Concordia Students Reflect on Serving with LSG!

Concordia group with LSG staff member Melanie Johnson In early May, 11 students from Concordia University traveled from Portland, Oregon to serve with Lutheran Services of Georgia! Together, the students visited refugee families, assisted with cultural orientation classes, and helped set up an apartment for newly arrived refugees. After their week of service, some of the students shared their reflections on their time with LSG. Here’s what they had to say:

Mari: “Working with these families and children was an eye-opening experience. Despite the hardships these families have faced, and the difficulties they face in the future in adjusting to life in America, they were motivated and thankful for the opportunity to start a new life here. I saw first-hand the difficulties of not knowing a major language, especially when trying to get a job and support one’s family. These experiences have affirmed my interest in serving others and learning more about different groups of people.”

Karissa: “Practicing English with the refugees in their ESL class was great. There was one large realization, though. At Concordia, I live with ESL students, so I get to watch them learn English on a daily basis. We laugh through our struggles, and it’s fine because they are learning in a fun way by choice. These people in Atlanta, however, are learning English because they have to. They are learning because they were forced out of their homes to this foreign place with a new language. It’s not a format in which they can laugh through their struggles, and that is sad to me. This really made me think about how difficult it would be to learn a new language and a completely new life all at once.”

Sarah: “Initially, I saw this Alternative Break Trip as a chance to experience the South while doing volunteer work. What I did not realize is that this trip would allow me to gain valuable life knowledge. At the Clarkston Community Center, I was able to work with children of refugees. I have a huge place in my heart for children. Helping with homework and playing with these young children really helped me realize that as a teacher I cannot control what students will walk into my classroom. The culture, language, and traditions are much different than the American norm. As a teacher, I need to provide an accepting environment for these children. Not only that, but it will be my responsibility to exhibit a tolerance for equality in the classroom.”

Tito: “While in Atlanta, I had an opportunity to understand the lives of several refugee families. Getting to know everything they need to go through to transition into a new life was overwhelming. Much of the work could be overwhelming for the volunteers. It must be even more overwhelming for a refugee that is moving to the United States permanently and has not visited before. Many of these families have been driven from their homes forcefully and are unable to return. It is a tragic experience for these families. Oftentimes they arrive not knowing anyone. This transition is difficult.”

D’Anne: “I learned that I need to be more open to different possibilities and experiences no matter where I am. We are all human. Some people have more experiences and difficulties than others, but that is what allows us to have different stories. Through this experience, I have decided to minor in Spanish so that I can better educate myself and have meaningful conversations with more people than just English-speaking people. This trip allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and talk to unfamiliar people and figure out ways to interact with them. I believe this experience has opened me up and allowed me to be the person I am supposed to be.”

LSG thanks the Concordia students for their passion, enthusiasm, and hard work during their week of service. LSG is also excited that Tito Vasquez, quoted above, is continuing to serve refugees this summer as an intern with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services. Click here for more photos from Concordia’s time with LSG.

ASB with LSG

Bowdoin-2014-at-El-Refugio-for-FIH-Visit-1024x768 During March, college students and faculty from Bowdoin College and New York University volunteered with Lutheran Services of Georgia for alternative spring break (ASB) trips. ASB trips give college students the opportunity to explore a specific theme through service and travel.

Twelve Bowdoin College students traveled from Maine to learn more about Georgia’s immigrant and refugee communities. During their week of service, the students tutored children in Clarkston, visited newly arrived refugee families, and assisted with cultural orientation classes. Bowdoin students also became the first ASB group to participate in LSG’s Friends in Hope program, serving families at El Refugio and visiting immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center.

Students found the trip eye-opening. One student, Alex Sukles, described his experience at Stewart as “surreal. We’re coming from Maine where there’s a foot of snow on the ground,” he said. “We arrived at Stewart and the sun is shining and there’s a manicured lawn. But there is also barbed wire and people held in cinderblock cells. Something doesn’t match up.” Alex recently returned to Georgia for a summer internship with LSG’s Refugee and Immigration Services department.

NYU-ASB-2014-Group1-1024x607

Later in the month, fourteen NYU freshmen joined LSG and other community organizations for a week of service exploring the theme of Diversity. This incredibly diverse group of students were all part of NYU’s Comm*Unity, a group which builds community among freshmen commuter students. Students spoke several languages and a few even interpreted during visits with refugee families. Along with serving at LSG, the students helped out at the Clarkston Community Center, MedShare, and Jolly Community Garden. Although this was the fifth year that NYU students came to Atlanta for ASB, it was their first year with LSG.

Students from both groups shared their motivations for service. Bowdoin student Pieter’s mother was a European immigrant from Belgium, so he wanted to learn more about the immigration experience. Sewheat, a Bowdoin student whose parents emigrated from Eritrea, worked with Somali immigrants in her hometown of Seattle and wanted to continue serving immigrant populations in other parts of the country. Myra, an NYU elementary education major, joined the trip to discover ways to promote diversity in her work. She especially enjoyed tutoring refugee children in Clarkston and learning about the unique challenges they face. Kendi, an NYU Psychology major, wanted to expand his knowledge of people and cultures from all over the world.

During their ASB trips, Bowdoin and NYU students learned more about immigrants, refugees, and diversity in Georgia. They also brought incredible passion and enthusiasm to LSG. Clients enjoyed spending time with the students and LSG staff appreciated having extra hands willing to do good work. LSG looks forward to ASB students serving with us in the future.

For more photos from the ASB trips, visit our Facebook page.

Volunteers Serve Refugees at the 2014 Lutheran Day of Service

Volunteers poured through the doors of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church, their arms full of children's books, rice, batteries, granola bars, flashlights, and first aid kits. Other volunteers, armed with hot coffee and check-in sheets, greeted them warmly. They've all come to serve refugees and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 9th annual Lutheran MLK Day of Service.

"The Lutheran MLK Day of Service offers an opportunity for Lutheran congregations and other volunteers to join LSG in welcoming refugees from around the world by providing essential items needed for the 400-500 refugees resettled each year by LSG,” said Melanie Johnson, LSG’s Program Manager for Volunteer, Congregation, and Community Engagement. LSG partners with the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Southeastern Synod to coordinate the event. The first Day of Service took place in 2006 and drew 50 volunteers from local congregations. This year, school groups, families, community members, Girl Scouts, LSG staff, and refugees joined Lutheran congregations in service, totaling 234 volunteers.

This year’s Day of Service began with a gathering in Rock of Age’s gym. Gene Lewis, one of the day’s leading organizers, welcomed volunteers and thanked Pastor Randy Palm for Rock of Age’s hospitality. Natalie Yasson, LSG’s Director of Refugee and Immigration Services, recognized Hope Worldwide and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s support. Thanks to Hope Worldwide’s Disaster Preparedness grant, LSG will provide disaster preparedness education through the Extended Cultural Orientation program along with basic emergency kits for every refugee household in 2014.

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s life, the Rev. Kevin Dudley, Senior Pastor of The Church at North Pointe, reflected on Dr. King’s beliefs regarding service and justice. “In order to serve,” paraphrased The Rev. Dudley, “we gotta be a little bit crazy.” Floyd R. Blair, LSG’s President and CEO, led the gathering in prayers of intercessions that challenged the church to be “disturbers of the status quo.” Volunteers formed a circle around the rice and bowed their heads as Blair offered a blessing for the day.

A bustle of voices and movement filled the church as volunteers dispersed to help prepare various items to be given to refugees. “These essential items are rice, the staple food item for refugees from around the world; basic emergency kits, so that newly arrived refugees don’t have to face any future emergency unprepared; and books for refugee children, a lifeline to learning about their new country and new language,” said Melanie. Together, the volunteers….

--Packed over 1500 lbs of rice into over 1000 family-sized bags for newly arrived refugees

--Prepared over 150 Basic Disaster Preparedness kits for refugee households

--Donated and sorted over 600 books for distribution to

  • Students in LSG’s Afterschool Academic/Arts Program (ASAP) sites in the Clarkston area who will each receive a book
  • Newly arrived refugee children who will choose a book to take home when they visit LSG’s Refugee Clothes Closet during their first week in the U.S.

--Read books to 25 children who each got to choose a book to take home from the Day of Service

--Distributed 400 door hangers with Fire Prevention Info in 2 apartment complexes in Clarkston where many refugees resettled by LSG live.

LSG thanks all the volunteers for their help welcoming refugees and looks forward to serving again next year!

During the Lutheran MLK Day of Service, over 65 volunteers and LSG staff shared their stories of why they serve refugees. Their photos are available on our Facebook page. If you couldn’t attend the Day of Service but would like to share your story of serving refugees in other ways, contact Abby Koning at akoning@lsga.org.

Serve with LSG on the 2014 Lutheran MLK Day of Service!

On January 20, 2014, the city of Atlanta will remember Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King believed that all people had the ability and the responsibility to serve others and work to create a better world . This year, you are invited to celebrate MLK day by serving some of the most vulnerable people in contemporary society: refugees.

Volunteers will gather at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church (5135 Memorial Dr., Stone Mountain, GA 30083) at 9:00 a.m (Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.) and serve until 1:00 p.m. You may choose from any of the following projects:

  • Packaging Rice for Refugees—Bring as many bags of rice as you can. We will repackage rice in family-size bags and give them to newly arrived refugee families.
  • Books for Refugees—Bring new or gently used children's books to give to refugee children. You can also sign up to read to refugees and other children during the Day of Service.
  • Preparing Disaster Kits for Refugees—Help refugees be prepared for disasters by putting together a disaster kit for each household.

Click here to sign up for a project by January 17, 2014.

We strongly encourage you to bring one or more of the following items to the Day of Service: a bag of rice (any size); new or gently used children's books; AAA batteries; granola/energy bars; first aid kits. Click here to download and share a flyer about needed donations.

Individuals and families may bring donations to the Day of Service. Congregation groups are encouraged to gather donations and deliver them to Rock of Ages Lutheran Church before January 20, 2014. Contact Gene Lewis at gene1950@gmail.com or 404-299-8880 to arrange deliveries.

If you have questions, please contact Abby Koning, LSG's Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org or at 678-686-9633.

LSG Brings Words of Hope to Detainees

Behind bars at the North Georgia Detention Center, men and women wait anxiously, wondering what the future holds. Located in Gainesville, the NGDC houses immigrants, migrants, and asylum seekers awaiting deportation proceedings. Since the NGDC is a transitional facility, many will be transferred to other detention centers around the country, isolated far from their families and friends. Although they have built lives for themselves in the United States, very few will escape deportation to countries they no longer call home. In the midst of such fear and uncertainty, men and women in detention must hold on to hope.

This fall, Lutheran Services of Georgia will bring Words of Hope to women detainees at the NGDC. Words of Hope is a new ministry of Friends in Hope, LSG’s detention visitation program in which volunteers become a compassionate presence for detainees. Adrainne Gray, student at Columbia Theological Seminary and LSG volunteer, will coordinate this ministry. Female volunteers will travel to Gainesville, where they will use storytelling and story gathering to share inspiring Bible stories. Each volunteer group will include at least one fluent Spanish speaker. Since women at NGDC are often referred to by their detainee numbers rather than their names, Adrainne expects they will relate to the stories of Jesus’ encounters with unnamed women. She reflects, “By telling the stories, I hope that the women are touched with the hope that Jesus promises to all people.”

Redeemer Lutheran Church hosted the first Words of Hope volunteer training in mid-August. Six volunteers from two different Lutheran congregations came out to learn about detention and prepare themselves to visit the NGDC. Christ Lutheran Church in Gainesville will host a second training session on Saturday, October 5, 2013 with at least two volunteers from their Hispanic congregation. All interested volunteers must participate in a criminal background check and a mandatory volunteer training conducted by the NGDC chaplain on Saturday, October 19. Contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or 687-686-9619 for more information on Friends in Hope Detention Visitation Ministry: how you can join LSG in bringing Words of Hope to women detainees at the NGDC or become a volunteer visitor to men detainees in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.

New Country, New Home

When Bal and Aita arrived in Atlanta at 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday summer morning with their three-year-old son Abishek, they were exhausted from their long journey. They had been traveling from Nepal, where they had lived as refugees after leaving Bhutan, their country of birth, many years earlier. After several long flights, they just wanted to sleep.

Thanks to some folks from Valparaiso University, Bal, Aita, and Abishek could go straight to their new home, crawl into bed, and sleep the night away. A few days earlier, on Saturday, June 8, members of the Valparaiso University Alumni Association and the Valparaiso University Guild drove over to Clarkston to set up an apartment for this family from Bhutan. When the volunteers arrived at the apartment, it was empty. Three hours later, it looked like a home.

In the weeks before the apartment set-up on June 8, the group had set up a storage unit in the parking lot of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain so that people could donate furniture and other household items before they took them over to Clarkston. Valparaiso alumni and friends across Atlanta responded generously. People from Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Grace Lutheran Church in Atlanta, and Rock of Ages Lutheran Church brought extra furniture for the Bhutanese family and food for their pantry.

At the end of the morning, after the crew had hauled the furniture inside and arranged it properly, one of LSG’s new staff members, Cynthia McGuinness, popped in with a surprise. In addition to providing four chairs for the family’s dining room, her two children brought stuffed animals and toys for three-year-old Abishek. While growing up in the refugee camp in Nepal, Abishek probably never had a stuffed animal or toy to play with. Thanks to Cynthia’s children, he now has many!

The volunteers were delighted to be able to welcome a family to the United States. “We had a really great time helping out,” said Ashley, one of the Valparaiso alumnae. LSG thanks these volunteers from Valparaiso University who helped set up the apartment, all the donors who contributed the furniture, and PODS for providing the storage unit. If you would like to set up an apartment for refugees with your company, congregation, or other group, please contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or 678-686-9619.

Volunteers and Refugee Services Clients Show LSG Some Love!

 

Volunteers and clients are at the heart of LSG's mission and work. LSG recently asked volunteers and Refugee Services clients to reflect on their experiences with LSG. Here's what they had to say!

Why do volunteers love working with LSG?

I  love to volunteer with LSG because I am able to live out my faith in a tangible way, providing care and relationship to the "stranger, widow, and orphan". --Blair Trygstad, student at Candler School of Theology

I love to volunteer with LSG because I'm given the opportunity to make a small difference in someone's life. --Maxwell Ndungu, attorney for King & Spalding.

I love to volunteer with LSG because I am a Lutheran! But mostly because LSG's dedicated employees are a beacon in the community. LSG has always been a vocal advocate of all those who have lost their voices and LSG offers me an opportunity, through volunteering, to enter into their stories. --Adrainne Gray, member of Lutheran Church of the Messiah

Why do refugee clients like coming to ESL and job training with LSG's Refugee Services?

I like to learn more about jobs, transportation, and laws. --Hadija Tambwe, refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

I like to help people understand English and to learn new things. --Nouraldin Abdalla, refugee from Sudan and translator for Arabic clients.

Thanks so much to our dedicated volunteers and Refugee Services clients for showing some love to LSG!

Recap of Volunteer Appreciation Evening 2013

On Tuesday, June 25, LSG volunteers and their families gathered at the Atlanta Community Food Bank to celebrate their service with LSG. The guests began the evening with a tour of the Food Bank’s 125,000 square-foot facility and learned about the dire need of some of Georgia’s citizens: this year the Food Bank collected 45 million pounds of food to distribute to agencies that feed people in need. It was an urgent reminder of the importance of volunteer work in Atlanta’s ongoing fight against hunger in the city. It was comforting to know at least that this work is in good hands with the Food Bank and their many committed partners, including LSG.

But it was ultimately an evening of celebration. After the tour, everyone got some food and awaited the presentation of awards. Each volunteer who was recognized for his or her service to LSG received a plaque created by students in LSG’s after-school program in Clarkston. Displaying an imprint of a painted “hand” on a ceramic tile, the Hands of Hope, Healing, and Strength plaque was hands down a better award than any paper certificate!

From volunteers with Refugee Services to those helping out with the golf outings, LSG honored people who contributed to the agency in many different ways. Bob Gibeling was recognized for his former work as Volunteer Coordinator of LSG. The three members of Lutheran Volunteer Corps who work for LSG received a “hand” for their service, as did the Hunger Walk Captains for their fundraising efforts. Greg Bickhart was recognized for his work with LSG’s Foundation for the Future Golf Outing. After several others were honored for their contributions to Refugee Services, LSG recognized Rev. Robert Strickert and Mrs. Eunice Strickert with the Elsie Guenther Volunteer of the Year Award for their innumerable acts of service over the past 30 years. Since Rev. Strickert retired from LSG’s Board of Directors in May, it was a fitting way to say thank you to these dedicated members of LSG’s family.

LSG thanks all its volunteers for lending a hand to people in need during 2013! We also thank the Atlanta Community Food Bank for letting us host our appreciation event at their facility. We look forward to seeing you all at next year’s celebration of your service!

Join us tonight for LSG's Volunteer Appreciation Evening!

If you have volunteered with LSG in the past year, be sure to join us tonight from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Atlanta Community Food Bank for LSG's Volunteer Appreciation Evening. You will have an opportunity to tour the Food Bank's new facility, hear from LSG's President & CEO Floyd Blair, and be recognized for your service. Feel free to bring along your spouse or family. We'll see you there!

Hunger Walk Totals

Each year, several faith-based nonprofits partner with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to raise money for the Hunger Walk/Run. Among the five nonprofits that worked with the ACFB this year, LSG was the top fundraiser, gathering $75,333.21!

The real work, however, was done by the Lutheran churches in the Atlanta area. Through a variety of fundraising drives and appeals to their congregations, they raised the vast majority of LSG's Hunger Walk funds. Thank you to all of our churches who raised money for the Hunger Walk and to the members of the congregations for contributing to the event!

Some of these congregations went all out for the Hunger Walk. Here is a list of the top 10 fundraisers among the Lutheran churches that participate with LSG:

1.Trinity Lutheran Church, $11,740.71 2.Cross of Life Lutheran Church, $7,154.39 3.St. John's Lutheran Church, $5,970.89 4.Rivercliff Lutheran Church, $5,734.00 5.Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, $5,392.00 6.Grace Lutheran Church, Carrollton, $5,033.00 7.Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, $3,605.00 8.Epiphany Lutheran Church, Conyers, $2,851.00 9.Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, $2,616.00 10.Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Woodstock, $2,558.50

Congratulations to Trinity Lutheran Church and all the other top churches in this year's Hunger Walk fundraising challenge! Thanks for making the Hunger Walk an incredible success!