Hyde Parkers ‘jump in’ to supply winter gear for Syrian families, neighbors in need

Thanks to the generous donations of scores of Hyde Park residents, four Syrian families and several disadvantaged community members received much-needed warm weather gear just in time for winter. The family friendly event took place on Wednesday and Saturday of last week at Augustana Lutheran Church in Hyde Park.

When the call for the clothing drive went out earlier this month, donations poured in filling two large rooms with dozens of winter coats, snow pants, boots, sweaters and other apparel ranging in size from infant to men’s XXL. In addition to the church, other designated drop off locations included KAM Isaiah Israel and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

“Our children grow out of clothes so quickly and typically only need them for a year or two,” said Dorothy Pytel, co-director of the Hyde Park Refugee Project.  “It’s nice to have items that are still in good enough shape to give to families who might otherwise have to spend a good portion of their income to purchase.”

In addition to the two Syrian families sponsored by the Refugee Project, two other families were invited to participate.  The families, of five and six respectively, also arrived in Chicago about a year ago and were referred to the Refugee Project by friends and acquaintances. They originally had come to the US through World Relief, which provides three months’ support to resettling refugees.

Last Wednesday’s drive took the place in lieu of the regularly scheduled weekly adult ESL classes that include a paid instructor and tutors made possible by community response to an earlier appeal.  Since the kids had the day off from school, volunteers brought in a bouncy house, generously donated by Hyde Park Latter Day Saints Chapel. While moms combed through clothes, several volunteers, including those who normally teach ESL to the adults, kept an eye on the kids, both refugee and volunteer children, who who had a blast in the bouncy house and making crafts in the nursery.

The following Saturday, guests who regularly attend the church’s monthly community breakfast were invited to select whatever they wanted from the racks and tables still brimming with coats, hats, sweaters and warm clothing. Remaining items were donated to local charity organizations.

“We are so thankful for the community’s incredible response to the drive,” said Pytel who organized the drive. “Within the span of a few weeks, we were able to supply 24 Syrian family members and more than a dozen of neighbors in need with enough winter gear to face the cold winter ahead.”

Photo of volunteer child in the bouncy house provided by her parent with permission.

Volunteers and donations needed for winter clothing drive

The Hyde Park Refugee Project is hosting another clothing drive and looking for donations as well as volunteers to help sort clothing for the drive.  This time, we are collecting new and gently used winter clothing (pants, sweaters, long sleeve shirts, snow pants, boots, hats, gloves and scarves) for four recently resettled families. We are helping a total of 24 family members that range in ages two years old to adults.  While it is difficult to list all of the sizes, these are the specific requests we have received.

  • an XL woman’s coat
  • children’s size 8 shoes
  • men’s size 13 and 15 shoes
  • hats and gloves for 2, 4 and 6 year old girls
  • sweaters, jackets, and snow pants for 3 (girl), 7 (boy), 8 (boy) year olds

Other items requested:

  • vacuum cleaner
  • small microwave

Leftover clothing will be made available to others in need, including guests attending a community breakfast at Augustana Lutheran Church on Saturday 11/18. Please contact Dorothy Pytel dpytel@yahoo.com if you would like to arrange to get leftover items for a local group or organization with which you are associated.

We are also happy to accept gift cards to local stores to help meet specific clothing needs that are not met by donations. These can be donated at the Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, where the drive will take place.

Following are clothing donation drop off locations and times:

  • Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn, 773-493-6451, Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; Sundays 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

The last day to drop off donations at this site is Monday, November 13, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. when clothes will already be in the process of being sorted by volunteers.

  • KAM Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd, 773-924-1234, Mondays to Fridays 8:30 a.m. -5:30 p.m. (can only enter building from north)

The last day to drop off donations at this site is November 10.

  • U of C Lab Schools, Blaine, High School and ESH lobbies

Drop off dates are November 6 – 10.

We also need many volunteers to help us sort the clothing so that it is easier for our neighbors in need to look through.  To make the volunteering more fun, feel free to recruit a friend and come together! Volunteers can sign up here:

Hyde Park Refugee Project clothes drive

Thank you!

Thanks for helping Tarek get a job!

With your support, refugees like Tarek are empowered to improve their lives and become self-reliant.

Before coming to Chicago, Tarek worked as an industrial tailor in his home country of Syria. As the conflict escalated, he and his family were forced to flee their home, taking only the possessions they could carry—and the skills Tarek had honed over the years.

Upon his arrival in February, Tarek enrolled in RefugeeOne’s English classes and quickly advanced through the first two levels. He worked diligently with our staff and his volunteer co-sponsors, The Hyde Park Refugee Project, to create a resume, practice for interviews, and begin searching for a job, preferably in his previous line of work.

Recently, Tarek’s hard work paid off when he was hired as a tailor at Chicago’s Dearborn Denim & Apparel, an employer that has hired several refugees resettled by RefugeeOne.

Thanks to his dedication and the help of people like you, Tarek is now employed full-time, making $13 an hour. He is thrilled to be working as a tailor once again and proud to be able to support his family.

*Name/image changed to protect privacy.

Story written by RefugeeOne and reprinted here with their permission.

“Hyde Park Refugee Project hosts community dialogue on refugee resettlement” by Tonia Hill, Hyde Park Herald, 9/20/2017

The Hyde Park Refugee Project hosted the first in a series of community dialogue events regarding refugee resettlement on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th St.

The program titled, “Coming to America: The Refugee Experience” explored challenges faced by refugees as they transition to living in the U.S. as well as the issues facing immigration as President Donald Trump’s administration attempts to restrict immigration from Muslim majority countries.

Read full story>

We’re on Twitter!


Hyde Park Refugee Project is now on Twitter! If you also have an account, please follow us.  Our Twitter handle is @hydeparkrefugee.

We are currently promoting our September 16 program, “Coming to America: The Refugee Experience”.  Legal and policy experts from DePaul Law School and Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and leaders from refugee assistance organizations like Refugee One, Girl Forward and the Syrian Community Network will conduct an in-depth discussion on the hurdles facing refugees when they arrive to the US.

Please share the event information with your friends and followers.

As always, thank you for your support.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead




Join us for a refugee resettlement community dialogue, Sept 16, 11 – 2 p.m.

After surviving unimaginable trauma and navigating significant hurdles just to get to America, refugees face the daunting task of starting over in a new country with few resources and often little education or familiarity with the language or culture. Transitioning to life in the US means intensive ESL classes, rounds of doctor visits, school enrollments for children, and quickly finding a job to support themselves and their families.

Hyde Park Refugee Project invites you to attend Coming to America: The Refugee Experience Saturday, September 16, 2017, at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E 55th Street, Chicago, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  The program is the first installment of a three-part series that will explore the challenges faced by refugees, especially those from Muslim-majority countries, in building new lives amid tightening restrictions and divided support from US citizens.

Leaders of organizations dedicated to helping refugees transition to life in the US will kick off the discussion, followed by lunch, then short talks by legal and policy experts and activists.  An audience Q&A will follow.

The program is free and open to the public.

Learn more and register.

Join us for ESL tutor training!


Whether you’re currently helping the members of our families learn English or are hoping to lend a hand in the future, we invite you to participate in a two-part tutor training program!

It’s free to you, though space is limited — learn more below and register today!

The Hyde Park Refugee Project is partnering with Literacy Works to provide a 12-hour ESL Tutor Essentials training, which prepares new tutors to instruct adults in English as a Second Language (ESL). The training covers all you need to know to get started with your learner. Discover how to create a lesson plan, select the best learning materials, help your student set goals, and much more. Each day will include hands-on, interactive activities, opportunities for questions, and multiple resources you can take home to use with your learner. All participants will also receive a resource packet with valuable supplemental information. This is a 2-day training. We highly recommend you attend both days of the training to get the most benefit. After attending both days, you’ll receive a certificate of completion.

Day One:  Saturday, August 12, 9:30am-3:30pm

Day Two: Saturday, August 26, 9:30am-3:30pm

Location for both sessions: Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn, Chicago, IL 60637 (parking available)


This ESL training is free for all participants, but space is limited. Register early to make sure you get a spot!

To register, email Lisa Jenschke at lisajenschke@gmail.com. Please inform us of any dietary restrictions when registering.

We are grateful to our generous donors for making it possible for us to host this valuable training session.

Laboratory Schools community mobilizes to support Hyde Park Refugee Project

The Spring 2017 issue of Lab Life, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools magazine, explains how Lab teachers, parents, staff and students galvanized to help HPRP bring two Syrian families to Hyde Park.

“I think that we have a sense that we are very privileged in our lives and in our school community, and we want to help others also do well in life. It feels good to be in a community of people who feel we can be agents of change.” – Linda Weide, Grade 4 Laboratory Schools teacher

Click here to read the full story by Megan E. Doherty and scroll to page 18.


LabLife_spring_2017_HPRP story2

LSTC, neighborhood partners welcome refugee families

HPRP volunteer Sara Trumm, Program Coordinator, A Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, recounts the story of LSTC’s early involvement in the Hyde Park Refugee Project. The story (copied below) was published in LSTC Winter 2017 Epistle.

It was 18 months ago that staff, faculty and students from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and other nearby congregations and institutions began exploring how to co-sponsor a refugee family in Hyde Park. Just before Christmas, the first family arrived. The second family arrived in mid-February. RefugeeOne, the largest resettlement agency in Chicago, worked with LSTC and partners Augustana Lutheran, 57th St Meeting of Friends, Hyde Park Union Church, University of Chicago Lab School, and more recently Ancona School, to make this happen.

Although many folks at LSTC were away for the holidays, the first family received a warm welcome through the collaborative efforts of all participating organizations and those who remained on campus. There was an equally warm welcome in February. RefugeeOne guided the Hyde Park Refugee Project through the various ways of providing support. Most refugees to Chicago are placed on the north side, closer to RefugeeOne’s offices and resources. However, as the number of refugees has increased greatly in the past year or two, Hyde Park is now considered an additional area to create community, resources and opportunities for refugee families.

Community responds to need

It didn’t take long to raise financial support, find volunteer mentors and tutors, gather donated household items and furniture, and identify community resources. The response of the community was so overwhelming that plans were set to co-sponsor a second family.

Organizers have already learned much about how to provide hospitality and a smooth transition while helping the refugees attain self-reliance as quickly as possible. In their exuberance to welcome them, those close to the Hyde Park Refugee Project learned to give the new residents time and space to adjust, to heal from possible trauma, to respect
their privacy and sense of security, and to let them establish themselves independently in this new environment.

The cultural adjustment for both refugees as well as sponsors is significant. Both are navigating language barriers, religious sensitivities and countless procedures. For those who are in close relationship with the families, RefugeeOne offers training and guidance, experience and wisdom. For most on LSTC’s campus, the task is simply to be helpful and patient neighbors.

In February, the LSTC community held an informational and fundraising dinner. Leaders shared information about how to best support refugees during the transition to a different political administration in the U.S. They also shared particulars of co-sponsoring refugees and led a conversation about inter-religious engagement.

Trumm is program coordinator of A Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at LSTC.