Mahoning Valley group reaches out to Syrian refugees - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Mahoning Valley group reaches out to Syrian refugees

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A group of adults and teens from a North Jackson church and Mahoning Valley mosques recently went to Toledo to welcome Syrian refugees. 

Some of the members who are back from this mission of hospitality explained that the trip taught them a lesson in breaking down cultural boundaries.

New found friends from different parts of the world.

"She just like poked me on the leg and said 'selfie' and she like held up her phone," said 17- year-old Abby Sudano, a senior at Western Reserve High School.

Sudano of North Jackson and 15-year-old Beyen of Syria connected at the zoo in Toledo.

"I put in Google translator, 'I wish we spoke the same language. We really need to be friends,' and she just smiled so big and she was so happy," Sudano said.

It was part of an effort by North Jackson's First Federated Church and the mosques in Youngstown and Liberty to welcome Syrian refugees to their new home after escaping persecution and spending months to years in refugee camps.

"We just wanted these folks to know that there is still love that exists in humanity," explained First Federated Church pastor Jack Acri.

A love that extended to universal games at the park, a trip to the zoo and a traditional Syrian meal that all of the women cooked together.

Michelle Davis of North Jackson said, "Cooking together, especially when you get a whole group of women in the kitchen, you don't need language. They're pointing, they're showing you how small they want things diced."

The group took donations of household items to help the families get on their feet as they start all over again, looking for jobs and learning English.

The church brought a number of things in bulk for the US Together-Toledo resettlement agency to store in a warehouse and Masjid AlKhair and the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown and the Turkish American Cultural Center in Liberty put together gift baskets. Jackson Milton High School's SADD group also sent in donations.

"When those gift baskets were presented to the families they couldn't help but cry. They were smiling, but they were definitely crying. There was no language barrier at that point. They knew that Christian, Muslim, it didn't matter we were Americans and we were welcoming them and they have a new safe place to call home," Acri said.

"I think as a parent I like taking my kids and showing them that there are really a lot more things that we have in common than we don't and that love can go so far," said Davis.

A life lesson that Sudano will never forget.

"People don't go out and try to break the ice and try to meet other people. When you do, you realize that the judgment, there's no reason for it because we're all just people and we love the same things and do the same things and act the same way with our friends," Sudano said.

Another moment that stood out to the pastor's wife was how their hospitality was reciprocated.  A family that they met last year, invited them to their home for a meal this year to thank them.

In honor of World Refugee Day, the group stood together holding a sign that read "No matter where you are from, we're glad you are our neighbor" in Spanish, English and Arabic.

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