Heard: Aimee Advocates for Refugees on Capitol Hill

aimee-e1405010715314-768x1024 In June, LSG staff member and former refugee Aimee Zangandou joined 51 other participants at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service‘s World Refugee Day Academy. The World Refugee Day Academy is a three-day leadership training and advocacy event for current and former refugees. The participants came from 27 states and represented 18 different nationalities. All together, they did 117 visits to Capitol Hill legislators to advocate on behalf of refugees. They were also honored as special guests during the Walk of Courage Award Gala as LIRS celebrated its 75th anniversary of walking with over 500,000 migrants and refugees to brighter tomorrows. Below, Aimee reflects on her experience. 


That’s the word I would use to describe my trip to Washington, D.C. to celebrate World Refugee Day. Throughout the trip, I felt that my voice was heard. On June 19, my day began with visits to legislators on Capitol Hill. I visited the offices of Senator Saxby Chambliss and Representative Tom Price. I was also granted a visit to the White House to meet with the Senior Policy Advisor–Domestic Policy Council and the Director of Human Rights–National Security Staff.

During those visits, I simply told my story. I told them how my family was resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I told them how happy I was to sit in a classroom after being out of school for nearly three years. I told them how hard my parents worked to save enough money for a down payment on their first home, which they made only one year after our arrival in the United States. I told them how my parents were on food stamps for only a very short period of time until they started their first jobs and how they have never been on food stamps again. I shared with them that 80% of refugees resettled in Georgia are able to find work and become financially self-sufficient within 180 days after their arrival. I told them that refugees are an asset to this beautiful country.

As I spoke, I was not only telling my story but the stories of thousands of other refugees who now call the United States their home. Before leaving their offices, I asked them for three things. 1) Invest. Ensure that there are robust resources to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 2) Protect. Reject proposals that would harm refugees. 3) Champion. Support refugee reform legislation. Everyone that I met listened to me and I felt that my voice and the voice of others refugees was heard. I felt that the voices of refugees stuck in refugee camps waiting for resettlement were also heard.

Click here to read Aimee’s resettlement story or here for more photos from her trip.

Urgent: Raise Your Voice for Refugees and Unaccompanied Children!

Poverty_Girl_artLutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Lutheran Services of Georgia are calling for supporters of refugees and unaccompanied children to join us in raising our voices to advocate for these vulnerable populations.

The Situation:  Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing ongoing violence in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and seeking shelter in the United States. These children have been forced to endure conditions that lack compassion and dignity, including sleeping on floors in Border Patrol stations. The numbers are growing drastically–in Fiscal Year 2014, over 60,000 additional children are expected to cross into the U.S. On July 20, 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced that they were planning to “reprogram” 94 million dollars from refugee resettlement to respond to this crisis.

The Problem: Refugee programs are already underfunded. Taking funding from refugee resettlement would hollow out existing services, including access to medical and employment assistance for already resettled refugees and those who have yet to arrive. Refugees will not receive the help they need and have been promised to adjust to life in their new communities. The United States cannot help one vulnerable population by hurting another.

The Response: LIRS is calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to allocate $200 million in emergency supplemental funds for the ORR during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. This will allow ORR to both reinstate critical programs for refugees and care for unaccompanied children.

How You Can Help:  Join LIRS and LSG in raising your voice! Congress is in recess from June 30 to July 7, so your emails and phone calls are needed right now. Don’t know what to say? That’s alright – LIRS has provided a sample script for a phone call and an email template.

To call, dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your two Senators and your Representative. Here is a sample script you can use to tailor your personal message, describing your own work or relationships with refugees, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable migrants.

Hi, my name is [NAME], from [City, State] May I please speak with the staff person who handles appropriations issues?

I am calling to urge the [SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE] to support increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement by $200 million in FY 2014 so they can meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees. A lack of additional funding would compromise America’s ability to provide persecuted refugees and vulnerable unaccompanied children with safe haven and a chance at a new life. Funding for this program is an investment in the safety and self-sufficiency of people we welcome to American communities. Please ensure that Congress appropriates supplemental funding at least in $200 million in FY 14 and at least $3.3 billion in funding for HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement for FY 2015.

If you’d prefer to send an email, click here for an easy-to-use email template that will go straight to your Congressmen’s offices.

Spread the Word: You can also spread awareness about this issue by sharing this information via email and social media. One way to spread the word is to tweet at your Senators or Representative.  Find their Twitter Handles athttps://twitter.com/cspan/lists/members-of-congress and urge them to increase their funds for ORR. Try tweeting:

  • @[their twitter handle] Increase funding for ORR by $200mil to meet needs of unaccompanied children & #refugees #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] Please support $200mil for ORR to maintain US #refugee resettlement program & support unaccomp children #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] @HHSgov ORR needs funding to ensure unaccompanied children & #refugees receive services they need & deserve #UACs

Thanks for joining us in ensuring that both refugees and unaccompanied children receive the care and support that they need to thrive!

Small Actions for Refugees

Eastern Mennonite University students visit a Karen refugee family. Activist and devout Catholic Dorothy Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spreads in all directions.” At Lutheran Services of Georgia, we believe that the smallest pebble, the simplest of acts, has the potential to do great good in the world. To help you get started casting pebbles, here’s a list of small actions you can take to support refugees and immigrants throughout Georgia.

1) Tell your story! Share why you serve refugees by emailing Abi Koning at akoning@lsga.org.

2) Go to dinner! Eat at restaurants connected to refugee communities. Some of our favorites in Clarkston are Kathmandu, Shewit Eritrean, and Halal Pizza. In Savannah, local restaurants such as Fire Street Food, Ele, Chive Sea Bar, and Mirage were established by former refugees.

3) Raise your Voice! Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), our national affiliate, advocates for immigrants and refugees. Visit their action center at http://lirs.org/action-center for simple ways you can raise your voice.

4) Get informed! Watch a movie or read a book about refugees. We recommend: Outcasts United, the story of a refugee soccer team in Clarkston; a PBS America by the Numbers special featuring Clarkston; and Dave Eggers’ What is the What, a fictional book based on the life of a Sudanese Lost Boy who was resettled in Atlanta.

5) Donate to the Clothing Closet! LSG’s Atlanta and Savannah offices operate clothing closets for new refugee arrivals and are constantly in need of clothing and household items.

6) Volunteer with LSG! LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department has a number of volunteer opportunities, including tutoring refugees, setting up apartments, visiting immigrants in detention, and more.

7) Learn a Few Words in a Second Language! In our Extended Cultural Orientation classes for newly arrived refugees, there are usually four to six languages spoken. Refugees are trying hard to learn English—why not learn a few words in their languages?

8) Get Your Church Involved! LSG is supported by congregations throughout Georgia. Host an LSG Sunday, celebrate Refugee Sunday, collect donations, or sponsor a refugee family.

9) Celebrate World Refugee Day! Each year on June 20, the United Nations and organizations around the world celebrate World Refugee Day. Mark your calendars and join the celebration! Click here to learn more about World Refugee Day in Georgia.

10) Practice Peace! Conflict is one of the main reasons refugees flee their homes. Seek out ways to promote peace and resolve conflict in your home and in your community.

11) Make a House a Home! Help LSG transform apartments into homes for newly arrived refugees. Donate gently used furniture, household supplies, towels, or bedding to provide refugees with a fully furnished home.

12) Open Your Doors! Sharing a meal brings people together. Invite a refugee family to join you for dinner in your home.

13) Attend LSG’s Breaking Bread and Building Bridges Potluck Dinner on Saturday, June 21! This potluck dinner will bring together church and community members, volunteers, and refugees to share a meal in celebration of World Refugee Day and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s 75th Anniversary! Click here to RSVP or here for a flyer. Please bring a dish to feed four to six people.

For more information on how you can help refugees and immigrants in your area, contact Melanie Johnson atmjohnson@lsga.org (Atlanta) or Deidre Harrison at dharrison@lsga.org (Savannah). To download and share this list, click here.

Our Small Actions were inspired by the Simple Acts & Counterpoints Arts CompanyVisit www.counterpointsarts.org.ukto learn more.

Alie Advocates for Child Welfare in D.C.!

Alie Redd at the Capitol On May 6-8, LSG’s Vice President of Programs Alie Redd, LCSW, participated in the Child Welfare League of America’s 2014 National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. Below, Alie shares her experience advocating for the nation’s vulnerable children.

I was invited by Together Georgia to participate in the Child Welfare League of America’s 2014 National Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, on May 6 through 8. The summit addressed child welfare issues and helped organizations and individuals understand how to advocate on the Hill for child welfare reform. I, along with two colleagues fromCHRIS Kids, visited Congressmen John Lewis, Thomas Price, M.D., John Barrow, and Johnny Isakson’s offices and met with their staff to advocate for children in Georgia specifically about privatization of child welfare, mental health, and adoption. The summit taught attendees how to prepare specific talking points to address Congress and how to approach these influential people and decision makers with confidence.  This was particularly powerful because most people think Congressmen are unreachable or unapproachable. However, I found congressional staff to be welcoming and open to input and suggestions from their constituents.

At the summit, I learned how to advocate on a national level for vulnerable people who do not have a voice and for those who may no have the means to advocate for themselves or their loved ones. At first I was really nervous because I wasn’t sure what to say, but the summit taught me how to organize my thoughts. Then, all the voices of the children I have served throughout the years began to tell their stories through my voice. I was so proud to represent the vulnerable children of Georgia. Once I returned to Georgia, I shared with others how easy it is to make sure voices are heard in Congress. I also participated in a Lunch and Learn workshop to teach others at LSG how to ensure their voices are heard and how to advocate for those in need.

For more information about the Child Welfare League of America, click here.

Aimee to Attend World Refugee Day in D.C.!

This June, LSG staff member and former refugee Aimee Zangandou will join other former refugees in Washington D.C. to receive leadership training and advocate on behalf of refugees. Aimee was selected to attend Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's (LIRS) World Refugee Day Advocacy and Training Event. Along with the Walk of Courage Award Gala and Refugee Sunday, this event will take place as a part of LIRS's 75th Anniversary Commemoration, celebrating 75 years of walking alongside migrants. Aimee will be joined by Yeshey Pelzom, International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff member and former Resettlement Program Manager at LSG, in representing Georgia’s refugee communities.

Aimee’s passion for refugee communities is deeply personal. Originally from Rwanda, Aimee and her family fled the violence of the 1994 genocide and crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Aimee, her parents, and her three siblings lived in a refugee camp for one year before relocating to Niger. In 1997, when Aimee was only 16 years old, her family was resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia. There, a local church welcomed them and guided them through their early days of life in the U.S.

Since her arrival in Georgia, Aimee has actively helped other refugees adjust to life in the U.S. She began volunteering with refugee communities through the IRC. When Aimee heard that LSG’s Refugee Services department had an opening, she decided to apply. In 2009, she came on staff as a Data Specialist. A year later, she became a Social Adjustment Case Manager and was eventually promoted to Senior Case Manager in June, 2013.

Now, Aimee manages social adjustment services that provide refugees with the resources and knowledge they need to thrive in their new homes and new communities. These services include educating refugees on everything from home maintenance to public transportation to medical appointments. She finds her work “personally rewarding” and is constantly looking for ways that she can serve refugees more effectively.

Aimee is excited for the opportunity to attend LIRS’s World Refugee Day Training and Advocacy event. The trip won’t be her first time in Washington, D.C., but it will be her first time speaking with members of Congress about issues that affect refugee communities. She looks forward to learning more about advocacy and leadership and plans to bring the knowledge she gains back to refugee communities in Georgia. “I’m hoping I can learn more about advocating for refugees and develop skills in keeping communities together,” Aimee said. “I want to empower refugee communities to advocate for themselves and strengthen their communities.” Aimee holds a B.A. in International Affairs and a M.A. in Public Administration.

For more information about the World Refugee Day event and LIRS’s 75th Anniversary, click here.

LSG Advocates for New Americans at the Capitol!

On February 5th, 2014, LSG's Atlanta Refugee and Immigration Services team participated in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA)'s New Americans Celebration at the Capitol! Ten RIS staff, volunteers, and interns educated lawmakers about the amazing contributions refugees make in Georgia. We joined other refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations to distribute informational packets to legislative offices and reach out to our elected officials to share the amazing stories of new and future Americans in our state.

Several members of our team acted as team leaders for the day and led groups of 3-4 participants to legislative offices. We shared personal stories and had great conversations with both legislative staff and legislators themselves.

One participating LSG staff member who came to the United States as a refugee several years ago had the opportunity to meet his representative. He reflected on the experience:

"Using myself as an example, I told my Rep that, when I came to the U.S. five years ago, I received $425 as "welcome" money, public benefits, and Medicaid for eight months. Six months after arrival, I stared working. Since then, we didn't receive any aid from the government. Today, six out of eight of my family members are working. As a new American myself, I told her that refugees are contributors to the American economy--not simply consumers. She seemed well-convinced and promised that she'll support future refugee bills and that she'll also advocate for New Americans."

Other teams from LSG introduced lawmakers to "New Americans" who told their resettlement stories. Many legislators and staff members were moved by hearing firsthand accounts of refugees who have taken long, often difficult journeys to arrive at their new homes in America.

Our goal for the day was to inform legislators about the many contributions refugees and other New Americans make to our state and communities. We found that many legislators agreed with us. One responded to a thank-you email by writing, "It is easy to celebrate new citizens!" We certainly agree.

To get the facts about refugees in Georgia that we shared with legislators, click here. For more information about the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies, click here.

LSG Joins Lutheran Leaders for the National Immigrant Integration Conference!

In Washington, D.C., Lutheran Services of Georgia joined over 40 Lutheran leaders in Miami to strengthen ties and deepen connections during the November 17-19 National Immigrant Integration Conference (Miami NIIC 6)! NIIC 6 reaffirmed the crucial role of churches in building social connections for immigrants.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) convened the gathering, bringing together Lutheran leaders from across the nation. "As LIRS approaches its 75th anniversary in 2014, we're honored to bring together this cross-section of Lutheran leaders from churches and congregations from across the U.S, and we're grateful for this opportunity to share their valuable experiences with welcoming migrants and refugees, " said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO.

Attending from Georgia were Melanie Johnson, Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation and Community Engagement for LSG's Refugee and Immigration Services and the Reverend Seyward Ask, Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta. "It was incredibly energizing," noted Melanie, "to both hear and share stories of the many ways Lutheran congregations are engaged in compassionate and welcoming relationships with refugees and migrants in communities across the United States. As we left the LIRS convening and the National Immigrant Integration Conference, we parted with much stronger connections to our national network of Lutheran partners in the ministry of welcome."

The LIRS convening involved Lutheran leaders in conversations on topics including

  • Investing in the development of expertise within church partner networks and jointly exploring the role congregations can play in connecting migrants and refugees to communities
  • Uncovering the strengths, barriers, and emerging opportunities for people of faith to be actively engaged in the integration journeys of newcomers
  • Developing a shared understanding of the ways in which participants can expand the circle of congregations invested in the long-term integration of newcomers in the community

LSG is engaged in building welcoming communities by serving, empowering, and advocating for refugees and immigrants. LSG will resettle between four and five hundred refugees in Atlanta and Savannah in 2014 and provide cultural orientation, employment, social adjustment and educational services to refugees. LSG also partners with faith and community groups to visit migrants in detention in Georgia.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States. LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Learn more at http://lirs.org/.

Miami NIIC 6 is the signature event of the National Partnership for New Americans. The event has grown in size, scope, and vision every year since 2008. Learn more at http://www.integrationconference.org.