Club Spotlight: Hearts and Homes for Refugees

Club Spotlight: Hearts and Homes for Refugees
Credit: Evelynn Beaton

Hearts and Homes For Refugees is a club that has recently been brought back to the Hilltop through sophomore club leaders Jordan Kleeger, Annika Duggan, and Jiya Dhakad. This nonprofit organization is based on the belief that people living in a certain district, region, or community have the ability to form the basis for an economic movement to help others in their community.

Since Hearts and Homes for Refugees is run by students, it can be classified as Students for Refugees which runs under the main organization Hearts and Homes for Refugees. These two groups have a reciprocal relationship where student leaders communicate back and forth with the main organization via meetings and emails. A key component to the success of this club is having the ability to collaborate not just with the other club members, but other community members, too. 

Hearts and Homes is not a new addition to the campus; in fact, students in years prior ran the club. Unfortunately, the club came to an end when those leaders graduated. Therefore, during the summer of 2023, lower school teacher Roni Canter took the initiative to gather new club members Jordan, Annika, and Jiya. The head organization is located in Westchester County and its main goal is to expand to local schools. Students for Refugees was the perfect way to simplify communications and connections to the main organization. 

Each member of the club has a different role to fulfill. Some students are in charge of sending emails, while others plan upcoming club events. This creates a more manageable work environment, allowing the leaders to have more time to seek more volunteer opportunities that can be brought to the student body. 

To mark the start of this new club, the leaders attended a refugee picnic alongside many other school leaders. Here, leaders were able to tend to refugees that had just moved in. The main goal of this event was to create a space for refugees to make connections. their kids were able to play soccer, get their faces painted, and much more, all while parents could empathize over shared experiences. The picnic involved some brainstorming as well, where each school came to a consensus regarding their yearly goals, many of those being access to tutors, or a fundraising color run. To tie in all the information, the leader of the whole organization came to speak, sharing the club’s impact. 

Annika promotes the club, saying, “It’s a good opportunity for the students at Hackley to help with the refugee crisis.”

This club also specifically  encourages students to give back to local towns around their own neighborhoods. It is important to note that the refugee crisis is not temporary nor local, but is global. Thus, it is all the more impactful for students to spread awareness and inform themselves and others. 

One club member, sophomore Zion Bennett, expands on this idea, saying, “Going to Hackey and being surrounded by such great people, faculty, and resources, it definitely makes me think about how my life would be if I wasn’t so fortunate.” 

Hearts and Homes for Refugees reflects being a part of something bigger, which is a rare feeling. Many students can agree with the idea that sharing part of the fortune in your life and finding a way to give back is rewarding. Students seeking this unique characteristic found it within Hearts and Homes. 

The organization works to gather refugees coming in from other countries and ensure that they are given basic necessities and feel less isolated. This club goes by the motto: welcome, convene, educate, and advocate. 

Annika says this is a “Four-step way to act locally to address the global crisis of refugees.” 

The first step is to welcome refugees through picnics and have them make connections with other refugees with the same backgrounds. By developing these lifelong connections, the refugees feel less alone. Next, they strive to educate others through the club meetings which take place every other day two in the cycle. It is also important for one to educate oneself, hence leading to a global effect. For Hearts and Homes for Refugees, the acts of volunteering and providing education go hand in hand. The club leaders plan on further implementing this with future drives planned. A lot happens behind the scenes. For example at the very first club meeting, the leaders had their members empathize with what it is like living as a refugee. This set the tone for the rest of the meetings. Last November, Thanksgiving cards were made to be put into bags with materials to make a Thanksgiving dinner. After this, Jordan took it upon herself to drop these bags off at Lori Kapner-Hosp’s house. 

Continuing with the club’s accomplishments, leaders will hosted a Love Your Neighbors drive which took place in March. During so, students/members provided items like zip lock bags, and aluminum foil, all of which are not covered by SNAP (food stamps). The leaders are keen on immersing themselves in the Westchester Arts event which celebrates Afghan culture. The event needed models to display Afghan clothing as many of the women do not feel comfortable partaking in a fashion walk. Jordan, a club leader, will be a server, working at the buffet dinner as well. Westchester Arts allows club leaders to expand their cultural perspective.

The leaders take input from the members as well, valuing their opinions. This makes the club very hands-on. One of the wonderful qualities this club brings is that it is not just the ideas of the leaders, but also those of the students. There are never maybes, as the club always has a set plan. This club takes a sensitive topic, creates something meaningful, and talks about something not everyone knows about. This inspires members and helps make a small difference day by day. 

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