Funding boost for Detroit-based LQ host comes at the right time

Host stories

02 April 2020

Detroit-based NGO Samaritas has spent nearly 90 years helping people in need and advocating for equality and justice.

Its incredible outreach covers more than 40 cities, and ranges from refugee resettlement – under its New Americans banner – to senior living, in-home disability and prison-to-community reintegration for women.

The Samaritas team see themselves as the rocks that start the ripples of transformation, and they’ve been welcoming Leaders’ Quest groups since 2017. Last year they hosted participants from our Global Influencers – Reimagining Capitalism programme, inviting them into a refugee family’s home. During a memorable, and often-emotional afternoon, the visitors and their hosts discovered common ground together, through shared stories of resilience and courage.

Europe-based Olivier Brousse – John Laing CEO and a Global Influencers participant – was so impressed that he followed up with David Nachman, a colleague based in Motor City. This connection led to the award of two three-year grants from the John Laing Charitable Trust, totalling $150,000!

Funding makes the world of difference for Samaritas, and extra resources couldn’t come at a better time. It’s the country’s fourth-largest refugee settlement organisation and recent years have seen severe budget cuts, triggering a drop in staff numbers. Meanwhile, turmoil in Syria continues to generate a surge in refugees seeking a better life.

To find out how John Laing’s generous grants will be used, we spoke to Kelli Dobner (Chief Advancement Officer) and Mihaela Mitrofan (Program Manager, New American Services). Their excitement was palpable as they explained how a gift on this scale has the power to support hundreds of vulnerable people.

Some of the funding will help families in the Samaritas emergency shelter relocate to stable housing. This is especially vital because affordable accommodation often rejects families and without a fixed address, it’s impossible to organise ID. Inevitably, the knock-on effects are stark and Samaritas staff – including a small army of 2,000 volunteers – see the results first-hand, not just via newspaper headlines. 

Another tranche will help unaccompanied refugee children, who lack parental presence to give a steer on budgeting and saving, caring for a home, hygiene, building a resumé and basic social guidance – the skills that most of us take for granted.

Like all their NGO colleagues, Kelli (below, left) and Mihaela (below, right) set great store by the value of family stability, so these interventions are particularly welcome. As they reminded us, “Imagine what it’s like trying to live when you have no family in your corner.”

Funds will also be allocated to help teens (aged 16-19) who are leaving the foster care system without being adopted. Samaritas is Michigan’s largest foster organisation and there are currently 1,000 – 1,200 kids in care. Thanks to the grants, the Foster Youth in Independent Living programme – part of the Samaritas cradle to glory journey – will be able to beef up its Life Skills curriculum and employ a part-time coordinator to train case workers. They’ll offer sorely-needed help to young adults, including financial planning (how much to put down when you open a check account), mentorships (how to learn English), internships and college pathways.

For Kelli and Mihaela, being a refugee is just a phase on a tough journey, and it was clear that the last decade has stretched their resources (mental and physical) to the limit. But they mentioned one silver lining. Today’s reliance on social media means Samaritas can get its message out independently, unfiltered by traditional print journalism, and this has helped to extend its reach.

Using social networking, it’s spent months pushing hard to persuade refugees to register online for the 2020 Census (currently underway in the US). With Federal funding awarded per capita, Kelli and Michaela see this as a vital stage on the road to becoming a New American, contributing to the community and helping your neighbours.

Talking to Kelli and Mihaela, we felt their passion shine through. As we bid goodbye, we asked what they’d do if they woke up tomorrow and found themselves with a million bucks in the bank. They didn’t hesitate. “Homes for refugees!” they said in unison.

This conversation reflects Samaritas pre-COVID-19. Despite the crisis, its work continues. You can find out more here

You can find out about the John Laing Charitable Trust here.