We reached our goal thanks to you all!

We, the Hyde Park Refugee Project, are thrilled to report that we have exceeded our goal of raising $10,000 to support refugee families in our neighborhood, and we could not have done it without you!

All of the families we work with have been impacted in some way by covid-19. With these funds and previously raised funds, we have already provided $9,895 to six families (12 adults and 28 kids) over the last three months. Funds have gone to cover direct rent costs, assistance with utilities and bills, food cost, and help with moving costs for one family.

Your donations have made a tangible difference in the lives of these families. The more we are able to raise, the more that goes directly to these families as they seek employment opportunities and navigate covid-19 realities.

Thank you again. We appreciate you from the bottom of our hearts!

With gratitude,
All of us at the Hyde Park Refugee Project

Hyde Park Refugee Project asks for donations to help local families affected by coronavirus outbreak

The Hyde Park Refugee Project is asking for donations to help refugee families living in the neighborhood affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak. The organization, composed entirely of volunteers, assists 45 people across six families, many of whom have suddenly found themselves struggling with additional instability.

“They are in the group of people that are the most hard-hit by it. They typically have restaurant jobs as dishwashers, or cleaning buildings, and so they’re kind of the first ones who have their hours cut or get laid off. And they don’t have social networks that a lot of other people in this country do,” said Lisa Jenschke, co-founder of the Refugee Project. “We’re trying to refocus and assess where each one of our families is at financially and what they’re facing going forward.”

Before the outbreak, the Refugee Project had been preparing for the arrival of a new family in April. Earlier this year, they launched a fundraising drive, with the goal of collecting $32,000 to help with resettlement costs. But because of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.N. refugee agency announced last week that it would suspend almost all new resettlements.

Now, the money the Refugee Project raised— about half of the initial goal — will go to helping families already in the neighborhood. (Jenschke said that the organization still hopes to bring a new refugee family to Hyde Park later in the year.)

“We’re planning to do some strategic support for them in the form of rental assistance to keep them going through the hardest parts of this,” said Jenschke. She said that the group would also help its families apply for unemployment benefits and find local food pantries.

The organization is also focusing on assistance for all the children who have been at home since schools were closed last week. Volunteers are designing educational worksheets, and a computer donated from the University of Chicago Law School has been set up to allow one girl to participate in online learning.

Jenschke said the group is looking into emergency funding, and perhaps repurposing existing grants. But a prolonged shutdown would be difficult to cope with.

“If this drags on for more than a couple of months, we’re definitely going to need a lot more help,” she said. “I donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository recently because I know they’re really going to need it — they help our families and other families as well. I hope that a lot of people are gonna feel really generous.”

Donate to the Hyde Park Refugee Project at hydeparkrefugeeproject.org/give, or by check to the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council, 1448 E. 52nd St., #117; write “Refugee Project” on the memo line.

Main image: Hyde Park Refugee Project intern Alison Myers plays Jenga with a preschooler during one of the group’s after-school programs.  

The original story by Christian Belanger was published by Hyde Park Herald on March 24, 2020.

The Best Laid Plans

Dear HPRP Community,

As many of you know, we have spent the last few months preparing to resettle a new family. We have been gathering new volunteers and building a welcome team, fundraising, and hunting for an apartment to house them. We’ve been thinking about furniture and household goods, schools, and English classes with a sense of excitement and purpose.

Until, that is, Covid19 threw a wrench in the works. Now, as you are aware, a national emergency has been declared, schools have been closed, and social distancing has been recommended. Thus, we’ve had to cancel tutoring and after-school programs, and, unfortunately, postpone welcoming a new family for the time being. Just yesterday, the UNHCR announced a temporary suspension of resettlement travel for refugees.

While we are sad about this lost opportunity, we have seen that our current families are facing enormous challenges in the coming months, as employers reduce hours and let workers go. An NPR poll found that 1 in 5 workers is already facing layoffs and reduced hours. Going forward, we will be re-directing our energies and our funds to support these families through this time.

We wanted to let you know that we are looking at ways to use the funds so generously donated by so many of you for a new family toward making sure our current families continue to thrive. We are looking for alternative jobs, financial assistance for them, and even trying to help keep kids engaged!

We feel incredibly lucky to have such dedicated volunteers and an amazing and welcoming community. As we come together to meet this challenge, we want to thank you again for all you have done.

Stay well,

The HPRP Team

Main image: UNHCR

HP Refugee Project trying to raise $32,000 by March

Original story appeared in Hyde Park Herald on January 8, 2020 by Samantha Smylie

The Hyde Park Refugee Project is planning to resettle a new family in 2020. As the organization has grown in the last year, co-founders Dorothy Pytel and Lisa Jenschke are ready to take new challenges that await them.

Through 2019, the Hyde Park Refugee Project — which operates under the Hyde Park-Kenwood Interfaith Council — has been able to help refugee families fleeing conflict, war and environmental catastrophes by finding affordable housing, providing opportunities for educational programs for youth and providing other everyday materials to the families.

Some of their achievements include purchasing 15 Chromebook computers for middle-school and high school age children, resettling two families in the neighborhood, operating a four-week summer enrichment camp for English Language Learners ages 4 to 15, recruiting and training 22 high school volunteers to help tutor in afterschool programs.

As a result of their work over the last year, they received a “Lighting the Path Forward” award in April from Refugee One, one of the largest resettlement organizations in Illinois. Pytel and Jenschke attribute their success to the community that stepped in to help when the organization needed resources.

When going over some of their successes of 2019, Pytel and Jenschke talked about how one church in the neighborhood stepped up when a refugee family was having a baby.

“Oftentimes you have relatives and friends who can help you; they can give you hand-me-downs or a stroller, but this family had none of those connections,” Pytel said. “So the community stepped up and provided all of that. One church got together, all their members contributed. The family got a new baby stroller.”

Another example of help they received from the community is discounted driving lessons from Nova Driving School. The lessons prepared several refugee women to be able to pass their drivers’ tests and receive their licenses.

As the group plans to resettle a new family in Hyde Park, Pytel and Jenschke are certain that the community will step up again. One of the biggest challenges that the group faces is finding affordable housing for families in the community.

The affordable housing stock in Hyde Park is scarce, the organization would prefer to keep families in the neighborhood because they have volunteers in the area and tutoring programs in Ray Elementary School and Kenwood Academy. If they are unable to find housing in the neighborhood, they are looking to subsidize part of the rent and they are open to neighborhoods around the area.

In the past, the organization was able to have an arrangement with community members, Jenschke said, “Someone contacted us and said, ‘I have an apartment that I am long-term planning to do this with, but I can rent it out at a subsidized level.’ In fact, one of our families is living in that situation where someone basically heard about them and said, ‘we have a house that we’re not living in and we’d love to rent it out to a nice family, and we’d love to support this work.’”

The Hyde Park Refugee Project hopes to raise $32,500 by March, this will allow them to have rental assistance for the new refugee family. However, Pytel and Jenschke can accept help from community members in other ways.

“We have multiple ways for people to get involved.,” Pytel said. “I’ve had conversations with people who feel extreme guilt about not being able to volunteer on a regular basis. We want people to know that volunteering and giving a donation is really a valuable way to contribute. Not everybody has money to give. Not everybody has time to give. So we’re happy to take whatever you can contribute.”

To learn more about the Hyde Park Refugee Project or find ways to support the organization, visit them online at: http://www.hydeparkrefugeeproject.org




Help us welcome a new family

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Since 2016, the Hyde Park Refugee Project has brought our South Side community together to help refugee families resettle in Hyde Park and make a successful transition to life in their new country. As we continue to expand our work, we look to you for support.

The Project has grown significantly over the past three years. What began as a nascent desire by a handful of neighbors has become a well-organized effort involving more than 100 volunteers and thousands of volunteer hours this year alone. Today we work with five refugee families and dozens of other immigrants in our community. These families are thriving: they hold jobs, attend local schools, are learning English, and have made many new friends.

Now we’re gearing up, in partnership with Refugee One, to resettle a new family in the spring—and we’re very excited! We know that with the help of volunteers and donors, we can handle the intense work involved in helping new families become established here. This work includes:

  • Finding an affordable apartment for the family and providing rent support during their first year.

  • Securing furniture and household goods, and taking care of minor repairs.

  • Providing clothing to help the family weather Chicago’s harsh winters and hot, humid summers.

  • Teaching English to both adults and children.

  • Helping to secure employment for adult family members.

  • Enrolling children in school and providing in-school and after-school tutoring for them.

  • Enrolling family members in health care, scheduling visits, and accompanying them on those visits.

To resettle a new refugee family, while continuing our current work, requires both new funding and additional volunteers. Our fundraising goal for the coming year is $32,500. This amount will allow us to welcome a new family, including helping them with rental assistance for their first year. It will also support our highly successful summer enrichment program, which serves refugee children as well as other young English-language learners from Hyde Park and surrounding communities. And it will enable us to reach out to the community and bring in the new people, skills, and resources that keep the Hyde Park Refugee Project strong and growing.

Please join us in these efforts. You can contribute by clicking the “Donate” button above or below. Our partnership with the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council makes your gift tax deductible.

Click here to make an online donation.

If you would like to mail a check, please make it payable to Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council (HPKIC), 1448 E. 52nd Street, #117, Chicago, IL 60615 and write Refugee Project on the memo line.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

In friendship,

Lisa Jenschke

Dorothy Pytel


Hyde Park Refugee Project 2019 Summer Enrichment Camp Doubles the Fun

Although the long days of summer provide a needed break from the hustle and bustle of the school year, studies indicate that the “summer slide,” as it is known, can take a toll, especially on kids for whom English is not the first language. For the second consecutive year, the Hyde Park Refugee Project has undertaken a summer camp to help support refugee and immigrant families in the community, providing children a fun and enriching summer experience to bolster their learning.

Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, HPRP’s camp is a much-needed program. While both RefugeeOne and World Relief have summer programs for children, their location on the far North side of the city make it difficult for families in our community to participate. For this reason, last summer, HPRP piloted a two-week summer camp that served 20 children. After the successful conclusion of the 2018 camp, HPRP began planning an expanded four-week camp that would serve more children.

University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration intern, Samantha Steinmetz, began camp planning in January, including activities, schedules, and materials. Steinmetz’s experience working for Simply Smiles, a non-profit organization that hosts summer camp and community development programs on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, helped give structure to the expanded HPRP camp, adding morning meetings, field trips, and elective activities for campers.

As part of the expanded camp planning, HPRP volunteers applied for and received a grant from the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Mission Endowment Fund to offer field trips for the kids, an addition that proved tremendously popular and successful.

The first week of camp featured hands-on activities at the Hyde Park Art Center, and summercamp2lunch at Harold Washington Park. The second week included an exciting trip on Metra to downtown Chicago to visit Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park, where children played in the Crown Fountain and examined their reflections in Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture. The final field trip of the summer was to the Lincoln Park Zoo where the children broke into groups to do a zoo scavenger hunt in the indoor exhibits, and tried to keep cool on a swelteringly hot Chicago summer day. Both children and many parents saw new places and came home tired, but happy!

With only one paid staff member, camp coordinator, Olivia Issa, the HPRP summer camp relied on a strong base of volunteers. Over 30 student volunteers acted as camp counselors, working directly with children to lead and support activities, and most of all to play and have fun. In addition, volunteers offered a great number of other services, including:

  • Driving children to and from camp
  • Leading nature outings in the neighborhood
  • Teaching swim lessons in the afternoons
  • Organizing visiting musical guests
  • Shopping and cooking for camp snack
  • And working one-on-one for individual tutoring


One of the most important in-kind donations was the donation of space for the four-week camp by a member of the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council, without which the camp could not have taken place. Three members of the Council – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Augustana Lutheran Church and KAM Isaiah Israel – were especially active in supporting the 2019 camp. Other in-kind donations of art supplies, office supplies, educational materials, food and snacks, and even towels for swimming, came directly as donations from the community.

”In addition to supporting learning for these children,” says camp director and HPRP co-director Lisa Jenschke, “the HPRP camp builds bonds across the community, as friendships are made from counselor to camper, from camper to camper, and among families. These bonds make our community stronger.”

by Judy Mintel

Featured image: Olivia Issa, Camp Coordinator – Summer of 2019

Hyde Park Refugee Project Assists Refugee Families’ Transition to New Housing

The Hyde Park Refugee Project, a volunteer-run organization involving more than 500 community volunteers supporting refugee families living in our neighborhood, recently helped two refugee families find and relocate to new homes. 

One of the biggest issues confronting refugee families is lack of affordable housing. In the summer of 2019, two Syrian families needed to relocate when the Hyde Park apartments offered at reduced rents for the past three years by a local religious institution, were no longer available.  Volunteers sprang into action searching for affordable housing, making numerous contacts and asking for assistance. Housing was located in the Woodlawn neighborhood just to the south of Hyde Park and in Hyde Park. 

The next major effort involved physically moving the two families.  Volunteers helped pack boxes and made themselves available on the move day to “lift and tote” the family’s considerable belongings.  A 15-foot U-Haul truck was secured. When these families arrived in the United States two and a half years ago, they arrived with just a few suitcases. Now, they needed a truck to move all their belongings— an indication of how much they have assimilated into the American way of life.

Successfully moved, the two families are now settling into their new homes. This move also necessitated a change in schools for some of the refugee children and HPRP mentors counseled the families on what the public school options were and how to select and secure schooling for the fall. In addition to helping with the move, HPRP volunteers worked with our refugee family members to secure employment and to access needed healthcare.

From sponsoring a single Syrian refugee family beginning in 2016, HPRP has grown to providing assistance to a thriving refugee community including four Syrian families and one Congolese family. The organization has also expanded to provide English as a Second Language classes and a summer camp for the children of refugee and immigrant families. 

by Judy Mintel

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

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

Refugee One to Honor the Refugee Project and Hold Upcoming Workshop

We have exciting news!

RefugeeOne, the largest refugee resettlement organization in Illinois, will be honoring the work of the Hyde Park Refugee Project at their gala April 27th!

Following is an excerpt from the gala invitation:


RefugeeOne is proud to honor The Hyde Park Refugee Project. Since this volunteer-led organization got started in 2016, we have partnered with them to help light the path forward for five refugee families from Syria and the Congo.

Their creative, comprehensive efforts – embedding tutors in local schools, building a summer camp, and connecting refugees with job opportunities – are an incredible extension of RefugeeOne’s work, brought to life by committed volunteers. They have engaged more than 100 individuals, plus organizations including the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, local churches and synagogues, and small business owners. Together, they welcome refugees into their community, not only as neighbors, but as friends.

We would love for you to join us at the event and support our partner agency and the work they do.

Tickets are available here.


Refugee One is also holding a Trauma-informed care workshop here in Hyde Park for anyone who is interested in learning more about how to work with refugees. We are hosting the workshop at Augustana Church on April 15th from 6:30-8pm.

RSVP to: hydeparkrefugeeproject@gmail.com

Om on the Range yoga studio falls for Hyde Park Refugee Project

Love is in the air and we are feeling it. Hyde Park Refugee Project was thrilled to learn that Om on the Range, a yoga studio located on Chicago’s north side, will hold a Partner Yoga Workshop fundraiser in which all the proceeds will benefit HPRP and one other charity. The annual event, led by owners Beth Range Kiely and her husband Terry Kiely, marks the seventeenth anniversary of the studio that first opened its doors on Valentine’s Day, 2002.

My husband Terry and I mark the anniversary of Om on the Range with an annual Partner’s Yoga Workshop with all funds supporting local charities,” explains Beth.  “This special event is always held around Valentine’s Day and includes practicing yoga together and assisting your partner in collaborative ways. It ends with relaxing Thai Yoga Massage.”

Beth explains that Jeanne Century, Refugee Project volunteer and yoga instructor at ‘Om’, inspired their choice of charities this year.

“We love Jeanne Century and that is why we are supporting HPRP,” says Beth. “She is a teacher and assistant at our yoga studio and we admire her in many ways.  It’s a small way for us to recognize her active volunteerism, to highlight her commitment to helping refugees and to spread the word of your organization’s efforts.”

Jeanne and her husband Michael Weisman have been involved with HPRP since its earliest days.  Both helped pull things together for the apartments when the first two Syrian families arrived. Later, Michael became a mentor and Jeanne volunteered to organize medical care support for one of the largest family’s supported by the Refugee Project.

“After a difficult start up related to permissions, Medicaid, and a whole range of medical needs, things are more stable, but I continue to help with the family’s appointments because they are our friends, and they need our help,” says Century. “As the mother of two, I am filled with admiration and empathy for Rasha* who has six children, two with particular needs. I can’t imagine.”

Jeanne’s love for yoga started at an early age.

“My mother was a yogini before her time. When I was a kid, my mom used to watch “Lilias Yoga and You” and her time behind her bedroom door doing yoga was not to be interrupted,” says Jeanne. “So, I was always aware of yoga. I started practicing in earnest around 2004 when I started to go to a yoga class at my health club.”

She completed her training at the Baptiste studio.

“I saw a sign on the wall in that studio that said ‘come three days a week to change your body; come five days a week to change your life.’ So, I decided to come five days a week and change my life,” she says.

“Yoga is a path toward greater physical, mental and spiritual health,” says Beth.

Om on the Range’s classes are primarily an active, alignment-oriented and strong vinyasa-yoga style for people of all ages. The studio’s weekly Sunday Basics class at 10:00 a.m. provides a good introduction. For those who are looking for something a bit more restorative, she recommends coming to their weekly Saturday Yin class at 2:00 p.m.

The Partner Yoga Workshop benefiting HPRP will be held on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 751 West Grace Street, Chicago, 6-8:00 p.m. The fee is $65. All proceeds will go to Hyde Park Refugee Project and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. To learn more or to register, please click here.

*Names are changed to protect our families’ privacy.