Thank you for this opportunity to write about my involvement with Friends of Refugees. I moved to Atlanta in 1982. I had been practicing law, primarily real estate law, but after having my first child I made the decision to be a full-time mom at home. Soon, I became active as a volunteer in our community. I’ve had many diverse experiences such as volunteering at the Atlanta Olympics Office, at MARR (a residential drug rehab program), working with bands for the Festival of Trees Parade, and working through the Atlanta Junior League. I have devoted much volunteer time in my children’s schools and have been very active in my church, Northside United Methodist, particularly in the Stephen Ministry program. In the past several years I’ve been active on the boards of Reinhardt University and the Shepherd Center. All of this is to illuminate the fact that I have always enjoyed contributing to organizations in my community and continue to be on the lookout for new opportunities and places to volunteer. I was introduced to Friends of Refugees through my friends, Susan Spratt and Pam Battey. I love to hear Susan talk about her love of gardening and she raves about the gardens at Jolly Avenue and the gardeners she has met through her work there. Pam also is a gardener and volunteer at the gardens. Pam asked me to meet with Erin and Susan to discuss Friends of Refugees. I met with Erin and through our conversation became interested in the mission of Friends of Refugees. Erin’s sincerity, dedication, and passion for her work convinced me that Friends of Refugees was identifying and meeting many of the needs of the refugee community and I wanted to be a part of this vital organization’s work. A later meeting with Erin and Brian, whose dedication was equal to Erin’s, further convinced me.
I became involved with the group because of its mission but also because of the intimate knowledge its workers have of the refugee community. I know that Erin lives in the community and my understanding is that other employees also live or have lived in the vicinity of the neighborhoods served by Friends of Refugees. Erin’s conversation about Friends of Refugees programs was full of references to cultural sensitivity and community involvement that is used when planning programs. As a donor, I am keenly interested in organizations that do not dictate the needs of a community but rather let the needs of the community arise through authentic conversations coming from shared experiences and trusting relationships developed with community members. I believe that this is the culture at Friends of Refugees. Employees and volunteers give of their time to Friends of Refugees in ways that I see as unique. I know that Susan enjoys the relationships she has with some of the Growing Leaders and has given time to take at least one of them on college tours. Employees and volunteers alike see needs and work to develop creative ways to meet the needs. This is not true for all organizations.
The pandemic has been hard for everyone. Each person has been affected in ways that none of us could have foreseen. I have been particularly touched by the reports of needs of school age children who have been forced into virtual learning experiences. The media has done a good job reporting on the ways that government agencies have rallied around underserved neighborhoods to provide lunches and internet service to children who could not be physically in school. I realized, though, that I had not heard any news about the refugee community and how the pandemic was affecting those children. It was hard for me to imagine how a child whose first language was not English could begin to get the full benefits of virtual learning when studies were showing that all children were lagging behind usual standards of learning since they could not be in a classroom. I contacted Friends of Refugees to see if there was an educational program addressing these issues where my donor funds could help. Susan McDaniel shared with me the innovative ways that Friends of Refugees was working with schools to develop a summer program for the children in Clarkston. The plans were comprehensive and I liked that school teachers were developing the curriculum and that the delivery of the curriculum would be by a person who would be available for questions and follow up. This was not going to be a program that would be emailed or dropped off with no personal interaction for the children. I viewed this program as the best possible way to create and maintain a learning environment for children who needed it.
This is an exciting time to be a donor of Friends of Refugees. Potential donors should know that Friends of Refugees is an organization that delivers consistent and caring programs for the refugee population it serves. The dreams and visions of those at Friends of Refugees have been limited only by the lack of facilities to launch the programs that are needed. I would encourage others to be a part of the vision and contribute to Friends of Refugees.
Susan Hawkins, 2020 Summer Camp Donor