Miry Whitehill on the Mission of Miry’s List
Miry Whitehill is the founder of Miry's List, a non-profit that helps families resettling in America as refugees get the support they need to start over by connecting them with their new American neighbor. As Executive Director, Miry had the opportunity to learn about refugee resettlement through the eyes of the family she works with. She's spoken at universities, companies of all sizes, schools and nonprofit organizations, helping people learn about how the refugee resettlement system in America works, how it feels for families, and how they can help.
Here is an excerpt from our interview with Miry.
Passionistas: What inspired you to start Miry's List?
Miry: My youngest, his name is Savo, he's six years old now. When Miry's List began, he was just five months old. And, I tell him that he was the one that started the whole organization and he loves to tell other people that, that he was the whole beginning of it.
Because the very first family that I was introduced to was by my neighbor Suzanne. She had met a family who had just moved to LA as refugees from Syria. She had met them through her church. And she thought to introduce us because they had also a five-month-old baby boy. And so, she called me and she said, “Hey, I just met this family. They have a baby who's just about the same age as Savo and they just moved here. They need some supplies. Do you have a baby bouncer chair that we could give to them?”
And that's really how it all began. And from the very first visit with the very first family and in the months that followed that, I got to know them better and got to learn more about them. My kids were with me, and in those first couple of years they were with me for all of those visits with the families.
And fast forward six years, this has been an extraordinary journey for all of us. My kids have friends from all over the world. They're bilingual themselves. They speak English and Hebrew, but they also are able to understand like how many languages are spoken in Afghanistan. And they are aware of so many things that they wouldn't have been aware of had they not had the experience of getting to meet all of these people through Miry's List.
And the same goes for me. I have now thousands of friends who have come from all over the world and it's been an extraordinary experience, really eye opening. And, and for me it's the most fun. Like when I am meeting new people. For me, it's like I get to be on an adventure. That's how it feels for me when I meet a new person. So, talk about passion. This is for me, it's like this work is the Venn diagram of my passion, but like coming into a circle.
Passionistas: Describe the mission of Miry's List and how you support these refugee families.
Miry: The mission of Miry's List is to improve the experience of families who are resettling in the United States as. And the way we go about that is through the lens of what would we need if we were new somewhere? And when we say what, we're not only referring to things, we're also talking about more emotional, more intangible things as well.
And then also programming and support and education. And so Miry's List is a 12-month partnership with a family who's. And we will take them through the three pillars of our program, which are survive, hive, and thrive. And based on where they are in those three pillars, we're going to offer them programming that's specifically customized for the challenges that a new arrival family might face in that phase of their resettlement.
So for example, many Afghan families, are coming out of living in motels for a very long time. Back in August, there was a major evacuation of allies and families living in Afghanistan. Many of those families were brought and put into army bases here in the US and then were quickly moved into motels.
All over the country, there's a national housing crisis, and so I think what was expected to be a short-term visit at a motel turned into a very long term visit for many. For families that are moving from a motel where they were with their, maybe mom is with her husband and five or six kids, you know, maybe the kids haven't even been enrolled in school yet.
You know, it's hard to picture enrolling your kids in a new school when you're living in a motel and you're gonna move and you don't know when. We help with just getting that home set up. So, from the very basics, how many pillows do you need? How many blankets do you need, how many bunk bed frames do you need? Try to fit beds for eight people in a one- or two-bedroom apartment. You gotta be pretty strategic about it.
And there's some amazing things out there. But, but really it comes down to, no matter where a family is in that 12 months, it comes down to just asking what do you need?
Passionistas: Tell us a little bit more about the Miry's List community. Who are these people that are working with you and how do you connect them with the families who are resettling?
Miry: So our community, we just call them the hive. This is all of the people that are involved in supporting Miry's List. Whether volunteering their time, coming to our events, working directly with the families, coming to one of our welcome workshops and packing supply kits for families is a really fun way for people of all ages to get involved.
Also, donating money, and that could be something like $10 a month. Like you would be amazed if you would see our reports. I'm just like blown away to see what's possible when a lot of people are giving five and $10. It means we can plan because a monthly donation is something that we can plan around.
And then also one-time donations from individual people. I think there was over 10,000 individual people who gave to Miry's List last year, which is mind blowing becasue we've only been around for six years.
So the way that we connect. People in our hive with our families is by, first of all, asking them what are you passionate about? And somebody who really wants to tutor a resettling high school or in English, we have a program for that. It's called Sauna. It's named for someone, a young girl named so who came into our program in 2017. The program name stands for Supporting American Newcomers at Home, and it's a virtual learning program.
We have volunteers that are working with families to help them get jobs to help them figure out how to get a driver's license in their city. We're also working with families in 22 states nationally, and so it is quite a big endeavor of really, really nice people who are being really proactive about wanting to get involved with the families in their community.
And there's only 18 people on staff at Miry's List and. When you look at the numbers, you know, we enrolled our 940th family in our program this week. That's thousands of people at this point. You know, it's, it's, it's really, it's grown a lot and we're very, very lucky to be able to support 32 new families each month.
Looking forward, I think we're going to be doing even more to connect American people directly with their resettling neighbors. It. So beneficial and fulfilling and fun on both sides. And you know, that feeling of an adventure, some might feel it as social awkwardness, some might feel it as, I don't feel like myself in this environment because this person doesn't speak the same native language as me.
And I feel just, it feels awkward and like that's okay. Like that's to be expected. And if you've ever tried to have a conversation with somebody who doesn't share the same first language, That's okay. It's supposed to be there. But remember this, if you are having a conversation with somebody who is new here and they don't speak English fully yet, and you are working with them and being patient with them to understand what they're saying, that awkwardness that you feel, you are sharing in the awkwardness that they probably feel all the time. And that is a tremendous gift and, and a memorable one as well.
Passionistas: How can people get involved and what can they do?
Miry: We have so many great ways to get involved through our website. Not only writing welcome letters, but also getting involved as a volunteer either virtually or in person. All of those opportunities are described on our website.
Ultimately, what we want is for people to be volunteering in ways that are really meaningful to them, because that means that they will stick with us. Also, there are plenty of people that volunteer one time, and that's great too.
And as far as the writing, welcome letters, that is something that can be done by all ages. You can do it at home, you can do it in a classroom, you can do it at a birthday party. It's something that is, it can be quite fun. We have a guide, so you can either write from your heart or you can use our guide or somewhere in the middle, but it will take you through five steps to write a perfect welcome letter.
We have big goals and not only to be able to support more families, but also to be able to scale what we're doing and to reach more people in more resettlement communities across the us. And so, in order to do that, it's not just about getting people involved by sending gifts to our families and writing letters, we also need people to support our organization, which is the infrastructure.
It means that we can hire people and train them and make sure that they have everything that they need to help the people in their community.
This is something that we fundraise for annually in the entire month of November and into December as well. It's called Friendsgiving with Miry's List and it's a crowdfunding campaign. We launch it on November 1st, and we are raising the funds needed to support families who will arrive in 2023.
For more information, visit www.miryslist.org.
Hear our full interview with Miry here.