“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.

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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.

Give our families the gift of literacy

Dear friends,

As you know, the Hyde Park Refugee Project recently welcomed two Syrian refugee families to our community. Before their arrival, the families endured unimaginable hardships. Having survived the bombing of Aleppo, the families left their homes and belongings and fled to Turkey where they lived for several years in temporary accommodations while awaiting resettlement. Separated from their extended family and uncertain of their futures, the families were profoundly grateful when they finally arrived in Chicago.

But this new chapter of their lives brings its own daunting challenges. When they arrived, the families spoke no English and the older children had been out of school for several years. A few short months from now, the financial aid they’ve been receiving to support their resettlement will expire and the families will be expected to fully support themselves.

The single most important determinant of the families’ long-term success is the English language proficiency they achieve over the next few months.  Our families would benefit enormously from additional tutoring – and to enable this additional language support, we write today to ask for your financial support.

Currently, the fathers of each family receive eight hours of language training from RefugeeOne each week. The mothers and children receive three hours of weekly language training from Sirat Chicago. And all of the family members receive one-on-one instruction from our team of volunteer language tutors.

But we can do so much more. We know the Hyde Park community understands the value of education and the transformative power of literacy. By investing in intensive language training now, our community can have a profound impact on the long-term outcomes for these two remarkable families. With that goal in mind, the Hyde Park Refugee Project is launching a fundraising campaign to support three new literacy initiatives.

Adult Literacy: Our employment team has compiled a number of excellent leads on jobs within each father’s vocational area, but all of the employers require English language proficiency. Without strong communication skills, our families run the risk of getting stuck in jobs offering low wages, poor job security, few opportunities for advancement, and no medical benefits for themselves or their children.

With $5,000, we can support individualized language instruction for the adult members of both families. By tailoring the instruction to each adult, we can ensure that they acquire the specialized vocabulary of their vocations, dramatically improving their career prospects.

High School Preparation: The two oldest children are 15 and 17.  These children’s futures hinge on their ability to complete their educations, but without intensive English language instruction now it will be virtually impossible for them to make up for lost time and earn even a high school diploma.

With $5,000, we can provide intensive language instruction this spring and summer. With funds from two generous donors, we recently hired, on a short-term basis, an outstanding certified teacher who is Arabic-speaking and has ESL experience. With these additional funds, we will be able to continue this important work throughout the remainder of the academic year and over the summer.

Tutor Training: The Hyde Park Refugee Project has a dedicated team of volunteer tutors who supplement the family members’ language instruction with one-on-one tutoring, but few of the tutors have received formal ESL training.

With $1,500, we can enlist expert ESL instructors from Literacy Works to deliver a customized 2-day training program for our tutors, dramatically improving the quality of language support they can provide our families.

Many of you have been with us from the start. Whenever we’ve asked for help, you’ve come through. But of all the ways we can help our families, this may be the most fundamental. Language proficiency is the key that unlocks a future of stability, peace, and prosperity. If we all give a little (and those who are able, give a little more) we can set these families on the path toward sustainable new lives here in Chicago.

To donate, click here.

Or send a check payable to the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council to the address below (with Refugee Project on the memo line). All donations to the Hyde Park Refugee Project are fully tax deductible.

Thank you in advance for your generous support!

Dorothy Pytel and Penny Visser
Volunteer Coordinators, Hyde Park Refugee Project
c/o Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council
1448 E 52nd Street, #117
Chicago, IL 60615

P.S. Please like our Facebook page and share this with your family and friends!

Our second family arrives

One week before the second family was due to arrive, volunteers stepped up in a big way to make the apartment ready for its new occupants. They organized, made curtains, shopped, donated furniture, clothes, food, kitchen supplies and gift cards, cleaned, put together furniture, hung pictures, picked up and delivered furniture, made beds, decorated and fussed over details.  Especially heartwarming was the joy and excitement of our first refugee family who supplied daily tea, biscuits and special treats to volunteers working in the apartment and enthusiastically assisted with moving boxes up the stairs and assembling furniture.

A snafu in the second family’s travel scheduled delayed their arrival by a week, allowing more time for volunteers to put the finishing touches on the apartment. Refugee One supplied three sets of bunk beds and a queen-sized bed for the parents and HPRP supporters provided the rest.

When the big day arrived, a caravan of volunteers met Refugee One staff at the airport and greeted the new family at O’Hare with signs of welcome and plenty of smiles.  The family appeared a bit tired, but happy to have arrived in Chicago safe and sound. Although the day was unseasonably warm (the temperature hit 70◦) they were bundled in hats, scarves, winter coats and sweaters apparently ready to face the typically harsh Chicago winter. 

Thanks to fundraising efforts of the Laboratory Schools’ Refugee Club, a delicious and culturally appropriate lunch awaited the family when they arrived. The volunteers said their goodbyes and left the family to explore their new home and reunite with their Syrian friends. 

A Valentine’s Day surprise

The day started out like any ordinary Tuesday. We were gathered for our regular weekly meeting when Dorothy received a call from Refugee One informing her that a second family (a family of eight!) was due to arrive in Chicago in three days! Apparently, our first family was friends with the second family and had reached out to Refugee One to see if they could help transfer the second family to Hyde Park .  Happily, Refugee One was able to accommodate,, but the apartment we had secured was completely empty. This was going to be a challenge.

Immediately, the meeting transformed into a flurry of activity designed to ensure the apartment was fully stocked and furnished in time to receive family #2. Switching into high gear, the team issued an all-hands request for last-minute donations of furniture, household items, kitchen supplies, gift cards and clothing to ensure that an inviting home awaited our second family upon arrival.