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.”