Church helps refugee families make Chicago home

August 18, 2011 (CHICAGO)

"About eight years ago, we decided instead of a lot of different people volunteering at the pantry and a shelter to kind of rally around one project that a lot of people could be involved with. So we chose working with Refugee One and that would involve people doing a lot of things," Pastor Craig Mueller, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, said.

Refugee one is a non-profit organization that works with the federal government to resettle immigrants who have had to flee conflict in their own country. These volunteers from the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church are sponsoring a family soon to arrive from Bhutan, a country that borders China and India. For the past two decades that family has lived in a refugee camp in nearby Nepal.

"It enables us to look outside of Chicago, but act in our hometown," Peter Hillman, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, said.

The volunteers have purchased items and collected donations to completely furnish this apartment: from toiletries and cleaning supplies to toys and diapers -- the group misses no detail.

"We probably had more than 100 people just rounding up the hundreds of items that were actually needed for the household," Hillman said.

While they tend to last minute details, other volunteers stand by to greet the family at the airport. Refugee One executive director Greg Wangerin says volunteers are critical to his agency.

"We thrive on the support of literally hundreds of volunteers every year," Wangerin said.

The support continues even after the refugees are welcomed to Chicago and settled into their new home. Volunteers typically stick around to offer on-going support.

"People are showing up to this country and have no idea. They might not even speak the language or know how to get around the city. Obviously, they don't have cars and things like that. So it's just along with the agency an extra set of hands to help them out," Hillman said.

Volunteers often help with tasks like teaching the immigrants how to ride the el, taking them to doctor's appointments, grocery shopping and helping them to learn English. Find out more at

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