June 26, 2015

Approximately six years ago, The Justice Conference was created to be a forum where people of faith could gather and discuss the world’s injustices. Now, the conference is the largest Biblical and social justice conference of its kind.  Presented by World Relief, the event seeks to bring together world-class speakers, pastors, authors and artists to answer the questions: what is justice and how do I become an advocate for peace?  As a global event, the conference has been held in both Hong Kong, China and Melbourne, Australia---but this year it came here to Chicago!

On June 5 & 6, individuals from around the world ascended on Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater in downtown Chicago to learn about the current injustices of our world.  Over the course of two days, speakers invited attendees to think differently about inequality and presented a Biblical framework for how Christian faith and social justice go hand-in-hand.

Because the conference was held locally this year, several World Relief DuPage/Aurora staff members had the opportunity to attend. When asked about their experience, each felt similarly reenergized and renewed in purpose.  Below are some of the highlights shared.

“After attending the conference, I feel led to make more direct connections to the refugees we serve. I’ve started by inviting a family over to my house for dinner and plan to do that with others. Not as a way to “help” them, but just as a way to make relationships and connections. I don’t feel like I can honestly do the work of “justice” without more personal relationships and experiences.”

- Liz Clinton, Education Manager, Aurora

“For me, although the word justice is currently in vogue, it still represent a timeless and key value for Christians. It is an expression of what Jesus said that he came to the earth to accomplish (Luke 4:18).”

-Zach Taylor, Employment Specialist

“I enjoyed many of the speakers, but personally I needed to hear Bob Goff’s reminder that the journey of Christians when seeking justice is not heavy-laden or a crippling burden. We must approach injustices with a heart or attitude of whimsy and joy because of the Good News we have and the source of where justice comes from.”

-Casey Barrette Children & Youth Program Manager, Aurora

The Justice Conference will once again take place in Chicago in June 2016—and registration is already open!  If you would like to be a part of this live-changing experience, and receive the early registration discount, visit http://www.thejusticeconference.com/ today!

March 27, 2015

Whether refugees have never had access to dental care or just limited access, they often arrive in the U.S. with dental issues. While they receive a comprehensive medical exam, there is currently no provision for dental screening.  As a result, Sue Reynolds and Malita Gardner, managers in the Education Department at World Relief in DuPage, partnered with College Church and invited the DuPage County Health Department offers free dental screenings for the students who attend ESL classes at the church those in need.

According to Beth Enke, Assistant Director of the Dental Program for DuPage County, poor oral health can lead to chronic pain, heart disease, and diabetes.  And because oral health is directly related to overall health, Enke and her team regularly conduct free dental screenings for populations in need. 

The dental program representatives were at the church for an entire week, and by the end of class on Friday, approximately 160 refugees received a dental screening---many for the first time. On Monday and Tuesday, the Dental Program team visited the ESL classes and educated the adults on how to care for their teeth and their children’s teeth.  Then on Thursday and Friday, they examined the adults and provided information on where they can get a free cleaning.  Those with a decay problem were referred to an area dentist who accepts Medicaid.  Furthermore, one refugee patient was immediately scheduled to see an oral surgeon due to signs of oral cancer.

Currently, the tooth decay rate in DuPage County is 52%. “The leading reason kids miss school is tooth decay or a dental problem; therefore, the younger we can screen them the better,” said Enke.  As a result, pre-school children enrolled in the WRD Early Education Program were examined along with their parents.  Plus, if they were able to tolerate the exam well, they had their teeth cleaned by the Smile Squad in the mobile dental unit.

With the goal of screening nearly 6,000 DuPage County residents per year, Enke looks forward to bringing the Dental Program back to World Relief and continuing to offer free dental assistance to the refugee population in DuPage County.

February 26, 2015

Last fall, *John arrived in the U.S. as a refugee with his family---but safety was only one of the challenges his family faced.  He needed to work, but his wife was struggling with a debilitating heart condition; his daughter was suffering from unstable diabetes; and his brother was confined to a wheelchair.  After learning about the family’s circumstances, WRDA staff and volunteers began planning to meet their many needs.

Helping clients in complex situations requires coordination of efforts, collaboration across services and programs, involvement of the church, and community volunteer support.

The first year of resettlement is crucial in every case---especially in complicated situations.  Therefore, staff across WRDA programs come together weekly to coordinate services and track client progress.  The meeting is comprised of representatives from each area of service: initial resettlement, medical, education, employment, and counseling. And while the weekly meeting is not the only time for staff collaboration, it is key.

"The purpose of the case briefing meeting is to help staff coordinate and plan services, as well as communicate client progress," said Susan Sperry, Refugee Services Director.

With the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration, the staff share information and collaborate on problem-solving.  At the intervals of 3, 7 and 11 months post arrival, each household or individual case is reviewed and staff identify key areas for follow-up and service provision. Individuals or households struggling to adjust receive the benefit of a multi-tiered coordination of services.

Every case is different; therefore, the intensity of services varies too.  According to Sperry, a team-based approach to case management is the most effective because refugees receive the layers of care needed to be successful in the U.S.

"The goal is to have each refugee family well-grounded by the end of the first year," said Sperry.

And while there is no exact definition for success, the vision of World Relief is to see people transformed economically, socially and spiritually, which can be understood in terms of some key benchmarks:

  • The ability to pay bills, which means the individual or member of the household has a job with a steady income
  • A network of support in the community, which includes friends, neighbors, churches, faith communities, and other service providers

Working together across disciplines and integrating volunteers, the team is able to address multiple and complex challenges in ways that individual workers cannot; for example, John and his family.

After securing a handicapped-accessible apartment for the family, their case manager brought together the medical coordinator and a representative from the education and employment teams. Together, the team prepared a proactive plan for stabilization and provided updates on the family’s progress during their weekly case briefing meeting. The plan was discussed with John and implemented through a combination of staff and volunteer activity designed to meet the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration.

Within three months, John secured a job, his wife had heart surgery, both John and his daughter learned how to manage her diabetes, and the entire family was connected to volunteers from a local church. 

Click here to learn more about the departments that make up Refugee Services at WRDA.

* For the protection of the client, we have changed his name to John for the purpose of retelling his story

January 28, 2015

The New Year is synonymous with a fresh start.  As December draws to a close, many people commit to a resolution---often to manage their health, money, or time better.    For a refugee leaving behind their home and culture, a new beginning can seem overwhelming.  However, despite challenges and fears, refugees arrive in the U.S. with concrete goals for the future.

Prior to Christmas break, Karen Edwards, WRDA ESL Instructor in DuPage, gave her students a goal-setting assignment from their Step Forward 2 textbook.  Students were asked to read an article about a person who wanted to become a chef, which led to a class discussion of goals and the steps required to reach the goal.  Edwards decided to take the assignment further and asked the students to write a paragraph about their personal goal.  And because many of the students are creative and artistic, she also asked them to draw an illustration. 

“The assignment came alive when the students shared their goals during class in small groups,” said Edwards.

Sensing the students’ enthusiasm, Edwards asked if anyone wanted to come to the front of the class and be recorded on video---and several students were brave enough to do it.  According to Edwards, students who shared on camera not only talked about their goals, but their dreams too!

Adil Idris Adam Ali has been in the U.S for only 11 months.  Originally from the Sudan, he enjoys exploring nature and working outside. As a result, his goal is to become a geologist; however, in order to reach this goal, Adil knows that he must continue with English classes. Currently, he works third shift packaging magazines for distribution, but hopes to be moved to the first shift soon so that he can start taking classes at College of DuPage.

Maha Mohamed was resettled by WRDA approximately 18 month ago.  She was working towards becoming a nurse in her home country of Sudan prior to fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Today, she still dreams about becoming a nurse; therefore, she continues to attend WRDA ESL classes to improve her English.  Maha’s goal is to start nursing school in three years.  However, nursing is not her only goal.  Due to her love of baking, Maha’s second dream is to be a chef.

Exiled from his home country of Burma, Kaw Tha Blay spent 13 years in a refugee camp prior to being resettled by World Relief in DuPage.  Fortunately, Kaw was able to attend school in the camp and learn some English, but he craves more education.  In fact, he wants to earn a teaching degree so that he can teach others English and how to use a computer.  After experiencing so much conflict in Burma, Kaw believes that in order for people to live in peace together they must be educated; therefore, he hopes to reach his goal of becoming a teacher by the year 2030.

When Bibi Rai was just 16 years-old, he fled the Bhutan with his family for a refugee camp in Napal, where they lived for 18 years.  Because his father passed away when Bibi was young, he only attended school for a couple of years because he had to help support his family.  However, with little education and no understanding of English, he has landed a job, earned a driver’s license, and purchased a car.  Mechanically inclined, Bibi is now working towards his goal of becoming a car mechanic.  He would like to start preparing for his new career now, but knows that he must improve his English speaking and writing skills. Ideally, his dream is to start his training in the next six months.

Learning to speak, read, and write the English is the foundation to achieving any goal for a newly arrived refugee.  If you would like to be a part of helping someone realize their dream by becoming an ESL tutor, contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Services Manager, at 630-462-7566 x 1046 or jdaling@wr.org.

September 30, 2014
Oath ceremony

For those of us born in the United States, citizenship is not something we think about on a regular basis. However, for the refugee or immigrant who has fled their country due to war, oppression or violence, the pursuit of citizenship is always at the forefront because it means having a country to call home again.

In 2009, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] began the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, awarding grants to immigrant-serving organizations to help them better assist permanent residents preparing for citizenship. In 2012, World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] submitted an application and was one of two Illinois organizations to receive this Federal grant.

“We were honored to receive this grant. It’s highly competitive---only 40 grants are given nationally each grant cycle,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Director of Education.

At the time of the announcement, the grant criteria did not allow for organizations to reapply when the grant cycle was over, which would end funding for Citizenship Classes, citizenship tutor training, and certain ILS services. However, in 2013, the guidelines were changed---allowing WRDA to reapply.

Last week, WRDA learned that the USCIS grant was renewed for another two years. The renewal means that the Immigrant Legal Services [ILS] department will be able to continue offering free services to those applying for citizenship, allocate time to more complex applications, and hire part time staff to assist with the administrative process. With regard to education, in addition to offering regular citizenship classes, the grant allows for clients with lower English skills to be served by our teachers who specialize in teaching those with little to no formal education.

Over the next two-year grant period, WRDA will be offering free citizenship classes in both DuPage and Kane counties. In addition to passing a civics test, the applicant must speak, read, and write English; therefore, the focus of each class is on helping the students gain the knowledge and tools needed to pass the naturalization interview. According to Andrea Gerhart, WRDA Education Projects Coordinator and citizenship teacher, the students come to class already internally motivated because obtaining citizenship is so important to them.

As a teacher, my goal is to equip the students in such a way that they walk into their interview with confidence,” said Gerhart.

Former citizenship student, Sara Gomez, believes that without World Relief classes, she would not have been as prepared for her interview.

“I could have memorized the questions on my own, but I wanted to become a citizen from the inside and outside,” said Gomez.

Motivated by her two children who are citizens by birth, Gomez never missed a class because she wanted to learn all that she could about U.S. history.

“I wanted to understand how freedom was achieved and how women got the right to vote in the U.S.,” said Gomez.

Furthermore, without the commitment of attending a class, Gomez says that she may have not put aside the time every week to study.

Currently, Sara’s mother is starting the application process towards U.S. citizenship and Sara is urging her to enroll World Relief classes. Citizenship classes will begin again in October in Wheaton. For more information on these classes, contact the DuPage office at (630) 462-7660.

To review the steps to citizenship, visit www.worldreliefdupageaurora.org/citizenship-information. Or if you would like to learn about becoming a Citizenship Tutor, helping students who require help outside of class time, contact Jamie Daling, WRDA Volunteer Manager, at jdaling@wr.org or 630-462-7566 x 1046.

 

September 22, 2014

The New Year is a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.   At World Relief, our past includes a long history of meeting humanitarian needs and serving the world’s most vulnerable. Around the globe, World Relief has faithfully served people affected by war, poverty and disaster.

This year, World Relief will honor the past and look towards the future in celebration of 35 years of refugee resettlement services in California, Georgia, Illinois and Washington--- and 70 years since World Relief was founded!  As one of the original areas where refugee resettlement began in the U.S., we are doubly excited---celebrating 35 years of resettlement in DuPage and 15 years of service in Aurora!

“It is a testimony of God’s faithfulness and of the vision of these communities that World Relief has grown here and communities have been open and welcoming to refugees and immigrants,” said, Emily Gray, WRDA Executive Director.

World Relief has selected the image of a tree as the symbol for the anniversary year because of its similarity to the experience of immigrants and the World Relief local ministry.  Immigrants have all been separated from their original roots and seek roots in a new place.  And through the support of churches and volunteers, the roots grow deeper and stronger over time.    Eventually, the immigrant becomes firmly planted—learning English, gaining new job skills and investing in the growth of their community.  While some hardships are experienced along the way, similar to a sturdy tree, the immigrant is resilient and their limbs grow strong---producing much fruit.

Throughout 2014, we will observe the anniversary each month here in the newsletter with an article on our history and announcements of special anniversary opportunities.  In addition, we will weave the celebration into our regular yearly events such as Refugee & Immigrant Sunday and our annual Benefit Dinner; however, our big celebration will take place in conjunction with our annual World Refugee Day Picnics. We ask that you reserve the weekend of June 20 for WRDA celebrations, which will bring together both former and current immigrant clients, volunteers, community partners and employees.

In 1979, the founders of World Relief’s ministry among refugees, Grady and Evelyn Mangham, cast a vision of hope.  And by partnering with those willing to stand and welcome the stranger---many lives have been transformed over the years.  While the mission of World Relief has evolved, it has never wavered from the goal of empowering the local Church to serve the most vulnerable, and to see refugees, immigrants and members of their communities become fully-functioning, integrated participants in society.

Today, WRDA is a grounded organization with many dedicated volunteers, donors and community and church partners.  Over the coming year, together we will celebrate God’s faithfulness and all of the new beginnings that have been planted by WRDA and your service to the foreign-born.

September 22, 2014

A Donor’s Point of View

Bruce Barton became a World Relief donor after working on The Life Application Study Bible.  After five years of working on the Bible, Bruce and his wife, Mitzie, made the decision to donate a portion of their total giving---one third to their church, one third to evangelism, and one third to the poor.  At the same time, Bruce was working with Youth for Christ in Carol Stream---across the street the World Relief offices.  Approximately 25 years later, the Barton’s are still faithful World Relief supporters.

“As a donor, I think we are supposed to be responsible about our giving and I feel good about giving to World Relief,” said Barton.

Barton believes that financial giving is not primarily an emotional response. While he enjoys hearing success stories about refugees getting a good job, earning citizenship, or starting a small business, those stories are not a means-to-an-end. Instead, Barton views these stories as a conformation that World Relief is doing a good job with the resources entrusted to them.

“For me, it is like watching a magician.  After the first three tricks, you just start to trust the results--- and everything World Relief does backs up their promises with quality,” said Barton.

When asked about his involvement as a World Relief donor, Barton relates his commitment to the feeding of the 5,000, which is found in all four Gospels. He believes the Bible mandates that we proclaim God’s word by showing His love and concern for others.

“Jesus trained his disciples and told them to feed the people, which says to me that we too are called to serve and give physical help to others.  Or in other words, continue to feed WRDA---the conduit that serves refugees,” said Barton.

Finally, when asked what he would say to a potential WRDA donor, Barton responded, “If you are moved to give to refugees then World Relief is the best place---you can count on them to handle your money well.”

 WRDA History

Djoua Xiong came to the U.S. as a Hmong refugee from Laos to escape violence and start over in a safe place; however, God had a very specific mission for Djou.

During the mid-1970’s Djoua and his family were among the Hmong people seeking political alyssum.  Upon arrival in Wheaton, his first job was as a dish washer at Wheaton College and then in the shipping department at Tyndale Publishers.  Djoua adjusted to the culture and language quickly, and as a result he became a leader and advocate in the Hmong community.

Djoua was in the U.S. for a short time when he was recruited by Catholic Charities to serve as a case manager and help resettle other refugees arriving from Southeast Asia. In 1980, Djoua left Catholic Charities and accepted a position with World Relief to serve refugees being resettled throughout the Midwest.  But as his family grew, Djoua wanted to be at home more; therefore, he approached World Relief with the idea of opening an office in DuPage County.  His request was granted and he became the first official resettlement director for World Relief DuPage.

The DuPage office opened in 1982 with one case manager and a secretary, and together they resettled 100 refugees the first year.  During his tenure as director, with the help of volunteers, Djoua and his staff resettled thousands of refugees, from approximately 20 different countries.  “I would go to churches to speak and people were very sensitive to the refugees’ needs and responded,” said Djoua.

According to Djoua, during the early years churches and families would host newly arriving refugees in their homes, enroll the children in school, and run the ESL classes.  When Djoua left World Relief in 2000 to serve as president and CEO of Overseas Tribal Service, Inc., the DuPage office had both a strong volunteer and Church network---and nearly 50 employees!

Some of Djoua’s accomplishments as director include: establishing local refugee churches, a summer youth program, an on-site counseling center, a senior adult program, a community garden, and a program for refugee women to sell their handmade goods.

Today, Djoua continues in his advocacy work by helping to create access for missionaries to serve the tribal people of Southeast Asia.

 Update: Director’s Reflections

One of the benefits of looking back at the history of WRDA is seeing God’s faithfulness.  Over the years, God has shown through as He used people like Djoua – transforming them from refugees into faithful servants who serve and advocate for others.  His faithfulness has shown through people like Bruce and Mitzi, who have both lent their talents and been faithful financial supporters.

Recent events have led us at WRDA to realize how very dependent we are on God and His faithfulness through his people.  Last month in this newsletter, we shared concerns about public funding that was originally designated for refugees is now being used to meet the desperate needs of unaccompanied children entering the U.S.  Congress did not take action before its recess, so funding cuts to several of our refugee programs have gone into effect.   This re-allocation of funds represents the largest single drop in public funding WRDA has experienced in recent years.  As a result, we have scaled back several programs and we will face further reductions in October if Congress does not approve sufficient funding in the FY15 federal budget.

While this drop is dramatic, over the past several years public funding has been decreasing steadily---yet God has been faithful.  Even in the face of these cuts, we believe He will again be faithful through His people.  We believe that, as Bruce and Djou said so well, churches and individual donors are willing to step up to serve refugees and provide for the funds World Relief needs to continue to be a part of serving refugees, immigrants, and local churches.

I want to highlight two ways that you can be a part of helping us meet current challenges:

- On Friday, September 26 WRDA will host its annual benefit dinner at Piper’s Banquets.  This is always an important event for us, but never more than this year in light of these funding cuts.  It will be an inspiring evening of seeing how God has worked in the lives of immigrants and volunteers, as well as hearing a special message from Evelyn Mangham, one of the co-founders of World Relief’s Refugee Ministry 35 years ago.  You can help to fill the hall with supporters, friends, churches and sponsors.  Tickets are available now.  Click here for more information.

- We are 2/3 of the way toward our goal of raising $15,000 to meet a challenge grant of another $15,000 from the IDP Foundation for teaching Job Readiness ESL, which prepares refugees for jobs in the U.S.   The deadline for this match is fast approaching, so if you are willing to help us reach this goal, click here and choose “Help a Child or Adult Learn English” to designate your gift to this match.  Or, for more information, contact Bill Janus at bjanus@wr.org.

I ask you to pray for immigrants coming to our communities, to pray for the Church to rise up to welcome immigrants in the name of Jesus, and pray for us here at World Relief as we endeavor to do what God places before us each day.  I hope to see you in September!

Emily B. Gray, LCSW
Executive Director

June 25, 2014

When *Qing’s mom got the opportunity to leave China in 1994 and study in the United States she was faced with a difficult decision.  Her student visa did not allow her to work in the U.S., so she had to leave little Qing behind in China with family. At first Qing’s mother was fortunate, after completing her studies she was offered a job and granted a work visa.  As a result, five years later, Qing’s mom was able to reunite the family by bringing Qing to Chicago.

Qing did well in school and adjusted to the new culture quickly.  Although she was from a different country, her upbringing in the suburbs of Chicago was similar to her classmates----until she turned 12-years-old.  In 2001, Qing and her mother learned that their attorney missed the filing deadline to renew their visas---leaving them undocumented and without a remedy.  Without legal status, Qing’s life changed considerably.

As she got older, she was not able to attain milestones like her peers.  She could not get a driver’s license, work, or attend college.  Qing and her mom faced the possibility of deportation every day, even though life in the U.S. was virtually all Qing had ever known.

In May of 2003, the Illinois House Bill 60 opened-up new educational opportunities for undocumented students after high school.  As a result, Qing was able to attend and graduate from one of Chicago’s top universities; however, she was not able to pursue a career---until August 2012.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama issued a memo calling for pro-active deferral of deportation for certain young people who were brought to the U.S. as children.  The executive order, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, allows children who meet specific criteria to apply for a type of permission to be in the United States for two-years.  While it is not a path to permanent residency or citizenship, if the applicant is accepted, he or she can get a Social Security number, and Employment Authorization Card, and obtain a Driver’s License---depending on the state.

When Qing heard about the DACA program she wasted no time gathering all of the required records that she would need for her application.  And upon being accepted into the DACA program, she landed a job in her field.

“Now I have the ability to contribute to the country where I was raised and be self-sufficient, “said Qing.

Furthermore, DACA gave Qing the opportunity to apply for “Advance Parole” giving her permission to travel to China to visit aging family members, with an approval for re-admittance back into the U.S.  Because DACA is a two-year authorization, Qing is currently in the process of renewing her application, but hopes for the opportunity to become an American citizen one day.

Camilia Rubiano has a similar story.  She was just six-years-old when she was brought to the United States from Colombia.  According to Camilia, as a kid her legal status was never an issue because kids don’t talk about citizenship; they just treat each other the same.

During her sophomore year in high school, her mom heard about DACA and encouraged her daughter to look into it---this was the first time she realized that she was undocumented.

“This was the first time I understood why having a Social Security number mattered,” said Camilia.

Camilia applied and was accepted for DACA in 2012 and is also in the process of renewing her application.  With DACA she was able to obtain a driver’s license and a work permit.  Currently, she is studying towards a nursing degree at College of DuPage and working two jobs to support herself.   Although DACA has provided opportunities, Camilia would like to be a U.S. citizen and have a voice as a voter. And while she would like to visit Colombia one day, she considers the U.S. her home.

*For the protection of our client, we have changed her name to Qing for the purpose of retelling her story. 

Click here to learn more about DACA and the DACA renewal process.  To schedule an appointment with Immigrant Legal Services call 630-462-7660 for the Wheaton office and 630-264-3171 for the Aurora office.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Because DACA is an executive order and not a law; it can be revoked at any time.  According to the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders, the only true remedy is for immigration law to be reformed to meet the current realities of our country.   As a partner organization, World Relief believes that our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis; therefore, our nation’s leaders need to work with the American people to pass immigration reform that: respects the God-given dignity of every person; protects the unity of the immediate family; respects the rule of law; guarantees secure national borders; ensures fairness to taxpayers; and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.  Click here to learn more about the Evangelical Immigration Table and how you can take a stand for comprehensive immigration reform.

May 21, 2014

In today’s fluctuating economy, the ability to make sound financial decisions is crucial to one’s future.  And if you are a refugee starting over in a new country, stability is tightly connected to financial literacy.

At World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA], Asset Development programs are designed to help refugees move toward community integration through financial literacy and asset-building opportunities.  Through education, refugees receive the financial tools needed for success.

All newly arrived refugees take their first step towards financial freedom during their first six weeks here.  As a part to the ESL Job Class, Rebekah King, WRDA Asset Development Coordinator, walks the students through the process of budgeting and explains the difference between income and expenses.  Furthermore, Rebekah discusses the importance of having a bank account, enrolling in direct deposit, and using an ATM machine.

“Essentially, the lesson on budgeting shows the students that there is no extra money, at first, to spend on non-essential items or check cashing fees, “said Rebekah.

Once the client is established in a job and able to show a monthly margin of $400-$600 in their budget, additional opportunities for financial growth are available through partnerships with programs such as, Ways to Work.

Ways to Work is a national program administered locally by the Salvation Army Chicago Metropolitan Division. The program assists low-income families who have either no credit or bad credit obtain a low-interest car loan.  According to Jacqueline Lopez, Ways to Work Loan Coordinator, the loan is a credit building tool. The loan process includes a comprehensive application, a valid driver’s license, a credit check, proof of employment, and attendance at a financial education class.  Another component is a written personal statement to convey to the loan the committee what a car would mean to the family.

“World Relief helps us identify qualified participants.  We have never had a WRDA client make a late payment on their loan or be rejected for the program,” said Jacqueline.

As a nontraditional lender, Ways to Work is about seeing people succeed—and the success of the program speaks for itself.  According to Jacqueline, there have been applicants who were on public aid when they started, and by the time they finished paying off their car loan, they were off public aid and in a better job.

Recently, WRDA refugee client Ibrahim Alameir was able to purchase a vehicle through Ways to Work.

In August 2014, Ibrahim arrived with his wife and son from Iraq.   Due to the strong work with ethic Ibrahim learned from his father, he immediately went to work as a machinist to support his family.   Ibrahim was able to carpool to work, but without a car, he would ride his bike from Carol Stream to Wheaton for appointments—even in the winter.  Due to his hard work and lofty financial goals, by February 25, 2014, Ibrahim had earned a driver’s license,qualified for a car loan through Ways to Work, and purchased a used mini-van. Ibrahim’s next financial goal—- enroll in college and earn a license to practice dentistry again.

 

April 23, 2014

For a single mother, life inside a refugee camp is overwhelming. Survival depends on her ability to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.

Due to political violence in Togo, Djigbodi Touleassi fled with her two young children to a refugee camp in Benin.  For approximately three years, they struggled to make it as a family; dealing with inadequate shelter and limited resources.  “I was so afraid for my daughter’s safety that I would carry her everywhere on my back so that she was close to me,” said Djigbodi.

While in the camp, Djigbodi met and married Atakora Agoro who provided a new sense of security; however, the celebration of their marriage was cut short when only she and her children were offered resettlement in the United States.   Because Djigbodi’s first marriage was considered “cultural”, she had no paperwork to confirm the divorce.  As a result, she arrived in Aurora, Illinois with just her children—Atakora had to stay behind.  Alone, Djigbodi faced the obstacles of learning a new language and engaging a different culture.  “I knew we were safe, but life in America was very different,” said Djigbodi.

With the help of World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services, after a series of appeals, three years later Atakora was able to join his family.  Although together, the family’s struggle for a new life continued.  “Here, you need an education for money and for a future,” said Djigbodi.

Although educated professionals in their country, both Djigbodi and Atakora knew that in order to be successful in the U.S., they would have to start-over with their education.  Therefore, Djigbodi enrolled in WRDA’s Childcare Microenterprise Development program and received the training and certification needed to open an in-home childcare business, which allows her the flexibility to take classes at Waubonsee Community College.   Atakora, a math and physics teacher in Togo, works fulltime to support his family and goes to school fulltime.  In May, he will receive his associate’s degree and plans to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Northern Illinois University.

After establishing a routine and finding a balance between work and school, the couple’s next goal was to create stability for their children.  And when they learned about Emmanuel House and the opportunity to buy their own home, they applied for the program.

With the goal of helping the working-poor overcome poverty, Emmanuel House uses a Networked Saving Program to make it possible for a working family to save for a down payment on a home.  For 18 months, the family lives in housing owned by Emmanuel House and pays market-rate rent.  As resident of Emmanuel House, the family attends personal finance classes and their rent money is put into a personal savings account—to be used as a down payment on their first home.

Today both Djigbodi and Atakora are optimistic.  Their children are doing well in school and are involved in extra-curricular activities.   In the near future, Djigbodi plans to grow her childcare business and join Atakora at NIU as a nursing student.  And the entire family looks forward to their first home purchase.