May 21, 2014

In today’s fluctuating economy, the ability to make sound financial decisions is crucial to one’s future.  And if you are a refugee starting over in a new country, stability is tightly connected to financial literacy.

At World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA], Asset Development programs are designed to help refugees move toward community integration through financial literacy and asset-building opportunities.  Through education, refugees receive the financial tools needed for success.

All newly arrived refugees take their first step towards financial freedom during their first six weeks here.  As a part to the ESL Job Class, Rebekah King, WRDA Asset Development Coordinator, walks the students through the process of budgeting and explains the difference between income and expenses.  Furthermore, Rebekah discusses the importance of having a bank account, enrolling in direct deposit, and using an ATM machine.

“Essentially, the lesson on budgeting shows the students that there is no extra money, at first, to spend on non-essential items or check cashing fees, “said Rebekah.

Once the client is established in a job and able to show a monthly margin of $400-$600 in their budget, additional opportunities for financial growth are available through partnerships with programs such as, Ways to Work.

Ways to Work is a national program administered locally by the Salvation Army Chicago Metropolitan Division. The program assists low-income families who have either no credit or bad credit obtain a low-interest car loan.  According to Jacqueline Lopez, Ways to Work Loan Coordinator, the loan is a credit building tool. The loan process includes a comprehensive application, a valid driver’s license, a credit check, proof of employment, and attendance at a financial education class.  Another component is a written personal statement to convey to the loan the committee what a car would mean to the family.

“World Relief helps us identify qualified participants.  We have never had a WRDA client make a late payment on their loan or be rejected for the program,” said Jacqueline.

As a nontraditional lender, Ways to Work is about seeing people succeed—and the success of the program speaks for itself.  According to Jacqueline, there have been applicants who were on public aid when they started, and by the time they finished paying off their car loan, they were off public aid and in a better job.

Recently, WRDA refugee client Ibrahim Alameir was able to purchase a vehicle through Ways to Work.

In August 2014, Ibrahim arrived with his wife and son from Iraq.   Due to the strong work with ethic Ibrahim learned from his father, he immediately went to work as a machinist to support his family.   Ibrahim was able to carpool to work, but without a car, he would ride his bike from Carol Stream to Wheaton for appointments—even in the winter.  Due to his hard work and lofty financial goals, by February 25, 2014, Ibrahim had earned a driver’s license,qualified for a car loan through Ways to Work, and purchased a used mini-van. Ibrahim’s next financial goal—- enroll in college and earn a license to practice dentistry again.


April 23, 2014

For a single mother, life inside a refugee camp is overwhelming. Survival depends on her ability to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.

Due to political violence in Togo, Djigbodi Touleassi fled with her two young children to a refugee camp in Benin.  For approximately three years, they struggled to make it as a family; dealing with inadequate shelter and limited resources.  “I was so afraid for my daughter’s safety that I would carry her everywhere on my back so that she was close to me,” said Djigbodi.

While in the camp, Djigbodi met and married Atakora Agoro who provided a new sense of security; however, the celebration of their marriage was cut short when only she and her children were offered resettlement in the United States.   Because Djigbodi’s first marriage was considered “cultural”, she had no paperwork to confirm the divorce.  As a result, she arrived in Aurora, Illinois with just her children—Atakora had to stay behind.  Alone, Djigbodi faced the obstacles of learning a new language and engaging a different culture.  “I knew we were safe, but life in America was very different,” said Djigbodi.

With the help of World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services, after a series of appeals, three years later Atakora was able to join his family.  Although together, the family’s struggle for a new life continued.  “Here, you need an education for money and for a future,” said Djigbodi.

Although educated professionals in their country, both Djigbodi and Atakora knew that in order to be successful in the U.S., they would have to start-over with their education.  Therefore, Djigbodi enrolled in WRDA’s Childcare Microenterprise Development program and received the training and certification needed to open an in-home childcare business, which allows her the flexibility to take classes at Waubonsee Community College.   Atakora, a math and physics teacher in Togo, works fulltime to support his family and goes to school fulltime.  In May, he will receive his associate’s degree and plans to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Northern Illinois University.

After establishing a routine and finding a balance between work and school, the couple’s next goal was to create stability for their children.  And when they learned about Emmanuel House and the opportunity to buy their own home, they applied for the program.

With the goal of helping the working-poor overcome poverty, Emmanuel House uses a Networked Saving Program to make it possible for a working family to save for a down payment on a home.  For 18 months, the family lives in housing owned by Emmanuel House and pays market-rate rent.  As resident of Emmanuel House, the family attends personal finance classes and their rent money is put into a personal savings account—to be used as a down payment on their first home.

Today both Djigbodi and Atakora are optimistic.  Their children are doing well in school and are involved in extra-curricular activities.   In the near future, Djigbodi plans to grow her childcare business and join Atakora at NIU as a nursing student.  And the entire family looks forward to their first home purchase.

March 24, 2014
Zataari Refugee Camp, Jordan


  • fear for your safety because your country is unstable
  • have witnessed cruel acts of violence and suffering
  • know that your only chance for survival is fleeing your home, your culture, and your country
  • are now warehoused in a camp amongst thousands of others struggling for survival
  • experience anger over the lack of resources in the camp, but with no legal status, you can’t work
  • hope camp life is temporary, but going home may not be an option and only 1% get resettled
  • are anxious because your future is unknown


You – are a refugee

At WRDA we are fortunate to have an on-site counseling center to help meet the emotional needs of the refugees we serve. Celebrating 15 years of service in June, the WRDA Counseling Center is comprised of four mental health professionals and two trained group facilitators who care for clients through a variety of modalities: individual and family therapy, adjustment groups, and community resources such as a visiting psychiatrist for those who require medication.  During 2013, the counseling center staff served approximately 176 severely traumatized refugees and over 300 individuals through adjustment groups.

According to Liliana Popovic, Counseling Center Director, no matter the circumstances, resettlement is always challenging because the process requires refugees to “move-on” and adjust to their new surroundings quickly.  “Our job as counselors is to help normalize the process as much as possible,” said Popovic.

Due to the difficulties refugees face upon arrival, such as learning a new language and acquiring job skills, stress and anxiety are high amongst the population.  Therefore, refugees are assessed upon arrival and a treatment plan is recommended.  Those who present with severe mental health issues are matched with a counselor, while others are connected to a support group.

When it comes to treatment, the main obstacle our counselors face is that western practices of therapy are not effective when working with people from different cultures.  For that reason, after learning about their background, the counselor helps the client regulate their emotions by reduplicating a task or an experience from their country of origin; for example, sewing, gardening or music.   By associating the client’s feelings to something that was a part of their daily life, the refugee gains a new confidence and hope.

Another tool that the Counseling Center utilizes is the adjustment group.  Varying in size and duration, the groups give clients the opportunity to find affinity, become more self-aware, and learn new coping skills.  These groups help to normalize difficult experiences and provide support and strength through sharing.

Overall, the main goal of the WRDA Counseling Center is to provide care during the adjustment period— helping the client plant the deep roots of stability.   “What we do has an impact on the resettlement process, both here at WRDA and organization wide,” said Popovic.

With regards to the next 15 years, the Counseling Center team hopes that treating refugees will become more mainstream in the mental health field.  Click here to learn more about the WRDA Counseling Center.

The Most Traumatized Population on Earth

According to Dr. Issam Smeir, WRDA Senior Mental Health Counselor, refugees are the most traumatized population on earth.  In fact, he estimates that approximately 90% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Originally from Jordan, Dr. Smeir came to the U.S. approximately 12 years ago to earn a doctorate in psychology. At the same time, he joined the Counseling Center staff at World Relief.  As one of the few Arab-speaking experts in the field of Narrative Exposure Therapy [NET], a treatment for survivors of multiple traumas, Dr. Smeir has a passion for training counselors in the Middle East and Africa on ways to effectively treat victims of trauma—especially refugees.

Dr. Smeir teaches counselors techniques exclusive to helping refugees process their trauma and understand what is happening to their bodies, minds and psyches. He acknowledges that trusting others is difficult for refugees because their hearts have hardened over the years.

While refugees living in camps receive housing, water, and food—professional help to deal with emotional pain is scarce. Syrian refugees without financial resources end-up in a camp, where the violence and trauma continues. With the UNHCR reporting over two million Syrian refugees, in 2013 Dr. Smeir traveled to his home country to train local metal health works serving inside the camps.

Dr. Smeir is an advocate for early intervention because only 1% of the world’s refugees get resettled to another country. As a result, in 2014 he will once again return to Jordan to provide further training for local counselors.

If you would like to learn how you can pray for the crisis in Syria and Syrian refugees, click here.




February 18, 2014

The definition of mercy is love in action—taking the empathy we feel internally and turning it into an external action. At World Relief DuPage/Aurora, we witness acts of mercy daily from those who have a compassion for the vulnerable and seek to love in tangible ways; for example, through a high school project, a church team or a special birthday party.

Love is…The Hundred Dollar Project
In order to participate in her youth group’s summer mission trip to Rwanda, Glenbard West sophomore Claire Morawski, had to answer the question: What have you done/given to your community? Familiar with the struggles refugees face, Claire suggested to her Hundred Dollar Project team that they raise funds for local refugees.

The Hundred Dollar Project is a club at Glenbard West High School that provides students with the opportunity to learn about local philanthropic organizations, while building entrepreneurial skills.  After submitting a proposal, the club loans each team $100 to help put their plan into action.

Claire’s team consisted of 10 sophomore girls who met weekly with the club sponsor, Mrs. Denney, and club board members for feedback and support.  The team organized and sold tickets to a holiday movie night at the Boat House in Glen Ellyn entitled, “Triple Play”—because they planned to show three holiday movies.    In addition to selling tickets to the event, the girls obtained snack sponsors, gathered raffle prizes, and designed a commemorative t-shirt.  Approximately 110 people attended “Triple Play” and over $1,500 was raised for WRDA.

According to the girls, The Hundred Dollar Project taught them about team work and business planning; however, the biggest lesson was learning about refugees and their specific needs.

Love is…a Good Neighbor Kit
When presented with the needs of newly arriving refugees in Aurora, small groups at Christ Community Church in St. Charles took action. 

For approximately eight years, Vicky and Damon Carlson have led a small group Bible study for couples.  Over the years, the group has looked for ways to serve together and the opportunity to collect Good Neighbor Kit items for refugees was a perfect fit.

“At first, when the list of items was presented, it was a bit overwhelming, but once we split the list amongst the group it seemed doable,” said Vicky Carlson.

In fact, in two days the group had collected nearly all of the needed items for a Good Neighbor Kit—just in time for a refugee family arriving from Iraq.  “It felt so good to be able to do something to help; we wanted to do more for the family,” said Vicky.

Another group that got involved with collecting items is a weekly prayer group for moms with young children hosted by Brianna Saxer.   A couple of weeks before Christmas 2013, she saw a Facebook post from James Pomeroy, WRA Volunteer Coordinator, asking for Good Neighbor Kit [GNK] items.  Brianna brought the idea of collecting GNK items to the group and the women embraced the project.  As result, the list of needed items was divided amongst the group members and delivered to Brianna’s house.

In addition, the moms were able to involve their kids and make it an object lesson on giving, “Our kids had a blast helping us shop for the items, “said Brianna.   But more importantly, their kids’ showed tremendous empathy for those they were serving.  For example, Brianna’s son wanted to know more about the family and why they had to leave their country, and another boy still asks his mom if she thinks the family is warm enough because he  picked-out their blankets.

In the future, the group hopes to provide more GNK items.  “It is a tangible way to invest and serve others,” said Brianna.

Love is…a Birthday Party

As a way to focus on the celebration, Leah Anderson has made “no-gift birthday parties” the norm for her family.

A couple of weeks before her daughter Anneka’s seventh birthday in November, Leah learned about WRDA’s need for household items for newly arriving refugees.  As a result, she and her daughter agreed that this year, instead of bringing birthday presents to her party, Anneka would ask her friends to bring a household item to donate.

Leah originally came up with the “no gift” concept because gifts for children’s birthday parties can start to add up—and not every family has the resources.  “This way no one feels bad”, said Leah.  And by giving to others, she has the opportunity to give her kids a sense of the world outside of Wheaton and teach them the importance of giving to others.

January 17, 2014

During the initial resettlement phase, refugees not only struggle with the loss of their homeland, but also with the daunting task of quickly adjusting to a new country.  Because the refugee resettlement program only provides rental assistance for the first three months, new arrivals face financial pressure the moment they step-off the plane.

As a result, upon arrival employable refugee are enrolled into the WRDA Job Readiness ESL program.  The six-week curriculum is offered on a continual basis with new refugee students starting on Mondays. Monday. Because working in other countries is very different from working in the U.S. and because refugees come from different backgrounds, they are enrolled in an intensive program.  They are taught basic English language skills, job search and retention skills, and cultural understanding---all with the intent of helping the refugee secure and retain their first U.S. job.

“We are not just helping refugees get a job, but we are also helping them keep the job,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Education Director.

All classes are practical in nature and designed to simulate a real job.  For example, strict attendance and tardy polices are enforced and students use a time clock to punch in and out of class each day.  In addition, every six-week cycle includes a visit to a company where students gain hands-on experience in industrial packing. By providing initial English language education and job skill training, refugees are on the path towards stability.

Meet Bunga Bola
In 2005, violence and government corruption forced Bunga Bola and his family to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a refugee camp in Nigeria.  After spending eight years in Nigeria, where basic necessities were often limited, Bunga received news that he and his family were selected for resettlement in the United States. According to Bunga, he was nervous about the unknown, but the orientation before leaving Nigeria helped to prepare him for the next part of the resettlement journey.

Upon arrival in Wheaton in 2013, both Bunga and his wife began attending Job Readiness ESL Classes.  Having acquired some English language skills in Nigeria, Bunga knew he still needed to learn American sayings and cultural norms.  Although a trained machinist in the DRC, he was mentally prepared to start-over in the workplace because in the midst of fleeing he was not able to gather documents to verify his education and training.

After completing the required six-weeks of classes, both he and his wife were hired by a staffing agency to work as Sweepers at R.R. Donnelly.  Bunga recalls using lessons he learned from class immediately.

“I learned to be patient with myself and to ask questions if I didn’t understand---even if it is 10 times,” said Bunga.

And it was Bunga’s questions that prompted his supervisor to take an interest in him.  The supervisor showed him how to work various pieces of equipment, and because Bunga was a fast learner, he quickly moved from the position of Sweeper to Sorter.  And recently, he was hired by R.R. Donnelly as a fulltime machinist.

Bunga attributes his success in the workplace to the lessons he learned in Job Readiness ESL classes.

“I believe that my preparation in Job Class has helped me succeed in everything, “said Bunga.

In addition to working fulltime, Bunga is currently enrolled as a student at College of DuPage and plans to pursue a degree in manufacturing technology.


December 19, 2013

No matter the language, culture or tradition, Christmas is celebrated throughout the world.  As followers of Christ, we rejoice in hope and long for the peace as prophesied in the Old Testament. At WRDA, a part of God’s provision for immigrants and refugees in the western suburbs of Chicago is our employees.  Our staff is comprised of people from all over the world and includes PhD’s and engineers, teachers and social workers, pastors and legal professionals, licensed mental health counselors, accountants and dedicated specialist—each  with the calling to stand-up against injustice and a heart to serve the vulnerable.  This year, we would like to share the gift of our staff with you through the retelling of Christmas traditions from staff members whose country of origin is not the U.S.

Wishing you the gift of faith and the blessing of hope this holiday season!

Luisa Capobianco/Venezuela
WRDA Immigrant Legal Services Associate

Culinary, musical, and cultural traditions make the month of December very special in Venezuela.  As a predominantly Catholic country, starting on the December 16, Christmas festivities celebrate the birth of Jesus with mass very early in the morning (Misas de Aguinaldo).  During this time period, alarm clocks are not needed because the bells sound and firecrackers fill the early morning air to let everyone know it’s time. One unique custom is that early risers roller-skate to the local church to attend service.

The final worship service takes place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena de Navidad and is held at midnight (Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster). Families return home afterwards for a large meal, which includes traditional Hallacas.   Surround by cornmeal dough, Hallacas are similar to tamales— wrapped in plantain leaves and filled with a variety of meats, raisins, capers and olives.  Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve after mass, but unlike the tradition of Santa Claus, Venezuela children receive presents from baby Jesus and the wise men.

Issam Smeir /Palestine and Jordanm. Senior Mental Health Counselor

Christmas is more relationship-oriented in this part of the world.  On Christmas day, from early morning to late in the evening, people visit neighbors, friends and family.  You are expected to visit those who have visited your home or it is considered rude; however, exchanging gifts is not expected.   Instead, visitors are greeted with Arabian Coffee and served homemade date-cookies and sometimes wine.


Susan Bachmeier / Peru
Immigrant Lregal Services Senior Specialist

Christmas in Peru is one of the most celebrated holidays.  Elaborate nativity scenes are set-up in homes with a variety of figurines representing whose who came to see baby Jesus.   At midnight on Christmas Eve, fireworks and the uncovering of baby Jesus in the manger signifies Christmas has arrived. Peruvians dance to popular music and share a traditional meal of turkey, tamales, panettone (Italian sweet bread), and Peruvian hot chocolate.  After dinner, gifts are exchanged and families visit with their relatives.


Durmomo Gary / Sudan
Support Services Coordinator

Visiting friends and family is synonymous with Christmas in the Sudan.  Sudanese women bake for days preparing a variety of cookies and sweet treats, while the men shop and wrap gifts for the entire family.  By the time Christmas arrives, everyone is prepared to feed many guests in their home.

Traditionally, on Christmas Eve families attend a midnight church service and then spend Christmas Day going from house-to-house celebrating; everyone is welcome.  A meal is eaten at each location because in the Sudanese culture it would be considered rude for a guest to turndown food offered by their host.


Esther Myahla/ Burma
Medical Case Specialist

In Burma, every family invites their neighbors and relatives to a special worship service in their home.  People bring food to share as a gift and the pastor gives a message and offers a blessing..  Depending on the pastor’s schedule, each the family selects the date for worship in their home, with the exception of December 25 when Christmas mass is celebrated at the church together.


Jessica Fernandez / Mexico
Immigrant Legal Services Associate

Festivities for Christmas in Mexico begin with Posadas— from December 16 through the 24. The posadas recreate Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter. Each night, the posada is held in a neighborhood home. At dusk, guests gather outside the home with children dressed as shepherds and angels.  An angel leads the procession, followed by Mary and Joseph, and adults  carrying candles. The pilgrims sing a song asking for shelter, and the host (inside the house) sings a reply.  Finally, the host opens the doors to the pilgrims offering hot ponche, buñuelos, and tamales. The posada celebration ends with a piñata in the shape of the Christmas star.


Liliana Popovic/Serbia
Counseling Center Director

Serbians follow both the Gregorian and Julian calendar, which means Christmas is celebrated twice—once on December 25 and then on January 7.  For the Serbian Orthodox Christmas on December 25, families gather for dinner.  Special round bread with decorations on top is served and torn into as many pieces as there are guests.  Tradition says that good luck will follow the person who finds the silver coin baked inside the bread.  Historically, on Christmas Eve morning, Serbian fathers take their eldest son to the forest to chop down an oak tree branch, which becomes the Yule Log. Today, Serbians have two branches— one branch from a nearby tree on December 25 and a second branch from the church on January 7.  When the branch is burned, sparks from the fireplace represent blessings from God.  The Serbian Christmas in January is celebrated by going to church, engaging in prayer, and visiting friends.

December 15, 2013

As refugees and immigrants come to our area, World Relief DuPage/Aurora plays a key role in providing a tangible welcome.  But we know that we can’t, and shouldn’t do this service alone.  The strength of “Welcoming the Stranger” to our community is that we serve in partnership with so many…volunteers, churches and community organizations.  In essence, we are the conduit that initially connects people, especially the church, with refugees and immigrants.

Daily, volunteers reach-out to new neighbors in real ways—taking an active role in seeing people transformed economically, socially, and spiritually.  According to Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, each volunteer at WRDA is a piece of a very large and complex puzzle.  Currently, there are many different ways a volunteer can serve—according to their time and talents—in addition to numerous opportunities for teams.   While our volunteers agree that everyone has something to offer and a role to play, they also feel that what they get back is so much more—citing new friendships and cross-cultural experiences.

With so many refugees living in DuPage Kane counties, one of the benefits of serving with WRDA is that you don’t have to go far to help a person in need.  In fact, one way to describe the work of WRDA is to equate it to being a missionary in your own backyard. This is true for Lawrence Thompson, who spent most of his career overseas—first as a missionary in the Philippines and then as an engineer traveling to Chile, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

When Lawrence retired, his plan was to return to Costa Rica and teach English; however, his wife’s health would not permit the move.  As a result, Lawrence began serving with WRDA and currently lives-out the Biblical mandate by volunteering with Immigrant Legal Services. “I enjoy interacting with immigrants—hearing their stories and getting to know them personally,” said Lawrence. Currently, in addition to volunteering with WRDA, Lawrence teaches English through a program at his church.

In May 2013, Pat Kelly led a Good Neighbor Team that was matched with a newly arrived family in Wheaton.  Together, his group shopped and gathered items for a Good Neighbor Kit and arranged for the family’s pick-up from the airport.  Along with a translator, the team settled the family into their new apartment, which included a tour of the modern appliances because the family had been living in a refugee camp. Now that the family has begun the acclimation process, Pat visits with the father weekly to work with him with his English, teach him how to pay bills on-line, and to give him driving lessons.

According to Pat, you don’t have to have well-developed skills to do this work; just being an American is enough.  “It’s really easy for us to be consumed with our own lives and so it is nice to be able to help someone in a tangible way,” said Pat.

Experiencing another culture will often mean traveling to another country, but for volunteer Dottie Mann, one of her favorite memories as a volunteer is a cross-culture dinner experience in her own community.

After being connected to a Bhutanese family as Friendship Partners, Dottie and her husband were invited to dinner.  When she and her husband arrived at the apartment, both immediate and extended family members were present; however, when it came time to eat, only she and her husband were invited to sit down.

“The food just kept coming, platter-after-platter, but we were the only ones eating even though there were 10 other people in the room,” said Dottie.

Later, Dottie learned that in the Bhutanese culture, honored guests are served dinner first and the family eats later.  While this experience was awkward at first, today Dottie and her husband enjoy re-telling the story and sharing their knowledge with others.

Dottie Mann has been affiliated with WRDA for 30 years—first as an aid with the ESL program and now as a Friendship Partner.  She considers it a privilege to help refugee families adjust to their new home—and treasures all of the connections that she has made. Although Dottie often assists with arranging doctor visits and English tutoring, she says that being a friend is more important.  By just listening to a refugee’s story, she can learn about their culture, country of origin, and their struggle for survival.

New categories of volunteer opportunities are always emerging— based on needs of our neighbors and the talents of the volunteers.  Jamie Daling truly enjoys her role with WRDA because she is continually amazed at the different types of people God raises-up to stand with us.  She considers it a privilege to work alongside such caring and dedicated volunteers.

If you would like to learn how you can get involved with WRDA as a volunteer visit or contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist at (630) 462-7566  x1046 in DuPage or James Pomeroy, Volunteer Coordinator, at or  (630) 906-9546 x 35 in Aurora.


September 16, 2013

At World Relief DuPage/Aurora, we embrace the old African proverb —“It takes a village to raise a child”, because when the community welcomes refugee students and extends hospitality, advocates for the vulnerable are created.

Daily, the WRDA youth services department welcomes refugee children and their families through a variety of programs designed to help the student adjust to the American school system.  Upon arrival, the staff assists with student enrollment and parent orientation, and then invites the student into an adjustment group, afterschool club and a variety of extracurricular activities—all specifically designed to meet the unique needs of refugees.  However, the above is just a piece of the welcoming process.

Refugee children are truly the world’s most vulnerable, but tend to thrive once their family is resettled to a safe place.  Depending on the student’s age, level of trauma, and prior access to education, each comes with a unique set of challenges.  As result, the youth services team takes a communal approach when caring for their students by partnering with area schools, churches and volunteers.

Local Educators and their Impact on Refugee Students

Rachel Gannon, ESL Coordinator/Teacher at Wheaton North High School
“In the big picture, it doesn’t get more basic then helping vulnerable people, in need of a safety, discover a new life,” said Gannon.

Initially an English teacher, Rachel Gannon went back to school to earn an ESL credential.  Now as the ESL Coordinator at Wheaton North High School [WNHS], Gannon conducts the initial intake and ESL testing, and personally gives the students a tour—pointing out their locker and class locations.

“She is an advocate for all refugee youth attending Wheaton North.  WNHS is the primary pull for kids in our high school/mentoring program and Rachel helps recruit students.  And she contacts me when issues come up with refugee families at school,” said James Harden, Youth Services Manager/DuPage.

According to Gannon, every school year is both different and exciting for the six ESL teachers because they get to teach students from all over the world.  Currently, there are approximately 65 refugee students enrolled in ESL at Wheaton North with new students arriving each week.

Craig Babich, ESL Teacher and Coach at Jefferson and Jewel Middle Schools in Aurora
A coach, both on and off the field, teacher Craig Babich is dedicated to serving the unique needs of the refugee students in the ESL program.  In addition to teaching, Babich also coordinates the ESL students’ class schedule, which allows him to “buddy-up” students from the same culture and make them more comfortable in the classroom.

While the ESL curriculum is specifically designed to increase the student’s English language skills, Babich believes that is just one part of his job.  He seeks to partner with other teachers so that the ESL curriculum corresponds with what the students are learning in their general subjects.    Babich describes his ESL classroom as a “safe zone” where the students can practice their English and get answers to what he refers to as “real life questions.”

Outside of the classroom, Babich shares his love of sports by coaching the boys’ soccer team.   He encourages his students to get involved in school outside of the classroom, which has translated into seven refugee students on the team.  Furthermore, as a coach, Babich encourages all of his players to befriend the ESL students. “Just stopping-by to say hello goes a long way,” said Babich.

Cherrie Esposito, Principal at McCleery Elementary School in Aurora
Cherrie Esposito has been helping refugee students adjust to the American classroom for twelve years.   While the refugee students come to the school with special needs, Esposito believes that their background enriches the lives of both the students and teachers by opening-up their world view.  “It is hard to forget how blessed we are when we interact with these kids,” said Esposito.

Esposito recalls one refugee student from Africa who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  “She would have flashbacks while at school and try to run away.” Another student lost his lunch ticket and began sobbing uncontrollably, because where he was from, no ticket equaled no lunch, which could be a matter of life and death in his country of origin.  Often, Esposito uses these situations as teachable moments to help all of her students understand and accept differences.

“Our goal at McCleery is to create a respectful and safe environment for all of our students,” said Esposito. “ If  we have a student with a peanut allergy, we don’t serve peanuts and if  we have a Hindu student, we make sure there is something besides pork or beef on the lunch menu.”

Central Bible Church—Welcoming Refugee Students  

Tom and Kathy Barron were introduced to World Relief by another couple in their church who served as volunteers with our Aurora office.   In time, the Barron’s became trained volunteers, going on Airport Pick-ups and opening their home to a refugee family of five.  However, in addition to serving as a WRDA volunteer, Tom is also the senior pastor at Central Bible Church in Aurora where he shares his love for the refugee community with his congregation.

“It’s important to be involved with the people in our community and World Relief is an instrument to help us get connected,” said Barron.

Currently, Central Bible Church hosts our  youth services “Star Program,” but their main connecting point with refugee kids in Aurora is through their Awana program.  Each Wednesday night, Kathy Barron, a bus driver for School District 129, makes two trips in the church bus to pick-up all of the refugee students.  The students are excited to spend the evening playing games, singing and learning together; however, according to Pastor Barron, the students look forward to interacting with adults who genuinely care about their well-being.

“Our people love these kids and demonstrate it every week when they come to our church,” said Barron.

Now that the church is more familiar with World Relief, members are looking for additional ways to help refugee families in the area.  Many have donated furniture and resources, and this November, the church is hosting a local missions conference focused on reaching-out to the most vulnerable in their community.

To learn more about the programs offered by our youth services department, visit And if you would like to become an advocate for refugee students in your community by volunteering your time, in DuPage contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, at (630) 462-7566  x1046 or and in Aurora contact Alison Bell, Director of Programs at  (630) 906-9546


August 13, 2013

Written by Emily Margosian, WRDA Communications Intern

Much of the debate surrounding Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) comes from a lack of public familiarity with the legislation. As the issue becomes more imminent, people desire current information about the bill, but often don’t know where to turn.  At World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA], we support the ongoing push for CIR, applaud the Senate’s decision to pass S.744, and look forward to a similar outcome in the House of Representatives by the end of the summer.

Due to the complexity of the issue, immigration reform digs up a host of emotions, questions, and uncertainties.  And over the years, a lack of action has resulted in a political stalemate at the federal level.  However, not only will CIR strengthen the economy, reunite families, and provide a tangible path to citizenship, but it will also help Christians uphold the Biblical mandate to “Welcome the Stranger.”

“This is an urgent moral issue,” says Matthew Soerens, U.S. Church Training Specialist at World Relief, “We are given Biblical principles that speak very clearly as to how we should treat immigrants in our country.” As a faith-based organization, we value compassion, morality, and family unity and believe that immigration reform and policy should take into account these values.

Scott Capp, a pastor at Village Bible Church in Aurora, has taken steps to discuss immigration reform with his congregation, and wants a more detailed understanding of the upcoming legislation. At a World Relief ‘Lunch N’ Learn’ session in June he said, “We want to do more than just talk about God’s love for others—we want to show God’s love as well. I hope today brings more clarity on how to practically address the issue.”

Capp is not alone. Many leaders and church members seek to understand CIR from a legal and moral standpoint, but don’t feel equipped to address the issue within their church or organization.

Cheryl Pacilio, Director of Local Serving at First Baptist Church, admits that her congregation seems insulated from the issue of immigration. As a WRDA volunteer for the past six years, Pacilio feels comfortable with the issues surrounding refugees but hopes to gain more insight into the reality of what the reform bill could mean for World Relief’s immigrant clients. “World Relief has provided us with quality information over the last six years. I want to be able to talk about welcoming our neighbors by educating first,” said Pacilio.

To help make information on CIR more accessible to our church and community partners, WRDA has hosted informational sessions throughout the summer.  In addition, WRDA co-sponsored a Bibles, Badges, and Business meeting in late June as a forum for law enforcement, business, and church leaders to discuss immigration reform.  Events such as these are just a few ways WRDA has sought to address the potential concerns and misconceptions associated with CIR.

Common Myths

  • Myth: Weakened Economy and  Loss of Jobs
  • Reality: A Stronger Economy

Economists agree that immigration reform is good for all Americans, not just immigrants. If done properly, CIR will reduce the federal deficit—not increase government spending. In a July 2013 report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June would reduce the current federal deficit by 158 billion with net savings of 135 billion during the 2014-2023 cycle.

Catherine Norquist, Immigrant Legal Services Director at WRDA, agrees. “There would be huge economic benefits for our country if we do this,” she explains, noting that providing an accessible and defined path to citizenship would enable more immigrants to pay taxes—helping to combat federal debt, not increase it.

CIR will increase jobs, not only for immigrants, but for all Americans.   Immigrants fill a significant role in a range of American industries; however their presence as a labor force is not something to be threatened by,but welcomed.  “The best policy for the United States is one that sides with freedom and innovation, not restriction,” said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a June statement.

  •  Myth: Grants Amnesty 
  • Reality: Earned Path to Citizenship

Despite concerns, the bill’s proposed path to citizenship would not indiscriminately award citizenship to immigrants currently residing in the United States. The proposed CIR bill creates more flexible avenues for future workers to achieve citizen status, providing a pathway to earned legalization through a series of steps.

– Upon initial registration, people will have one year to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant [RPI] Status” and pay a $1,000 fee.
– After a six year period, people with RPI must apply for renewal and pay another fine.
– After 10 years total in RPI status, people can apply for Lawful Permanent Residency upon paying a $500 fee
– After three years with LPR status, individuals can apply for U.S. Citizenship, which costs $680
– Qualifying agricultural workers and individuals who are eligible under the DREAM Act may apply for LPR status only five years after receiving RPI status. Additionally, individuals who have committed a felony or three misdemeanors are not eligible to apply for RPI under proposed CIR legislation.

  • Myth: Open Border
  • Reality:  A More Secure Border

Furthermore, current legislation would address the public’s concern over border security. S. 744 would increase border security by establishing mandatory employment verification and an electronic entry/exit system, as well as  a 700 mile U.S./Mexico border fence with more border agents . Since 2000, illegal border crossings have decreased by 80%, according to a statement released by the White House this January. CIR’s proposed adjustments to border security and enforcement would cause further decreases in the number of illegal crossings by improving infrastructure at points of entry and enhancing investigative resources.

WRDA encourages all Americans to STAND with us on this issue— especially the Church.

“The Church should view immigration as a mission opportunity,” says Soerens. “It can do that with or without immigration reform, but it has too often allowed political narrative to shape how we view immigrants.”

Norquist agrees that it is crucial for the Church to engage with this issue, not pull away. “Our faith is based on a migration story. We are truly called to love people no matter their status. If we take Scripture seriously, it speaks specifically on how to treat the foreigner, with equality and acceptance.”

In addition, our Immigrant Legal Services staff or another trained staff member is available to conduct an informational meeting at your church or home. If you would like to  arrange a speaker, contact ILS directly at (630) 462-7660  To learn more about Comprehensive Immigration Reform,  click here to visit our ILS Advocay page.

June 20, 2013

Berhe Fisuh patiently waits at O’Hare International Airport.  Dressed-up for a special occasion and holding flowers he bought for his wife, Berhe keeps a watchful eye on the terminal doors eagerly anticipating the family he has not seen in 10 years.

In 2003, while fleeing war and violence in their home country of Eritrea, chaos separated the Fisuh family. All six family members were able to make it to safety in Ethiopia and be registered as refugees; however, Berhe ended up in one camp while his wife and children were located in another.  Now after waiting three years in the U.S., and three hours in the airport, Berhe was finally going to be reunited with his wife of 30 years and four children ranging in ages from 11-20 years-old.

In July 2010, Berhe was resettled by World Relief DuPage/Aurora in Wheaton, while the rest of his family remained in exile in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.  He believed that resettlement was the best option for seeing his family again and left the camp with the hope of a new start. As a result, he sought out the assistance of the Immigration Legal Services team at WRDA and filed his first Refugee Reunification Application in February 2011.  Berhe’s first application was denied due to the lack of proper documentation, which can be a problem for many refugees.  Poor translation and a difference in calendars, combined with rural living and an unstable environment, can make a birth or marriage certificate difficult to obtain or hold on to.

Over the course of three years, the ILS department was able to clear-up the discrepancies in dates and certify family relationships through the filing of affidavits.  After two more attempts and two more denials, Berhe finally received news that his family was approved and would be joining him in Wheaton with the arrival date of Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

“After the denial of two Immigration applications, multiple interviews, and DNA testing, Berhe’s family finally arrived!  It was a privilege for our staff to advocate on his behalf and see his family brought back together,” said Catharine Norquist, WRDA Immigration Legal Services Director

Prior to the family’s arrival, Berhe worked with his WRDA case worker to rent a larger apartment and volunteers from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville supplied a Good Neighbor Kit (GNK) to help furnish their new home with essential items.  According to WRDA volunteer Anne Wetz, she was excited to be able to help his particular family.

“All of the refugee families that I have the privilege of volunteering with are special, but to be a part of seeing the Fisuh family reunited after all this time was extra special,” said Wetz.

Since their arrival, the family has been settling in, getting to know the community, and getting reacquainted with one-another.

“When I saw my family again, I didn’t know them.  Now we are talking about past situations and about what happened in our home country,” said Berhe.

When the family was asked what surprised them the most about coming to the U.S they said, “The big welcome they received.”  From the WRDA staff and volunteers, to the Eritrean community in Wheaton—they have felt very welcomed by everyone.

Berhe will continue to work at the meat packing plant in North Aurora to support his family and in the fall, his wife, Haimont, and his two daughters, Fithawir 17 and Hiwet 20, will be enrolled in the WRDA  Job Readiness ESL Class with the personal goal of learning enough English to be able to obtain a Driver’s License and get a job.  With regard to the two young boys, Samuel 11 and Okbit 13, they are looking forward to enrolling in school in the fall and getting to know other kids.

Because the family was transported from the airport to their apartment building and has no access to transportation of their own, they have not been able to explore other parts of community; however, the Fisuh kids’ biggest dream for this summer would be to take a trip into the city and take a tour of Chicago.