Family Bios: August 12, 2017

The first family we will visit is originally from Somalia, although none of the children have ever seen their country. The mother left Somalia when she was 17 and lived for 20 years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She met and married her husband there, had all her children, and lost her husband before the family was granted asylum here in the USA.  This family of 9 (mother and children ranging from ages 7 to 23) arrived in Phoenix with a brother-in-law in October 2015. The older daughter,  married with a baby (the first American in their family), has since moved out with her husband. The mother moved to Seattle with the other 8 children a little while ago. Seattle proved to be too expensive and it was hard for the mother to find a job, so they have come back to Phoenix.  They are starting over again in a small 2-bedroom apartment, but they are optimistic and hopeful. The mother says Phoenix is good – good food, good health care, good schools. She is looking for a job and the younger children will soon start back to school. This happy family is grateful for the help of WTAP, grateful for the newest addition to their family, and excited about the future.


We’ll also meet a family of four from Cuba, who are very recent arrivals to the United States.  They include two adults and a pair of teenage boys.




And we’ll visit a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The father is one of 12 children, 11 of whom survived.  In 1996, during the war, they fled to the Refugee camp in Tanzania, where the family stayed 22 years.  The father and his family attended school through high school.  The grandparents died in camp, one from malaria and one from heart problems.  The father and mother met in camp and had all three children there. The family includes two boys ages,  11 and 8, and a daughter age 4.  The three children will be in school this coming year. The father has five brothers living in New York.

Don’t Miss Out!

There are only a few more days until our Welcome Breakfast, where we’ll celebrate 15 years of welcoming refugees to the Phoenix area! Our speakers include Wasan, a refugee from Iraq, who will share her family’s journey, fleeing persecution to resettlement and prosperous lives of safety and opportunity. Also speaking, Phoenix, Arizona mayor Greg Stanton! Don’t miss out on this inspirational, educational, and free event! RSVP here


Truck Mural: Design Contest

truck contest

Seeking Artists to Design Our New Truck!

Thanks to a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, WTAP has a new truck. For now, it is still stark white… we need YOU to help us change that!

Interested artists please submit a design:

  • The design should be 8 feet by 16 feet for both sides of 8’x16′ box truck
  • There should be a different design for each side
  • A mural design must not have any shading or blending
  • Can be projected and traced onto truck
  • Can be filled in by volunteers

March 1-20: Idea submissions accepted:
Email to with “truck mural” in subject line

March 21- Apr 4: Vote on finalists on social media
Design chosen and prize awarded


12 Days of Adopt-a-Family 2015

The Adopt-a-Family program is an opportunity to spread good tidings by giving gifts and household staples to a newly arrived refugee family. This holiday season, 36 newly resettled refugee families have been “adopted” by volunteers. Beginning on Nov. 30th, we’re highlighting one family a day, as our “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” campaign. Saturday, Dec. 12, volunteers will meet and deliver gifts to their adopted families!

On the 12th day of #WTAP’s “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, we introduce you to a #refugee family from Iraq. The family fled Iraq after the father served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He and his wife have two daughters ages 2 and 9 months. They look forward to bright future in the United States

On the 11th day of #WTAP’s “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, we introduce you to a #refugee family from Burma. The family and their two young daughters, ages 3 and 8, spent 19 years in a Thai refugee camp before being resettled in the Phoenix area. The mother sold goods to support their family. The family hopes #WTAP’s volunteer elves can bring pots, pans, comforters, and toys for the two young children.

On the 10th day of ‪#‎WTAP‬’s “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, we introduce you to a ‪#‎refugee‬ family from Bhutan. After more than 20 years living in a Nepali refugee camp, the family was resettled in the Phoenix area in June. Grateful for the opportunity to provide their five-year-old son with a peaceful and stable life in Phoenix, the couple hopes #WTAP’s volunteer elves can bring them a rice cooker, warm winter blankets, winter clothing, school supplies for their son, and a bicycle and safety gear for the father to commute to work.

On the 9th day of ‪#‎WTAP‬’s “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, we introduce you to a Cuban ‪#‎refugee‬ family. Fleeing an oppressive regime, the family is happy to be resettled in Phoenix where they believe they can provide a better life for their 14-year-old daughter. The father has already started working and hopes #WTAP’s volunteer elves bring a bicycle with safety gear so he can safely commute to his job. The family is also looking for other basic necessities like sheets, towel sets, and shoes.

On the 8th day of ‪#‎WTAP‬’s “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, we introduce you to a Somali ‪#‎refugee‬ family who arrived in Phoenix in April. This single mother with two teenage children lived in a Yemen refugee camp for years before being able to come to the United States. She hopes to provide a better life for her wheelchair bound son.

On the 7th day of our “12 Days of Adopt-a-Family” countdown, our volunteer elves are preparing gifts for a large ‪#‎refugee‬ family from Burma. This very special family has four children, ranging in age from 1-15, two of which were adopted after the death of their biological parents. The family resettled in Phoenix only two months ago and is slowly adjusting to their new American life.

On the 6th day of Adopt-a-Family, ‪#‎Santa‬ and his helpers are preparing a visit for an extended family from the Democratic Republic of ‪#‎Congo‬. This family of seven is headed by the Grandmother and her brother and consists of her three children and two grandchildren aged 3 and 1. After her husband’s death, the Grandmother took her family and fled the violence where they became refugees in Burundi. She worked as a farmer while her children attended school for nearly a decade before resettlement in Phoenix. They are hopeful for the opportunities a life in the US affords. Santa and his helpers hope to give them a warm welcome and a big boost this season!

On the 5th day of Adopt-a-Family, ‪#‎Santa‬ and his helpers are thinking of a family from ‪#‎Burma‬. This family of eight with children aged 21 to seven arrived in Phoenix last January. They fled their home in 2006 due to ethnic and religious persecution and sought refuge in Thailand for nearly a decade before being approved for resettlement in the United States. The father is now employed as a greenkeeper and is happy to be able to provide for his family and grateful for the opportunities life in their new home will provide for their children.

On the 4th day of Adopt-a-Family, ‪#‎Santa‬ and his helpers are preparing ‪#‎gifts‬ for a family from ‪#‎Iraq‬. The father and mother of eight children were farmers before the war destroyed their home and land. They became refugees and were resettled in Phoenix in July. The children, aged 20 all the way down to one, are learning English, and the whole family is working through the trauma of the war that took their homes and their livelihood. Santa and his helpers are hoping to provide them a boost this year that will help them smile.

On the 3rd day of Adopt-a-Family, #Santa and WTAP are thinking about a #refugee family consisting of a mother and father and their two children aged 9 and 3. They fled violence in their home country of #Colombia in 2012 and were just resettled in Phoenix in March of this year. They have finally found full time work and have grateful to be able to provide for their families now. Santa’s elves are working hard to make sure they receive a warm holiday welcome this season as they start out on their new lives here in Phoenix.

On this the 2nd day of our 12 Days of Adopt-a-Family countdown, #Santa and his elves are preparing gifts for a #refugee family from Somalia. This family consists of a widowed mother struggling to raise six children on her own. The children are aged 12 through 1 and they are all slowly adapting to American life since arriving in late September. WTAP is excited to partner with Santa to make sure they feel welcome and that they have a very happy holiday this year.

On the first day of Adopt-a-Family…
Our volunteer elves are working hard to prepare a surprise for a family from #Syria. This family fled war-torn Syria some time ago and lived in a camp in Thailand until they were resettled in Phoenix August 31. The father and mother have new-found hope to start over in their Arizona home and are eager for their four children aged 11, 9, 4, and 3 to receive an education.

Thanks to the generous Adopt-a-Family delivery day support from First Bank!

The refugee families we welcome have been legally resettled in the Phoenix area. Participants in the Adopt-a-Family program have not previously received any services from The Welcome to America Project. These new members of our communities have escaped extreme hardship and dangerous situations, spending years in limbo often in refugee camps, so that they can provide a future for their families. We’re honored to serve them.

Happy Holidays!

WTAP Adopt a Family is More Than Meets the Eye

tea with cardamom

tea with cardamom

Of course sharing of our time and helping our new friends with basic necessities and toys for the children is what this annual event of giving and sharing is expected to be, but there is more. The cultural exchanges, smiles and camaraderie are just as important. When offered some tea by the Iraqi family we visited last Saturday, we were touched that they wished to host us as friends with a cup of tea. We were pleasantly surprised by a hint of something different in the tea, and inquired about it. We were shown the Arabic Ceylon tea packaging, but we knew it was something more as we have that particular tea at home. When I inquired further that there was something else in the tea, the wife nodded and ran back into the kitchen. She returned with green cardamom seeds and explained that she crushed these and placed them in the teapot to steep with the tea. It is absolutely delicious, and something which we learned from our new Iraqi friends.

Tonight, at home, we are enjoying the same tea with cardamom, and thinking of our cultural exchange and a wonderful new way of having tea!

Komezakaranga Drummers: Keeping a Culture Alive

Photo credit to Rick D'Elia of D'Elia Photographic

Two Sundays ago The Welcome to America Project held a fundraiser celebrating the rich culture of Burundi.  Delicious food and inspiring stories filled the evening. One highlight of the night was the performance of a drumming group called the Komezakaranga (which means heritage). The syncopation of the powerful drums sounded like heartbeats as the troop members sang, danced, and pounded on their instruments. The drummers gracefully balanced their drums, which are made of hollowed tree trunks and painted like the Burundi flag, on their heads- which is quite a talent! The Komezakaranga drummers aim to spread a piece of Burundi wherever they perform in order to keep their culture alive.  To find out more about these amazing drummers, visit


Adopt-a-Family Reflections

Adopt-a-Family is an annual event hosted by the Welcome to America Project.  It aims to bring American families together with their new refugee neighbors.  Participants can share their favorite holiday traditions, bring gifts or treats, and talk about life in their respective countries.  This year’s event was held on December 15th.  The following is one volunteer family’s experience.

On Saturday, while it was wet and cold outside, my husband and our two teenaged boys went to visit a family of seven that fled Iraq and arrived in Phoenix only four months ago. We approached their modest home in North Phoenix just as the translator arrived, and emptied our car of the gifts that we had brought in hopes of bringing some comfort to this new family in their new home.

Immediately, we were ushered into the family’s living room where the grandmother and mother asked if they could bring us a warm drink. Shortly, coffee, tea and a plethora of home baked goods – including some Iraqi specialties – arrived in beautiful glass cups and on silver platters.

While we were nibbling on the goodies, the children came in to say hello. We mentioned that most of the packages were for them and that, if it was OK with the parents, they were welcome to open the presents. The two older girls dragged the boxes into their room and a few minutes later came out with big grins on their faces and kind words of thanks. They even helped the younger twins open their gifts – one of which was a noisy toy that was happily enjoyed for the rest of our visit!

The family had escaped Iraq due to safety concerns during and after the war. Thankfully, they had family already here in Phoenix and have been able to adjust quickly. The two older girls are thriving in school and the younger ones seem quite well adjusted. We talked about the differences between Iraq and America, and found that we had many interests in common despite the distance between the country in which we were raised.

For our family, reaching out to a neighbor, sitting and having coffee and tea, watching children open presents, and knowing that our small tokens made someone feel welcome in our country, helped us to celebrate the holiday season for what it truly is – a time to remember that Love came into the world to show us how to live with one another. We are grateful to Julia, Ophelia and The Welcome to America Project for giving us a chance to live our commitment to love and care for our neighbors.

– The Thomas Family

2012 Prom Recap

Prom: the quintessential right-of-passage event reserved for high school seniors (and the lucky, popular juniors) nationwide. A night of limousines, rented tuxedos and more fun than most parents would ever want to hear about; for most, the prom marks the end of an era and the start of new beginnings. However, most remember prom as a night where everyone, regardless of who they were, their backgrounds, their cliques, their groups, mingled and mixed together and had an amazing time.

An amalgam of people laughing, fraternizing and enjoying a fun-filled night was the goal of The Welcome to America Project’s 2012 prom and it was a clear and apparent success.

Interestingly (and rather fortuitously), I ended up inviting and filling my table with all of my high school friends. These were the same people I attended prom with in the spring of 2003 and I knew it would be a great time. I was beyond elated when everyone agreed to attend as I knew from previous experience that the WTAP prom offers a fantastic opportunity, year after year, for groups of friends to come relive their own prom experience (or try prom for the first time). The major difference is that tickets, dresses and corsages were purchased to support not a school but a common and noteworthy cause.

The programming was captivating and led seamlessly by Channel 12’s James Quinones. Between his lively persona and banter between WTAP’s Executive Director Megan O’Connor, the night was certainly full of laughs. Megan’s own admission of her disastrous prom experience had the audience smiling endlessly and was a welcome addition.
James Quiñones and Megan O'Connor

Perhaps the most poignant part of the night was Alexis Niragira’s touching story of his journey to the United States and how WTAP helped him acclimate and assimilate. It was this story that really conveyed just how powerful the welcome can be and how absolutely vital The Welcome to America Project is to this population. I’ll admit, there was not a dry-eye at my table.

Of course the best part of the evening was seeing everyone let loose and enjoy themselves. Patrons and refugees alike moved from table to table, mingled and danced and the night brought together so many different backgrounds and cultures under the guise and premise of neighborly understanding mixed in with fun.

As a proud member of The Welcome to America Project’s Board of Directors, I was so elated to have my closest friends share in WTAP’s mission and get to see the impact this wonderful organization has on Phoenix’s refugees. The prom does a great job showcasing all that we work so tirelessly to achieve and is the signature event that not only strives for a fun-filled evening but to bring awareness to an organization that is truly one-of-a-kind. Hopefully patrons had as much fun as I did and were moved and prompted to sign up to volunteer or donate. If anything, I bet everyone who was there Saturday night are already waiting for their invitations for next year.

Adopt-a-Family Teaches the Meaning of Giving

Submitted by Nicole Digilio

The Welcome to America Project’s Adopt-a-Family event this past weekend was the second time I’ve volunteered for this amazing organization. Based on my past experience, purchasing Christmas gifts usually makes my head spin. Finding the perfect gift for the people you love is a fun way to show them you care, but running around through shopping malls with endless holiday music playing is the last place you want to spend your afternoon. This year, I was grateful to be given the opportunity by The Welcome to America Project to really understand the spirit of the season.

Before walking through the front door, I was excited about giving all these presents to a family in need. But what I didn’t know was that our roles were soon to be reversed. Within the first ten minutes I realized meeting such kind-hearted strangers was greater than any tangible gift I have ever received. The Iraqi family of five was shy at first but then opened up to laughter and discussion.

After serving us traditional Iraqi tea and baked goods, the family told us they have only been in America for three months. Their Catholic faith forced them to flee their home country of Iraq and into Syria. This is where they resided in a refugee camp for the past six years. The youngest daughter, Amira,* is seventeen years old just like me. I thought about how different her life has been from mine. The family told us how they plan to take English classes next month and their daughters explained their interest in becoming pharmacists. I could relate to their fear of going to college and joining the real world this year. I could also surely relate to their newfound love of the delicious In-n-Out burger.

Adopt-a-Family 2011

Adopt-a-Family 2011

We hope to keep in touch with this inspirational family and watch them grow and succeed. They are hardworking people who came here with just the clothes on their backs and are making due with whatever life throws at them. I am glad I got the opportunity to finally understand what the holidays are about and to welcome these refugees to America!

View pictures of this event on our Facebook page.

*Name has been changed to protect family’s identity.

Thanksgiving Offerings Across the Globe

Submitted by Jennifer Noto

Thanksgiving traditions in the U.S. usually involve family, football, and a somniferous spread of foods. While our holiday has evolved from that first humble meal in 1621 where colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a feast, it remains a day we look forward to and cherish. Likewise, many cultures around the world have celebrations that have evolved over the years but are rooted in honoring nature’s providence.

Malaysia: The Kadazan Harvest Festival

Celebrated each May, this festival is centered on honoring the rice gods, who are believed to provide an abundant harvest. Festivities include wearing traditional costumes and drinking tapai, an alcoholic beverage made from rice wine.

Korea: Chu Suk

Chu Suk roughly means “bountiful abundance.” This holiday is a celebration of the harvest in Korea and is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Typically, this is in August or September. During this festival, Koreans eat Songphyon—crescent-shaped rice cakes stuffed with sesame seeds, chestnut paste or beans. Other traditions include offering food to ancestors as an act of worship and gratitude.

Ghana: Homowo Festival

Similar to Malaysia and Korea, this African festival celebrates the harvest. Homowo is celebrated by the Ga people of the Accra region of Ghana and commemorates a period of famine in the country’s history. A month prior to the festival there is a ban on all noisemaking and drumming to symbolize the despair of the famine. Once the famine broke the people shouted with joy. The word Homowo translates to “hooting at hunger.”

Vietnam: Tet Trung Thu

Moon Cake Tet Trung Thu is a mid-Autumn celebration that takes place in Vietnam. The holiday revolves around spending time with children and can be seen as a cross between American Halloween and Thanksgiving. During this holiday, children parade through the streets holding brightly colored lanterns and traditional food like moon cakes (round pastries) are enjoyed. The origins of the festival relate to celebrating the harvest and prosperity in life.

India: Holi

Holi Festival IndiaA celebration enjoyed in India is called Holi, or “Festival of Colors.” This holiday is celebrated each March and usually lasts two days. Festivities include throwing colored powders and liquids and enjoying delicious foods in excess. It is a celebration of the coming spring where bonfires are lit to symbolically banish the cold from the grains and welcome the spring harvests.

At The Welcome to America Project, we love hearing about the various traditions of refugees arriving in the U.S. Next time you join us on a delivery, ask a refugee about their unique cultural festivities. Sign up for a delivery today!