Hyde Park Refugee Project Honored by RefugeeOne

Original story appeared in the Hyde Park Herald on May 1, 2019

RefugeeOne, the largest resettlement agency in Illinois, honored Hyde Park Refugee Project with the Lighting the Path Forward Award at its gala on April 27.

“It’s been our privilege to partner with them to light the path forward for refugees, and it’s inspiring how the entire community opened their doors – and their hearts – to help refugees rebuild their lives,” said RefugeeOne executive director Melineh Kano in a statement. “This is what successful resettlement looks like – and it’s thanks to communities like the Hyde Park Refugee Project that refugees can thrive as new Americans.”

Diane Rudall with the Refugee Project said the organization was “very, very pleased” with the commendation, adding that RefugeeOne had helped with the Refugee Project’s establishment.  The Refugee project has around 135 local volunteers and supports five refugee families in Hyde Park.

“For us, it’s really nice when some of the family members are included- they were at the gala- and we are able to focus on them,” Rudall said.

After having made a public appeal for help earlier this year, Refugee Project found success in finding new housing for many of the families it supports and has recently expanded its programming in conjunction with local organizations like the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.  A camp for English language learners will run for four weeks this summer.

By Aaron Gettinger

Featured image: Hyde Park Refugee Project Co-directors Lisa Jenschke (left) and Dorothy Pytel accept the Lighting the Path Forward Award.

Dorothy Pytel’s Acceptance Speech:

On behalf of the Hyde Park Refugee Project, I would like to say how
humbled we are to receive this award.

We began organizing in late 2015, when the national media began
regular reporting about the war in Syria. We had meetings, and
meetings, and more meetings. We felt like we were doing something,
but we were just “spinning our wheels” in the mud.

RefugeeOne helped us to move from good intentions to real social
action. I still remember one of those meetings, when Kim Snoddy was
very blunt and honest. In her motherly and stern manner, Kim said “If
you are really serious about resettling a family, you need to set a
deadline.”

So we found some courage and set a deadline: two months. It’s all a
blur now, all the fundraising, collecting furniture, and setting up an
apartment. But I’m happy to report we welcomed our first family just 8
days after our target date!!

I’m even happier that a member of that family is here with us tonight!!!
Two years ago her family spoke no English. We relied on Google
Translate and interpreters. But on the drive over today, we talked
about her youngest child starting school in the fall, her excitement to
get a job, her desire to build a better future for her children, her
family, and her new community.

Another reason we are here tonight is because we had the courage
to step outside our silos.

What I mean is many organizations, congregations, and community
groups do great work. But how often are we unaware of the efforts of
people just down the street? The Hyde Park Refugee Project has
been successful because our entire community works together to
help refugees rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient. We
realize we are stronger when we rely on and support each other.

You’ve already heard of a few groups that are involved. I also want to
give a huge shout out to KAM Isaiah Israel, the Hyde Park Latter Day
Saints Chapel, and Augustana Lutheran Church. These groups have
opened their arms (figuratively) and doors (literally) to welcome our 5
refugee families and scores of volunteers, many of whom are
unaffiliated with any religious group. Without this generosity, we
couldn’t do our summer programming, a digital literacy class, or
English classes for parents with enrichment for pre-schoolers.

When the Notre Dame burned recently, our society proved resilient
enough to raise over $1 billion within a few days to rebuild it.
Likewise, let’s make this evening an amazing one for RefugeeOne so
that together, we continue to light the path forward for refugees in
Chicago.

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