November 2, 2012

Megan Chrans, Intern

The rich smell of spice greets me at the door as Radmila Mijatovic welcomes me into her home. She is cooking dinner in the kitchen, comfortable in her space as she talks about her day at work and the family pictures on the walls. She recounts the time her family first arrived to the United States and was greeted by American volunteers who would eventually become dear friends.

Exhausted after a grueling 14-hour flight from former Yugoslavia, Radmila and her husband, daughter and son got off the plane at O’Hare International Airport and stepped into a new country, culture and life. Leaving a war-torn and divided country where the economic situation was devastated and jobs non-existent, Radmila and her family decided to begin a new life in the United States. Not knowing anyone, unfamiliar with the language, and carrying their life in a suitcase, the family felt the uncertainty and excitement of a new beginning.

American volunteer John Jackson and his family waited outside the international gate for the Mijatovics to arrive. Even then, John knew that the next few days would mark the beginning of a prolonged relationship with this family. “When you host a family like that,” he explained, “you get connected and then you’re with them for a long time.” However, he could not quite anticipate how closely the Lord would interweave their lives in the future.

The Jacksons volunteered as a host family with World Relief DuPage and agreed to welcome Radmila and her family into their home for three days while an apartment was set up. However, due to delays with the apartment, the Mijatovics stayed with the Jacksons for ten days instead. Using simple phrases and gestures where language was lacking, the Jacksons helped orient the Mijatovics to the United States. The impromptu educational sessions ranged from explaining how the gas on the stove worked to teaching the difference between a nickel and dime.

Radmila remembers how the Jacksons helped with everything. “I never felt like I was so far from home because John’s family was so nice to us.”

When the Mijatovics eventually moved into their apartment, they still continued the close relationship with the Jackson family. The kids – three on the Jackson side and two on the Mijatovics’- especially connected. Because the Jacksons lived just down the street they were consistently available to help with any questions or needs. The Mijatovics often invited the Jacksons over for cultural and religious holidays and the families continued to learn about the other’s lives. However, in the midst of this, the Mijatovics faced a big challenge: they needed jobs.

John found himself in a unique position at his company, MagnetStreet which designs and produces personalized wedding, life moment, business, and school printed products. MagnetStreet also happened to be a key partner of World Relief Employment Services. When a job position opened in production, John thought Radmila would be a great fit. Working together with World Relief and John, Radmila was soon hired.

MagnetStreet: A Unique Ministry
John’s desire to place World Relief’s refugees at MagnetStreet resulted from years of involvement with international work. He longed to find a way to focus his passion for internationals locally in the Wheaton area.

John’s global perspective was formed early on through his family’s experience hosting internationals in their home and traveling abroad. Later, John participated in mission trips, and then moved to China for an extended period of time after receiving a graduate degree in cross-cultural communication. Coming back, he taught at a Christian school before deciding to work as a recruiter for a mission agency in the United States. During this time he also began to take his global background and apply it nationally.

After eight years of recruitment work, John began to feel that his time in formal ministry was coming to a close. Though in many ways this change did not make sense, the Lord moved in his heart and he chose to take a step of faith, saying, “Lord, you have something else for me.”

He began talking to people about his desired shift in vocation, and at church struck up a conversation with Brian Baird, CEO of MagnetStreet. Brian mentioned an opening in Human Resources, and 11 years ago, John began his career at MagnetStreet. The company was experiencing expansion due to increased production work and John spent much of his time hiring to meet the new demands. Through a personal relationship with Matt Gibson, former Employment Services Manager at World Relief, John learned about opportunities to hire refugees.

John refers to MagnetStreet as a “Kingdom Company,” and there could not be a more fitting description. Providing jobs to refugees who are still adjusting to a new way of life has lasting impacts. Furthermore, doing so in a company run by a Christian executive team with compassionate hearts for people from other countries is truly unique.

A personal relationship morphed into a valued partnership. MagnetStreet needed employees to keep up with demands, and World Relief had an endless supply of eager workers supported by job counselors who walked hiring companies and new refugee employees through the entire process.  Though taking on a greater risk by hiring people who were not familiar with English or American cultural practices, MagnetStreet understood the lasting benefit of employing people who had left behind war, persecution and a denial of basic human rights and looked to the future with hope.

Adam Beyer, Employment Services Manager at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, says that the majority of companies they partner with are not faith-based, and interactions are centered purely on a business relationship. Companies are naturally most concerned with work ethic and their employees’ understanding of the American workforce. Fortunately, World Relief Employment Services’ goal is to help adult refugees secure full-time work, provide training and develop resources so that refugees can achieve stability and move toward meaningful vocations.

Adam remarks that the partnership with MagnetStreet is especially unique because it’s based on both a business and missional understanding.

Looking Forward
Today, Radmila is still employed at MagnetStreet and reflects on the blessing it has been. She says, “[The people at] my job, we are like family.” She recounts the different job positions she’s completed within the company as she gains better language skill and can take on more responsibility.

Her family has a house now and her kids are in college. Through the help of volunteers like the Jacksons and companies like MagnetStreet, they have been able to establish a new life full of opportunity and hope.

Though MagnetStreet does not hire many refugees anymore because their expansion phase is complete, they continue to partner with World Relief through the generous donation of products and services.

Many of the refugees MagnetStreet hired years ago still work at the company and have progressed into higher-level positions. John stops in now and then to catch up with Radmila at work and their families continue to share special meals and holidays together. As John reflects on the volunteer experience that led to this lasting relationship, he says, “It opened our eyes to what refugees face when they come…just to think, what would that be like for me – to go to a country, pack a suitcase, not speak the language or have any resources – that’s it and you show up. How would I survive? What would I do? And to think how valuable that would be to have somebody meet you at an airport and be like, ‘Don’t worry about things, we’ll take care of you.” Johns remarks that you never forget the first people you meet.

Radmila says again and again, “I am so thankful. I cannot forget…never.”

October 12, 2012

Meaghan Gerhart, Communications Intern

While some can simply hop in a car and easily drive from one destination to another, this luxury is not afforded to all. Refugees especially face a special set of challenges without a car, as there are numerous meetings, appointments, and classes they must attend post-initial settlement in the United States. In response, World Relief DuPage Aurora (WRDA) started the car donation program. Life in the suburban DuPage and Kane counties requires reliable transportation over greater distances, which can present challenges to those without a car. With the ability to give refugee clients a car, this enables refugees to get to work, run family errands and effectually relieves the strain on WRDA’s shuttle program.

The car donation process begins with a donor, who generously brings their car to World Relief and signs over the title to WRDA. In order to incentivize car donations, car donors are entitled to a tax write-off based on the current re-sale value of the car. Then, World Relief has the car evaluated by a mechanic to determine what repairs are needed or recommended. When the repairs have been made, the car is ready to be given to a qualified refugee.

A refugee is eligible for consideration to receive a donated car if they are working full-time (or have an imminent job offer); have a valid driver’s license; can afford to pay for the expenses associated with owning the car (insurance, title transfer, plates); and agree to help others whom World Relief is serving that are in need of transportation. Often, and ideally, a donated car will result in a car pool that will provide transportation and work to a few or even several different refugees. Donated cars are often given to someone who is in the best position to help other people get to work.

In all cases, the WRDA staff must use their discernment in deciding what will bring the most value to the clients—whether that be donation to a refugee, impounding the car, or using the car for a shuttle. For example, at times individuals will donate a car that can’t be repaired at a reasonable price. In those cases, WRDA impounds the vehicle in order gain a profit of a couple hundred dollars. Other times, a donor will give WRDA a car that is so valuable that it makes better sense to sell the car and use the proceeds to pay for repairs on other cars. Occasionally, WRDA will get a car that can best be used as a shuttle vehicle and is kept by World Relief.

One of the beneficiaries of the car donation program is Tek Tiwari, a recent refugee to the United States. Tiwari, his wife, 3 children, two adult sisters and elderly mother all live together in a household. Tiwari has been currently working at his company for almost 2 years and has always had to rely on co-workers to get to work. Like many other refugees designated as the primary breadwinner, Tiwari had been forced to live under the pressure of living pay-check to pay-check supporting his family of five. Saving a portion of his paycheck to pay for a car was impractical and unreasonable.

Luckily, a previous client of WRDA Cyros Amiri, was in the financial position to donate a car to WRDA. Amiri had worked with Employment Services to secure a job when he had initially resettled to the United States, and with this income, he was able to save for a car. In an effort to pay it forward, Amiri decided to donate his vehicle to WRDA after purchasing his new car. Tiwari was the perfect recipient of Amiri’s donation. Tiwari’s sisters and niece recently resettled in the United States, and through the robust Employment Services department, his family members were able to secure employment at the same company that employs Tiwari. In effect, he will be changing shifts to be able to drive his family to work. Not only will this bring more income to Tiwari’s family, but this will also cut down on costs for WRDA, as this will help WR to end a shuttle that had been running.

Tiwari is now afforded the freedom and independence to support his family more easily, a freedom that is often taken for granted among many in suburban America. Tiwari will no longer have to rely on others to help him do day-to-day things like going to the grocery store or take his children to the doctor. Through the generous donation of another refugee, who had once been in Tiwari’s very position, Tiwari can live a more normal life. The experience of receiving such a life-changing gift truly moved Tiwari, and he hopes to later give back to his fellow community of refugees, just as Amiri had done for him.

If you would like to make a life-changing donation to a refugee and donate a car to WRDA, please click here. Or, contact WRDA’s Car Donations Coordinator Brian Reilly at breilly@wr.org.

September 28, 2012

Benefit highlights

 see highlight video

Benefit Contact / Jennifer Stocks, Communications Manager,  (630) 462-7566 ext. 1025 or jstocks@wr.org

 

October 10, 2011

This year, World Relief DuPage/Aurora has served over 1,600 refugees and over 4,200 immigrants; however, we cannot welcome the stranger on our own. While “thank you” is not enough for all that our partners have contributed, we are truly thankful for all of our volunteers and donors who support this ministry. Your generosity has resulted in new citizens, new jobs, a new ability to speak English, and new dreams being born as old wounds are healed—-meet Hoda, Awet, Michael, and Tilia.

The Journey from Outcast to Citizenship
*For the protection of the client, we have changed her name to Hoda for the purpose of retelling her story.

As followers of the Mandean faith, a Gnostic religion originating in Jordan, Hoda* and her family were treated like outcasts in Iran.  Her children were ostracized at school, the family was harassed by their neighbors, and their home was vandalized.  In 2007, Hoda and her three young children arrived in the U.S. as refugees, but her eldest son and husband stayed behind.  In Iran, men cannot get a passport unless they serve in the army.  As a result, Hoda’s son enlisted and his father stayed with him in Iran— despite the struggle to find work as a non-Muslim. Through WRDA programs and services, Hoda received the tools she needed to start over.  She got a job, learned to drive, and purchased a car; however, her biggest challenge was reuniting her family.

When her son’s military service was complete, Immigrant Legal Services [ILS] at WRDA applied for family reunification.  Her son was accepted as a refugee and arrived in 2009; however, Hoda’s husband was denied refugee status.  Over the span of three years,the ILS staff petitioned the government on his behalf and he was eventually granted permission to enter the country through immigration.

One Donated Car Enables an Entire Network of Refugees to Gain Independence

Awet arrived as a refugee from Eritrea just one day before his roommate Michael. With the help of WRDA job placement classes, both men were able to secure a job.  Having to rely on others for transportation, Awet and Michael studied English together and worked towards getting a driver’s license permit.  Awet, who worked as a mechanic in Eritrea, was the first to pass his driving test and, through the WRDA car donation program, received a car.   Today, Awet is able to help others in the refugee community.  In addition to driving the carpool to work, which includes his roommate, he is able to take other refugee clients to appointments and shopping. In the future, he hopes to start a career as a truck driver.

 

English, the Key to Success

Chronically unemployed due to Mexico’s fragile economy, Tilia Acevedo decided to leave behind her home  country and join her siblings in the U.S.  Knowing very little English, Tilia struggled to adjust, but with the support of her family, she was able to get a job and begin a new life.  Tilia’s new life also included a husband, which prompted her to move to the Chicago area.

Desiring a better job, Tilia knew that increasing her English skills would be the key—that’s when she discovered ESL classes at World Relief DuPage /Aurora. Although learning a new language has been difficult for her, from the first day of class Tilia found her teachers to be both patient and kind.  Furthermore, her two sons have the opportunity to learn English too.  While she is in class, they are being cared for through WRDA’s Early Childhood Program

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