We Welcome Refugees to Georgia

I welcome refugee sign
I welcome refugee sign

On January 18, more than 200 volunteers from the Atlanta area gathered in the recreation hall of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain to pack more than 4,000 pounds of rice for refugees recently resettled by LSG.  As they mingled and waited for the rice packing to begin, many volunteers made signs, sharing their reasons for supporting refugees in Georgia and explaining why they choose to spend their day off from work or school as a day of service.

we welcome refugees because we can
we welcome refugees because we can
refugees welcome sign
refugees welcome sign

In a little over an hour, the hard-working volunteers – who ranged from groups of middle schoolers to individuals and families to groups of adults from local congregations - re-packaged the 25 and 50 pound bags of rice into smaller family-sized bags to be distributed to refugee families.

close up of rice for refugees
close up of rice for refugees

So, Why Rice? 

A bag of rice may seem like a strange welcome gift, but to those entering a brand new country with few resources and no immediate means to secure their family’s next meal, rice can be more than just food.  Rice, often a central part of the diets of many refugees, can bring a feeling of comfort and security in a tumultuous period of their life.  When refugees step off a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to begin their new life in the United States, they’re often exhausted and overwhelmed from their journey and the long waiting period spent in a refugee camp.  They are unsure of what the next hours and days will bring.  Lutheran Services of Georgia provides them with food, shelter, clothing, cultural information, and other support in the first weeks in America, setting them up for to be self-sufficient and contributing members of their communities.

volunteers pack rice for refugees
volunteers pack rice for refugees

How We Help.

Lutheran Services of Georgia currently resettles over 600 refugee clients each year in the Atlanta and Savannah areas. In 2015, LSG resettled refugees from 14 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Central African Republic, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Indonesia, Iran, and the Ukraine.

packing rice for refugees
packing rice for refugees

LSG is there to secure housing for refugees, help refugees find their first job, and assist refugees in getting acclimated to life in Georgia. LSG supports refugees as they apply for important documents, including social security and Georgia ID cards, enrolls refugee children in school, and helps refugees select a primary care physician. LSG provides cultural orientation covering essential aspects of U.S. culture, including U.S. law, medical and educational systems, transportation, banking, and more. With help from organizations like LSG, more than 80 percent of newly arrived refugees in Georgia became completely self-sufficient within 180 days (source: CRSA).

group packs rice for refugees
group packs rice for refugees

In addition, LSG’s Savannah office provides additional support for refugee children through the Refugee School Impact Program, launched in spring of 2015. This program aims to improve the academic performance and social adjustment of refugee children. LSG’s School Liaison and a team of volunteers support families through tutoring, individualized case management, regular assessments, and meetings with parents, teachers, and school administration.

We need your help.

refugees sign live with love, not fear
refugees sign live with love, not fear

LSG relies on volunteers and donors to help the many families in need in Georgia.

Pastor Stephen Friedrich of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta, Ga. shared his reason for volunteering:

"Participating in the MLK Day of Service with LSG was a tangible way for me to put my Christian faith into action. We believe that God's kingdom is a place where all are fed and welcomed. Yesterday I was part of a group working with God for his kingdom right in our midst. For me, there is no greater joy!"

Refugee resettlement is only a portion of what we do and who we serve.We help find homes for children through Foster Care and Adoption.  We keep families together who at risk of separation through our Family Intervention Services.  LSG provides disaster relief when needed.  If you are interested in volunteering with Lutheran Service of Georgia, please contact us at 404-875-0201 or click here to get involved.


Thank You, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church!

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Thanks to our friends at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church who delivered Hope Tree Shoe Boxes for refugee children made by their congregation, and have been making the shoe boxes for refugee children for many Christmases!

They delivered to Redeemer Lutheran Church, Atlanta, who also played a big role in facilitating Hope Tree by providing space for gifts to be sorted, organized and delivered to refugee children and families that LSG works with in Clarkston.


Little Helpers + Hope Tree Make A Merry Christmas for Refugees

Hope Tree lsg
Hope Tree lsg

Thank you to our friends from Little Helpers, who bought and delivered gifts for all members of 2 refugee families as part of our Hope Tree program, in which volunteers purchase gifts for refugee children in need. This was an especially significant experience for the group, as some members were refugees themselves.

Here’s what Tran Smith, who organizes the Atlanta Little Helpers group, said about the experience:

Hope Tree atlanta
Hope Tree atlanta

Our family volunteer group Little Helpers wanted to reach out to people in need this holiday, but participating in the LSG's Hope Tree for Refugees was more fulfilling and important than just that. Some of the volunteers were also refugees who came to this country seeking freedom and finding much support and love. Tears flowed as some of us experienced that "full circle moment" when we were face to face with the families who simply asked for winter clothes and a large pot to cook meals this holiday.  Although there was a language barrier, we had no trouble communicating because it was out of respect and love that we were brought together. A big thanks to LSG for allowing us to have this opportunity and for doing such great work to help others achieve their independence."

Hope Tree
Hope Tree

Little Helpers is a program that works with young people to help them understand the value of volunteering, recognize the blessings in their lives, broaden their community perspective and feel the sense of accomplishment received from lending a helping hand. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to raise confident children who incorporate community service into their lives on a regular basis.

Little Helpers was created in Memphis, but today has chapters across the country including the Rochester, NY; Mooresville/Charlotte, NC; Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA and Tampa/St. Pete, FL.

Hope Tree refugee
Hope Tree refugee
Hope Tree
Hope Tree

Take Action: Help LSG Welcome Refugees to Georgia

IMG_0181 By Emily Laney, Atlanta Program Manager for Refugee and Immigration Services

Many of you were shocked and saddened by the pictures and story that have circulated of a sweet Syrian 3-year-old boy, Aylan. He and his family drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to safety. The plight of Syrian refugees and other refugees around the world is beyond what most of us can fathom. The pictures and story of this precious little boy are heartbreaking and can leave us feeling powerless. What can one person do?

Each year, LSG resettles hundreds of refugees from all around the world in the Atlanta and Savannah areas. We would love to help connect you with Georgia's refugees. Here are three ways you can help LSG welcome and support newcomers locally.

1) DONATE: Do you have a vehicle you are no longer using? What about furniture, kitchen items, household goods, or clothes? Refugees come to the United States with very few possessions, and any donations we can acquire for them help tremendously.

2) BEFRIEND: Are you a career professional? College student? Mom with a few kids? We can help anyone connect with a refugee family to befriend and mentor on U.S. culture, the workplace, parenting, and more. Whatever your passions and skills, there is probably a refugee family who would love to meet you!

3) GIVE: Whether you can give $25 for a MARTA transit pass, $250 to sponsor program costs for a client to attend cultural orientation, or  $1,100 to provide matching funds for our employment program, every dollar you give will help create a warm welcome for refugees in Atlanta and Savannah.

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, contact Melanie Johnson at 678-686-9619 or mjohnson@lsga.org.

Andrea Receives Board of Immigration Appeals Accreditation


LSG staff member Andrea Pietri-Diaz was recently accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Here's what she had to say about her experience:

After LSG received Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recognition last October, I had an opportunity to apply for accreditation to administratively practice immigration law as a non-attorney. I felt that getting accredited would allow me to serve refugees and immigrants on a greater scale. I would contribute to LSG's Immigration Services department's growing capacity to take on more clients. This also helped me start a career path I would not previously have thought to follow.

It was not a short process. The BIA requires applicants to take a series of educational courses (webinars, e-learning courses, in-person courses, and seminars) to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of immigration law. Immigration law is complex, detail-oriented, and constantly changing. Applicants must gain hands-on experience under the supervision of an immigration attorney. I completed close to 100 hours of experience working under LSG Immigration Services attorney Killa Marti. She has been a phenomenal teacher, mentor, and role model during this process and I could not have asked for anyone better.

BIA accreditation allows me to administratively represent refugees and immigrants before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It also means our department is able to tackle more cases, providing more legal representation and assistance to refugees and immigrants at low or no cost to the client. The refugee and immigrant population is an already underserved and underrepresented population.  I've worked with immigrants and refugees for a few years now and it is constantly rewarding to help such a vast, yet vulnerable population.

LSG congratulates Andrea on her BIA accreditation. Click here for more information about Immigration Services.

Amir the Tailor

amir Amir is a tailor and a refugee from Iran recently resettled through LSG in Savannah. Refugee Services Case Manager Amelia Iaderosa interviewed him about his work as a tailor, his refugee experience, and his hopes for life in the United States.

Amelia: Tell me about the work you did before you moved to America.

Amir: In Iran, my parents owned their own tailoring shop. I was born into the tailoring profession, and from the age of 10, I started learning the technical skills needed to become a tailor. When I had to flee Iran, I went to Turkey. In Turkey, I was able to use my knowledge of tailoring to find employment and support myself. I lived there for 4 years before I came to America. For the first two and a half years, I would go to different tailor shops and fill in as needed. During this time, I did not feel satisfied; I was working for employers that did not want my input or to use my skills and I was working 12 to 16 hours a day just to survive. I eventually moved to a new city and found a job working with a larger company that allowed me to utilize my skills more. Being able to use my skills and work with a company that saw my potential made me feel satisfied, but I was still looking for more in my life.

Amelia: Tell me about your job now that you are in America.

Amir: I feel alive here in America with my new job; my job is a part of who I am as a human being and I love that. I am working for a local designer who has started her own fashion line and it is growing daily. I create dress samples for the designer and I can see that she is satisfied with my work and that makes me very happy. I feel like I am being helpful and doing a good job.

Sometimes the designer will give me a garment and ask me how to make the garment look the best, how it should be adjusted to make it the best it can be for the company. I knew from my work in Turkey that I had talent working in bulk production, but I never was able to do the intricate work I am able to do at my new job. At my new job I have the opportunity to give my input and recommendations. I feel like I am a part of a team now, and that my position is very important to the future of the company. This is why I feel so alive in America; I see that I am really a very skilled tailor and I have a chance to improve my ability and get better and better at my trade.

Amelia: What are your hopes for the future?amir2

Amir: I want to excel in all things dressmaking and fashion design. I want to go to the top of the industry! To do this, I wish to study fashion design and learn all there is to create my own fashion line and my own business. I know I can do this because I am in America now and I have the opportunity to improve myself. Someday, you will see me with my own brand and new designs.

Amelia: What is a message that you want to send to others in America about your experience as a refugee?

Amir: I just want to say to American people, be grateful for what you have here in America. As a refugee who came to the US at the age of 24, I had to start a new life at level zero; all I had was my tailoring experience. Please use the opportunities you have to be successful in America.

Amelia: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Amir: I want to tell LSG, I am very appreciative of what you have done for me. I cannot say in words, or find a real way to thank you for everything you have done. I am just very thankful for everything you do. During this job I have found my talent and I am hopeful for my future and to make all of my dreams for the future come true.

I also want to say, I have learned something new in America, and I have found the value of time. When I was in Iran, I would work a few days of week and the other days I would just waste my time. Now here, I know how important it is to use my time wisely in order to be successful. I know now how important my time is because I have been born again in America. I have many difficult experiences in my past and I feel like I have lived more than 24 years because of this. But now that these experiences are behind me, I know that I can start new in America and fight through the bad and live my life the way I have always dreamed!

LSG Kids Club Celebrates Successful First Season

_MG_3318 This summer, Lutheran Services of Georgia launched LSG Kids Club! LSG Kids Club provides fun, therapeutic day camp experiences for newly arrived refugee children. The program aims to promote healing, adjustment, and confidence-building for recently resettled refugee kids who have experienced trauma.

Beginning on July 13, LSG Kids Club held four weeks of summer camp for refugee kids. 47 children attended camp who were recently resettled from Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Together, the children spoke eight different languages: Somali, Nepali, Burmese, Rohingya, Malay, Swahili, Arabic, and Farsi. Kids participated in yoga, ballet, music and voice lessons, pet therapy, art projects, gardening, team and trust building activities, athletic activities, and fieldtrips to Piedmont Park and Zoo Atlanta.

Camp Coordinator Jessie Burnette reflected on the first season of LSG Kids Club:  "We have already received so many gracious thanks from parents who say their children benefited from their experiences with Kids Club. In our short pilot season, we saw children make great strides in processing fears, building friendships across language barriers, and leading other youth. I cannot wait to see what a full season combined with an ongoing mentor program can do for our children and the Clarkston community. It is our goal to serve each and every child that is resettled through our agency."


LSG thanks the following organizations and volunteers for making this first season a success:

  • Living Grace Lutheran Church (Camp Venue)
  • Atlanta Pet Partners (Pet Therapy Group)
  • Funda Yilmaz, LPC (Yoga instructor and licensed therapist)
  • Kathryn Farmer (Ballet instructor)
  • Whitney Burnette (Voice/Music instructor)
  • Matthew Johnson (Volunteer/Camp Counselor)
  • Pam Amy-Cupp (Volunteer/Camp Counselor)
  • Annie Goodman (Intern/Camp Counselor)
  • Alix Janke (Driver/Fieldtrip Chaperone)
  • Natalie Yasson (LSG Staff: Driver/Field Chaperone)
  • Melanie Johnson (LSG Staff: Camp Assistant/Volunteer/Supporter)
  • Padam Rai (Nepali Interpeter)
  • Abdul Rahman (Somali Interpreter)
  • Safa Shamsuddin (Burmese/Rohingya Interpreter)
  • Christine Nzamuranga (Swahili Interpreter)
  • Jessie Burnette (Camp Coordinator)
  • VSA Arts (for providing Zoo Atlanta tickets)

LSG Kids Club will continue to serve newly arrived refugee children by hosting therapeutic camps throughout the year. LSG also plans to implement a mentoring program serving the same population of children. LSG Kids Club welcomes volunteers who would like to be a part of making a positive impact in the lives of refugee children by teaching a skillset, such as art, yoga, dance, music, theater, athletics, teaching, counseling, and more.

LSG Kids Club is supported, in part, through a grant from the Lutheran Services for Children Endowment at the ELCA Foundation. To see photos from the camp, click here. For more information or to inquire about volunteering, contact Jessie Burnette at jburnette@lsga.org.



Meet the RIS Summer Interns - Part 2

Each summer, Lutheran Services of Georgia’s Refugee and Immigration Services department takes on several interns. We’re excited to introduce five of our summer interns: Kory Baggarley, Jalisa Davis, Kate Faulk, and Jenny Rose. Click here to read part 1.

Kory Baggarley


About Kory: Kory is from Savannah, Georgia and is interning at the LSG Savannah office. He's a senior studying Political Science at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Two years ago, he completed a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Kory loves to travel, explore nature, and study global current events. He worked as a music teacher in Dubai for a year and was able to explore many of the Gulf countries while he was there.

Kory's Hopes for the Summer: "I chose to intern with LSG because they are a unique organization in our state that provides resettlement aid for refugees who needed to flee their own countries. I felt this would be a tremendous opportunity for me to learn hands-on about many of the conflicts happening in the world along with their impact on human lives. At the same time, I hope to be able to help individuals and families settle in Georgia and start a healthy and happy life here in the U.S."

Jalisa Davis

Jalisa Davis

About Jalisa: Jalisa is originally from Slidell, Louisiana. She currently attends Georgia State University. Jalisa is in her junior year and studying Public Policy with a concentration in Non-profit Leadership and a minor in Spanish. Jalisa's hobbies include arts and crafts, exploring, learning new things, and watching movies.

Jalisa's Hopes for the Summer: "I decided to intern with LSG because I had a great experience volunteering. I wanted to become more involved in the resettlement process and the various ways LSG serves their clients. This summer, I hope to learn about the various cultures of our clients. I look forward to seeing our clients flourish in their new lives in America."

Katherine "Kate" Faulk

Kate Faulk

About Kate: Kate is from St. Simons Island, Georgia. She's a rising senior at Emory University pursuing a Linguistics major and a minor in German. Kate enjoys theater, music, travel, reading, and learning languages.

Kate's Hopes for the Summer: "I worked with Atlanta's refugee community last summer through Tapestri and enjoyed the experience. I am hoping at LSG to gain more experience in the resettlement process and to help facilitate the adjustment of refugees to their life here, as well as to learn about their cultures. I also hope to continue to gain a more global perspective."

Jenny Rose

Jenny Rose

About Jenny: Jenny is from Lilburn, Georgia and currently lives in Decatur. Jenny is working on her Master of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management at Georgia State University. She plans to graduate in the fall of 2016. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Joseph, and four-year-old twin boys, Cohen and Ephraim.

Jenny's Hopes for the Summer: "I really want to gain experience working in refugee services. It's something I have wanted to do for a long time but just never had an opportunity. I also hope to gain knowledge about the unique challenges facing LSG, along with what types of skills I need to have to effectively serve clients and be a successful manager in a nonprofit setting."

 Thank you, Kory, Jalisa, Kate, and Jenny for joining us in welcome this summer. To learn more about interning with Refugee and Immigration Services, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org

LSG Launches First-Ever LSG Kids Club

20150714_052319 On July 13, 2015, Lutheran Services of Georgia launched its first-ever season of LSG Kids Club! LSG Kids Club is a summer program that aims to promote healing, adjustment, and confidence-building for recently resettled refugee kids who have experienced trauma. The program provides a fun and therapeutic introduction to life in Georgia, along with giving kids an opportunity to make new friends.

Eleven children and teens participated in the first week of the four-week LSG Kids Club. They came from four different countries--Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, and Nepal--and spoke three different languages--Somali, Nepalese, and Burmese. The kids enjoyed activities and field trips including yoga, pet therapy, skills-focused games and physical activities, and more.

LSG is partnering with an growing list of community members and organizations to make this program possible. Current partners include:

  • Raksha, Inc, a Georgia-based nonprofit organization for the South Asian community. Special thanks goes to Niekachi Nwogo for conducting therapy sessions throughout the program.
  • Funda Yilmaz, LPC and yoga instructor who specializes in trauma therapy and healing through Grounded Yoga
  • Atlanta Pet Partners, an organization that provided pet therapy
  • Living Grace Lutheran Church for hosting the program

LSG also thanks our volunteers and interpreters.

  • Padam Rai, Nepali Interpreter
  • Abdulrahman, Somali Interpeter
  • Kathryn Farmer, Dance Instructor
  • Pam Amy-Cupp, Camp Counselor
  • Annie Goodman, Camp Counselor
  • Matthew Johnson, Camp Counselor
  • Jessie Burnette, Camp Coordinator and LSG staff member
  • Melanie Johnson, LSG staff member and volunteer

LSG Kids Club is supported, in part, through a grant from the Lutheran Services for Children Endowment at the ELCA Foundation. For more photos from the Club, visit our Facebook page. To learn more about LSG Kids Club, contact Coordinator Jessie Burnette at jburnette@lsga.org or (706) 889-3348.

Refugee and Immigration Services Hosts Breakfast for Interpreters

breakfast Lutheran Services of Georgia's Refugee and Immigration Services department recently hosted a breakfast to show appreciation for our interpreters. LSG could not provide quality services to clients from all over the world without our skilled and knowledgeable interpreters.

Case managers, interns, and five of LSG's interpreters came together to enjoy breakfast and share tips on how to work better together. The interpreters included speakers of Burmese, Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, and Somali. RIS plans to host several interpreter breakfasts throughout the year.

LSG thanks all our interpreters for their hard work and commitment to welcoming refugees and immigrants.

Interview with Noor & Nurul

bumra Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Noor and Nurul are refugees from Burma who arrived in the U.S. in March 2015 and were resettled through LSG's Savannah office. LSG staff member Amelia interviewed them about their experiences as refugees in the United States.

Amelia: Why did you leave Burma?

Noor & Nurul: There was a lot of fighting between the Rakhine (Buddhists) and Rohingya (Muslims). Because Burma is a Buddhist country, the government would not provide the Rohingya Muslims with any support or help, and this was bad because the Rakhine were not good to our people. In our town, the Rohingya were being killed and our villages were being burned. As Rohingya, we feared for our lives. If we were caught by the Rakhine people, we could be put in jail or killed for no reason. It was not safe for the Rohingya because the Burmese government does not want Muslims in their country. Also, the government would not allow us to practice our religion. The government was even saying that the Rohingya are not true citizens of Burma, which is not true. Many generations of Rohingya were born in Burma, but the government says we are from Bangladesh.

There is no future for Rohingya people in Burma. We are not recognized as citizens, so there is no hope for a better education or a better future.


Amelia: How has LSG helped you with moving to the United States?

Noor & Nurul: LSG has helped us with everything! They have helped us find a new home and find a job. We have learned so much from LSG, and they have helped us in so many ways, to get food and to go to a doctor. We thank LSG a lot for everything they have done for us.


Amelia: Where do you work?

Noor & Nurul: A local concrete company


Amelia: What problems have you faced since moving here?

Noor & Nurul: No problems at all! We are very happy living in the U.S. We are not afraid of living in America. We are afraid of the Burmese government, but not the U.S. Government. Everything in America is freedom. When we first moved here, LSG helped us with food and rent and we did not have to worry. And we quickly found a job and were able to make money, so we are now able to take care of ourselves.


Amelia: What is your favorite thing about living in Savannah?

Noor & Nurul: We like all of America! We like the old city feeling about Savannah. The people are very nice and everyone has been so good to us. We have not found any bad people. It is also not too cold in Savannah and we like the heat.


Amelia: What are your favorite things to do for fun?

Noor & Nurul: Speak with friends, study English, ride our bikes, and homework


Amelia: What are your dreams for the future?

Noor & Nurul: Our main dreams for the future are to be good people. We want to go to school, we want to study English and improve our English. Right now we do not have any specific ideas on what our dreams for the future are. Maybe to own our own business and start a family.


Amelia: What would you like people in Savannah to know about being a refugee?

Noor & Nurul: People should know that our past lives were full of fear and problems; we could not live in freedom. But now that we are in the U.S., we have freedom, and we do not have fear like we did in Burma. When refugees come to America, they have much more hope for a better future.

Noor: I do have one thing to ask. I appreciate the U.S. government helping me and my friends get to America from Sri Lanka. But I would like to appeal to the U.S. government and UNHCR to please help the other Rohingya who have no place to sleep and live. Please help them, they have nothing. The U.S. government is the leader, and they can help.


Amelia: We are happy that your friend is coming to Savannah. What reasons did you tell him to move here for?

Nurul: I wanted our friend to move to Savannah because we like it so much, and we just knew that he would also like it. He can get help with finding a job, and even work with us. We know that we can help him learn about life in Savannah so that he will be happy!

LSG thanks Noor & Nurul for sharing their story. To learn more about refugees in Burma/Myanmar, click here. Contact support Lauren Cruickshank (Savannah) at lcruickshank@lsga.org or Melanie Johnson (Atlanta) at mjohnson@lsga.org to learn how you can support refugees in the U.S.

World Refugee Day

IMG_3045 By Emily Laney, Atlanta Program Manager for Refugee Services

Saturday, June 20th, is World Refugee Day

All around the world, there will be events, festivals, awareness campaigns, celebrations, and times of contemplation. World Refugee Day is a time to celebrate refugees and to reflect on the difficulties they face. It's a day to advocate for peace to end the violence and persecution that so many people experience.

Working with refugees is one of the most rewarding and challenging things I've done in my human services career. It is challenging to work with and serve people who have been through so many trials. The fabric of our clients' life stories are woven with tragedy and loss. The sheer magnitude of fully understanding the experiences of refugees can feel overwhelming.

But it is so worth it.

A couple months ago, I was reminded why I enjoy working with refugees. LSG hosted a StoryCorps listening session. Five of our clients recorded short segments of their migration stories and experiences in their home countries. A few weeks after the recordings concluded, Atlanta staff came together to hear some of their stories. Many of us found our eyes brimming with tears listened to the stories of clients from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Burma. The hope and determination of these incredible people was humbling and inspiring. As I sat there in a room of LSG staff, I was reminded once again why we in Refugee and Immigration Services do what we do. We do it for new beginnings and the promise of a bright future. We do it for refugees.

Refugees matter. They comprise a small percentage of our immigrant population in the U.S. but it would benefit all of us to seek them out and form friendships with them. They work long hours at incredibly difficult jobs just to make ends meet. They are patriotic and proud to live in the U.S. They pay taxes and save money to open businesses in their community. They remind me of my own ancestors in many ways. My family is an eclectic mix of many different nationalities, most of whom immigrated to the U.S. to build a better life for their families. Some fled persecution, famine, or other difficulties. They worked hard to start fresh and to create their own 'American Dream.

We are a nation of immigrants, and refugees are a beautiful picture of what makes our country great. Amidst the busyness of life, the stacks of paperwork and the struggles that come from walking the journey with refugees during their first days in America, I am reminded of this picture. Refugees matter. They are an important part of our country, and I am so proud, humbled, and honored to know many of them.

If you'd like to get to know a refugee family, please contact me at elaney@lsga.org. LSG has multiple opportunities to support and learn from refugees. We'd love to have you join us in welcome.

Careers and Connections - Grace & Ifrah

IMG_1877 Grace Hawkins and Ifrah Jimale sit across from each other, sharing a home-cooked meal. The food is simple, but delicious, and includes vegetables grown in Grace’s sprawling front-yard garden. The two women chat happily, swapping stories and gardening tips. They met only a few months ago, yet they are already completely at ease in each other’s presence.

Grace and Ifrah both participated in Careers and Connections, Lutheran Services of Georgia’s employment mentoring program that pairs professionals with refugees looking to pursue careers in the United States. Launched in 2014 in partnership with Higher, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services’ national employment initiative, Careers and Connections has already provided support for 30 refugees. Careers and Connections aims to accomplish two goals: to support long-term career advancement for refugees and to deepen social connections between refugees and their communities.

Originally from Somalia, Ifrah arrived in Minnesota as a teenager in 1998. She was immediately placed in jail because she didn’t have all of her immigration documents in order. After her release, she spent the next 15 years navigating U.S. immigration courts before she finally received her citizenship status. Ifrah completed high school and studied journalism in college. She worked as a reporter and ran her own blog.

ifrah volunteer

In 2013, Ifrah moved to Georgia where “I felt like a brand new refugee. I came here and I was just lost.” She struggled to find a job in her field and missed the support of the Somalian community she had left behind in Minnesota. After discovering Lutheran Services of Georgia through an online search, she began volunteering with LSG’s Extended Cultural Orientation program. There, she met Melanie Johnson, LSG’s Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation, and Community Engagement. Melanie asked Ifrah about her dreams for the future, beyond simply working to survive. Ifrah realized that she wanted to write and publish a book about her refugee experience.

Melanie reached out to Grace Hawkins, the former Executive Director of the Global Village Project, to serve as Ifrah’s mentor. Before moving to Atlanta, Grace and her husband operated their own writing business in Seattle and published 17 books. Grace has also travel extensively outside of the U.S. During her travels, she witnessed the poverty, political repression, and conflict that drives refugees to flee their countries of origin. Through the Global Village Project, she met several refugees and survivors of traumatic situations. Intrigued by Ifrah’s experience, she agreed to serve as Ifrah’s mentor.

Over the past several months, Grace has assisted Ifrah in editing manuscripts and introduced her to writers and editors throughout Atlanta. However, the two women agree that their friendship goes beyond than the roles of mentor and mentee. Although the three-month-long program is over, they continue to meet regularly, sharing food, knowledge, experiences, stories, and laughter.

Ifrah appreciates her friendship with Grace and credits her Careers and Connections experience with helping her envision her book and build connections in Atlanta. She said, “Careers and Connections is a really good program. It helps with assimilation, because otherwise as an immigrant you’re really cut off. You have walls around you. Careers and Connections was the best decision I’ve made so far in this state. It’s my new anchor in Georgia. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t met Grace—she’s literally my 4-1-1.”

Careers and Connections is preparing to launch a new cohort of 30 refugee mentees and mentors. For more information or to participate in the program, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or (678) 696-9619.


Meet the RIS Summer Interns - Part 1

Each summer, Lutheran Services of Georgia's Refugee and Immigration Services department takes on several interns. We're excited to introduce five of our summer interns: Annie Goodman, Kayla Crowell, Onah Melenu, Victoria Shelegina, and Allie Alexander.

Annie Goodman

 Annie Goodman

About Annie: Annie Goodman was born in Richmond, Virginia, but spent most of her life in Alpharetta, Georgia. Currently, she lives in Kennesaw with her boyfriend Clint and her two cats, Penny and Olive. Annie is double majoring in Anthropology and Early Childhood Education at Kennesaw State University. Annie loves to play video games, read comics, and is currently working with her boyfriend to renovate their 1960s home. She is also trying her hand at gardening and watercolors.

Annie's Hopes for the Summer: "I have heard nothing but great things about LSG from past interns and I am very excited to be part of it. As a future educator, I want to gain experience in a multicultural environment. In all of the classrooms I have worked in, there are students from all over the world. Not only will I be working to create a welcoming and effective learning environment for all of my students, I will also be establishing positive relationships with my students' parents. I know this experience will help me become a better teacher for my future students."

Kayla Crowell

Kayla Crowell

About Kayla: Kayla is from Powder Springs, Georgia. She's a fourth year student studying French and Spanish at the University of Georgia. In her spare time, Kayla loves to read, travel, and spend time with her friends.

Kayla's Hopes for the Summer: "I decided to intern with LSG because I wanted to gain professional experience and learn more about immigration law while making a positive difference in people's lives. LSG's wide range of services and commitment to welcoming people made it a perfect fit. I hope to improve my language skills and gain a meaningful understanding of how law impacts people, what services are available to them, and how I can pursue a career in this field."

Onah Melanu

Onah Melenu

About Onah: Onah is from Georgia. She is a graduating senior studying Anthropology at Kennesaw State University. Onah's hobbies include reading, swimming, and cultural community activities.

Onah's Hopes for the Summer: "I enjoy helping others with job placement and acculturation activities. I assist friends and family typically from Africa with understanding American culture and with work. At LSG, I hope to gain more knowledge from other cultures as well as the background activity that goes along with job placement. Upon graduation I plan to obtain an MBA with a concentration in human resource management."

Victoria Shelegina


About Victoria: Originally from Russia, Victoria arrived in the U.S. in September, 2011. Victoria holds a law degree from the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia and is currently a Juris Doctor candidate at Emory University School of Law. Victoria likes to read and to travel.

Victoria's Hopes for the Summer: : "Upon graduation, I look forward to practicing immigration law in the U.S., so I hope to gain professional experience with LSG."

Allie Alexander

Allie Alexander

About Allie: Allie is a rising junior at Georgia State University studying Public Policy. Her hobbies including horseback riding (particularly barrel racing), reading, traveling, and exploring the city and different cultures.

Allie's Hopes for the Summer: "I've had internships in the past and my experiences have consisted largely of paperwork, faxing, and very little hands-on experience. I wanted to be given responsibility and interact directly with the people that a non-profit serves. I knew that LSG would give me the opportunity to accomplish this. I would like to understand in-depth the challenges and processes that refugees go through as they adjust to life in the U.S. I find it incredible that refugees are able to overcome the extremely adverse circumstances they have faced."

Thank you, Victoria, Annie, Onah, Kayla, and Allie for joining us in welcome this summer! Watch our blog next week to meet the rest of the RIS interns. To learn more about interning with Refugee and Immigration Services, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org.

Support Newly Arrived Refugees in Atlanta and Savannah

Refugee Family 2 When Mr. T. arrived in Savannah with his wife, teenage son, and baby on the way, he wanted start working immediately. He wanted to build a future for his family that would be better than the life they left behind in Myanmar. However, shortly after his journey to the United States, Mr. T. received devastating news. He was diagnosed with two separate medial conditions, one requiring surgery. Mr T. will not be able to work until he has fully recovered from surgery.

Most refugee families have a little more than a month to secure employment, which helps smooth their transition to economic self-sufficiency. Mr. T.'s medical conditions will delay his ability to work by two months, leaving the family without enough money to pay their rent. To add to their financial stress, Mr. T's wife gave birth one month early, and the family is using most of their financial resources to help support their newborn.

LSG connected the family to community resources that provide medical case management, free medicine, and baby supplies. Our staff has worked tirelessly to ensure that the family is safe and healthy, taking them to and from many doctor's appointments each week. Both parents are eager to work, and their 14-year-old son has asked many times when he can start working to support the family.

Like so many of our clients, Mr T. and his family have a bright future ahead of them, but will need some help along the way. By donating to LSG, you join LSG in giving individuals, children, and families throughout Georgia the support they need to reach happy, healthy futures. Please give today.

Nur Abdi Selected for 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy

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Nur Abdi, LSG staff member and former refugee, was recently selected to participate in Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy! Each year, this Academy brings together migrant and refugee leaders to share experiences, connect with each other, and hone skills to co-advocate on issues of importance to both communities.

In 2008, Nur and his sister fled violence and instability in their home country of Somalia. Together, they traveled to India where they lived as refugees. To support himself and his sister, Nur accepted a job with an international organization that operated income generation programs for refugees. Refugees received training in producing items like plates, teacups, and paper that could then be sold for an income. Nur assumed a leadership role with the organization in quality control and program monitoring.

In 2013, after five years in India, Nur was resettled in Atlanta through Lutheran Services of Georgia. He immediately began using his language skills to interpret for other refugees and LSG staff during cultural orientation and the Match Grant program. Within two months, Nur found a job at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Yet Nur’s journey with LSG wasn’t finished. His experiences as a refugee inspired him to seek out opportunities to continue serving refugee populations. In July of 2014, Nur accepted a part-time position as an Administrative Assistant for LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department. Three months later, he was promoted to his current position as a full-time Reception and Placement Case Manager.

Nur is excited to attend this year’s Refugee Leadership Academy. “I am very passionate to help refugees and other migrants and I want to be a good role model for others,” he said. “Participating in the 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy will be an honor. It will teach me the tools I need in order to continue to advocate for migrants and refugees. I will share my story and the story of other refugees, both those that are here in the United States and those are overseas.”

The 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy will be held in Baltimore and Washington D.C. on June 16 through 18. Watch our blog and Crossing Oceans to read Nur’s reflections on his experience after he returns.

Hawraa's First Word


Since the Al Obaidi family arrived in the United States last year, LSG has been working to help them adjust to life in their new community.  The Al Obaidi knew that their 8-year-old daughter Hawraa was experiencing some medical problems, but they weren't sure of the cause. When the family spoke to Hawraa, she didn't respond. As a result, she was not enrolled in school in her home country of Iraq.

When Hawraa came to Clarkston, she was immediately enrolled in school, but she struggled to keep up with her peers. LSG helped her mother coordinate with pediatricians and specialists. The doctors discovered that Hawraa could hear almost nothing and therefore was unable to communicate with her family and classmates verbally. With the help of LSG and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Hawraa was able to get hearing aids and began to speak the names of her siblings.

However, without specialized school services, her progress at home and in school was slow. LSG worked with the family to enroll Hawraa in a special program for hearing-impaired students at an elementary school that would focus on literacy while also teaching sign language.

On Hawraa's first day in her new school, her mother visited her daughter in the new specialized classroom. Hawraa was wearing large, very loud headphones and watching flashcards on a tablet, when she said her first word in English: "Elephant!" Her new teacher quickly praised a beaming Hawraa while her mother cried with happiness. Hawraa is loving her new school and new friends, and she proudly wears her hearing aids every day as she continues to catch up with others at home and in the classroom.


LSG Recruits Mentors and Mentees for Careers and Connections

IMG_1925 Lutheran Services of Georgia  is piloting Careers and Connections, a refugee career mentoring program with Higher, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s national employment initiative.

Careers and Connections aims to accomplish two goals: to support long-term career advancement for refugees and to deepen social connections between refugees and their communities. LSG is recruiting 30 mentors to match with 30 refugees. The mentor will act as a job coach, equipping the refugee to develop skills, identify long-term career goals, and create a plan to reach those goals.

Through mentoring relationships, refugees receive the opportunity to expand their social networks. Upon arrival in Georgia, refugees often face significant barriers to community integration. Language skills and difficulties navigating the institutions and customs of a new culture can leave refugees vulnerable to marginalization. This program connects refugees and long-term local residents who can work together to build a more cohesive and vibrant community.

LSG is currently recruiting professional mentors from various fields and refugee mentees for a new cohort to begin mid-May, 2015. For more information on Careers and Connections or to volunteer to become a mentor for a newly arrived refugee, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or at 678-686-9619.

LSG and Sopo Partner to Provide Bikes for Refugees


By Taryn Arbeiter, Matching Grant Coordinator for Refugee and Immigration Services

During the first months after arriving in the United States, refugees often express a need for reliable transportation in order to attend English and employment classes, shop for groceries, visit friends, and commute to school and medical appointments. Even clients with a good grasp of the English language need a few months to prepare for and complete Georgia's driving test. It can take several months or even years for refugees to save enough money to buy a car.

In response to the call for better transportation, Lutheran Services of Georgia partnered with Sopo Bicycle Cooperative volunteer Patrick Davis to connect newly arrived refugees with refurbished bicycles. Sopo and LSG held two Saturday workshops at Sopo in Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood. We opened the opportunity to 8 current clients, with a special focus on women and children.

Several LSG staff and volunteers volunteered their time for the workshops. Workshops included a short service project to help organize the Sopo bike shop and repair tire tubes. Volunteers assisted clients in cleaning and making adjustments to their refurbished bikes. Several volunteers and family members used a cul-de-sac nearby to teach two clients how to ride a bike. The workshops ended with a safety presentation, teaching clients about traffic laws and equipping them with helmets and bike lights. Clients were advised to purchase locks on their own as soon as possible.

At the end of the workshops, every participant found a bike to take home. Equally important, every client, volunteer, and staff person had the opportunity to practice English, share stories and laughter, and forge new, supportive relationships.

LSG hopes to offer this opportunity again by continuing this partnership quarterly. Our capacity to offer this program is limited in part due to a shortage of helmets and locks. LSG is seeking donations of bikes, helmets, and locks for refugees. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Taryn Arbeiter at tarbeiter@lsga.org.

LSG Receives Wheat Ridge Ministries Grant to Support Enhanced Cultural Orientation for Refugees

ECO Photo

Lutheran Services of Georgia recently received a generous, three-year grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries to support the Enhanced Cultural Orientation (ECO) program for newly arrived refugees.

After refugees arrive in the United States, they need support to learn how to navigate U.S. culture and adjust to life in their new communities. Federally-contracted refugee resettlement agencies like LSG are required to cover a checklist of orientation topics. While most agencies cover these topics in a one-day or less "crash course", LSG recognized that this was not enough. In March 2013, LSG launched the Enhanced Cultural Orientation program to better serve refugees.

ECO provides new arrivals with nine intensive cultural orientation workshops over the course of three weeks. Workshops cover essential topics such as US law, housing and personal safety, public transportation, domestic violence laws, US Citizenship and Immigration Services requirements, budgeting and banking in the US, and coping with stress. Childcare is provided, along with interpreters in multiple language, ensuring that participants are able to focus on and understand the lessons.

Along with providing cultural orientation, ECO offers direct food relief in a compassionate, convenient, and culturally-sensitive way. Although refugees are eligible for the temporary Georgia Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) while they seek employment, it can take several weeks before these benefits are approved and can be accessed. With funding from Wheat Ridge Ministries, LSG will give refugees breakfast and a snack during each workshop session. Refugees will also sometimes receive lunch. LSG will either provide grocery store gift certificates or one bag of culturally appropriate staple food items, such as rice, beans, oil, salt, and juice, per week for the first two weeks for each family represented at the workshops.

Unlike many cultural orientation programs, ECO does not separate refugees according to their country of origin. Instead, refugees from various ethnic groups are encouraged to build relationships and learn together, which helps deepen community ties in Clarkston.

Wheat Ridge Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps health and human care initiatives get off the ground by providing the initial funding and support they need to thrive. LSG thanks Wheat Ridge Ministries for providing funds to support refugees during their earliest days in the United States.

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