Statesman readers step up to help young refugees

This Christmas, stockings are filled for a true holiday experience

awebb@idahostatesman.comDecember 25, 2013 

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When a Boise business made a modest request for help to fill Christmas stockings for 17 refugees, organizers didn’t imagine they’d be able to help nearly three times that many kids.

“It was beyond anything I could have imagined,” said Valicity Koen, a counselor at Real Solutions Counseling in Boise.

The organization works with refugees from places such as Burundi and Iraq as they settle into new lives in the Treasure Valley. Many are children. Their families often spend years in resettlement camps, seeing family members killed and experiencing other horrors.

And most are in homes where families struggle financially — homes where holiday gifts are an impossibility.

Two weeks ago, in the Statesman’s Dec. 10 “Helping Works” column, Koen asked for help. She recounted the story of a 9-year-old and her three siblings. Having heard children tell of Santa and stockings filled with gifts, they hung out their own stockings — only to wake up Christmas morning to find them empty.

Statesman readers responded. Real Solutions collected enough soccer balls, footballs, coloring books, Matchbox cars and stuffed animals that Koen was able to provide for 48 children through the International Rescue Committee, one of the local refugee resettlement agencies.

Donors also gave enough kids’ socks and underwear to fill two huge boxes. More than $400 in cash came in.

Sheri Hunsacker, administrator at Ashley Manor Care Centers on Hill Road in Boise, donated space at the home so Koen and volunteers could assemble gift boxes on the weekend before Christmas.

Volunteers included Ashley Manor residents. The facility specializes in caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other memory loss.

“Being part of a project like this is a rare chance for our seniors to get to help out in the community,” said Hunsacker.

She, Koen and the others made a party out of it. They put on a feast at the home on Saturday. Volunteers wrapped and boxed presents, filling an entire empty bedroom. Volunteers were delivering the gifts in time for Christmas morning.

Kevin Nakaha was among the helpers. He came to Boise from Burundi as a student in 2010; he studies finance and tutors French at Boise State. He works with Real Solutions as an interpreter in Kirundi, a dialect spoken in Burundi.

“The best part about doing this charity work is knowing how happy it’s going to make these kids,” Nakaha said. “These are kids who are not used to getting presents.”

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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