Kristin Huzar saw the images on the news, and it made her angry … refugees basically being dumped in Chicago after a dangerous journey through South and Central America, and then a long bus ride from a warm climate to a frozen one.
“When I heard they were being bused up here by the governor of Texas,” says Huzar, “I felt I just had to get involved.”
And so the Evanston resident has taken a Venezuelan refugee family into her home, a mother, a father, and two boys, ages six and eight.
That’s in addition to her own three live-at-home children, one of whom told Huzar, “Mom, we need to do this.”
Huzar says this refugee family came across the Southern U.S. border legally, and applied for asylum, after a four-month trek from their home near Caracas.
“They literally walked to the U.S.,” Huzar says with amazement.
It could take months, however, before the asylum hearing takes place, and there was no decent place for the family to stay.
“They ended up on the floor at a homeless shelter in Chicago, in the hallway. They were terrified.”
Huzar met the mom, dad, and kids at a storefront church on Devon Avenue, a church that tries to assist refugees as much as possible.
“The pastor asked me to help,” Huzar says, and “out of my mouth came the words, ‘I’ll do it. I can convert an office at home'” into living space.
One thing Huzar wants to stress is that there are many others in our area, several thousand in fact, in Chicagoland, who are also helping hundreds of refugees, from Venezuela, Afghanistan, Syria, the Demcratic Republic of the Congo, and, perhaps the most publicized refugees lately, those from Ukraine.
Huzar is part of a Facebook group called Refugee Community Connection, which, as the name states, connects refugees with members of their new community.
While most members don’t actually take in families, the Connection is a clearinghouse where those who have formed a volunteer “Welcome a Refugee Family/Household” group ask others if they know of clothing, or furniture, or household items which the family could use.
For example, one recent posting told of a Kyrgyz family hoping to get books which could hlep them learn English. They speak and read Russian.
Another some time ago suggested that refugees be made aware of trick-or-treating at Halloween, lest they become a bit nervous over costumed children coming to their doors and asking for candy. Explaining little things like that can go a long way towards making someone feel comfortable in a strange environment.
Different refugees come with different understanding of what they’re getting into, although going to any new country while having very limited resources and a language barrier presents a challenge.
Kutzner Huzar has set up a group in Evanston “who are acting as the Welcome Team” for the family she’s supporting.
Team members provide rides, gift cards to use at the grocery store, clothing, and other items.
One thing which helps. Huzar is an English Language Learning teacher who speaks Spanish, so she can communicate with the family. (The kids are now enrolled in the dual language immersion program in school).
Huzar says the family can stay with her “until they get a good situation.”
In other words, “as long as it takes.”
Huzar also hopes that others in this generally well-to-do community will help refugees as well.
“People all over Evanston have space and money,” she says.
“So let’s be welcoming and put our money where our mouth is.”
For more information, go to the Refugee Community Connection Facebook page.