,” said Shirley. “I can’t imagine what life must be like in one of those camps, or when they even make it here. It must be so overwhelming, and so we just want to do a bit to help.”

That little bit has grown over the years. The RICs team welcomes hundreds of new refugees on average every year, and that need for a welcoming gesture has only increased over time. David and Shirley, year after year, have met that need through service and passion. Today, the couple spends hours every month constructing furniture for new refugees. Beds, shelves, couches, chairs, David and Shirley have built hundreds of pieces of furniture for Chicago’s newest residents.

You can often find the two at the RICS storage space, where furniture donations are often dropped off unassembled. Together, they are helping our resettlement team build more than just furniture – they are helping rebuild lives in an inclusive, safe, and welcoming manner.

“We put together this stuff because, simply put, others need help,” said David. “If you have abundance, share that abundance – whatever that may be.”

World Refugee Day: Terence

The last 15 years have been busy for Terence. He moved to Chicago and started a family. He got his degree and is working toward a PHD in community psychology. He’s used his knowledge of five different languages to find work and build community. The days are quite demanding for the local community leader and Heartland Alliance employee.

As we honor World Refugee Day, Terence’s rise is something to celebrate. Terence is a refugee, having fled during the Burundi Civil war in the nineties. For over a decade, he lived in a number of refugee camps across Tanzania and Zambia, with few resources and virtually no support.

Terence’s new life began in 2004, when his resettlement paperwork suddenly processed in a rapid fashion – throwing him on a plane and flying him to Chicago with little to no information. That evening, he was brought to a small third-floor apartment on the northside, furnished with just an old fold-up couch and a refrigerator stocked with food. Terence did not eat that evening.

“I was still getting over all that had just happened. you cannot say you have an egg until you have it in your hand. That uncertainty of my resettlement was very, very stressful.”

It was difficult learning a new way of life in those first few years. Coming from a decade of hunger, violence, and uncertainty left Terence without much trust for his new home. But the city quickly welcomed Terence with open arms. Volunteers and teachers showed him community – and supported his incredible capacity to learn and grow. New friends from local immigrant and refugee communities taught him he was far from alone. Resettlement social workers ensured that he had the resources necessary to thrive.

One woman in particular made the biggest impact in his life. A retired Truman College professor took him under her wing after a chance encounter, bumping into one another in the school’s hallways. She would go on to show him his new city – teaching him about public transportation, American culture, language quirks and the like.

“She really helped me, and I’m so happy to have had her – I call her my mom. It inspired me to do the work that I do today. She told me I would be a good social worker, and now I am here today.”

Terence has been working for Heartland Alliance for thirteen years now – as a case manager, a translator, and shelter worker. He’s used his experiences, his five different languages, and his empathic connection with fellow refugees to help countless refugees and immigrants rebuild their lives in our city.

“I’m proud to work with Heartland because I have to give back. I’ve been helped, and I need to help other people to – especially new immigrants. Heartland helps you understand that you are home. That sort of support is very important – and I can give it.”

Terence believes that his new life in Chicago would be possible without those who chose to support him in his journey – and he’s continued that welcoming tradition ever since. Refugees from all walks of life know of Terence personally, and often greet him as a mentor and good friend. The embodiment of a helping hand, Terence looks forward to his future as a psychologist that serves vulnerable populations. He believes that we all have a part in welcoming our newest neighbors, and this World Refugee Day, he looks to you as well.

“Refugees are resilient, and can thrive in any situation. All that they need are resources.  They need you. Get close to your refugee neighbors, support local agencies like Heartland Alliance, and take the initiative.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Specialized ESL Training with Jan

Krystina is quite familiar with hard work. A doctor from Belarus, she became the head of the infectious disease department in her hospital before turning thirty.

But when Krystina and her husband went to the American Embassy to get their visas to live in the US, they came face to face with their biggest challenge yet: their English could hardly get them through even a basic conversation with their immigration clerk.

“If you want to be successful here, you need to learn English. We thought we knew English pretty well, but in reality we understood nothing.”

Even still, Krystina and her family emigrated to the US with visas in hand. The American dream all seemed to be falling into place, but Krystina still dreamt of continuing her path as a doctor. That meant one thing: she was going to need to understand English far better than she did at the embassy.

Upon arriving to the US, Krystina sought out the help of Heartland Alliance’s Refugee and Immigrant Community Services programing in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. The organization has been teaching ESL and citizenship classes to Chicago’s immigrant populations for years, and Krystina felt at home almost as soon as she walked through the doors.

Classes began with simple conversational English and phrases that would help around the city, and over the months Krystina grew in confidence and ability. But when it came to knowing the language necessary to pass medical exams, she knew she needed a little extra help. It was about six months into her training that she met Jan Lupinek, a retired programmer and longtime ESL volunteer.

“I’ve worked with students who started off at a very low level and watching them grow is very gratifying – and Krystina’s situation was something I grew very interested in very quickly.” Jan said.

There are 7 volumes of medical licensing that needs to be studied in order to pass three exams to be recertified in medicine here in the US. With such a huge mass of words and phrases – and virtually none of it conversational – the two had their work cut out for them.

“I haven’t done anything quite as technical as this,” Jan said. “But it’s been a real pleasure getting to do something so difficult.”

Every week, the duo is studies a whole mess of scientific and technical language. Microbiology, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, anatomy, Krystina’s experience in all of these fields mean nothing until she can understand them in fluent English – and she is flourishing. Jan’s specialized system of teaching gives Krystina more than just a surface-level understanding of the language.

“In ESL, a lot of teachers just explain what to do without explaining why,” said Jan. “That’s not me. It really is about understanding how the language works, that’s how you can truly teach proper English.”

Krystina is now making plans to take the first exam this summer. Within less than one year, she’s gone from hardly understanding English in an Eastern European embassy to reading high-level medical texts in fluent English. She’s spoken with a handful of her Belarussian colleagues that have also made the move to the US, and they seem quite excited for her future.

“I love Heartland, and I’m very grateful for Jan. You know, I can’t find medical vocabulary in regular classes, and nobody else I know needs this help I feel real improvement. I feel like I read faster, like I pronounce things better, and I can thank Jan for all of that.”

Gathering Everyone Around the Table

Thanksgiving is a special time at Heartland Alliance. It provides staff members and participants the opportunity to connect with one another, and to reflect on our progress and successes. From refugees and immigrants celebrating the holiday for the first time, to survivors of trafficking and violence who have found peace in the past year, Heartland Alliance programs of all backgrounds had a chance to celebrate.

Freedom From Trafficking: Day of Thanks Celebration

Gathering participants, staff, interns, and volunteers to celebrate at Catalyst Ranch, our Freedom from Trafficking (FFT) program spent the holiday focusing on community and the things that bind us together. Attendees shared the things they’re grateful for on the “Tree of Thanks”—their lives, their families, the people who make them smile, their health, and “all the incredible people who make every day a step forward.”

Each year, the FFT team recognizes a local partner with the “Bridge to Freedom Award” during the celebration. This year, HHCS Executive Director David Sinski and FFT Associate Director Darci Flynn presented Kourtney and Lauren Seamen of Reach 77—a faith-based network of volunteers throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods—in recognition of their many years of contributions to the FFT and Heartland community. Among other supports, Kourtney and Lauren opened up a food pantry out of their storage room, donated money to help furnish survivors’ homes, adopted several families over the holidays to ensure they had gifts to open with their children, and provided housing for survivors facing homelessness.

Thanks to the Seamens and Reach 77 – we are truly grateful for you!

READI Chicago Celebration

READI Chicago outreach partner, UCAN, hosted a Thanksgiving celebration for the READI Chicago North Lawndale location. READI Chicago staff from UCAN, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, and the North Lawndale Employment Network joined participants for food, music, and thanks. During the celebration, participants received awards for timeliness and participation in cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as recognition for advancing to Stage 2 in their transitional jobs.

Marjorie Kovler Center Cooking Group

This Thanksgiving, staff and participants from many programs gathered to cook, eat, and give thanks for the communities, opportunities, and safety they have found through Heartland Alliance. The Marjorie Kovler Center celebrated Thanksgiving with an international cooking group. Survivors of torture and their families came together to share recipes and memories from back home. The result? A globally inspired Thanksgiving meal like no other!

Refugee and Immigrant Community Services – RICSGIVING

Our refugee resettlement team loves to celebrate their annual tradition, where new Americans from around the city gather to eat, connect, and enjoy the holiday season – with some enjoying Thanksgiving for the very first time! Students created “Gratitude Jars” where they decorated mason jars and filled them with little notes about things in their lives that they’re grateful for, as well as painted pictures to hang near the “Gratitude Turkey.”

Students also selected feathers on our Gratitude Turkey and wrote one thing they’re thankful for.

The Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) team is particularly thankful for their longtime partner and supporter, East Bank Club. The River North fitness club has been a longtime employer of numerous new Americans, providing them the opportunity necessary to rebuild their lives in Chicago. Every Thanksgiving, the team at EBC give their employees the option to donate their Thanksgiving Day turkeys to our resettlement programs. Thank you!

Join Us To Protect the Rights and Dignity Of Immigrants and Asylum Seekers

Heartland Alliance was founded over 130 years ago to provide support and uphold the dignity of immigrants and refugees. We have long supported policies that promote welcoming communities, and advance the fair treatment of and opportunities for immigrants and their families.  And we know that immigrants and refugees make our city and country stronger economically, safer, and more robust socially and culturally.  Despite our efforts, these past several months have been extremely difficult for the participants we serve.

The current Administration has actively worked to undermine the rights and humane treatment of those who are most vulnerable and, in particular, to stoke fear and confusion in immigrant communities. We strongly oppose these actions that harm individuals seeking safety in the U.S. and that erode long-standing protections for immigrants and asylum seekers. 

We are seeing a loss of lawful status; enforcement strategies that terrorize communities and make U.S. borders hostile to asylum seekers; the erosion of the U.S. refugee resettlement programs; and an increased focus on detention and deportation. ALL of these actions strike at our core values and tangibly cause harm to the people we serve, our neighbors, and our communities.

And we are still picking up the pieces of the Administration’s abhorrent zero tolerance policy, which led to the forced separation of thousands of children from their parents.  As of today, Heartland Human Care Services (HHCS) is providing shelter to four of the ninety-nine children who had been in our care as a result of the zero tolerance policy.  We continue to do all that we can to reunite all of the children in our shelters with their families, as we strongly believe families belong together. 

We recognize that there is misinformation and confusion about HHCS’s shelter program for unaccompanied minors.  Some believe we should not provide shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered this country alone, and that we should shut down our shelters altogether.  But how can we turn our backs on children who arrive at our borders alone and afraid, and in search of safety and a better life here in the U.S?  We believe that doing so would serve only to further undermine the immigration system in this country for the very people we were founded to serve. And that in the absence of our doing this work, we would see an increase in the inhumane detention of children and families we so vehemently oppose. 

Heartland Alliance is tackling these issues head-on through policy advocacy, legal and support services, and public education efforts.  And we invite you to join us and hundreds of other organizations across the U.S. to fight against this erosion of rights and to promote the dignity of all people. 

 


Our Statement Regarding Policies and Licensing Related to Our Unaccompanied Minors Program

July 23, 2018 — Today, Heartland Alliance was pleased to share with City Council our policies, practices and licensing requirements related to the services we provide to unaccompanied minor and separated children. In response to questions about our city contracts, we can say that the unaccompanied minor program is fully funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Over the last week, we’ve heard allegations about our programs that are troubling as they do not reflect our values or the quality of care we strive to provide. As is our practice, upon learning about allegations, we immediately self-reported our concerns to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Children and Family Services. We are investigating and are reviewing incident reports, medical records, staff disciplinary reports, examining our policies and protocols, and more. We welcome additional investigation of our programs, and if any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger, we will take immediate action. Ensuring the safety and well-being of all children in our care is our top priority. We have augmented the staff capacity and oversight at our shelters while we await the outcome of all investigations, and all shelter staff are receiving additional mandatory training on trauma-informed care by the end of July.
                                                                                                                                                    
Heartland Alliance is a 130-year-old human rights organization that has been providing shelter to unaccompanied minors for more than 20 years. Children who are victims of the federal zero tolerance policy arrive at our doors sad, scared, even traumatized. In this time of chaos in a child’s life, our shelters provide a stable, nurturing environment while we work to reunite families. We stand alongside families and children seeking safety in the U.S., and we fervently believe that families belong together.

We are prohibited from sharing the numbers of separated children in our care. For additional information regarding specifics of our work with unaccompanied minors, please contact:

Administration for Children and Families
Office of Public Affairs
(202) 401-9215
media@acf.hhs.gov

Learn More:

Heartland Alliance Responds to Senator Dick Durbin’s Letter About Our Shelters

July 17, 2018 – Recent allegations about our programs are deeply troubling as they do not reflect our values or the quality of care we strive to provide. We initiated an investigation immediately upon learning of these allegations over the weekend, and we support Senator Dick Durbin’s call for an investigation of our programs from the Office of Inspector General. If any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger or did not follow protocols, we will immediately remove them from their duties. We have augmented the staff capacity and oversight at our shelters while we await the outcome of any and all investigations, and all shelter staff are receiving additional mandatory training on trauma-informed care by the end of July.

Ensuring the safety and well-being of children is our top priority. Children who arrive alone at our shelters after being forcibly separated from their parents are scared and sad. Our childcare staff, clinicians, and social workers understand their trauma and are dedicated to supporting them during an incredibly difficult time. We have extensive policies, procedures, and standards of care that guide our approach to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care. We provide a structure of learning and play at our shelters, children are given age-appropriate chores, and we nurture all children in our care. We are proactive in preventing the spread of communicable illnesses among children in our residential shelters. And it is not our practice to ever use injections for behavior management.

Heartland Alliance is a 130-year-old human rights organization that has been providing shelter to unaccompanied minors for more than 20 years. We stand alongside children seeking safety in the U.S. and fervently believe that families belong together. We believe that people have the right to seek asylum in the United States and that they should not be criminalized for seeking safety here.

Important Perspective on Our Work with Migrant Children

July 16, 2018 – We are troubled to learn of the concerns about our programs as recent stories do not reflect our values or the quality of care we strive to provide. Heartland Alliance is a 130-year-old human rights organization that has been providing shelter to unaccompanied minors for more than 20 years. We stand alongside children and families seeking safety in the U.S. and we fervently believe that families belong together. The children who have come to our shelters after being forcibly separated from their parents are scared and sad. They have been through a heart wrenching experience with which our trained childcare staff, clinicians, and social workers deeply empathize. We have extensive policies, procedures, and standards of care that guide our trauma-informed approach to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care. While this does include daily routines and structure, age-appropriate chores, and practices to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses, we understand how these practices may be experienced by young children who are already suffering emotionally from being apart from those they love most. We take any concerns about our program extremely seriously and, as a matter of protocol, appropriately report, investigate, and address each matter that comes to our attention.

Read more:

 

Families Belong Together

Evelyn Diaz, President

Evelyn Diaz, President
Heartland Alliance

In the last week, Heartland Alliance has been highlighted in the media for the care and services we provide to unaccompanied minors in the Chicagoland region.

Heartland Alliance is a human rights and social justice organization that has been helping vulnerable populations in Chicago, across the region, and throughout the world for 130 years. We provide respectful services; work to secure access to justice; and shape policies that promote equity and opportunity for all—particularly for those who are most marginalized among us.

As you may know, for nearly three decades, Heartland Alliance has been providing care and shelter to children who cross our borders alone, seeking safety. We have a contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement and are licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as a child welfare organization to provide a welcoming shelter, food and clothing, healthcare and education, counseling, and therapy for up to 512 children at nine shelters in the Chicagoland area.

I want you to know that we believe families should be together. Our goal today is as it has always been: to reunite children with a caregiver or sponsor—typically family—living here in the U.S. as quickly as possible.

In the last six weeks, this work has begun to include a number of children who have been separated from their families at the border as a result of the administration’s zero tolerance policy. Although Heartland Alliance has nothing to do with the decision to separate children from their parents, we are doing everything we can to keep children safe while they are entrusted in our care.

Children are scared when they arrive at our doors.  Our clinicians, teachers, and family reunification specialists are doing everything in their power to make a horrible situation less scary; to provide comfort and support to the children; and to reunite them with their families as quickly as possible. 

Heartland Alliance has always stood with vulnerable children and families who arrive at our borders. And we remain steadfast in fighting for freedom from violence, persecution, and human rights violations globally.

We have received many phone calls and emails from concerned citizens asking how they can help. We invite you to join us:

  • Volunteer to collect much-needed items for migrant children
  • Donate now to help increase access to mental health services for migrant children, accelerate family reunification efforts, and advocate for safety and justice.
  • Learn more about the journey of unaccompanied minors and Heartland Alliance’s work.
  • Shape the conversation and mobilize support for this important issue on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Write a card for a migrant child to show you care. You can mail cards to Heartland Alliance, 208 S. LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60604. 

Join us in keeping children safe

June 22, 2018 – Heartland Alliance has been highlighted in the media for the services we provide to unaccompanied minors in the Chicagoland region. 

See below for ways you can help and get involved.

For nearly three decades, Heartland Alliance has been providing shelter to children who cross our borders alone, seeking safety.  We provide a safe, healing environment for children as they work to reunite them with family members. 

In the last six weeks, this work has begun to include a small share of children who have been separated from their families at the border as a result of the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy.  Although Heartland Alliance has nothing to do with the decision to separate children from their parents, we are doing everything we can to keep children safe while they are entrusted in our care. 

As a human rights organization, this is what Heartland Alliance has always done for individuals who are most vulnerable—providing respectful services; working to secure access to justice; and shaping policies that promote equity and opportunity for all.  

  • Donate now to help increase mental health supports, accelerate family reunification efforts, and advocate for safety and justice.
  • Learn more about the journey of unaccompanied minors and Heartland Alliance’s work.
  • Shape the conversation and mobilize support for this important issue on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Write a card for a migrant child to show you care. You can mail cards to Heartland Alliance, 208 S. LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60604.