43 Refugee and Immigrant Advocates To Know
Over the past year we have seen asylum seekers at our Southern border tear gassed. Families, including small children and mothers, who are fleeing gang violence are being turned away from their port of entry. Families are being separated. Refugees are being admitted to our country at an all-time low and anti-immigrant sentiment and racism is evident in our politics, in the media and in our communities.
This is not the America we know. We know that asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees are not pawns to political partisanship. Now, more than ever, refugee and immigrant advocates are standing strong to fight against inhumane and unethical anti-immigration policies. These advocates’ resilience is inspirational as our the people in the communities they serve.
Today, Hello Neighbor highlights and wishes to shine a bright light on those who are invested in refugee and immigrant communities through their work, activism and advocacy. These individuals give their all for our newest neighbors. Today we highlight 43 people from 39 different organizations hailing from all corners of the United States and say we see you.
We believe in you and your work and we’re standing right alongside you in the fight for justice and equality for all.
Who are these leaders? Some started their own nonprofit because they saw a need, some are educators, while others are policymakers, board members, activists, chefs, elected officials and dedicated volunteers. We have an entire category for Pittsburgh, PA because that’s where we live and the talent and passion here to inclusion and being a welcoming community is second to none. One important similarity is that everyone on this list sees the importance in supporting refugees and immigrants.
At Hello Neighbor, we work with refugees and immigrants through a mentorship program where we match refugees with American families. Along with our mentors, we are involved in refugees’ everyday lives. During this process, we get to know our new neighbors on a personal level. Refugees are inspiring and their stories deserve to be heard. America has given them a sense of hope. Our fellow refugee and immigrant advocates help to bring that hope into a reality.
We are grateful for leaders who continually work to support refugees and immigrants. Thank you to each and every one of you.
Congratulations to the Mayor of Helena, Montana, Wilmot Collins for being named our 2019 Refugee and Immigrant Advocate of the Year. We are delighted to honor Mayor Collin’s perseverance.
Mayor Wilmot Collins is a Liberian-born American politician and the current mayor of Helena, Montana. This victory made him the first black person to be elected the mayor of any city in the history of Montana. Collins fled his native Liberia for Helena in 1994, as a refugee from the First Liberian Civil War. Collins ran in the midst of a furor over Confederate monuments and an onslaught nationally of disinformation over refugees like himself. In his campaign, he addressed both issues head-on. As a refugee who underwent the difficult vetting process, he used campaigning to dispel myths.
Alvaro Bedoya: Co Founder, Esperanza Fund
Bedoya was born in Peru and raised in upstate New York, Alvaro was able to attend college and law school only through the generosity of financial aid programs and outside scholarships. The Esperanza Education Fund helps bridge that gap by providing scholarships to students who can’t get help elsewhere. They help immigrant students achieve their dreams through higher education regardless of their national origin, ethnicity, or immigration status. Bedoya is also the founding executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, where he advocates for greater protections against surveillance and commercial tracking and teaches a joint course with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mike Butcher: Founder and Co-Director, TechFugees
Mike Butcher, Editor at Large of TechCrunch, formed a voluntary team to create the series of non-profit “Techfugees” conferences, hackathons, and work with a global network of collaborators. Techfugees organizes conferences, workshops, hackathons and meetups around the world in an effort to generate tech solutions for and with displaced people. It also curates and promotes the best projects it finds for partnerships & implementation in the field. Butcher has been named one of the most influential people in European technology by various newspaper and magazines. He also founded The Europas Awards and has advised the UK government on tech startup policy. He was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2016 for services to the UK technology industry and journalism.
Natasha Freidus: Founder, NeedsList
Natasha Freidus is a social entrepreneur with fifteen years of experience applying human centered design for social good and a long-standing commitment to refugee and migration related issues. She is a founder at NeedsList, a social startup connecting local NGOs with people, businesses, and civil society organizations that want to help. NeedsList emerged from Natasha’s work as the co-founder of Prosper Community, a consortium of partners and volunteers who have produced and are curating a searchable database of migrant-related initiatives.
Becca Heller: Director/Co-Founder, International Refugee Assistance Project
Heller’s interest in the legal challenges facing refugees began on a trip to Jordan during the summer after her first year in law school. During her stay, she visited with six different refugee families; each of them identified legal assistance as their most urgent need. Having just completed her first semester in Yale Law School’s Immigration Legal Services clinic doing asylum work, Becca believed that law students could assist refugees applying for resettlement. She founded IRAP along with two of her colleagues. IRAP organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons. Mobilizing direct legal aid, litigation, and systemic advocacy, IRAP serves the world’s most persecuted individuals and empowers the next generation of human rights leaders.
Kathie O’Callaghan: President & Founder, Hearts and Homes for Refugees
Kathie founded Hearts and Homes for Refugees back in 2015. Hearts and Homes for Refugees is a nonprofit organization dedicated to welcoming, protecting and advocating for refugees communities and abroad. HHR is a growing network of volunteers–families, and neighbors, community organizations, and people of goodwill from all faith and civic groups. Through HHR’s Westchester Refugee Initiative, they are working to inspire, educate and motivate others to do the same with innovative programs and opportunities that engage and grow the network of partners, volunteers and supporters of the welcoming movement in our communities in greater NYC and Westchester County.
Kari Miller: Founder/Executive Director, International Neighbors
Kari Miller was a local educator for 17 years. During that time, she gained valuable insight into the lives of refugee students and their families, who had been resettled to Charlottesville from 31 countries. Having been a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, Kari could empathize with the challenges of learning to speak, read and write a foreign language while acquiring skills necessary to navigate a new society. While some of the refugee and SIV neighbors were achieving success, many were struggling in their new land- even choosing suicide, or returning to the dangers of their homeland. As the international neighbor population of Charlottesville grew to 6%- and knowledge about their existence remained minimal amongst locals- Ms. Miller launched International Neighbors in an effort to expose the challenges endured by “silent citizens” of our town, as well as to unveil the multitude of ways in which our community is more valuable because of them.
Luma Mufleh: Founder, Fugees Family
In 2004, Coach Luma Mufleh started a Fugees team to provide refugee boys with free access to organized soccer. Her devotion to the boys extended beyond the soccer field and she found ways to support their lives in their new country through schooling and soccer. The Fugees Academy is the nation’s only school dedicated to refugee education. The school has received SAIS and SACS accreditation, blending creative teaching with academic fundamentals, interwoven with leadership and character building.
Mary Poole: Founder and Executive Director, Soft Landing Missoula
Mary co-founded Soft landing Missoula with a mission to make Missoula, Montana, to be a welcoming, supportive and informed community that can assist refugees to integrate and thrive. In 2017, She was named Peacemaker of the year by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.
Hamdi Ulukaya: CEO, Chobani and Founder, Tent Foundation
Ulukaya is Turkish-born businessman, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. In 2014 Ulukaya pledged to donate $2 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Ulukaya visited the Greek island of Lesbos in September 2015 to see first-hand the situation of the mostly Syrian refugees there. In 2015 he launched the Tent Foundation to help refugees. The Tent Foundation encourages businesses to leverage their unique competencies to play a more active role in addressing the crisis by hiring refugees, integrating them into supply chains, investing in refugees, and delivering services to them.
Anne Marie Grey, Executive Director, USA for UNHCR
Grey leads a team of 50 staff members in the US to raise awareness about the humanitarian needs of refugees and critical funding for the lifesaving work of the UN Refugee Agency in crisis zones around the world. Grey previously served for two years as the UN Refugee Agency’s Chief of Leadership Giving. She earlier held senior fundraising and corporate alliance positions at Save the Children, UNICEF, US Fund for UNICEF and Share our Strength.
Miry Whitehill: Founder, Miry’s List
Miry started Miry’s List in July 2016 when a friend introduced her to a family of new arrival Syrian refugees resettling in Los Angeles with kids the same age as her own. Miry’s list is a scalable solution to a historical and systematic problem: Refugees starting out in America without the supplies to take care of themselves or a community support system to welcome and embrace them. In 2017, more than 1,500 people resettling in the US from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan benefitted from Miry’s List programming. Prior to Miry’s list, Miry was a stay-at-home mom and community activist with 10 years experience in digital marketing. She speaks fluent Hebrew and is learning Arabic in the car on an app with her sons.
Jayna Zweiman: Founder, Welcome Blanket
Artist, designer, and Pussyhat Project co-founder Jayna Zweiman’s work explores how political activism can be “positive, creative, and collective.” Welcome Blanket confronts issues around immigration and refugee resettlement through a tapestry of handmade blankets. Welcome Blanket invites participants to knit, crochet, or sew the blankets for new immigrants as well as for refugees seeking resettlement and send them with personal notes of welcome and stories of immigration to the Smart Museum of Art.
Laura Vaudreuil: Executive Director, Refugees Transitions
Since joining Refugee Transitions in 2001, Laura has shown dynamic, visionary leadership through expanding the agency’s scope and power to transform lives. She has grown Refugee Transitions from a two-office, home-tutoring agency serving 100 newcomers in San Francisco to a multi-site agency with nearly 2,000 students in San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties. Under Laura’s leadership, Refugee Transitions forged strong partnerships with school districts, nonprofits, and city and county agencies throughout the Bay Area. She led the development of our state-of-the-art English language and family literacy programs that help newcomers attain the life, job, and academic skills they need to become productive U.S. citizens.
Angie Plummer: Executive Director, Community Refugee and Immigration Services
Plummer graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in international studies. She then opted for law school, and, after graduation, started doing family law work at a Columbus law firm. She quickly learned that the field wasn’t for her. One day she saw a newspaper article about a lawyer who was volunteering for Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS). She was instantly intrigued and began to volunteer on a regular basis. In 2003, she became the full-time executive director of CRIS. She now spends about a quarter of her time doing immigration legal services, another quarter managing the refugee resettlement program, and the other half managing the agency as a whole.
Chitra Hanstad: Executive Director, World Relief Seattle
Chitra began as Executive Director at World Relief Seattle in January 2017. Prior to this, she spent time in India consulting for Justice Ventures International (an anti-trafficking organization) on strategic planning and fund development and as a Philanthropic Advisor for the Seattle Foundation. While her career started in corporate advertising, public relations and media relations, she has spent most of the last twenty years working for local and international non-profits. Chitra has a passion for seeing at-risk communities thrive. She has served on many boards including Covenant World Relief & Urban Impact, and volunteers with The Stability Network.
Jonathan Ryan: Executive Director, The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Jonathan Ryan has served as the Executive Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) since 2008. RAICES is the largest immigration legal service nonprofit in Texas, focusing on under-served immigrant children, families and refugees. RAICES provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. Previously, he worked as a staff attorney at American Gateways where he helped to establish the Legal Orientation Program for adults in DHS detention. Jonathan received his B.A. from Columbia College in New York and is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.
Eva Millona: Executive Director, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Millona joined MIRA in 1999 and served as Director of Policy and Advocacy and as Deputy Director before becoming Executive Director in 2008, and she is now one of New England’s most highly quoted immigration experts. In her native Albania, she practiced civil and criminal law, serving on Tirana’s District Court from 1989–1992, when she was the nation’s youngest district judge ever appointed. Ms. Millona is also the co-chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants and serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She is the recipient of over a dozen major awards, including the prestigious 2009 USCIS Outstanding American by Choice Award, the 2010 Wainwright Bank Social Justice Award, and the 2011 and 2012 Powermeter Award, presented to the most influential people for Latinos in Massachusetts.
Wendy Young: President, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
Since 2009, Wendy Young works as the President of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). KIND provides pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children. Young has been a staunch advocate for children throughout her career, serving as Chief Counsel on Immigration Policy in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She’s also help immigration policy positions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of La Raza. She had dedicated herself to bringing the plight on unaccompanied minors to the front of national consciousness.
Kirsta Benedetti: Executive Director, Riverview International Center
Kirsta originated the idea for and founded the Riverview International Center, where she serves a predominantly Muslim immigrant neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. The RIC is a drop-in center that provides community-specific services in an incredibly relational way: from tax filing to ESL, from after-school programs to transportation to medical appointments, from baby showers to cooking competitions, the RIC meets immigrants’ needs in whatever way necessary to empower individuals to thrive in the U.S. Kirsta is also spearheading a unique employment support program for immigrants in our city and is partnering with economic development organizations to empower local business development for women in the neighborhood.
Therese Patricia Okoumou
Okoumou, is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo but currently resides in Staten Island and has lived in New York for roughly a decade. She is the woman who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies. This was in reference to the thousands of migrant children who have been separated and detained as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy.
Paola Mendoza came to the U.S. as a kid with her mom. She took her mother’s story and made it into a tender, uplifting movie about the immigrant experience. The film, Entre Nos, that Mendoza co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in played film festivals back in 2009. Mendoza also wrote a book called “The Ones Who Don’t Stay” about a young family who flees war-torn Colombia in the seventies and tries to make a home in Los Angeles. She was also the co artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez : Congresswoman, NY-14: Bronx + Queens.
Cortez is an American politician and educator. She is the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, elected on November 6, 2018. Ocasio-Cortez supports a “path to citizenship” for immigrants who entered the United States legally and illegally. She supports abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Two days before the primary election, Ocasio-Cortez attended a protest at an ICE child-detention center in Tornillo, Texas.
Mariana Atencio: Correspondent, MSNBC
Mariana Atencio a 33-year-old Venezuelan woman, is a journalist and news reporter for MSNBC and NBC News in Miami, Florida. She has covered domestic and international issues for breaking news and special reports since September, 2016. She is vocal about immigrant rights and has been reporting from the Texas/Mexico border. Atencio holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she has won a Peabody Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, and Gracie Award for her reporting.
Caitlin Dickerson: Immigration Writer, New York Times
Caitlin Dickerson is a national immigration reporter based in New York. Since joining The Times in 2016, she has broken news about changes in deportation and detention policy, and profiled the lives of immigrants, including those without legal status. She frequently appears as a guest on “The Daily” podcast, and has filled in as its host. Before joining The Times, she was an investigative reporter for N.P.R., where her work was honored with a George Foster Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award.
Daniela Gerson: Journalist, Migratory Notes
The same week the first travel ban went into effect, January 2017, Gerson created Migratory Notes, a pop-up immigration newsletter with another experienced immigration reporter, Elizabeth Aguilera. Migratory Notes is a smart weekly guide to rapidly changing immigration issues for journalists, policymakers, lawyers, academics, advocates, and immigrants themselves. Daniela Gerson is also an experienced multimedia journalist and educator specializing in civic engagement, participatory, and ethnic media. She has worked at LA Times, and she recently joined The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY) as West Coast Director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media (CCEM).
Abby Goldberg: Senior Advisor, Goldin Institute
Goldberg is a filmmaker, thought leader, advocate and strategist for social justice with over a decade of experience building and leading human rights organizations, including the Global Justice Center, Digital Democracy, and the New Media Advocacy Project (N-Map), and conceptualizing and executing various other national and international campaigns. Most recently, her work as Co-Producer and Co-Director of the We Have Rights Campaign resulted in 28 unique videos and other tools used by the ACLU, Brooklyn Defender Services, and a coalition of service providers to inform immigrants about their rights when confronted by ICE. As Deputy Director of N-Map, Abby directed and produced over two dozen advocacy videos, including one that led to the successful recognition of the UN of their role in bringing Cholera to Haiti. Goldberg is truly a recognized leader in the field of human rights and social enterprise.
Jacob Soboroff: Correspondent, MSNBC
Jacob Soboroff is a Los Angeles-based MSNBC Correspondent and Anchor who reports across NBC News and MSNBC. As a correspondent for MSNBC, Soboroff specializes in border issues, making him one of the first reporters to call public attention to the Trump administration family separation policy, whereby children were separated from parents who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without proper documentation. He was one of ten journalists invited by authorities to tour Casa Padre, a facility in Texas housing 1500 boys ages 10 to 17. Jacob has been a longtime advocate of protecting the right to vote through the Why Tuesday? organization, and gave a TED Talk about election reform.
Brandon Stanton is an American author, photographer, and blogger. He is the author of Humans of New York, a photoblog and book. He is one of Time’s “30 Under 30 People Changing The World”. Brandon traveled to Greece, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria to learn the stories of refugees traveling across Europe. Stanton also traveled to Jordan and Turkey to talk to 12 different Syrian refugee families preparing to embark to the United States. Brandon Stanton also became a witness to Rohingya persecution when he visited some of the camps on a trip to Bangladesh and became inspired to create a project in order to raise awareness about the plight of the Rohingya. After his visit, he featured a Rohingya refugee on the Humans of New York blog every day in order to create not only awareness, but also action towards helping this minority. Because of Brandon’s work, refugee stories are being heard by millions of people.
Chris Temple: Co-Director, Salam Neighbor
Chris is an award-winning humanitarian, activist and filmmaker. With his co-founder Zach, Chris produced, directed, and starred in the film, Salam Neighbor, which embed him into some of the world’s most complex issues and environments. To better understand the reality facing the millions of Syrian refugees, Chris and his colleague were embedded as the first filmmakers ever to be given a tent and registered inside a refugee camp. Salam Neighbor is an intimate, raw, and solution-oriented, and set to challenge misconceptions around refugees. Chris has spoken at the United Nations, TEDx, and on CBS This Morning, and his work has been featured in The New York Times and Variety. He was recognized alongside Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie as one of the Top 100 Visionary Leaders of 2015 by WPO/YPO’s Real Leaders Magazine and was accepted by the U.S. State Department into the American Film Showcase. While he no longer has the accent, Chris is 100% British.
Ai Weiwei: Film Director, Human Flow
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. Ai Weiwei co-produced and directed Human Flow, a 2017 German documentary film about the current global refugee crisis. In the film the viewer is taken to over 20 countries to understand both the scale and the personal impact of this massive human migration. The film shows various refugees in times of crisis and how refugee flows can be classified into four causation categories: wars between states, ethnic conflicts, non-ethnic conflicts and flights from repression. Ai Weiwei’s social commentaries on the refugee crisis relate to his personal life and how he was forced out of Beijing with his family, as a young child during China’s Cultural Revolution. The film is a direct call to action showing the gravity and scale of the refugee crisis.
Activism Through Food
South Philly Barbacoa’s co-owner and chef, Christina Martinez, has gained local as well as national recognition over the past several years for not only her marinated lamb tacos, pancita and consomé, but her advocacy for undocumented restaurant workers’ rights and her own publicly shared undocumented status. South Philly Barbacoa was the focus of an episode of critically acclaimed Netflix series “Chef’s Table,” which premiered as part of the show’s fifth season on Friday, Sept. 28. Specifically, Martinez and Miller are trying to raise awareness that many of America’s kitchens and restaurants are operating thanks to undocumented workers, who make up approximately five percent of the civilian labor force, according to the Pew Research Center.
Laurie Orman, Julie van de Zande, and Laura Erickson: Co-Founders, Hope and Sesame
Austinites Laurie Orman, Julie van de Zande, and Laura Erickson founded Hope & Sesame. This organization welcomes recently-resettled refugee women and help them integrate into our community. They help refugee women use their formidable cooking talents to achieve financial independence for themselves and their families.
Katherine McCaffrey and Melina McCall: Founders, United Tastes of America
In 2015, when NJ Governor Chris Christie stated that no Syrian refugees, not even orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States, those were fighting words for Kate and Melina McCall. Kate and Melina reached out to immigrants in their community and created United Tastes of America, which introduces recent Syrian immigrants with members of our larger community. Their goal is building bridges by breaking bread together. The Syria Supper Club meals are served in participants’ homes, and hosts, cooks, and guests all learn from each other and make deep and lasting connections. Kate and Melina’s nominator, Julie Burstein, says, “their work has made a powerful impact on our community, and helps new refugees connect with others through their strengths — and their delicious food.”
Jenna Baron: Executive Director, Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE)
During her time at the University of Pittsburgh, Jenna co-founded the Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment Academy (ARYSE). Also, Jenna lived, for a time, in Nairobi, Kenya as a Fulbright Research Scholar. Jenna served as an associate for United Way Be There campaign. The Be There Campaign aims to reduce the rate of chronic absenteeism among students in public schools throughout Allegheny County. Outside of her work, Jenna loves to salsa dance and to explore new places.
Rosamaria Cristello: Executive Director, Latino Community Center
Originally from Guatemala, Rosamaria grew up in Arlington, Virginia and now resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rosamaria Cristello is the Executive Director and Founder of the Latino Community Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Before launching the community center, Rosamaria directed the Latino Family Center under the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which focuses on early childhood development. Rosamaria serves on several boards. She is the Co-Chair for the Immigrants & Internationals Advisory Council for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, which was created to advance the Department’s vision of an accessible, culturally competent, human services system. She also serves on the board of the Office of Child Development under the University of Pittsburgh.
Peyton Klein: Founder and Executive Director, Global Minds Initiative
Peyton Klein is a sophomore at Taylor Allderdice High School. As a globally competent student, Peyton has been concerned with social, political, economic and environmental challenges from an early age. Peyton is the founder of The Global Minds Initiative, a student-led movement to combat cultural intolerance and discrimination in schools internationally. Peyton has been recently appointed to Mayor Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh Steering Committee, working on youth engagement initiatives across the city. Peyton’s work has been featured on the Today Show, Fox News, in Teen Vogue, and the New York Times.
Mary Jayne McCullough: Founder and Executive Director, Global Wordsmiths
Mary Jayne is the founder and director of Global Wordsmiths, a social enterprise dedicated to improving language access for immigrants and refugees in Western Pennsylvania. McCullough is a fifteen-year veteran translator and interpreter who spent the first half of her career identifying ways to improve access to translators and interpreters for individuals with limited English proficiency. She believes in language access as a human right and works hard to develop innovative ways of helping people communicate in order to access the services they need.
Monica Ruiz: Executive Director, Casa San Jose
Monica Ruiz is the Executive Director at Casa San José. Monica has been working with the Latino community for over 15 years. She started at Casa San José as the Service Coordinator for ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections). Monica has also been a powerful advocate for Latinos on legal, housing, development, and educational issues. She fights for those facing deportation proceedings and launches projects to assist women, youth and high school students.