Hyde Park Church Fundraising to Support Syrian Refugees

The Augustana Lutheran Church has been working with nonprofit Refugee One to settle a Syrian refugee family in Hyde Park.

By Vivian He

Local residents are raising money to settle a Syrian refugee family in Hyde Park.

The Augustana Lutheran Church co-sponsored the Hyde Park Refugee Project, which is collaborating with Chicago-based nonprofit Refugee One. Refugee One works with the federal government to settle sanctioned refugees in the city.

Dorothy Pytel of the Augustana Lutheran Church spoke with The Maroon about the Church’s involvement in the Hyde Park Refugee Project as a co-sponsor.

Pytel learned about Refugee One from her son, whose class was studying the Syrian refugee crisis in school. Pytel teamed up with her church and reached out to Refugee One last fall to become involved.

When asked about her motivation for taking on this share of burden, she said it was “a motivation to show my children that we can help.” Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011, she said, many have felt overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness in the face of a great calamity. The tragedy resonated with her because her oldest son is disabled. She emphasized that government aid and nonprofit organizations’ contributions supported her family through the difficult times, and she wishes to pass on that support to others in need.

According to Kim Snoddy, senior manager of co-sponsorships at Refugee One, the circumstances for incoming refugees to this country—who for the past several years have been predominantly Syrian—are difficult. Each incoming refugee family is granted a three-month living expense of $1,875, but most of them come into the country with at least $2,000 in debt. Moreover, the average time it takes for a refugee to become employable is six to eight months, far longer than the covered period of three. Therefore, co-sponsors like the Augustana Lutheran Church prioritize covering the financial gap.

The co-sponsors’ fundraising efforts were successful this year: As of November 20, the Hyde Park Refugee Project’s fundraising page shows the goal of $8,000 has already been met, and has actually been exceeded by $939.

Refugee One is the official sponsor of the refugee families it settles and is in charge of ensuring the refugees have their basic needs met, including an apartment and daily essentials. The co-sponsors, on the other hand, focus on the social adjustment aspect to ensure refugees’ integration into society through mentorship and counselling.

Snoddy estimated that in the current fiscal year, Refugee One will help settle 200 refugee families, amounting to a total of about 900 individuals. There are, however, only 52 co-sponsors enrolled. Under the scheme of one co-sponsor per family, there are always families left without co-sponsorship.

According to Snoddy, families are evaluated for their need, based on criteria such as existence of disability and number of family members. Those with more urgent needs are prioritized for co-sponsors.

Snoddy emphasized that an effective way to contribute to Refugee One is to become a co-sponsor to a refugee family. At the same time, donations to the project’s fundraising page are always welcomed.