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.

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.

LSG Nurse Helps Clients Reach Healthy Tomorrows

When Cathy Dandelakis’ son entered the FACES program, little did she know that this was only the beginning of her involvement with Lutheran Services of Georgia. LSG’s FACES program places individuals with developmental disabilities in supportive host homes where they can thrive.

Cathy holds 37 years of knowledge and experience serving medically-fragile populations as a mother, a teacher, a nurse, and a caregiver. Her passion for caregiving began while in nursing school. During the summer, she worked the night shift on a cancer ward as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN). Along with caring for the physical needs of her patients, she provided emotional support and companionship for patients in their final moments. “I worked with people who were sleepless, who were sad, who were angry, who were lonely, and many would pass away with no family in the middle of the night,” she recalled. Cathy’s presence reminded them that they were not alone. There, on the cancer ward, she discovered that nursing was more than a career for her—it was her calling.

After Cathy’s son entered FACES, LSG asked Cathy to help train the support companions who would become her son’s primary caregivers. Cathy agreed and was of such tremendous help to FACES staff and volunteers that LSG asked Cathy to provide training for other host homes. She began writing protocol for FACES case managers, sharing best practices for working with medically-fragile people.

In January 2013, Cathy agreed to join the LSG staff. Her current role includes handling administrative work connected with LSG’s medically-fragile clients, visiting host homes, writing healthcare protocol, and training LSG staff and caregivers. Cathy is always on-call to provide respite assistance or guidance for caregivers and case managers. “As a mother of a very handicapped person,” she remarked, “I know the value of respite. Everyone needs respite, and more than once a year. They need it frequently to replenish themselves, to replenish their souls.”

Cathy’s passion and expertise are immensely beneficial for LSG staff and clients. Cathy used her familiarity with the medical world to advocate on behalf of Matthew*, a nine-year-old boy in LSG’s specialized foster care program. Matthew has SMA Type 1, a rare disease that kills most infants born with it within their first two years of life. Given Matthew’s extreme fragility, the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services expressed concern about his care. Cathy visited Matthew’s foster family and nurse, and then reported back to DFCS that Matthew was indeed receiving great care. Now, Cathy visits the family every few months to check in on their needs. Thanks to the collaboration of Cathy, the foster family, and Matthew’s nurses, Matthew has not been hospitalized for over six years, a truly remarkable accomplishment.

LSG thanks Cathy for using her knowledge, skills, and love of caregiving to help provide excellent care and bring healthy tomorrows to individuals and families throughout Georgia.

*Name has been changed to protect the client.

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.

Augusta FACES The Winter Storms

This winter, the weather outside grew frightful as storms swept through Georgia, affecting LSG clients across the state. As the weather worsened, LSG’s Augusta staff worked quickly to ensure that all FACES clients were protected from the storm.  LSG’s Facilitating Advocacy, Care, Education, and Shelter (FACES) program serves individuals with developmental disabilities, creating supportive and meaningful living environments that allow them to thrive.

LSG staff and Support Companions astutely faced the dangerous weather.  LSG staff contacted all Support Companions for an update on their locations and statuses. Together, they also responded a potentially difficult situation with a FACES client.

A female FACES client lost power and staff were temporarily unable to contact her. Vanessa Pooser, a FACES Case Manager, and Pat Cumiskey, the Lead Case Manager and Recruiter, emailed the client’s daughter. The daughter called them to tell them that her mother was at home. Vanessa and Pat contacted a local deputy who sent a car out to check on the client and her host home provider. The deputy helped relocate them to the provider’s brother’s house until they were finally able to return home.

Impressed and grateful, Vanessa said, “Through ongoing back-and-forth communications, I am extremely proud to say that our team was proactive in resolving issues that could have escalated into additional crises.” Thanks to quick thinking and action by LSG staff and Support Companions, all FACES clients stayed warm, safe, and sound during the winter storms.


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.

Taylor Brand Made Vice Chair of Foster Family-Based Treatment Association--Georgia!

Lutheran Services of Georgia congratulates Taylor Brand, LSG's Senior Program Manager for Specialized Foster Care and Family Intervention Services in Atlanta, on being selected as the 2014 Vice Chair of the Foster Family-Based Treatment Association (FFTA)'s Georgia Chapter! Taylor will serve as the Vice Chair to Chair Sally Buchanan, CEO of Creative Community Services, Inc.

FFTA is an association of organizations that provide treatment foster care, a unique model of care that combines a nurturing family environment with structured treatment. FFTA aims to strengthen agencies that support families caring for vulnerable children.

Taylor said, "I'm excited to be the Vice Chair of FFTA. I've worked in and around foster care for many years and have seen first-hand the benefits of treatment foster care. This is a great opportunity to sit at the table each month with Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) leadership and advocate for children and families. FFTA is recognized nationally, so I will be in a position to advocate for children in foster care on a national and state level."

Taylor is not the first LSG staff member to serve in a leadership role with FFTA's Georgia Chapter. Alie Redd, LSG's State Manager for Specialized Foster Care, Family Intervention Services, and Adoption previously served as the Co-Chair of FFTA. Alie said, "I am excited to present and pass the torch for 2014 Vice Chair to Taylor. Her voice, expertise, and advocacy for children and families will ring throughout both the state of Georgia and the nation."

Congratulations, Taylor!

To learn more about FFTA, click here.




Obaid Celebrates 30 Years with LSG!

Leaning back in his office chair and looking out at the city skyline, Obaid Rasoul recalls old memories of his journey from Afghanistan to Atlanta. When Obaid arrived in the U.S. as a refugee, he never dreamed that he would spend the next three decades welcoming other refugees. For thirty years, Obaid has worked in Lutheran Services of Georgia’s Refugee Services department, helping newly arrived refugees find employment and achieve self-sufficiency.

Back in Afghanistan, Obaid lived a busy life, working hard and raising two children. He graduated from the University of Kabul’s Faculty of Law and worked as a criminal lawyer for a year. Then, he took a job at the U.S. Embassy. In 1979, war tore through his country, turning his life upside-down. Obaid feared for his family’s safety. After his brother was executed, Obaid, his wife, and their 4-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter fled to neighboring Pakistan in search of peace.

Once in Pakistan, Obaid began to dream of a permanent home for his family. Originally, he wanted to resettle in France to be near some of his wife’s relatives. Yet one afternoon, as he walked through the city of Peshewar, his plans changed entirely. He passed a building with an American flag—the U.S. consulate’s office. He decided to go inside, where he managed to secure a meeting with the consulate. Obaid told the consulate about his past experience with the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. After confirming his connections to the Embassy, the consulate granted Obaid and his family top priority to travel to the U.S. as refugees.

Finally, on April 29, 1983, Obaid and his family arrived in the United States, where they were resettled in Atlanta through the International Rescue Committee (IRC). After only five months in Atlanta, Obaid accepted a position as a job counselor at LSG. Today, Obaid is LSG’s longest-serving staff member and has become the Senior Employment Specialist!

Every day at LSG, Obaid accompanies other refugees on a journey he knows all too well. “We refugees should help each other. Since I came as a refugee myself, I use some of my experience as a refugee to help other refugees,” he said. Although Obaid’s work is challenging, he enjoys discovering the unique skills, experiences, and gifts that each refugee brings with them. “They bring something new to our society,” he mused. “ I learn from them too. I learn a lot from them.”

Thanks to Obaid’s many years of work with LSG, he is known throughout several of Georgia’s refugee communities. One afternoon, Obaid was visiting a largely Somalian area of Clarkston when a former refugee greeted him by name. “Mr. Obaid!,” he called out excitedly. “You got me a job 15 years ago and now I own my own business!” Obaid takes pride in the success of refugees who are using their gifts to build new lives for themselves in Georgia.

Lutheran Services of Georgia is grateful to Obaid for his passion, dedication, and hard work over the last thirty years!

Nur Abdi's Story

When Nur Abdi first arrived at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, little did he know that within a few months he'd be working alongside other airport employees. Nur's journey to employment with the airport began in 2008, when he and his sister fled violence and instability in their home country of Somalia. They traveled to India where they lived as refugees in camps that lacked adequate governmental support. To support himself and his sister, Nur accepted a position with an international organization's income generation program. The program trains refugees to produce materials like plates, teacups, and paper that could then be sold for an income. Nur assumed a leadership role in the organization, handling quality control and program monitoring. Life in India was difficult, however, and Nur dreamed of the day when he could leave for the United States.

On March 14, 2013, Nur's plane finally landed in Atlanta, Georgia. He remembers that day clearly. "I met my caseworker in the airport," he recalls, "shaking hands and saying welcome to the United States of America. It was a dream which became a reality, a dream which [started with] a land of opportunity."

After a mere three days in the U.S., Nur began volunteering with LSG, using his language skills to interpret for other refugees and LSG staff during cultural orientation classes and the Match Grant program. He also helped translate test papers. Within two months, Nur accepted a job at the airport, where he works hard to support himself. He is proud of securing stable employment in such a short time. He reflects, "Finding a job in the United States of America is not easy. It needs a lot of effort, time, and hard work. For me, getting a job in the airport is an achievement."

Although Nur is excited about his new life in the U.S., he misses his family often. His parents, six sisters, and brother remain on the other side of the ocean, making communication difficult. Nevertheless, he has hope for a bright future. Nur views coming to America as "a step forward" in his life, and looks forward to acquiring skills and experience at the airport. He is grateful for all of the help he has received from LSG staff and volunteers. "They are amazing people," he says. "They always encouraged me and said, 'Here in America, everybody can make a difference and you can make it. It doesn't matter where you are from or who you are or what your last name is.'

Nur Abdi recently shared his story at LSG's 6th Annual Heroes of Hope, Healing, and Strength Gala. Click here to read more about Heroes of Hope.

LSG Case Manager Becomes U.S. Citizen

On, June 28, 2013, the United States welcomed Mohamed Ahmed as one of its newest citizens! Mohamed works as a Case Manager in LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department. When he shares his story about becoming a citizen, he smiles with quiet pride.

Mohamed’s long journey to citizenship and a new home in the United States began when he, his wife, his children, and his mother left Somalia to escape the violent 1991 civil war. After fleeing to Egypt, he took a job in Sudan working with an international organization. His children remained in Egypt. In November of 2002, his wife, his two sons, and four daughters crossed the ocean together and arrived in the U.S. as refugees. Once their feet were firmly planted on American soil, Mohamed’s wife applied for a family-based visa so he could join them. He arrived in Atlanta in the winter of 2008 and soon began volunteering with LSG, helping other refugees adjust to life in their new country.

Since Mohamed’s wife is a U.S. citizen, he was eligible for naturalization after three years of living in the United States. Although he speaks English fluently and felt he could confidently answer the questions on the citizenship test, he grew anxious as the day for the test grew closer. Like a student preparing for finals week, he studied for the test and passed with flying colors. “It’s a great achievement,” he says.

Mohamed celebrates his citizenship as “another step forward” for him and his family. He sees the U.S. as a place of freedom—freedom from oppression, freedom from discrimination, and freedom to pursue employment and educational opportunities. Now, as a citizen, he has also secured the freedom to travel, to vote, to take government positions, and to leave and return as he wishes. For Mohamed, the freedom that citizenship brings is priceless. “You cannot value citizenship by money,” he reflects. “It’s more valuable than anything else.”

Peril and Promise: Zakaria's Story

The small fiberglass boat sways as it speeds north from Libya in the Mediterranean Sea. 23 people are huddled inside, barely able to move. The sun beats down on them. They are hungry. Ever since water splashed inside and spoiled their bread, there has not been any food. They worry that the boat might capsize and toss them all into the sea, where no one will come to rescue them. As they cling to the side of the boat or each other to support themselves, they also hold on tightly to the hope that they will reach Malta safely.

For many Sudanese and Somali refugees who flee violence and persecution in their home countries, the promise of a new life often begins with this perilous three-day voyage from Libya to Malta, where safety and jobs await them. Zakaria, a refugee from Sudan, was one of the 23 people on this boat.

After three days, they finally made it to Malta, where Zakaria lived for six years before coming to Georgia as a refugee. On May 19, 2010, Zakaria flew from Malta to Atlanta, where Mohamed, one of LSG’s case managers, picked him up from the airport and helped him to resettle in the U.S.

Given his arduous journey from Sudan to Libya and then to Malta, it is no wonder that Zakaria is a determined, diligent worker. After living in Georgia for a month and a half, he found work at the Omni Hotel, with the help of LSG’s employment services. He worked there for over two years, though his work day did not stop when his shift at the hotel ended. While working at the Omni, he took English classes in Chamblee and worked as a taxi driver in Athens on the weekends. As a result of this hard work, he earned enough money to buy his own car and improved his language skills significantly: when he arrived in the United States he could not speak English, and after two years he could speak conversationally with others.

But after more than two years at the Omni Hotel, Zakaria wanted to do something else with his life. Interested in helping other refugees acclimate to life in the United States, he quit his job and started to volunteer at LSG, where he helped refugees who spoke Arabic settle into their new lives in Georgia. He picked up LSG’s clients at the airport, drove them to obtain social security cards and Georgia IDs, and assisted them with shopping and groceries. He was helping others as he had been helped himself two years earlier.

After Zakaria had been volunteering at the agency for three months, LSG noticed the great work that he was doing and decided to hire him as a case worker. Zakaria is not the only person who has come to the United States as a refugee and decided to work for LSG; 11 former refugees work in LSG’s Refugee Services. LSG is fortunate to have this experienced group of individuals who are committed to welcoming refugees to Georgia, and we are proud to welcome Zakaria as one of the newest members of our crew!

Welcoming Tenzin

Tenzin Ngawang is a new staff member in LSG's Refugee Services. A former refugee himself, recently he shared part of his personal journey with the rest of LSG. Now we would like to share it with you all. Please join us in welcoming Tenzin!

I arrived in the U.S 13 years ago to be reunited with my family in N.Y. We were Tibetan refugees in Nepal since the late 60's and the early 90's as Asylees in the U.S. I graduated with a degree in Business Management but unlike most of my friends didn't take a job in Corporate America which brings me to Refugee Resettlement. I have a background in the Hospitality business and planned to live all over the world but after 5 years of service lost sight of my goal and found the work unfulfilling. I then had a brilliant idea to try working at non-profits and I always wanted to live in Southern California. So I packed my bags moved to San Diego and found a job with Goodwill Industries. In the past 13 years I have lived and worked in New York City, Northern Virginia, San Diego and finally, Atlanta which hopefully will be the last stop. I moved to the city 4 months ago, married a childhood friend and started the process of seeking employment. This new phase in my life gave me the opportunity to focus on a career path in Social Services, specifically working with Refugees. It seemed only natural that being a Refugee all my life and now that I finally have a country to call my own, to help others seek the same goal with the best of my abilities. I hope I can be of good service to the Organization. Thank You.

Meet the new staff members in Refugee Services!

Heather Romero will serve as the Employment Specialist for the Savannah Refugee Services Sub-Office. Prior to joining LSG, she has experience working for faith based organizations in Georgia and overseas in South Sudan. She is skilled with assisting victims of trauma, refugee populations, and providing social support services to improve self-sufficiency. She earned her Bachelor’s in Human Services at Kennesaw State University with a focus on Social Work.

Gayle Cruz graduated from Kennesaw State University with a Bachelor’s in International Affairs with a concentration in Global Experience. During her last semester, she was an intern in the Refugee Services department of R&P. She also volunteered with Friends in Hope making visitations to detainees. She speaks Spanish fluently and has a background in banking. Gayle is passionate about helping refugees develop and become self-sufficient. Her passion in developing and helping those in need led her to work for LSG as an Employment Specialist.

Lindsay Futterman is a part-time Case Aide with the R&P program. Lindsay was born and raised in Atlanta. She has over six years experience in nonprofit, and most recently worked at the International Community School as Administrative Specialist, gaining much experience working with refugee families. She enjoys volunteering, cooking and bike riding.

Zakaria Abdulraek is a former refugee from Sudan. He was resettled by LSG in 2010, and began working for the Omni Hotel shortly after his arrival in Atlanta. He had been volunteering for LSG for several months and was recently hired as a part-time case aide for the R&P program. He is happy to be able to give back to the community through his work with LSG.