AZ Giving and Leading: Welcome to America Project

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What started with one Arizona family looking to help one refugee family that resettled in Phoenix has grown into a nationally recognized non-profit organization. The “Welcome to America Project” provides donated household items for refugee families that are starting new lives in Arizona. We’ll go along with volunteers making deliveries and see how their welcoming gestures impact new families in our state.

Ted Simons: In tonight's focus on local groups, working to improve our community, we look at an organization that's helping refugees. Every year between two and four thousand refugees arrive in Arizona. They come from all over the world, psyching freedom, and safety from persecution in their home countries, when they land from the desert they bring their own customs, traditions and languages, but often little or no material items. That's where our local group is stepping in as the producer, Christina Estes and photographer Steve Aaron show us.

Christina Estes: It's technically the delivery truck for the Welcome to America project.

Man: We are going to have some gifts.

Christina Estes: Some stuff may be an understatement.

Christina Estes: Volunteers fill this two bedroom apartment with donated items they hope will help the family feel more at home.

Megan O'Connor: Carolyn and Belle Manning founded the welcome to America project in 2001 as a response to September 11 . They had lost their brother, Terrence, in the World Trade Center on September 11, and about a month after that, Carolyn saw a picture in the newspaper of a family from Afghanistan, and as she read the article, she found out that, that the family were refugees, that they had come to Arizona seeking peace and freedom from terrorism. And to get here, in a few months after they arrived, there was this terrorist attack. They were a Muslim family, and it was a very scary time for them.

Christina Estes: While visiting the family, Carolyn Manning noticed that they did not have a lot of furnishings, she called on friends and they delivered. Just like the volunteers.

Megan O'Connor: And as they left, they saw that there were many other refugee families and Carolyn started to wonder, what happened to these folks? And who helped them. How did they find things like shoes and backpacks and school supplies? She took items out of the garage week after week to serve more families, and we continued that tradition every Saturday since 2001.

Falah Alwan: So, I'm from Baghdad.

Christina Estes: Iraqi native Falah Alwan, his wife, and their two children arrived in Phoenix three months ago.

Falah Alwan: I think that the biggest tyrant in the world, which was Saddam.

Christina Estes: Falah was happy to see troops invade his country and worked as a translator for the U.S. military.

Falah Alwan: They called the person who, who helped the U.S. army, like an agent, or, or call it a spy, which is big and frightening because they have no mercy for these people. They're just killing them. Him and his family.

Christina Estes: Falah's work for the U.S. put his family in danger, so the state department gave them refugee status and sent them to Arizona. Falah says they are lucky because the weather, trees, and the birds are the same as a rock. So far, his biggest challenge is finding a job that values his 15 years with the ministry of tourism.

Falah Alwan: Here, actually, what is hard it's because they don't consider what I've been experiencing. They treated it just like that, the new people and, and like, they wash everything away from your head.

Sentari Minor: In the United States, we don't realize how privileged we are.

Christina Estes: Sentari Minor is leading the deliveries. He's also Welcomed to America's board President, which means he has a lot of stories.

Sentari Minor: They are very, very compelling but one was of a Somali woman who had a number of kids, but she was pregnant and had to walk across, I think, it was two countries, and to find safety, and when she was finally in the United States, she just excelled and said that I can rest now, and it was, was that, that stuck with me, and that was one of my second or third deliveries, and I knew that I had to stay with the organization.

Megan O'Connor: We're all human and we all deserve to, to feel safe, and feel like we belong in our community and feel welcomed.

Christina Estes: While the children enjoy the toys, we learn their mother celebrated a birthday the day before. The best present for her husband is his bike.

Falah Alwan: I am very excited to ride a bike. I used to ride one back in Iraq.

Christina Estes: After the dishes are stacked, and the mirrors are hung, Falah shares his family's background.

Falah Alwan: I had to move my family to a safer place.

Sentari Minor: We are really excited that you guys are safe and happy and wish you the best of luck.

Christina Estes: Before heading for the delivery.

Woman: One, two, three.

Christina Estes: There is time for a quick photo, and goodbyes.

Falah Alwan: It's really great. You are the most generous people.

Voices: Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much.

Since 1984 more than 63,000 refugees have moved to Arizona. The largest populations are from Vietnam, Iraq, and Bosnia. To learn more about the welcome to America project, visit their website at

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on Horizon, we'll hear what business leaders want to see this session, and we'll learn how a Gilbert man turned his farm into an agricultural utopia, on Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have is a great evening.

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