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: www.hydeparkrefugeeproject.org