Local refugee, immigrant support organizations march in 4th on 53rd Parade

Staff Writer

Two local organizations, Families Together – South Side and the Hyde Park Refugee Project, marched together in the 4th on 53rd Parade last Wednesday, drawing attention to the ongoing national crisis of immigrant family separation at the southern border and local efforts to support refugees.

Families Together’s Gabriel Piemonte, a 5th Ward aldermanic candidate and former Herald editor, said the group thought the 4th on 53rd Parade “would be a good place to make a statement about the President’s policy of separating families at the border” after 50,000 demonstrated in the June 30 Families Belong Together rally at Daley Plaza in the Loop.

“It seemed like a good way to maintain momentum a little bit,” he added. The groups wore white as a show of solidarity.

Piemonte said Families Together – South Side formed two weeks ago out of an online discussion about what could be done locally regarding the family separation policy. The group is putting together a list of resources for immigrants, and some of its members are vetting refugee and immigrant support services so people can make informed decisions about their donations. They are also considering having topical film screenings.

Lisa Jenschke, a volunteer with the Refugee Project, said she was marching “because we want people to know this is happening in Hyde Park.”

The Refugee Project partners with RefugeeOne, Illinois’ largest refugee resettlement agency, to find housing for refugee families, fundraise for their basic needs and help connect them with employers. Jenschke said the group settled two families before the administration’s travel ban came into effect and said they support six refugee families in Hyde Park from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Turkey.

The group holds English as a second language classes and mentorship services, where volunteers help them with education and healthcare in the United States. They are also having a two-week summer camp, hosted at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5200 S. University Ave., where around 20 local refugee children are doing arts and crafts, sports, dance, reading and English language tutoring. Local high school and college students are volunteering, and other Hyde Parkers are supplying snacks and lunches.

Jenschke said the group has an ongoing need for more volunteers, and Dorothy Pytel, the Project’s co-director, said they are looking into placing additional volunteers into local schools. A May release said the group placed nine volunteers at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., to work as classroom assistants for the English language learners program.

The Refugee Project has no local office, instead meeting at local churches and synagogues. It receives financial support from the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council and was founded in the fall of 2016.

“I’ve just been amazed at the generosity of our neighbors here in Hyde Park,” Pytel said. “Our volunteers give countless hours to help families who have endured amazing hardships.”

The Hyde Park Refugee Project’s website is www.hydeparkrefugeeproject.org.