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.

REGISTER! Lesson Planning 101: Feb. 2nd

On Saturday, February 2, 2019, 10:00am – 12:30pm, Literacy Works will host a hands-on workshop at Augustana Lutheran Church. Participants will learn and practice some of the basics of ABE and ESL lesson planning. They’ll practice writing clear, measurable objectives and building our lessons around them. They’ll also discuss two types of lessons for adult learners. Participants will have a chance to brainstorm a basic lesson plan and share their ideas during the training. This training is ideal for both ABE and ESL tutors.

The workshop is free for all Hyde Park refugee project volunteers through our affiliation with the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council.  Please mention this when you sign up.

Read the flyer: https://bit.ly/2CiJpAu

Good news!


Dear friends,

You recently received a request for donations to finance the purchase of Chromebook laptops for the refugee children we are working with at the middle school and high school levels. We are extremely happy to report that our goal of $5,000 has not only been met but exceeded. We are now determining the specifics of the purchase as well as developing a distribution plan. We want to thank all of you who contributed.

Should you still want to give a gift to the Hyde Park Refugee Project, please know that your donation will go towards our second educational priority. We plan to expand the very successful 2018 children’s summer camp program from two to four weeks in 2019. Our leadership team is beginning to make plans to seek support from various sources for this project in the coming month. Your amazing response to our call for help at this point means that our summer planning has already moved into action. We thank you for your generous support and look forward to sharing updates with you.

Meanwhile, we again wish you a joyous holiday season.

Lisa Jenschke, Penny Visser, and Dorothy Pytel
Co-Directors, Hyde Park Refugee Project


Photo credit: World Vision


Montgomery Place Welcomes the Refugee Project

Last month, Hyde Park Refugee Project founder Dorothy Pytel was invited to give a talk at Montgomery Place, a high rise retirement community in East Hyde Park., 

Resident Bernard Strauss helped make the arrangements.  “One of our residents talked to me about the general topic and suggested that Bernie Brown [former Dean of Rockefeller Chapel] would know more,” says Strauss. “I contacted Rev. Brown and he gave me Dorothy Pytel’s name along with a glowing recommendation for her as a speaker.”

“It was a lovely evening,” said Pytel.  “Carolyn Lawrence, one of the interns, and I first had dinner and great conversations there with a group of residents that organize the speakers.”

During her presentation, Pytel talked about how the project got started and the challenges facing the families the Refugee Project is helping. She also told a few stories about how the education they are receiving in the US, supplemented by the tutoring they receive from Refugee Project volunteers, is giving hope for their children’s future. A lively question and answer period ensued.  

“I have known about the project for a year or more, through my participation at Augustana,” resident Phil Hefner said. “We like to keep our residents informed about important projects, especially those in Hyde Park. Everyone I spoke with appreciated the talk.”

He added that at least one of the audience plans to suggest Hyde Park Refugee Project as a possible addition to the charities supported by the resident’s fund.


Hyde Park Herald covers Refugee Project recruitment effort

Hyde Park Herald recently interviewed Penny Visser, co-director of Hyde Park Refugee Project, and long-time volunteer Susan Augustine about the Refugee Project’s efforts to recruit more volunteers.

“All of the refugee families we’re working with recognize the vital importance of education for their children, and they are grateful to the support our community is providing,” said Penny Visser, co-director of Hyde Park Refugee Project. “We’ve partnered with some of the local schools the children attend, and we’d love to expand those partnerships and provide more volunteers to work in the classrooms.”

Read the story>


Photo credit: 2017 WNPR-FM

Calling all volunteers!

Want to make a difference in a refugee’s life? Hyde Park Refugee Project invites you learn more about our volunteer-based organization and opportunities to get involved.

We will be hosting a special information session on Tuesday, October 16, 6:30 p.m. at Augustana Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn in Hyde Park.

The purpose will be to orient newcomers and provide an update on our progress and plans. We kindly ask that you RSVP for the program so we can gauge attendance.

Please email hydeparkrefugeeproject@gmail.com to let us know you’re coming.

Thanks. Hope to see you there!