While refugee crisis grows, Marian girls offer support

By J1 reporter Hayley Golden

Survival is not something many Americans have to think about, but for a refugee, it’s all that matters. While many Americans are worrying about following the latest trends, refugees are worrying about having the necessities to stay alive.

There are more than 65 million refugees in the world today, with many of them trying to escape from their homeland to safety; and the number is rising. These people have no where to go, and little to no possessions.

While some people all over the globe are choosing to ignore, and even attack these refugees, Marian girls have decided to welcome and embrace them.

The new club, Operation Welcome, was created to host families of refugees in the Omaha area.

The club was a huge hit when it was first introduced at Marian’s annual Club Fair in September.

New French and Social Studies teacher, and founder of the club, Mrs. Katy Salzman said she was pleasantly surprised to see the huge response from Marian girls. “I found it very encouraging and inspiring how Marian students want to help refugees in Omaha.”

Salzman originally started a comparable club at Creighton Prep called “International Conflict and Refugees.” When she made the switch to Marian, she knew that she wanted to start a similar club. “When starting at Marian this year, I wanted to continue to get young people involved in helping refugees, which are among the most vulnerable groups currently in our community.”

Salzman has been involved with refugees ever since the 90s, when she took off to Europe to help the growing refugee crisis. “I worked for the U.N. refugee agency in Brussels, Belgium and Geneva, Switzerland.  My main focus was on Europe and how Europe accepts or doesn’t accept refugees.”

Salzman’s job also took her to Eastern Europe and Africa, where she facilitated the return of refugees to their home.

Over the years, Salzman has continued work with refugees by writing grants for refugee groups, sponsoring and mentoring refugees, and spreading awareness.

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Moving in! Operation Welcome members help move in furniture for the new refugee home. From left to right: Grace Nelson ’18, Tylin Welch ’17, Alyssa Carlson ’17, Tori Dunston ’17, Gigi Hausman ’17, and Megan Rutten ’18. Photo courtesy of Emma Roth ’18.

In addition to Salzman’s passion for helping, Marian girls have also felt the excitement. Sophomore Carolyn Griffin and Senior Natalie Sterba are just two out of the many members in the club who are ready to help. Griffin says that her ambition for helping others is why she wanted to join the club. “My main reason for joining Operation Welcome is my desire to use my talents to make a difference in the life of a refugee in any way possible,” Griffin said.

Likewise, Sterba also felt the need to help out in the community.

“Operation Welcome is a really great opportunity to get involved in our community and to help make a direct impact on a family that just needs a little help adjusting to their new environment. As soon as I heard about the club, I knew that it was something that I had to join and get involved with.”

Natalie Sterba ’17

In addition to already setting up a refugee home in early November, Operation Welcome has many plans for the future. The club meets every few weeks, where the girls plan and throw out new ideas. Some of these proposed ideas include a food and diaper drive, fleece blanket making, welcome card making, and having guest speakers.

Operation Welcome has also joined forces with Creighton Prep to make an even bigger impact in the community.

Since Marian is hosting about three to four families, there will be more chances to move in and welcome families, with the next opportunity for this being in March, and again in June.

Almost anyone can sponsor a family, but it’s not easy. According to Salzman, you have to go through a local resettlement agency, like Lutheran Family Services (LFS). After the United States government permits a refugee family to enter the US, the family gets matched to that agency. After this happens, the LFS will contact the sponsors, and offer training sessions.

Salzman also thought it was important to talk about the importance of sponsoring. “Of the 150 families arriving in Omaha last year, only 34 of them were sponsored. Families who are not sponsored have to pay for all their furniture, household items and food out of the very small resettlement fund given to them by the government.  It is a huge advantage to a family when a group sponsors them.  It means they can do other things with that money, such as buy clothes, save for a car, pay ahead on rent.”

In the end, Operation Welcome does not only give the students of Marian a chance to help out in the community, but also a chance for a refugee family to have a new start.

Marian girls refuse to let refugees down – See related story by the Network staff.

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