You may have read my post entitled “Instead“published on August 8 or a guest post “Learning from ‘Strangers’ Among Us.” on August 15 which responds to “Instead” by sharing a story about learning from refugees and immigrants. Today I’d like to share a success story, a project carried out in just weeks by people in Holland, MI (with help from friends in other places) that demonstrates the power of “Instead” thinking.
On July 17, my friend Nancy Miller, spurred on by the horror of the Trump admin- istration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, sent an e-mail to about 30 people. She told us that nearly 20 unaccompanied minors (ages 5 – high school) were being sent by the federal government soon to Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, MI (about 25 miles from us) for care. She wrote:
“Bethany is one of 2 sites in Michigan that contracts with/is licensed by the federal government to serve as providers of shelter, i.e., foster homes, for refugee children (ages 0-17) who come from the Mexican border and are labeled “unaccompanied minors,” even if they crossed the border with their parents.
Bethany has been receiving kids from the border for more than 5 years, but this year the need has exceeded capacity, given President Trump’s recent executive order to detain all adults who enter the US illegally (and must therefore give up their minor children who then become unaccompanied minors). In short, Bethany, and agencies like it around the US, have run out of space. Bethany is, therefore, opening a new site for 18 such “unaccompanied minor” children in Holland by the end of August.
Here’s the rub (or need). The government requires all children in foster care to attend school from 9-3 daily. The school is run by the agency caring for them. By the end of August, Bethany must have a fully furbished and approved classroom ready for the kids who arrive. They have not yet located a site for this classroom but hope to do so within the next 6-8 months. Costs are high and options very limited. So, they plan to use a room in their newly-renovated building to provide a “crash course” in English, education and therapy about abuse and trauma and whatever else they have experienced en route to the Mexican border. Of course, they will also be learning reading, math, etc.”
Nancy went on to describe Bethany’s need for supplies for that class room and for those children and asked for our help. One retired teacher created a sign-up page on SignUpGenius – Group Organizing Made Easy. As the Bethany staff got organized, their needs for the program appeared on the Sign Up page. And people began signing up to supply those needs: 18 backpacks, 20 calculators, 16 boxes of crayons, world globe, world wall map, Simon game, etc. It was a rather intimidating list. But within days the sign up sheet was filling in and needs were being met. Then Bethany hired a teacher experienced in working with refugee children; she added to the list: flex space comfy floor seats, English language development speaking and listening center, Disney Pixar wooden race track, soccer nets and balls – and on and on. Nancy’s garage began to fill up with boxes and bags full of hope.
On August 19, I got an e-mail from Nancy. All the items had been purchased and boxes and bags had been delivered to the classroom. In addition $650 had been contributed to meet future needs Bethany may have in their quest to educate these children.
In my original post I argued (quite strongly) that Americans bewildered and angered by the acts of our President need to keep in mind a line by Eugene Peterson: “Instead is a word of exchange.” I noted that the word “instead” implies that we can choose this instead of that or believe this instead of that or accept this instead of that. The Bethany Christian Services “unaccompanied minor” project begun and completed in a month by a small group of friends proves that an “instead” attitude can change the world.