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Festival Spotlight: Homes Not Borders empowers refugees – from setting up to moving up

People wearing tshirts
The HNB Team

Laura Thompson Osuri knew she could do more. At the height of the Syrian civil war, she was leading the Refugee Care Agency Team at National Community Church which she attended in Washington, DC. The team helped local refugee resettlement agencies set up apartments for arriving refugee and SIV families. But there was so much need.

These agencies were (and are still) stretched beyond capacity. They needed everything from procuring donations of household items to setting up bunk beds and stocking kitchens with adequate utensils. Laura recalls that the volunteers were strapping couches and mattresses to their cars every other day, delivering to a small storage unit that was constantly packed to the seams and then emptied for the next set-up.

HNB logo

In 2017, the team provided 32 refugee families with furnishings during the resettlement period. In 2018, they completed 57 home set-ups and provided furniture and furnishings to another 52 families. But keeping pace with the growing need was a constant concern. So in 2019, Laura took the church ministry to the next level and spun it off as its own NGO, and Homes Not Borders was born.

The new organization would move forward over the next two years. Although the Covid pandemic would slow the number of homes set up. The organization received its first independent grant, launched a career mentoring program, kicked off its carpentry program, and began a face mask-making program with refugee seamstresses, which would evolve into its Artisan Empowerment program.

With the Afghan evacuation, thousands of newcomers arrived, and the need for housing and services skyrocketed. Homes Not Borders captured widespread publicity in the Washington, DC area and saw unprecedented growth. After the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the organization was handling home setups for 5 to 6 families a week.

Lots of packages in driveway
Donations receive through Amazon wishlist

Local media named Homes Not Borders as a place to send donations and to volunteer. Soon, donations were piling up at their homes. “My driveway was often taken over by stacks of deliveries from Amazon wish lists,” Laura remembers, “and Hannah Koilpillai, one our first volunteers, couldn’t use her garage because she kept storing so much furniture and household items there.” For a time, donations could no longer be accepted because people were so generous!

The total number of home setups for 2021 climbed to 137 setups, most after August and 512 in 2022. This was just the start.

Since mid-2021, Homes Not Borders has added 6 full-time and 2 part-time staff, purchased a truck, and added warehouse space, which it shares with a beer distributor. “The beer connection gets lots of comments from visitors, but brewing up solutions to help our refugee clients is who we are,” says Laura, pun intended. And now, “Hannah’s Home Warehouse” can be used as a garage again.

People sitting around a table
Members of the HNB team

Homes Not Borders also features a range of services, including connection to family services, legal aid, employment mentoring, and matching humanitarian parole sponsors to refugee families. Seamstresses in the Artisan Empowerment Program are selling their creations, which will be featured at their HNB table in the Global Marketplace at the One Journey Festival. The Moving Up Program provides cash assistance to help job seekers make ends meet while they complete training and other preparation needed for employment.

To provide these services, Homes Not Borders has entered key partnerships with organizations like Amazon, Upwardly Global, and Team Rubicon.

When asked what makes her the proudest about Homes Not Borders, Laura, replies, “It has to be the clients' stories. They are often amazed that we do what we do, and are so happy after all they have been through.”

Hannah looks at this another way. “I find the setups to be healing,” she says. “My parents brought me to the U.S. from India when they moved to America in the 1960s. I was the only Indian student in my school, but people, and one in particular, were so kind and welcoming. I never forgot, and now I have a way to pay their kindness forward.”

Home Not Borders and its volunteers share the spirit of the One Journey movement.

Volunteers at table.
HNB Volunteers at the 2022 One Journey Festival. Photo by Patrick McCabe.

You can visit the Homes Not Border table in the Take Action Tent at the One Journey Festival on Saturday, June 24 at the Washington National Cathedral. And make sure to check out the New Neighbor Designs from the HNB Artisans in their booth in the Global Marketplace. Get your free tickets to this full day of celebration, food, shopping, and fun HERE.


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