By Cheryce Berg, Volunteer
I first noticed the dolls. They are life-sized—ages 5, 3, and newborn. They spend their days in classrooms full of adults from Burma and Nepal, Sudan and Eritrea, Vietnam and Ukraine. They are the voiceless volunteers helping Jill Braselton teach refugees and immigrants how to keep their families safe. Their task? Impassively and repeatedly being buckled into car seats.
Car seats challenge even the most capable adult. They are something we grunt and groan over as we struggle to stuff children plump in diapers or jackets under binding buckles in small spaces. Do they face forward or back? It’s complicated.
Complicated for someone who has been using one since the ’80's and can read the English labels on the side.
For someone from another country who may have never owned a car, car seats—and even seatbelts—speak a foreign language. Yet, they speak of life or death. As Jill says, “When you don’t know what you don’t know—like you don’t know you’re supposed to wear a seatbelt—if your child is severely injured or dies in an accident, the weight of it would be horrible.”
Her goal is to give information and resources to keep refugee and immigrant children safe.
Jill, a nurse who has served with Central DuPage Hospital for thirty years, longed to make a difference in her childhood community of West Chicago. After being part of a field study on booster seat use, she observed that some residents didn’t have the resources or the understanding they needed. She knew she had to help, and she knew what to do.
Jill knows car seats. And she knows courage.
Jill found an opportunity with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for car seat grants so she wrote one. IDOT responded. Jill then asked Wheaton Bible Church (WBC) if they could store a bunch of car seats and they agreed.
“Now what do I do?” she asked the Lord. “I have the seats, but how do I get them to the people?”
While partnering with WBC to distribute the car seats, Dan Jealouse told Jill’s story to his wife Karen who works for World Relief. They knew of an immediate need for a car seat for an Iraqi family expecting their second baby. “Can you help?” they asked Jill. Jill was ready.
Jill is a Christian and wants to do what God has gifted her to do. “I know car seats,” she explains. “It is a small piece of the puzzle, but it is protecting people and giving them information to care for their families.”
Where does she keep finding the money for them
“I always tell people that my program is on a faith-based budget,” she says. “If God wants me to do it, he’s going to give me the money. And it is unbelievable. I’m like—-God what else do you want me to do? When you are doing what God wants you to do, it’s crazy what doors will open and what doors will close.”
Using generous grant money from IDOT and her hospital, Jill distributes between 300-500 car seats a year. She charges family members just $5 for each—a way to give each client ownership while still being affordable.
Is she making a difference? Although it is hard to prove that what you do for injury prevention matters, she knows she is. She has seen the number of traffic citations for child safety drop dramatically in the years when she is able to provide more booster seats and rise when she cannot. She may not know details of lives saved or injuries prevented, but she trusts that God is at work.
Jill also provides training on seatbelts, drunk or distracted driving, pedestrian safety, and bike helmets—which she hangs from the handlebars of bikes donated to World Relief. She longs to do more, especially in the areas of fall prevention for the elderly and home safety for young newly-arrived families.
I ask if there are any skills she wish she had more of and she doesn’t hesitate in her answer. “Language. I wish I could speak Spanish, Burmese, and Nepali.”
Jill desires language because she isn’t afraid to get to know her clients. She decries the news that tells only the bad about refugees—-most of which isn’t true. She goes to their homes and sits in their living rooms. “That is how you get to know somebody,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m not afraid. I wish I could tell people to not be afraid.”
Jill loves what she’s learned about people from other cultures. She admires their desire hunger for knowledge. There is no expectation from World Relief families that they deserve the gift of a car seat. They are “so appreciative of everything and very thankful. So kind. They will do whatever they can for their families.”
One sweet memory was when she was able to help a new refugee family who had an older child with significant disabilities. They could not transport the child in the car until Jill fitted the child with a car seat. They can now get to doctor’s appointments safely.
Yet she’s humble. “Car seat safety is a small world,” she acknowledges. “There is so much need—basic needs like food and shelter. I’m part of a bigger picture, just one piece of the puzzle. It’s a tiny thing but so important. It’s protecting life, preserving life. So that’s why I do what I do.”
“I love working with World Relief,” continues Jill. “I desire to try and provide the best I can.” Jill is a model of love in action.
By definition, a refugee has fled danger. Thus, safety is a gift. And the puzzle piece that Jill provides—safety in the car, especially for a child—is priceless.
Jill’s comforting message to her refugee and immigrant clients? “You have the ability to take care of your own family and be safe. You are safe here.”