Why Chicago Volunteers are Stepping Up to Help Syrian Refugee Families

SCN Vice President Hadia Zarzour and Volunteer Coordinator Maya Atassi held a Q&A session at Thursday’s Volunteer Training.

The Syrian Community Network held its second volunteer training session at the Sulzer Regional Library on Thursday. The weekend prior, fifty members of the Chicago community helped kick start the program by attending our first orientation.

At SCN, we take pride in our ability to celebrate and share the stories of newly resettled Syrian families here in Chicagoland. All of us are in awe of their courage, resolution, and continued determination. Their journeys have been long and difficult. Unfortunately, as we all know, those journeys aren’t over quite yet.

But we also recognize that our volunteers have stories of their own, so SCN turned the table at our training session and asked why individuals and groups decided to come out. Below, we consider the back stories of our selfless volunteers — finding out what inspired them to come out and prepare for helping SCN make the transition for Syrian refugee families just a tad easier.

A group from the Beth Emet Synagogue attended the session Thursday, and hopes to support a Syrian family, concentrating the resources and expertise in their community in order to make the biggest impact. “In general, we want to be helpful, but in particular on this issue it’s important to stand up… and try and be as supportive as we can,” Johnathon says, humorously explaining why his group attended the training instead of watching the latest primary debate in Iowa. Another member of the group reflected on her personal connection to the experiences of refugees in the windy city, adding that “It’s a very emotional issue for us. I know that my mom was a refugee from Nazi Germany and she came to Chicago and she was cared for and so the least I can do is offer the same hospitality”. Annie, the youngest in the group, says she “is excited to work with the kids, just hanging out and being a special mentor,” and hopes to make refugees her age feel welcome in their new homes with the age-old mores of kindness and compassion.

Volunteers from the Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston look forward to welcoming a Syrian Refugee family, helping ease their transition and making them feel welcome.

Rana and her fiancé Abd al Illah are students at UIC, where they learned about SCN at an outreach booth. Rana says that they “want to help — not just as Muslims or Arabs — but because we are humans, of course”. With everything on TV they just wanted to find a way to support Syrian refugees instead of just hearing about them. “By doing this…” explains Rana, a public health student, “you’re not just helpless… but actually making a difference”.

Kelly, another volunteer, has past experiences to thank for her motivation. Eight years ago, she spent nine months in Damascus studying Arabic and experiencing all of the beauty Syria had to offer. She can’t help but remember the hospitality and homeliness she encountered during her stay, remarking that “I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life, and Syria was the warmest, most welcoming country I’ve been to, where I made some lifelong friends”. As it turns out, one of those friends was Hadia Zarzour. Now, back in her native Chicago, Kelly and her husband hope to repay a small part of that warmth, dedicating whatever time they can to helping families resettling in Chicagoland.

Hadia, Gary, and Kelly pose for a photo after the orientation.

To learn more about the SCN mission, and to get involved, follow us on Facebook, and visit our website at SyrianCommunityNetwork.org.

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