Ashley Marine received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University, where she concentrated on social work and peace studies, before receiving her master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago. Soon after graduation, she was hired by the founder of a small startup nonprofit called GirlForward. As the first and sole staff member at the time, she worked to design and implement an innovative curriculum for high school girls who recently arrived through refugee resettlement. In 2021, she transitioned to the Executive Director role. In the past decade, Ashley has had the honor of stewarding the organization, increasing services, expanding to multiple cities, and standing witness to the powerful group of girls who call GirlForward home.
Brian Leone Tracy
Brian Leone Tracy is the Executive Director of Fox Valley Literacy based in Appleton, WI. Originally from Chicago, Brian has lived and worked in communities on the East Coast to the West Coast before landing in Appleton. He leads Fox Valley Literacy, an adult literacy service provider. While they work with any adult who needs literacy help, 90% of their students are immigrants and non-native English learners. The trust and support of their students is of the highest value, and they help find and vet resources to ensure their students have the security and knowledge to safely grow their place in the community.
Catarina Lorenzo Antonio
Catarina Lorenzo (she/her) is the Director of the Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance (AMOR). Catarina is a Q’anjob’al-Maya woman from a small village in the mountains of Guatemala. She was the first person in her family, and one of the first from her village, to graduate university. In Guatemala Catarina worked for a number of human rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights, and social justice organizations. Since moving to Rhode Island she has worked as a community organizer and in June 2017 she began work as the director of AMOR.
Diana Higuera is the Executive Director and founder of the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of fostering intercultural learning, understanding and integration among immigrants, refugees and the Colorado residents, where she oversees all aspects of the development of the center. Prior to founding the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center, Diana was the Executive Director of the Aurora Welcome Center, leading the merger of AWC. In addition, she is responsible for the development of the award-winning Natural Helpers program in partnership with the City of Aurora. Diana also served as the Programs Manager for Colorado Welcome Back, a program from the Spring Institute working with immigrant and refugee foreign trained health professionals to help them get back to the health arena in Colorado. Prior the Spring Institute she worked in different capacities at The Conflict Center in the area of conflict management and violence prevention. In 2015 Diana was appointed to the Denver Immigrant and Refugee Commission by Mayor Michael Hancock where she served as co-chair of the commission. She is currently part of the Advisory Board to the Chief of the Denver Police Department, and She previously served in the Board of Denver Coalition for Integration. Diana was born in Venezuela and emigrated to the United States in 2005. Fluent in Spanish, English, German and Italian, Diana holds a MA in International and Intercultural Communication from the University of Denver and holds a BA in Mass Communication and a BS in Business Administration from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas. She is a member of the 2012 class of Leadership Denver and a 2019 Civic DNA Fellow.
Diya Abdo is the Lincoln Financial Professor of English at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. A second-generation Palestinian refugee born and raised in Jordan, Dr. Abdo’s teaching, research, and scholarship focus on Arab women writers and Arab and Islamic feminisms. In 2015, Dr. Abdo founded Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR), which advocates for housing refugee families on college and university campus grounds and supporting them in their resettlement. The flagship chapter at Guilford College, now one of several ECAR campuses, has hosted 86 refugees thus far. Dr. Abdo is the recipient of the J.M. Kaplan Fund’s Innovation Prize (2021), Campus Compact’s Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award (2019), Gulf South Summit’s Outstanding Service-Learning Collaboration in Higher Education Award (2017), and The Washington Center’s Civic Engagement in Higher Education Award (2017). In 2018, she was named a finalist in the Arab Hope Makers Award. She has been making presentations about ECAR far and wide, including the White House and the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Dr. Abdo sits on the Advisory Board of the Community Sponsorship Hub. To learn more, visit the ECAR website or watch Dr. Abdo’s TEDtalk.
Erin believes that seeking safety is a fundamental human right. People who are forced to flee should be treated with dignity. She also believes in the power and the right to education for all human beings. In 2015, she founded Project Hope 4 Kids, a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to providing refugee children the education and tools they need to thrive in their lives and in their communities. Erin has seen firsthand the devastation and deplorable conditions of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled their war-torn countries during her years working in refugee camps overseas. In these camps, she saw firsthand what happens to children when there is no education, arts, or sports in children's lives. A child out of school is not just a tragedy for that child, it makes us all weaker and more vulnerable. After setting up sustainable education programs within these refugee camps, Erin came home to continue working here in her own community. Erin holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in family and human development and believes deeply that a community is strongest when we embrace and celebrate our unique gifts and qualities and learn from one another.
Jeremy Ellison is the Executive Director of Riverview International Center (RIC). He received his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from The Ohio State University. As a lifelong learner, he also holds the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and Leadership certificates from Cornell University. Jeremy brings a diverse leadership background through military service as a Ranger-qualified paratrooper, successful business-ownership and corporate business development spanning more than 20 years. In addition to being a strategic planner, Jeremy is known as a relationship builder and an active listener, which he attributes to a servant-leader’s heart. He is passionate about the RIC’s Mission and Core Values. Jeremy shares that “We are so privileged to live in such an amazing country. Rather than posting a “Keep Out” sign; it is vital that we open our arms to others, share in our new neighbors’ cultures and help them achieve the American Dream.”
Jill Segulin is the Executive Director of Refugee Assistance Partners NJ (RAP) in Scotch Plains NJ. The organization serves forcibly displaced individuals and families resettled in northern NJ with in-person and virtual programs to gird the community through mentorship, wrap-around services, advocacy, tutoring and educational support. RAP “plays the long game,” working with each client family for 6-18 months. Jill has a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Psychology which informs her work daily. She prioritizes continuous learning by seeking out many different perspectives. Jill is excited by idea-building and mapping strategic pathways based on emerging opportunities and trends.
Slavic Refugee and Immigrant Services Organization (SRISO) is a new organization founded by Krystsina Shchelkunova in March 2022 in response to the current crisis (the War in Ukraine) Prior to the current war, Krystsina was the Commercial Director of “Gorozhanka Magazine”, a Slavic language health and beauty magazine. In this role, through her immediate and extended family, and as an alumni of Belarusian State Economic University. Krystsina have strong connections with Ukrainians and members of other Slavic communities both in the United States and the Ukraine. She is the recent immigrant and understands what newcomers can get through while adopting in a new country and life. In the past few months, with no funding and an entirely volunteer workforce, SRISO has provided food, clothing, and navigation support to more than 100 families; coordinated temporary hotel accommodation to nine families: and recruited 100 temporary host homes in San Diego, Sacramento, New York, and Los Angeles.
Laura Youngberg joined MIRA in June 2014 to serve as Executive Director. With nearly twenty-five years’ experience in the non-profit field, she holds a master’s degree in Divinity from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to MIRA, Laura served at non-profit organizations, including Holy Family School, Health for Humanity, and Northwestern University.
Melissa Phillips is the co-founder and Executive Director of San Diego Refugee Tutoring (SDRT). When she discovered the intense needs of students from a refugee background in her classroom, she created SDRT with another colleague. Together, they wanted to connect volunteers to students in an outside the box effort to meet the significant academic needs of students who recently resettled in the United States. SDRT has continued to grow at a rapid rate, far exceeding anything Melissa ever dreamt of creating. She is passionate about all students deserving an equitable educational experience.
With twenty+ years of experience in global event management, Michelle activated her passion for the refugee and immigrant community by forming R Bazaar, a non-profit that celebrates and elevates local-global artisans. An education from Georgetown University and the University of Denver set the stage for Michelle’s commitment to the global community. In 2020, R Bazaar became part of a social venture which includes a storefront global market. Michelle currently leads the venture by maintaining the store, active pop-up event schedule, catering operation and refugee supply pantry.
Naseema is the Program Director at Sanctuary Kitchen by CitySeed. She is a long-time resident of New Haven, and has many years of management experience in both the non-profit and corporate world. Growing up in Indiana, Naseema was aware of the importance of equitable food access, as well as support for farmers, at a young age. As the daughter of an immigrant from Afghanistan, she has always championed refugee rights, and supported organizations that prioritize DEI work and is energized by Sanctuary Kitchen's mission to empower refugee and immigrant women.
Dr. Sedique Popal is the founder and president of the Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center. Noor Islamic & Cultural Community Center is a non-profit organization that strives to serve the religious, educational, and social needs of the growing Muslim community of Contra Costa County surrounding communities in Northern California since 2011. Because of the influx of Afghan refugees in 2021, through NICCC, Dr. Popal helped and secured essential services and items needed for refugees to begin their new lives here in the United States. One of the unique programs for the newly arrived Afghan refugees that Dr. Popal started at NICCC is the After School Program for elementary, middle, and high school students. In this bilingual (Dari/Farsi and English) program, students are brought by NICCC drivers. They are taught English, math, and computer literacy. They are also helped with their homework. In addition to his leadership role at NICCC, Dr. Popal is a full professor and teaches Applied Linguistics at the University of San Francisco.
Sheila Badwan is the Executive Director of Hanan Refugees Relief Group. She works in Milwaukee, & across Wisconsin in cities establishing relationships with many various cultures, communities on refugee resettlement and refugee issues. She serves on an advisory board with Our Peaceful Home a culturally specific domestic violence program with the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition in Wisconsin. She also sits on a steering committee for the Home program, which celebrates refugees and plans World Refugee day in Milwaukee through Lynden Sculpture Garden. In 2019, she was part of 100 most influential people in a piece This is Milwaukee, a piece that chose people that contributed to the public life of the Milwaukee community. She was named Hero of the Month by a local Milwaukee Magazine Shepherd Express in July.
Taneeza Islam is a first generation Muslim American, mother, wife and an immigration attorney with a robust civil rights and advocacy background. After strategically engaging impacted communities to defeat 12 out of 14 bigoted pieces of legislation targeting Muslims, immigrants, and refugees at the South Dakota Legislature from 2017-2019, she co-founded SD Voices for Peace in 2017. South Dakota's state legislature has 105 members, 94 Republicans and 11 Democrats. In five years SD Voices for Peace has grown to 8 staff engaging in civic engagement/educational trainings, outreach efforts focusing on health equity issues, rapid response, and is the state's only free immigration legal service provider. SDVFP's clients are unaccompanied minors from Central America and immigrant, refugee, and undocumented survivors of crimes which have taken place in the United States. SDVFP provides access to information for multilingual community members in an English Only state. During the COVID-pandemic SDVFP was the first nonprofit in the state to provide local resources in language to Spanish, Amharic, Nepali and Swahili speaking communities and raised $1.2M for the states only Emergency Relief Fund for Immigrants, distributing direct cash assistance to over 1700 immigrant led-households. SDVFP partnered with Urban Indian Health to vaccinate over 600 BIPOC community members and continues to lift impacted communities' voices by working alongside all who are fighting bigotry and racism. SDVFP's vision is to build a South Dakota which is diverse, inclusive and anti-racist.
Vickee is the founder and executive director of Starting Point, a Sacramento-based organization she launched after being inspired by her refugee students' stories and lives. Starting Point supports young newcomers with basic necessities, a soccer program, and academic scholarships, and since its 2017 founding, the volunteer-run organization has served 4500+ children from around the world. Vickee is the recipient of the County of Sacramento Heroes of Human Service Award and the Unity Bar Community Service Award.
Waheed Ahmad Haidari
Waheed Ahmad Haidari has lived in San Diego, California since 2017. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine from abroad, as well as his PMP (Professional Project Management) certification from San Diego State University and his Global Health Management Graduate Certificate from UMGC. He is currently completing his Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration from University of Maryland Global Campus, and is the founder and CEO of Afghan Community Culture Center, Inc. Waheed is also the co-founder of two other non-profit organizations: Second Families and Easing Refugee’s Resettlement. Both of these organizations are committed to helping immigrants in their local communities.
Barry is executive director and missions pastor of NorthPoint Church in Johnston, Iowa (a suburb of Des Moines), where he oversees local and global outreach efforts. Two trips to Jordan in 2019 to work with a refugee aid organization fueled his interest in assisting refugees back home. In partnership with USCRI, he currently leads a group of sixty volunteers from his church to welcome refugees who resettle in the Des Moines area. In addition, some volunteers assist with an after-school program for Congolese students. Barry has been active in mobilizing other churches and a mosque in refugee resettlement efforts and looks forward to seeing how faith and community groups can become more involved in helping refuges transition and integrate into the Des Moines community.
Basma Alawee is Founder & Executive Director of WeaveTales in Jacksonville, Florida. Her unique combination of skills, strategic thinking, and direct, lived experiences greatly shaped the organization’s work. Since its founding in 2019, WeaveTales has published over 300 stories, curated immigrant story exhibits, and trained two cohorts of its New American Speakers Program, which helped 25 refugees improve their English public speaking and storytelling skills. Basma’s extensive advocacy work has earned her state and national recognition, including the Athena 40 Women Leading Change in the World Award (2021), The Florida Times Union’s Eve Award (2020), the Culture Council of Greater Jacksonville’s Impact Award (2020), and the OneJax Humanitarian Award (2019).
Jackie Menter is Director and co-founder of the Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees (OCJCR), a non-profit that mobilizes the Jewish community to support refugees and asylum seekers through philanthropy, volunteerism and political advocacy. As an independent volunteer and activist dedicated to helping refugees, Jackie has traveled to Greece multiple times to volunteer in refugee camps, detention centers, and squats. These experiences inspired her to create opportunities within her home community to welcome the stranger and led to the launch of OCJCR in 2018.
James Knyawhtoo arrived in the USA in 2008 with his family. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the Yangon University of Distance Education in Burma. Throughout his life, James Knyawhtoo has volunteered to help others. He has served as an interpreter, social worker, and administrator for more than fifteen years with innovative leadership skills. He has managed many people from different backgrounds and cultures throughout his career. He is one of the co-founders of the Karen Society of Nebraska, formerly to meet the critical needs of refugees from Burma. James Knyawhtoo's vision is to help immigrants achieve "The Good Life" in Nebraska.
Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore
Chef Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore is an immigrant from Togo in West Africa. He came to America to study accounting. After graduating college, he worked in corporate America for 13 years and gave everything up. He enrolled in the culinary program at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, following his passion for food instilled in him by his mother. After years of working in restaurants and hotels, he witnessed how little Africa's Culinary Heritage is represented. He subsequently founded House of Bah, a catering company, and Eat N talk Africa, a nonprofit organization to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the US hospitality marketplace and change the narrative about African culinary heritage. Chef Jamil Bah-Traore also has a Bachelor's in business from Bellevue University and a Master's in Hospitality and Restaurant Management from the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Jamil sits on the board of City Sprouts Omaha and Djidjole Afrique, a nonprofit operating in Togo, West Africa. Jamil mostly enjoys spending time with his family and teaching the culinary craft to the youths and members of the community.
An impassioned woman who is determined to make the world a better place through inclusion and community betterment, Jessica is the founder of Welcome Neighbor STL. This organization assists refugee families with everyday tasks including scheduling doctor appointments, navigating school systems, and establishing family partnerships. She has been the driving force behind educational and entrepreneurial classes created for refugees to help provide opportunity and to encourage immigrants to open their own businesses and directly contribute to the St. Louis economy. Jessica has successfully managed and achieved target goals for more than 20 fundraising campaigns and raised more than $400,000 to help immigrants and refugees in the St. Louis area.
Johnny Ratka Skinner
Johnny Ratka Skinner is Co-chair of Valley Neighbors, a community organization in Northwest Montana dedicated to creating a welcoming and supportive community for immigrants and refugees. Citing a local rise in racism and xenophobia, Johnny has worked with other like-minded community members to support immigrants and refugees on a local and regional level. Valley Neighbors has worked to engage its community in productive conversations and has recently launched an initiative to resettle asylum-seekers. A Texas native, Johnny earned his Certificate in Spanish translation from the University of Texas at Arlington and has served as an interpreter on several medical brigades to areas of rural Honduras.
Justin Forzano is the founder and CEO of Open Field, a Pittsburgh-based Sport for Social Impact organization with the mission to improve the lives and futures of youth through soccer by promoting health, education, equity, and peace. Under Forzano’s leadership, the organization engages more than 1,000 youth in Western Pennsylvania and in West Africa (Cameroon, Guinea, and Liberia). In addition to leading the organization, Justin is an active coach mentor, facilitating programming for immigrant and refugee youth in the Pittsburgh community. Forzano is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow for Life and was named one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s ‘40 Under 40’ in 2018.
Kelly Ross is from Lincoln, Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Spanish. Since college, she has been working with refugees and immigrants in a variety of ways, as a caseworker, paralegal, citizenship instructor, and ESL instructor. Through her work, she has developed a passion for those new to the United States and insight into the unique barriers they face, which helped her launch the nonprofit ECHO Collective in 2020.
Leah Cover is the founder and Executive Director of Ruth’s Refuge, the only organization in NYC dedicated to furnishing homes for refugees and asylum seekers. Leah has devoted her life to fighting for social justice through coalition building and communal action. Prior to founding Ruth’s Refuge, Leah co-founded and chaired multiple volunteer groups and coalitions advocating for refugees and asylum seekers, including the CBE Refugee Task Force, Brooklyn Synagogue Coalition for Refugees, and the Brownstone Brooklyn Synagogue Refugee Project, facilitating partnerships with refugee resettlement organizations and advocacy groups for asylum seekers throughout the city. Through these partnerships, the need for an organized group working on the frontlines and solely dedicated to providing home goods and furnishings for refugees, asylees and asylum seekers became clear. Leah founded Ruth’s Refuge in response. Previously, Leah was a senior attorney with Staten Island Legal Services, before spending time as a stay at home parent to her 2 amazing children.
Lori Consadori Lucchetti’s career spanned over several decades in senior executive roles in global corporations, U.S. government (executive and congressional branches), and national nonprofits. She has been a member of the North Shore Committee for the Gift of Adoption for over thirteen years. She co-authored A Rainbow of Memories. She enjoys sailing and time with family and friends. Lori lives in Glenview with her husband, Bob, and son, Marius.
Michele Suffridge is the founder and Executive Director of Refugee Hope Partners in Raleigh, NC - an organization that started in 2007 as an organic grassroots effort to serve few recently resettled families. RHP formed as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2018 and now serves over 1000 refugee individuals in the Triangle area of North Carolina in the areas of education and enrichment, health and wellness, faith and community, and equipping and advocacy. RHP's mission is to engage, equip, and encourage refugee families so that all may thrive.
Nasibu is Chief Executive Officer of ADC Minnesota. Previously, Nasibu worked for Volunteers of America, Cathedral Rock of Jefferson City, Missouri, PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, and Soft-Tech Consulting Ltd in Tanzania. He has been awarded a certificate of completion for the NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program, August 2016 – January 2018, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Executive Education. He holds a BA in Accounting from the IIU in Malaysia and an MBA in accounting from Lincoln University in Missouri. The National Development Council certified him in 2008 as an Economic Development Finance Professional. He was appointed by Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton to the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, June 2014 - June 2016. He currently serves on several Boards of Directors including Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD), Way to Grow, Diaspora Council of Tanzanians in America (DICOTA) Jan 2016 - Dec 2018, Project for Pride in Living (PPL), Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce (MRCC), Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF's) CDFI Advisory Board for the Minnesota Target Market and SPEDCO's Advisory Committe Member.
The Simple Foundation was founded by Osuman Issaka and his brother who are both natives of Ghana, Africa, to respond to the needs of refugee and immigrant youth living in poverty in North and South Omaha. The purpose is to welcome youth from diverse backgrounds through programming that builds self-confidence, develops new skills and achieves education success. Current programs revolve around truancy prevention, mentoring and college/career preparation. Osuman has over 20 years of experience in developing programs to support racially and ethnically concentrated populations. Osuman has developed programs such as Headstart Toddlers athletics, Fatherhood Initiatives, Protection of Womanhood, Project High Aspirations and high school mentoring programs. He holds a B.A. in Economics, a minor in Human Resources and a Master’s in Information Science with an emphasis in Project Management.
Robert served in public service positions for over forty years including 20 years in the U. S. Military, and 20 years in California State government. He served in various program and management positions covering human resources, financial management, and operational functions. In his next chapter of public service, he dedicates his time, energy, and passion in serving immigrant populations as a Cofounder of the California Immigrants Resources Center. His core belief is that all people should have opportunities to fulfill their potential in pursuit of the greater good for society and the world.
Sally El-Sadek has been immersed in refugee/immigrant/displaced persons issues since she can remember. As an empath, direct work with individuals and families became too much for her. After years of intensive personal work, she found herself called to return to helping people suffering. In 2016, witnessing the rise of the Syrian refugee crisis, she put out a call for donations that quickly snowballed into a grassroots movement of individuals and communities determined to provide the social and practical support displaced persons need to feel truly welcome and thrive. Over the years One World has provided social activities, mentorship, wrap around services, apartment setups and more.
Shoshana Akabas is the founder and executive director of New Neighbors Partnership, which connects newly arrived families to local families who have slightly older kids and can provide clothing hand-me-downs and other forms of community support. In addition to founding New Neighbors Partnership, she has worked as a writer and teacher at Columbia University, where she earned her master's degree in writing and translation. She has written about issues of violent conflict and forced migration for many outlets including Rolling Stone, National Geographic, Elle Magazine, and The Washington Post.
Sikandar is an elected ward leader for Paterson, New Jersey. He has extensive experience serving his community, including as commissioner to the Paterson Board of Adjustment, Coordinator with the Passaic County Youth Department and currently as the Senior Economic Development Representative to the City of Paterson, where he assists the city in making decisions that contribute to the development of the city through projects that contribute to socio-economic development. Sikandar served in the US Army in Afghanistan in 2014, and experienced the horrors of the crisis firsthand. This experience led him to establish Global Emergency Response and Assistance (GERA), a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect human rights and to restore the dignity, well-being, and safety of those affected by conflicts and disasters where he serves as Executive Director. He conducted GERA’s first humanitarian mission on the Turkey-Syria border in March 2016. The urgent needs of newly-arrived Syrian refugees in New Jersey led him to refocus GERA’s work to provide emergency relief and advocate for refugee families in the United States. To date, GERA has supported the dignified resettlement of over 120 Syrian refugees in New Jersey. Sikandar’s grassroots presence has won him the support of refugee families, interfaith groups, and local leaders in New Jersey. He holds a Bachelor’s in International Relations and Diplomacy from Seton Hall University in New Jersey and has won recognition and awards for his humanitarian work. He speaks English, Pashto, and Urdu, and is currently studying Arabic and Farsi.
Stephanie Moris is the Director of the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa. She has been involved with the Alliance since 2013 and has worked with refugee and immigrant communities in education, employment, and wrap-around direct case management before joining RACI. Stephanie obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Iowa State University and after lived in the Dominican Republic where she met her husband. Outside of work Stephanie is very passionate about empowering our refugee and immigrant communities, immigration rights, and connecting our community together. She volunteers as a mentor, teaches Spanish, and serves on the board of L.U.N.A. She is a mother of two and also loves creating art, reading, and making Dominican food for everyone she knows.
Tarah is deeply passionate about the intersections of culture, community and creativity. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Treetops Collective an organization committed to the long-term belonging and flourishing of New American women and teen girls in West Michigan. Treetops accomplishes this goal through connecting new neighbors to people and opportunities within the community that is welcoming them and investing into New American women's leadership! She holds a Master’s of Sustainable Business from Aquinas College and her background is rooted in social enterprise and women’s economic development, from the slums of Asuncion, Paraguay to her current street corner in Grand Rapids. She deeply believes that robust communities begin with the celebration of strengths, and a commitment to create room at the table to see those gifts utilized for the benefit of all.
Alain Mentha had no special training before he began working with refugees, having spent most of his working life in the field of academic book publishing. But like many, he was shocked and moved by the image of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey, trying to reach Greece. He began volunteering to help refugees through his synagogue, and then with the local refugee resettlement agency. When it became clear how little in the way of resources the agency could extend to recently resettled families, a group of like-minded volunteers decided to form Welcome Home, which provides additional support.
Andrea is founder and executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor in South Bend, Indiana. With a background in TESOL, she has previously lived and worked in Illinois, Texas, and Michigan, where she taught ENL at Malcolm X College, McLennan Community College, and in public schools. Having experienced the gift of welcome across the country, Andrea is passionate about passing on that gift of welcome in South Bend, where she lives with her husband, David, and their two children.
Ann McGlynn is the founder and executive director of Tapestry Farms, an urban farm system that invests in refugees, reconnecting with and nourishing land so all may be abundantly fed. Her studies include a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master of business administration from the University of Iowa. Home is now in the city of Davenport, Iowa, but she grew up on a small family farm outside of DeWitt, Iowa. Ann connects refugees and neighbors in a shared hope of joyful, thriving, healthy lives, and finding home once again.
Betsy Bonilla Jimenez Hurst
Mrs. Hurst was born and grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica. She holds a B.S. in Management of Nonprofit Organizations and an M.S. in Business Administration/Leadership, both from Johnson University. She has also a background in elementary education (K-6). She has around 18 years of experience managing nonprofits. Betsy joined the board of directors for HOLA Lakeway in 2015 and in 2020 they offered her the Executive Director position. Her passion is her community. My gente es la pasión de mi trabajo!
Christy is the Founder and Executive Director of Claremont Canopy. A Minnesota native, she began working with the local refugee population in California in 2016 and after a few months, she saw the need for a broader organization to act as a canopy for the smaller organizations that work with refugees. She used her network and social media to spread the mission of Canopy, which is to network on behalf of the Canopy families to connect them with organizations and resources that will create opportunities to go from surviving to thriving in their new country. Her efforts started with one family and an Amazon wish list on her personal Facebook page. Today Canopy serves over 40 families and is 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Dr. Suzy Ismail
Dr. Suzy Ismail is the Founding Director of Cornerstone, a nonprofit, faith-based communication intervention organization with several locations around the world that focus on refugee integration interventions, youth, family, marriage, identity, socioemotional wellness, and relationship rebuilding. She has traveled to the border of Syria to work with refugee women, families, and orphans and continues her work with resettlement and relief agencies throughout the US, Canada, and abroad in addition to authoring numerous books and leading trainings internationally. Dr. Ismail’s humanitarian work has been recognized with numerous awards including the Ambassador for Peace Award and the Visionary Muslim Award. She holds an MA in Communication, an MPhil in Human Services and a PhD in Family Studies & Intervention Strategies.
Break Bread, Break Borders is a social enterprise developing a culinary training program to help refugee women from war torn countries find food service job opportunities by sharing their stories and culture through food. Jin-Ya Huang founded BBBB in 2017 to honor her late mother’s legacy — chef, restaurateur, and community leader Margaret Huang. Through food, culture, and powerful storytelling, we break bread with the community and break down borders at the same time.
Kirsta Benedetti founded the Riverview International Center in 2015 after moving home from Egypt with a desire to extend the same warm welcome to New Americans that she received as a foreigner in Egypt. Kirsta has been amazed at how the RIC has grown over the years and honored to be a part of such a vibrant community as Riverview Drive.
For the last five years, Laura has dedicated herself to identifying and solving critical gaps in the refugee resettlement process. This led her to start Ladies Let’s Talk as well as Reboot for Good, an organization focused on providing laptops to newly arrived refugee families, and First Step in ATX, an online community resource directory specifically geared towards refugees. Prior to Ladies Let’s Talk, Laura was the co-founder and Board President of Corrales International School and was on the start-up teams for two healthcare companies. A native South Dakotan, she now calls Austin, Texas, home. She holds a civil engineering degree from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and is currently a certified ESL teacher.
After moving with her family to Bismarck, ND in 2014, Leah saw a need in central North Dakota for immigrant-focused services that would also impact the local community. In 2015, she and a dedicated volunteer board founded Global Neighbors, a one-on-one mentorship program that partners New Americans with local residents to share language, culture, and friendship. As Bismarck’s immigrant population grew, so did negative national rhetoric. Leah began to use her role as Director at Global Neighbors and position in the community to promote positive interactions between newcomer and host. In 2018, Leah was honored with the City of Bismarck’s Humanitarian of the Year Award. She is a North Dakota Change Network alumna and now a Hello Neighbor Network Fellow.
Lydia Yousief is the Director and one of the founders of Elmahaba Center. She graduated in 2019 with her master’s from the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, where she was interested in citizenship, borders, migration, and identities. She has worked and volunteered at several nonprofits. While always studying, and through this work, she noticed how neglected Arabic-speaking migrants are in Nashville in immigrant service centers. Her dream is for Arabic-speaking migrants and their children to form intersectional bonds and solidarities in Nashville for a city that feels like a community.
Shana Wills is the Executive Director and Founder of Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge (REACH), which provides refugee youth and their families with experiential learning opportunities focused on STEAM education and adventure sports. She’s also an independent consultant for grassroots refugee and immigrant-led organizations as well as a part-time faculty member at DePaul University, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on migration, globalization, and experiential learning. Shana has worked on domestic and global refugee issues for more than 25 years.
In 2010, Jeri Stroade began volunteering with refugees in Mobile, Alabama through All Nations Community Church (ANCC). As Jeri met more and more refugees and listened to their stories, they continually identified the same need: relationships. The refugees told stories of leaving family and trying to establish life in Mobile far from their support networks. From this time of observation, learning and listening, Jeri started looking to provide opportunities for Mobilians to build relationships with refugees. It became evident that the refugee community’s needs were broader than one church could handle. In 2015, Jeri established Dwell Mobile as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization both to equip refugees to adjust to life in America and to mobilize Mobilians to care for refugees. The mission of Dwell Mobile to provide opportunities for refugees to thrive by raising awareness, removing obstacles and restoring relationships.
As a former elementary educator with 20 years of teaching experience, Kari Miller had spent years working with ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) students in her community. As she witnessed the number of refugee students in her area continue to rise, she also saw the lack of resources available to them, and the obstacles they and their families faced outside of the classroom. She knew something needed to be done. So, in 2015, Kari founded International Neighbors, an organization dedicated to equipping Charlottesville’s refugee and SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) neighbors with the skills and networks they need to move from surviving to thriving. Since then, International Neighbors has served over 800 refugee and SIV neighbors living in Charlottesville City and Albemarle County.
A longtime volunteer for several local organizations in Pelham, New York, Kathie O’Callaghan used her experience and expertise to create Hearts & Homes for Refugees in 2015. Soon after founding the organization, Hearts & Homes welcomed the county’s first Syrian family to the community. The organization supported the family of six as they established their new lives in Pelham, lending them a hand with babysitting, connecting them to youth services, enrolling them in ESL courses, and helping furnish their home. After welcoming that first family, Hearts & Homes has continued to help refugee and asylee families with post-resettlement support as they navigate school and medical systems, learn English, get to appointments, and integrate into their new community. The organization now has around 300 volunteers. Kathie has also initiated a county-wide coalition to further expand post-resettlement support for refugees throughout Westchester County.
With nine moves in the last fourteen years, Kristen Bloom knows how hard it is to start over in a new place. The former Peace Corps volunteer started her organization, Refugee Assistance Alliance, when she herself had been looking for opportunities to engage in her new community of Miami. After attending a Syrian Supper Club dinner and volunteering to teach English to a new refugee family, Kristen realized there was a real need of post-resettlement support for refugees coming to South Florida from non-Spanish or Creole-speaking countries. In 2017, Kristen created Refugee Assistance Alliance to help families navigate the complexities of settling into their new community. The nonprofit organization assists families by providing English instruction, homework tutoring for school children, referral services, special cultural activities, and most importantly, friends to turn to. Along with almost 90 volunteers, Refugee Assistance Alliance has helped around 100 refugees adapt and thrive in their new homes.
Laura Thompson Osuri
When Laura Thompson Osuri founded Homes Not Borders, she had already been working in the refugee resettlement arena for several years leading National Community Church’s Refugee Care Agency. While working with Washington, D.C. resettlement agencies to help newly arrived families, Laura saw these families needed additional assistance in furnishing their new homes with everything from couches to washcloths. Laura and her team also saw first-hand how refugees, often with limited English skills, struggled to find employment. Combining these two needs — household furniture and employment opportunities — the team set up a workshop for refugees to create and refinish furniture. Laura soon realized the agency needed a new, separate organization to continue to expand these programs and services for the local refugee community. Homes Not Borders was officially created in 2019, with Laura acting as the executive director. The organization provides newly arrived refugee and asylee families with furnishings and household items as they set up their new homes. Laura and her colleagues also arrange career mentorship with local professionals in a refugee’s career field. For those looking to develop new skills, Homes Not Borders created a six-week course to teach local refugees woodworking and furniture-making. The refugees are then able to sell their handiwork to help support their families. Last year, Homes Not Borders welcomed 87 refugee families to the area, providing them with $140,000 worth of furniture and household goods.
Soft Landing Missoula (SLM) was established in 2015 through the leadership of Mary Poole and the collective action of concerned citizens who came together to alleviate the suffering of families in turmoil around the world by welcoming refugees to Missoula, Montana. The mission of SLM is to help Missoula, Montana be a welcoming, supportive, and informed community that can assist refugees and immigrants to integrate and thrive. SLM is dedicated to the ongoing support of families throughout their long-term integration. In addition, SLM is focused on building a community that engages in welcoming refugees and immigrants and that celebrates the diversity, culture, and experience they bring to this city. Highlights of SLM’s programming include the Youth Program (providing academic and social support to youth), United We Eat (providing outlets for sharing of food and culture and opportunities for supplemental income) and our Community Resource Center (providing individual support, resources and mentorship for adults).
In 2016, Miry Whitehill, a stay-at-home mom from Los Angeles, met a local refugee family from Syria struggling to set up their new lives without basic child and household items. Miry decided to post a request on Facebook for donations to help the family. To her surprise, neighbors and friends immediately contributed. As the donations continued to come in, Miry worked to reach other refugee families in need. Later that year, Miry officially created Miry’s List to assist even more families in her community. Miry had realized that even from her home in California, she could make a difference for refugee families escaping conflict and violence from countries around the world. Since 2016, the organization has gone on to help almost 300 refugee families to thrive in their new Los Angeles homes. Miry’s List continues to use crowdfunding and social media to provide refugee families with donated household goods. In addition, they successfully launched a New Arrival Supper Club, allowing refugees to share their traditional cuisine with their new neighbors and earn some money at the same time. Other Miry’s List programs include a temporary housing match and travel loan program.
Southwest Ohio is home to over 40,000 refugees who have resettled in the United States. These families are supported by resettlement agencies for their first 90 days in the county, and then are expected to be self sufficient and to navigate a new language, city and culture on their own. After getting to know a newly arrived Bhutanese family in her region, one Cincinnati resident, Sheryl Rajbhandari, saw the flaws in this system and the need for families to have a “longer welcome”. In 2008 Rajbhandari founded Heartfelt Tidbits in order to address the gaps left by the short-term aid of refugee resettlement agencies. It began as a passion project, however after seeing the growing number of refugees arriving in Cincinnati, Rajbhandari left her corporate career in 2013 to focus full time on serving refugee and immigrant populations. Heartfelt Tidbits is dedicated to helping refugees a ‘tidbit’ at a time, aiding families in the crucial period following their arrival to the United States. Their programs include english language and citizenship classes, youth support, job readiness, and other incredible support services for new arrivals.