I Welcome Refugees: 3 ways to take action

iwelcomerefugeesPresident Trump’s Executive Order has sparked concern for many people about the future of the refugee resettlement program. With 21 million refugees worldwide, the international community cannot ignore the desperate situations many families find themselves in. Resettlement is a way for a small number of these individuals to find safety and freedom.

Here at WTAP, we have had an outpouring of support from people across the political spectrum in support of refugees. Many of you are mobilized and want to “do something” to support refugees, but aren’t sure what is needed.

No matter where you live, here are three ways to turn that energy into productive action:

  1. Advocate– You have a voice. Make sure your legislators, state and federal, know that you support refugee resettlement. Share accurate information about the process, the refugees in your community, and personal stories.
  2. Become an Ambassador– We need all the help we can get spreading accurate information about refugees and the work we do to welcome and support them. Help us grow our tribe of community members mobilized to provide positive integration. Commit to invite 10 friends, family, co-workers, or business colleagues, to a WTAP tour or invite us to present to your group. Not from AZ, become a social media ambassador. Contact to pledge your commitment.
  3. Donate– As long as there is the need, WTAP will continue to grow our programs to provide support and a warm welcome to refugee families. Now more than ever, community support is vital to refugee resettlement. Give generously to ensure that all refugees receive a dignified home and a neighborly welcome.


Arizona State law allows those who pay state taxes to redirect up to $400 ($800 for jointly filing couples) to qualifying charitable organizations, like The Welcome to America Project. Any amount that is given is then deducted, dollar for dollar, from the total amount of owed state taxes. So, if you owe $400 in state taxes, and you gave away $400 to qualifying charitable organizations, you will have to pay $0 to the state at tax time. It’s that simple! You can take part of your taxes and spend them directly at organizations you know are doing good work for our community.

Here’s what you need to know:

The law allows individuals to give up to $400, and jointly filing couples can give up to $800.

Yes. The maximum allowed may be divided amongst multiple qualifying organizations.

No. A full list of qualifying organizations is available at the AZ Department of Revenue website.  (

Yes. If you give to your public or private school, you can also make a tax credit contribution to a charitable organization and a separate one to Foster Care Charitable Organizations, too. Please note that the maximum contributions for each program are different.

Complete Department of Revenue Fprm 321. You do not need to itemize deductions to claim this credit. Please consult a tax expert if you have specific questions.

Beginning in 2016, the deadline for claiming a tax credit is April 15. Credits donated on or before this day may be applied to either the current or preceding taxable year. Many people like to make their contribution by Dec. 31, the end of the fiscal year for accounting purposes.



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


End of Summer Facebook Contest!

Thanks to all who participated in our end-of-summer contest!

The winner is Annette from Chandler!

Click here to see our director, Collin announcing the winner

We’re celebrating the end of summer with a chance to

diamondbacks-logo-alternatewin 4 tickets to a 2016 season Dbacks game of your choice!

To enter all you have to do is share this video with a personal message about refugees and tag our WTAP Facebook page:

Welcome to America: Giving Refugees New Hope with Household Goods

The more times you share the video, the better chance you have to win the tickets!

The contest runs from Sunday, August 7th-Sunday,  August 21.

The winner will be announced on Monday, August 22nd.

contest terms :
1. The post must be shared directly from our FB account, or link to our FB account
2. Participants can share only once per day.
3. Posts must contain a personal message about refugees.  The statement can be about people they know, personal experience, refugee resettlement, refugee success, innovations, etc. The statement can be as short as one sentence.
4. The winner will be announced on Monday, August 22nd.
5. In the case that there’s a tie, WTAP will randomly draw a name.

Refugees in Our Communities

IMG_1897Marina Kovacevic, Law Student and Former Refugee from Banjaluka, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Where are you from?
Banjaluka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why did you have to leave? Who did you leave with?
I left when I was 8 years old with my mom and sister. We had to leave because the living conditions in Bosnia at the time were unbearable. We had just gone through a civil war, and much of my family was either killed or in financial despair. We did not know the future of our home or what would happen to us if we stayed, if we would even live to see another year. During the war, my father was drafted into the army on the Serb side because we lived predominantly in a Serb region. His platoon was captured and taken to Croatia. He was held in a prison camp, but was allowed to leave when he called an aunt who proved that he was half Croatian. However, the Croatian army had taken all of his identification documents, so he could not stay in Croatia as half Croatian and could not prove his half Serbian identity when he tried to return to Bosnia. He applied for refugee resettlement with the United States and several other countries. Luckily, the Catholic Social Services in the U.S. helped him immigrate to the United States and after several failed attempts that took a year, my mom, sister and I, were able to immigrate as his dependents.

What were you able to bring with you?
I brought clothes and one doll. We also brought some photographs, video cassettes, and music cassettes.

When did you arrive in the U.S.? Which organizations helped you when you arrived?
I arrived on January 16, 1997 and the Catholic Social Services helped us.

What surprised you about daily life in the U.S.?

I was surprised about how HOT it was in Arizona in the middle of January.

I remember thinking that the grocery stores were gigantic and I had so much fun going. In Bosnia, we only had coca cola on birthdays and New Years because it was expensive. So I thought it was wonderful to have coca cola whenever I wanted. I also gorged on cookies, chips, and McDonalds, which I had only seen in movies. It isn’t that my family was poor in Bosnia, but chocolate and snacks were just not sold ever since I can remember.

I also found it wonderful that everyone always smiles in the U.S., something that we consider ingenuine in Bosnia. But, I loved it.

I loved the desert and the fact that western movies that I had seen stayed true to the actual scenery.

I loved how many children’s movies there were on TV and even though we only had basic cable back then (about 10 channels), there was always something fun to watch. Once we got the Disney Channel, I was in heaven.

Lastly, I was mostly surprised how emotional people are here. I felt this as a child, but more so as I grew older. Here, it is okay to express your emotions, even encouraged. It is okay to stop in the middle of what you are doing and smile, cry, or laugh. It is okay to tell people you love them every day and you will not be seen as weak or ingenuine. That is my favorite thing about America.

What would you like fellow Americans to know about refugees arriving in the U.S.?
I would like them to know that refugees and immigrants are just as intelligent and capable as you. I did not appreciate being talked down to (which I still do) because people thought that just because I did not speak English, I was not as intelligent. I work with immigrants and always imagine where they used to work in their home countries and how intelligently they speak in the native languages. So, I appreciate that someone does the same to me.

I would also like people to know that immigrants and refugees are not “stealing” Americans’ economic opportunities or social benefits. Refugees did not choose to leave their countries and the lives they likely loved before things became ugly. They simply needed to save their own lives and do what is best for them. They had to find another countries and if they need any public benefits Americans claim they abuse, refugees are only allowed to use it for a certain amount of time until they settle in.

I would also like Americans to know that we are the same. I would like to put themselves in refugees’ shoes and think–would I do anything necessary to save my own life and the life of my child? If so, what would that be?

What do you (and your family) do now?
I am immigration attorney in the making, my sister is a bankruptcy attorney and my mother is a student liaison for refugee and immigrant students at an elementary school district and she teaches behavioral health (psychology) at a university.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I want to continue traveling the world. I want to learn Spanish and several other languages. I want to ride an elephant, sky dive, and have my own garden. I want to live in a big city and work for a non profit organization that deals with human rights. I want to present a case to the U.S. Supreme Court. I want to write a book. I want to have a column in a fashion magazine. I want my mom to retire in a beach house. And lots more!


Welcomes, Deliveries, and New Friendships!

Anytime I have the opportunity, I tell people about the Welcome to America project and what a unique, Dinner2family-friendly volunteer opportunity they offer through their “deliveries.” I have been spending time with refugees in Arizona for more than 10 years–as a volunteer, a sponsor, a teacher and a friend–and these have been some of the richest experiences of my life. I have been privileged to visit and work on six continents but have never learned or grown as much as I have through relationships with foreign-born people in my own city! What a treasure.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I went on a Saturday-morning delivery with WTAP. I had only done this once before and was excited to go again, though I didn’t look forward to saying “goodbye” after delivering the items. One thing I have learned over and over in the past 10 years is that even beyond the physical furnishings and comforts, what newly arrived refugees really need and crave are trusted friends who will walk with them through those difficult, often lonely first several months.

After we put the final touches on the last apartment that Saturday–trying to hang wall art perfectly, unwrapping a new lamp shade, carefully placing a clothes dresser in the parents’ bedroom–we chatted with the Iraqi family and smiled, shook hands, said goodbye and began to walk out to our cars. In each of these deliveries, to me, there is always a sense that both the refugee families and the delivery volunteers would like to know more about each other, but the scene is just a little rushed or the awkwardness of communicating in two different languages becomes too much.

Wasan (the mother) and her two boys followed us out and stood there watching as we said goodbye to each other, piled back into our cars and drove away. I thought about how isolating it is to be in their shoes: newcomers in a strange land, kept inside their small apartment by the brutal summer heat, interested but unable to explore their new home without a trusted friend to show them how.

I had to find some friends for this family. Of course, the family would decide whether or not to keep these friends, but at least they could have some options and could receive more welcomes from more of their new neighbors. To get the family’s phone number, I contacted WTAP who gave me the name of the family’s resettlement agency. Since I already had a good relationship with the staff at the agency, they gave me the phone number, and we were off and running.

Martha and Mark are two very dear friends of mine who love to serve others and show hospitality. Martha sprung into action and invited the family over for dinner. The evening was filled with a lot of laughter, hugs, hand motions when we couldn’t understand each other, and full, satisfied bellies thanks to Martha’s good cooking. We lingered over the dinner table and took our time getting to know each other. Two weeks later, we met again at Martha and Mark’s home, this time feasting on fragrant, fresh Iraqi food prepared by Wasan and Naseer, her husband.

I will continue to encourage people of all ages to volunteer with WTAP and extend a warm welcome to our new neighbors from all over the world. I also encourage volunteers to go a step further and reach out to the people you meet during the delivery–open your home and invite someone new over for a meal! It takes very little effort but can go a long way in helping people make the difficult transition to life in America.

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But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth