Reflections: Summer Intern Emma Horwath

by Emma Horwath, Summer 2017 Intern, Notre Dame

What makes a community thrive?  That’s a question that Hopeprint is constantly asking.  What makes a community, a person, a family succeed, not just in surviving, but also in living?  Is it money?  That is a big question that so many charitable organizations wrestle with.  However, I think that kinship and relationships with the community, and investing in things that will come back with interest are much more important.  

With the first two weeks of programming behind us, we were able to witness some amazing things, especially moments that made a difference in the eyes of a child.  One of those moments, for me, was when I saw little Yvette start talking with some of the other girls in camp and participate in our pledge the third day into program.  Earlier in the week, Yvette wouldn’t do any of the group activities and very rarely would she talk, even to me.  Having camp and spending time with all of these children really does make a difference, whether it be in stepping out of their comfort zone or fostering a belief that the kids can do anything, be anything they want.  These moments are invaluable.  Save for a time investment, they do not cost a thing.  Kinship and being in community with one another is just one of the many elements that go into the thriving of a human being.  Personal relationships and that human connection are so important. 

Something that often grows out of those personal relationships is being a role model or mentor to children.  Every small thing that we do for them [and the people around us] has the power to make a very big difference in their lives.  One of the small things that I like to do, as the official ‘maker of snacks’ for the summer, is to provide fruit and vegetables for the kids to eat.  With only $10, we can buy celery, carrots and sliced apples to provide our kids a healthy meal.  With only $10, we can hopefully encourage and promote a love for fruits and vegetables and a desire for healthy habits.  

Having the money to provide healthy foods is not the only thing that determines a successful community.  While it certainly helps, it is the community itself and what it can do together that is the more telling.  I think that its the relationships that are the foundation for a thriving community. 

Reflections: Summer Intern Haley Everding

Reflections from Haley Everding, Summer 2017 Intern

Picture this: Two siblings, a 16-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl from Iraq, are new residents of Syracuse, New York. With English levels much higher than that of their parents, buying a new home in the city fell onto their plate of responsibilities. We worked on filling out paperwork, going through online classes, and taking tests in order to get these two children approved for a home loan. As a primary English speaker, even I was beyond confused as to what some questions were asking. Working with these two kids on buying a home for their family was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. 

As a 19-year-old suburbanite, coming to Hopeprint has been a change of pace in my life. Working here continues to be the utmost meaningful thing I’ve done. Working with adult refugees offers a unique experience. This snapshot of the real hardships adult refugees face on a daily basis puts everything into perspective. I quickly realized that these Iraqi children were not children at all, but adults as they took on this responsibility of navigating their new life. And it doesn’t stop at buying a new home. Because the list of paperwork and documents and forms to fill out is endless. Because without the support of those willing to help, the path to success is not so clear.

After we finished all of the home-ownership paperwork, I asked the boy if his father was here to pick him up. He replied that his father could not come get him and he was going to walk. With a big backpack on and a laptop in hand, he was about to set out on a 4 mile walk back home. When we offered to drive him home, I couldn’t help but think of just how much harder everything is for these families. What some may consider the simple tasks of daily life are still struggles for New Americans in the community. 

Reflections: Summer Intern Derek Gallo

by Derek Gallo, Summer 2017 Intern, Notre Dame

“IT’S A WORM!” shrieks a voice that let’s the whole neighborhood know. The voice belies the tiny body of JJ who has spent all his life in the city. The look of fascination on his face for this worm is like the look of an explorer discovering extraterrestrial life. With serious hands  JJ fills a plastic cup with dirt and relocates the worm to its new home. Now that he has created the perfect growing environment, he tenderly plants a stick of celery. His wonder is contagious.

Our theme for the week is Cultivate Beauty, focused on discovering and creating beauty in the neighborhood. A major part of the beauty of the northside Syracuse community is its gardens. Postage stamp yards brim with nepali lettuces which spill onto the porch in plastic milk jugs and baking trays. To see beauty in a neighborhood where it is easy to see only poverty and ugliness takes a mental readjustment but is so important to the mission of Hopeprint: empowering resettled refugees to thrive.

Earlier that day we went to the community garden only a block away from 129 Lilac St. We named and watered all the vegetables growing there and the children discovered a passion for raw green beans. They chomped on handfuls of green beans with the same delight with which the eat chips from the corner store.

I think of the refugee families who have been transplanted to the new soil of Syracuse. I feel the same wonder that JJ did when I see the resilience of these families and how they can flourish.

It doesn’t take much. A plastic cup, a stick of celery, and JJ’s curiosity become a lesson in agriculture. A vacant lot with some hours of labor becomes a community garden empowering the children to take ownership of what they eat. In one of the strangest metaphors ever, Hopeprint is the worm that tries to improve the soil. And our families do the thriving.

A Lot with a Little: More than a Burger

by Kiana Labrecque, Summer 2017 Intern, Boston College

The first Wednesday of Hopeprint programming, I spent time preparing a combination of donated and purchased foods to create a barbeque. Working with other interns, I set up a serving line, in which people attending the barbeque would be served side dishes by volunteers, then pick their choice of meat from the grill. This plan required a good number of volunteers to do the serving, as well as to do other tasks such as watching children and picking up trash. While we began with Hopeprint volunteers, when the kids from our older, GCC program arrived, we had them take over the serving as well as other tasks. 

During the chaos of the barbeque, I was impressed by the initiative these local kids showed. When some of the volunteers grew tired and left the food line, the others organized themselves so they were each serving multiple dishes in a way that remained efficient. One child from the younger Force group took it upon herself to aid the other children in forming a line for food, then later picked up a trash bag and went around cleaning up used plates and cups from the yard. She more than earned a shining moment for that event! I saw many more instances of kids from the community chipping in to make the barbeque a success, such as a group who helped keep the water station organized. All of this was able to happen because we relied on the kids from the community to help make the event a success.

The Hopeprint barbeques are about more than just serving a meal- we do that on other days as well. They are about presenting an experience. If we wanted, we could have outside volunteers serving at each of the food stations, collecting garbage, and doing whatever other tasks were needed to make the event run smoothly. After all, I actually displaced several volunteers to have the GCC kids take over serving food. But the overall experience of the meal for these kids would be very different, and in my opinion worse. I know from experience that volunteering for a local organization like a church or Hopeprint creates a sense of accomplishment, and of belonging. You take pride in the reliance of others on you, and in your little corner that you can run how you think is best, within reason. It’s a form of empowerment, which is Hopeprint’s ultimate goal. In the end, the money we spent on the barbeque was not just on some hot dogs and beef, but in creating a meal that the Hopeprint community could take part in both creating and eating, in order to empower the people of that community.

A Lot with a Little: Yes You Can

by Maria Ventura, 2017 Hopeprint Summer Intern, Notre Dame

“So I could be the mayor of Syracuse?” SemSaasked with that tilt of a head and squint of the eyes that only signifies a developing plot inside of a child’s head.

“Yes! You just have to work hard and I know one day you could,” I responded, trying my best to reassure an intelligent and capable child that she is just as worthy of a successful career as anyone else. After many attempts of varying degrees of success, I finally felt like I was accomplishing my assigned task of teaching a group of kids between the ages of five and eight about citizenship. As you might have guessed, the average kid in this age range is much more concerned with Duck, Duck, Goose and coloring than being a responsible member of society, but I think my fellow intern Emma and I were able to turn that around. 

 SemSa* and many of her friends in our Kids Club spent much of Monday and Tuesday insisting that we either color or play games, so it was clear to Emma and me that we would have to get creative so that the kids could take something real away from the experience. This manifested itself in a short explanation of the Syracuse local government, a discussion of what we liked about the city and what we want changed, and letters and drawings explaining this to our City Councilmember. While I have some doubt as to whether Councilor Carni will heed all their advice and all Chinese food will become free across Syracuse and parks will appear next to every house, the children were able to take a lot away from this experience. With some markers and a pack of construction paper, we were able to instill in these kids that they, too, have a say in and ability to change their community. I think that’s is a pretty great return on investment.

* Names changed for privacy

A Lot with a Little: The Power of Connection

by Jackie Kaiser, Summer 2017 Intern

A small Somali girl, just 5 years old, a plate of dinner in one hand with a bagel in the other, standing in our crowded, chaotic backyard with tears streaming down her face. Her small form and silent tears slipped into the noise and the bustle of serving dinner to all our neighborhood friends.  

Kneeling to her side, a gentle hand on her shoulder, I asked her what was wrong. She melted into my lap, her eyes wide and searching my face for a connection to her need. With prompting from me and nods from her, I came to understand that while she was getting her dinner, she had fallen out of sight of her older brothers who had brought her to the barbeque, and she felt lost. Holding her plate for her, I took her small hand in mine and we began walking around the yard, looking for her brothers whom I did not know, but she was so desperate to find. 

When she spotted them, the three siblings ran to each other and embraced. They stood like that, together and in the middle of the craziness, for about a minute, and when they turned back to me, all three had wide smiles on their small faces. The brothers took back the food I was holding, each took one of their little sister’s hands, and took off to enjoy the rest of the night. I didn’t see them apart for the rest of the evening, and they all left laughing at the end.

This interaction was only a few minutes, but I believe it mirrors a larger picture. This little girl is not unlike the many new refuge families who enter our community each year. Upon being granted their resettlement and arriving here, they are in a safe space, and set up for initial services and assistance, such as a home and connection to local support- their dinner. But then what? In a sea of new people, new customs, and new experiences, how are they to feel settled and included rather than temporary and outside?

“Dinner” is provided to refugees as they are resettled in the states, but where are the brothers? The process of transitioning from survival to thriving is so heavily affected by the support and community that comes with having other people in your same situation to walk through life with. At Hopeprint, we have an opportunity to be a north star in helping refugees find their lost brothers and sisters, biological or in spirit, within the chaos of life in their new backyard, Syracuse.

In my role working with the adults this summer, I have unique honor and privilege of working with the ladies of Her Village.  Monday nights, in the living room of one of the Hopeprint homes women meet to talk about life in whatever language they know, be in community with other women whose home countries they may or may not share, and laugh- a language we all have in common. 

Last week was my first, and already I have experienced that it is a very special group. Pushing through the language barrier, we shared life and enjoyed each other’s company. Attendance was low, but spirits were high! Getting to walk around our neighborhood and hear the stories of these amazing women who have traveled so far and lived so much was just a glimpse of the tough and beautiful things happening on the Northside. Money can’t buy moments like this… but it can pay a shuttle driver to pick up more of our friends next week, and I can’t wait to meet them!

A Lot with a Little: Nurturing Imagination

by Meg Specia, Hopeprint Summer 2017 Intern, University of Notre Dame

“How much for friendship?” I asked. “Two dollars!” the fourth-grade girl across from me replied, beaming. That seemed like a bargain, so I handed over two slips of orange paper, which she proudly added to a pile on the table. 

It was our second day of summer programming, and I had presented my group of fourth and fifth graders with a challenge. If they could open any type of store, what would they sell? What would the store be called? How much would they charge and how would they advertise? I handed out slips of colored paper that had been transformed into currency, told them that before opening up shop they would need to buy their storefront for $35, and set them free with a stack of paper and a box of markers. 

They threw themselves into it, dreaming up an incredible variety of stores. Some were focused on rather niche markets (hover boards, airplanes, and an entire establishment just for toy trucks), while others threw the net wide. For example, the store where I purchased friendship boldly claimed to sell “everything,” highlighting such products on its sign as ice cream, friendship, and shoes. 

The room was filled with chatter as kids bought, sold, advertised, and bartered. Nobody was fazed by the fact that no real products were changing hands or that their money was simply scraps of colored paper with a dollar amount written on it. Their imaginations made it all real. 

Although there may not have been real airplanes or shoes sold at Hopeprint that day, the lessons learned were certainly real and of great value. One girl realized she should adjust her prices at her nail salon when no one was willing to pay five dollars per nail. Some students learned the benefit of giving away products for the sake of free advertising. What’s more, they were all able to dream big and to practice putting those dreams into action.

At the end of the day, the room was littered with tiny scraps of colored paper and handmade signs for stores. I find it striking that this paper and some markers were the only resources necessary for some very important creating to take place. It excites me to think the lessons that were learned that day as well as the futures that were imagined. And of course, I now have some extra friendship, which is always a good thing!

Let Us Dream

We sat in the most empty classroom, some Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand and a white board. To my left sat long-time Syracuse stakeholder Mark, and at the white board with marker in hand stood Jamison, one of the newest arrivals to the not-for-profit tables. And then there was me, perched on the middle ground between newbie and seasoned, still learning the ropes yet increasingly aware of the terrain we are navigating. 

Our task is one of the best collaborative efforts I have had the chance to build in the last eight years in the community. Three invested organizations saying, "We can't do this alone. Let's do it together." Northside Learning Center, RISE and Hopeprint are each focused on the post-resettlement season with refugee families, spanning from 91 days to 5 years in country. While our programs and initiatives differ, we share a common ultimate goal: Each New American resettled in our city would be able to live into their full potential, to thrive. 

To varying degrees based on our tenure in this community, we each had witnessed the beauty, struggle, capacity, barriers and all that thrust our friends towards a thriving life, or prevent its pursuit. We know that for many of our friends, even the concept of dreaming and goals are as new as the ABCs to a toddler. How can one thrive if they cannot even hope it? How can they even hope it if they cannot even imagine it? How can they imagine it if they have not witnessed or experienced it? How can they witness it if they have lived in survival? 

The ability to dream is far too often a mark of relative wealth. It is a luxury that comes from having enough imagination left after bellies are fed, tongues are quenched, babies aren't being bitten by bed bugs, and the sound of gunshots do not awaken the dead of night. To dream, to engage the broader world, to advocate, to inspire... these are beautiful gifts. To take the journey with a survivor to the splendor of a dream is remarkable. 

It is a journey that tells stories like 7th and 8th grade students Ky and Woonequia who rang my doorbell as the sun is setting for the evening yesterday. They had a notebook in hand and a dream in mind that they could be a part of a movement on behalf of others. "Miss Nicole, can we have a Black Lives Matter picnic? Like for people of your race and all races to come together? Can we raise money for people who need it? Can you help us?" 

It is a journey that takes a top-down conversation about highway infrastructure, and determines to forge a different conversation about transportation needs in the most populated neighborhood in the impacted city. It demands to have silenced voices heard not by screaming but by organizing and dreaming together. 

It is a journey that welcomes a small group of English language learners into a classroom this afternoon where there are backpacks provided to them by local businesspeople, and teachers ready to walk with them. It is a new neighbor's delight when she put on her backpack and finds the few English words she knows to express her excitement, "Bag no... now yes!"

It is a journey in which those who were once the newcomer and the student are now leaders in 6 out of 9 programs this semester. Watching their eyes light up when they are asked to take on this responsibility, and the beautiful way in which they own the role. 

It is walking the house with our exterminator Brandon this afternoon as he recounted, from his perspective, the very first day he came to spray for bedbugs in what was then a new adventure. In his bi-monthly visits, he has watched this dream morph and grow, and gets to be a part of it being possible. 

It is in hearing the way that the stories of my friends impact those watching them via parents at a suburban middle school tonight. Parent after parent sharing how their child came home so excited to be meet these new friends from around the globe, and to be a people who leave their hopeprint on the world. 

I may be a little biased, but I am pretty sure I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to stand back and watch amazing people use their skills, talents and stories integrated with those around them to foster a people of hope empowered to thrive. Young black activists, seasoned stakeholders, exterminators, suburban families, city planners, teachers, former refugees... these are the characters of my last 48 hours. 

As these characters in this shared story dream together that highway infrastructures, public schools, urban neighborhoods, policing, language learning, economic opportunity and more could be of, for and by the people, rhetoric moves from dreams to plans. As we reimagine space, neighborhood and possibilities together for our mutual thriving, communities change.

The world is full of problems, and low-to-moderate income neighborhoods have the unfortunate experience of bearing them in an exasperated way. When one walks these streets, tries to advocate in community meetings and push towards a better future, it is easy to grow disillusioned.

There is a narrow road that leads towards hope. It journeys through dreaming birthed out of witnessing sparks of possibility. Yet, in most cases sparks fizzle unless met by parched tinder, which is almost always produced out of death of what was once a living thing. When sparks of possibility encounter seemingly insurmountable problems, dreamers bear witness to the fire not as a fear to be escaped, but a possibility to be fostered. Problems foster dreaming to those who are willing to lean into them.

Young black activists, seasoned stakeholders, exterminators, suburban families, city planners, teachers, former refugees and others are learning in. Will you? Let us dream together.