By: Ellie Hutchison
The holiday season is a season of gathering. We come together around candle-lit tables to share meals and conversation. We reunite with family and friends and pause to give thanks for the blessings in our lives. In other words, it is a season in which the social fabric of our communities is strengthened, in which we remember our roots and the relationships that bring meaning to our lives.
And while this season is one of joy and connection for many, it can also cause heartache for others. For those who have lost loved ones, are struggling with broken relationships, or whose family is far away, the holiday season can reinforce a sense of grief and isolation.
This is too often the case for refugees and immigrants, who—in a new, unfamiliar place—must reimagine what “home” means. They face the tall task of planting new roots, building new connections, and creating a new community across potential barriers like language, race, and religion.
So, in this season of thanksgiving, we feel particularly grateful for this community that is boldly welcoming New Americans and easing their process of making their new home, home. Creating a more welcoming community takes all of us, and we are eternally thankful for the generous individuals and organizations who are committed to this work.
As a team of both New Americans and long-term citizens, we want to highlight a few of the incredible individuals and organizations that we’re thankful for this year. A few of these individuals include:
- Bethany DeBlaay, who provides vital counseling to survivors of torture and trauma.
- The Hoekwater family, who are friends to new neighbors, generous community members, and amazing supporters of Treetops. People like Marla Hoekwater inspire us by how they move beyond good intentions and dive in, even when it can be hard and uncomfortable.
- Those with creative talents like Pete McDaniel, Ryan Humm, Jillian Bowes, Mindy Tolsma, Katie Flermoen, Emilie Eklund, Olivia Venuto, Jamie Johnson, and more who use their creativity to better our community and who have used their gifts to capture and elevate Treetops’ work and allow us to share our story.
- Elisabeth Hoogeboon, a current Treetops Intern, who is working to create after-school work opportunities for the teen girls in our Gukura group. In doing this, she is creating opportunities for the girls to explore their gifts and strengths. Because of Elisabeth’s attuned ear, we’ve been able to respond to their needs and desires. One result of this is the upcoming launch of a new collaborative macrame line in partnership with Jessica Fields of Knots of Love!
- Attorneys who are offering free or affordable legal services to New Americans.
- Our families who support and encourage us, and for the family we’ve cultivated in this Collective.
- Treetops monthly donors who believe in and sustain our work of welcoming and who desire to see a community where women, who have been uprooted and faced so much loss, can truly belong and flourish.
- All those who have gone before us and laid the groundwork that we are now building upon.
We’re also grateful for the following organizations and businesses who each play a role in strengthening our community:
- Mars Hill Bible Church, who financially supports Treetops and many other grassroots organizations in our community.
- Church of the Servant, who offers relational ESL classes and a church service for English-language learners.
- Covenant House Academy, which helps young adults—including refugee students—finish their high school education even after they age out.
- Voices for Health, who helps Treetops with translation needs.
- The Refugee Education Center, which is providing support for refugee children and their families as they navigate the American education system.
- Justice for Our Neighbors, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Legal Aid, and The Immigrant Connection, which all provide immigrants with much-needed legal resources.
- The library, which provides educational opportunities and resources for our community.
- Thoughtful business owners like James and Alexiana Fry of Peace and Toil, Jean Stoffer Design, and our friends at Funky Buddha who align their work with our mission, shift production and sourcing to create opportunities for their new neighbors, and use their influence to spread welcome.
In the broader Grand Rapids community, we’re grateful for:
- The freedom of religion and freedom of mobility.
- The availability of resources and opportunities for New Americans.
- The diverse restaurants, like Chez Olga, who introduce our community to delicious cuisine from all over the world.
- The cultural festivals New Americans have started, such as the annual Hispanic Festival, that enriches Grand Rapids cultural life and strengthens our social fabric.
This list is nowhere near comprehensive, but we hope it begins to capture the generous people, organizations, and initiatives that make our community a better, more welcoming place.
Dedicating Giving Tuesday to Justice for our Neighbors
One way to express gratitude is by giving back, and this year, we want to show some love and support for Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON)—one of the many great organizations we listed above.
JFON welcomes immigrants into communities across Michigan by providing high-quality legal services, education, and advocacy.
The work of JFON is desperately needed in this moment when the rights of immigrants and those seeking asylum are under attack. So, for Giving Tuesday—a global day of giving on November 27—we’ll be dedicating our support to JFON.
We encourage you to give back on Giving Tuesday too, whether to JFON, Treetops, or another organization near and dear to your heart!
Thank you for being part of this Collective and for spreading welcome in the unique way only you can. As we work to create a community in which New Americans feel a deep sense of belonging, we hope that you may also experience love, joy, connection, and belonging this holiday season.