By ALLISON MATYUS
The Hyde Park community has always been one that is welcoming to diversity and to all walks of life. This coming month, Hyde Park will be welcoming a Syrian refugee family to the neighborhood through the Hyde Park Refugee Project.
Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave.; the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th St.; the 57th Street Meeting of Friends, 5615 S. Woodlawn Ave.; the University of Chicago Laboratory School, 1362 E. 59th St., and the Lab School Refugee Club have partnered through the Hyde Park Refugee Project to help a Syrian refugee family get a fresh start in the U.S.
“In the Hyde Park community we are uniquely open to others…we are using the resources here in Hyde Park to make the family feel like it’s home for them,” said Dorothy Pytel, a volunteer organizer for the project and a member of Augustana.
The Hyde Park-based organizations are working with RefugeeOne, a not-for-profit organization that provides a full range of services to refugees resettled in the Chicago area.
According to RefugeeOne’s website, the organization assists approximately 2,500 refugees a year. Most of the families they help live near RefugeeOne’s headquarters, in the Uptown neighborhood, but this new family arriving in mid-December will live in Hyde Park.
“RefugeeOne was a little hesitant that the family would be isolated but there are actually two other refugee families in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area,” Pytel said.
She said since the project’s online fundraising page was launched over a week ago, Hyde Parker residents have been coming out of the woodworks offering their help, from Arabic speaking neighbors to U. of C. students wanting to help out the community.
“I’ve been inundated with amazing emails of things like ‘My father was a refugee and I would like to help out in any way I can,’ and all kinds of great things like that,” Pytel said. “There are endless ways that Hyde Parkers are stepping up to help out.”
What the Hyde Park Refugee Project is trying to do for the family is set them up with the basics once they get here including an apartment, furnishings, finding the family employment opportunities and just welcoming the family into their new home and neighborhood.
“When the family comes, they will have nothing and they are going to have to rebuild their entire lives here, so having a few people constantly helping them is critical in making that transition,” Pytel said.
Right now, through the project’s fundraising page, money is being raised to help pay for food and rent for those first few months. Their goal of $8,000 has already been met and continues to increase, but Pytel said that with these continued extra funds, they may be able to bring over another refugee family in the coming months.
A Holiday Bazaar at the Lab School during the week of Dec. 5 will also contribute money for resources for the family. The Lab School has a Refugee Club, which has become a key factor in the Hyde Park Refugee Project.
“I started Refugee Club last year in hopes of creating a place for students to learn and talk about the problems they face, and to get involved with helping where we can, especially when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis,” said Lab School student Olivia Issa. “One of the primary ways we’ve helped has been through working with RefugeeOne and members of the Augustana Church on this Hyde Park resettlement project. We have been helping raise awareness, funds and household goods.”
Issa said that through her own experience she realized that refugees are not just statistics but people in need of help and a home.
“When I was teaching three little Syrian girls who had recently been relocated to Chicago how to speak English, we were using their dolls to simulate conversations and scenarios,” Issa said. “I remembered how much I’d loved playing with dolls when I was their age and then it dawned on me: despite all of the trauma they’d been through and all the circumstances they’d lived through, these girls were just like me. They were just like any other girls in America. That was when I knew I’d never be able to just see numbers anymore.”
The Syrian family that will be relocated to Hyde Park will be a family of five, which includes young children. Pytel said that they have found an apartment in Hyde Park for the family, but that help is still needed.
“One huge way to help is to create links between refugees and employment,” Pytel said. “Anyone who has situations or has contacts where someone would be willing to hire a refugee can help in that way. Once somebody is financially independent and able to support themselves, then they can become a contributing member of our society and of our community, and that is the goal for this family.”
To make a donation or offer ways to help, visit http://www.refugeeone.org/hydeparkrefugeeproject.html, or email Pytel at email@example.com.