Lyme-Old Lyme community looks to welcome another refugee family

Syrian refugee and Lyme resident Hani Hamou talks with friend and fellow Syrian refugee Jemmo Mahmoud of Gales Ferry, as they finish preparing a salad for a community dinner on Saturday, April 1, 2017, at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme. Three churches, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Christ the King Church and Saint Ann's Episcopal Church, came together to host the community dinner to help raise awareness and support efforts to resettle a second family of Syrian refugees in Lyme. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Syrian refugee and Lyme resident Hani Hamou talks with friend and fellow Syrian refugee Jemmo Mahmoud of Gales Ferry, as they finish preparing a salad for a community dinner on Saturday, April 1, 2017, at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme. Three churches, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Christ the King Church and Saint Ann's Episcopal Church, came together to host the community dinner to help raise awareness and support efforts to resettle a second family of Syrian refugees in Lyme. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Old Lyme — More than 200 community members shared a meal Saturday evening at Christ the King Church to celebrate their friendship with the Syrian refugee family they welcomed 10 months ago — and looked forward in the hope of welcoming another refugee family.

The Hamou family, which has been living in Lyme since May, helped prepare the meal — with a variety of plates of hummus, tabouli, and baba ganoush and special Turkish, Syrian and Mexican dishes — for the community.

Speaking to a room full of people, the Rev. Joe Ashe, pastor of Christ the King Church, recognized the Hamous, whom he said "brought us a lot of joy" and "helped us realize we have to look outside ourselves."

Three Old Lyme churches — Christ the King, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, and St. Ann's Episcopal church — co-sponsored the Hamou family of five through Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven.

The churches are now hoping to co-sponsor another refugee family through IRIS. Volunteers from all three churches are working to get a newly purchased home ready, with the idea that it could serve to help refugees with housing as they come to the community, said the volunteers involved in the effort.

At Saturday's dinner, Yaldiz Hamou, and her husband, Hani, said they both have jobs, and their three children, Darin, 18, Kamber, 17, and Mohamed, 12, are enjoying and doing well in school.

Speaking through a translator, Yaldiz said she is very happy and the people from the Old Lyme churches feel like family to her.

Yaldiz, who loves to cook, said she prepared the dishes "to show people the good side of Syrian refugees and what they can do when given the opportunity." She said her family, with assistance from members of a Syrian family from Ledyard and another family living in Worcester, Mass., enjoy cooking for the people who "decided to bring them here for a new life."

Darin, her daughter, who earned honors in high school along with her brother, said she loves her teachers and classes and everything about school. She said her family members wanted to prepare the meal on Saturday "because we love to help." She said the churches helped her family, and they now want to help the churches and other families.

The Rev. Steven Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme said that while the community dinner has to do with fundraising to bring another family to the community, it's also a celebration of the virtues of friendship.

Jungkeit said the idea behind the new home — which the First Congregational Church recently closed on — is to enable volunteers to continue to work to bring refugees to the community. Refugee families could stay in the home for the initial year that they are in the community.

Jungkeit said the churches have told IRIS they are prepared to receive another refugee family.

As volunteers look to bring another family to the community, Faye Richardson, the chairperson of the committee of volunteers through the churches, said their reasons for helping include: because it's the right thing to do, because we're all immigrants and because it's a way to rediscover the meaning of friendship.

Jungkeit said he thinks some volunteers "feel called by the cry of suffering."

Richardson said the committee started out with 15 volunteers and has grown, so she now has a list of 68 people she can call on, plus all the community members there on Saturday who came together to help.

The Hamous also have inspired the volunteers.

"They're so courageous, and I think they've given some of that courage to us," Richardson said.

k.drelich@theday.com

Syrian refugee Fulla Mahmoud, 8 of Gales Ferry helps parishioner Susan Mountz put pita bread on a plate while setting up for a community dinner on Saturday, April 1, 2017, at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme. Three churches, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Christ the King Church and Saint Ann's Episcopal Church, came together to host the community dinner to help raise awareness and support efforts to resettle a second family of Syrian refugees in Lyme. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Syrian refugee Fulla Mahmoud, 8 of Gales Ferry helps parishioner Susan Mountz put pita bread on a plate while setting up for a community dinner on Saturday, April 1, 2017, at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme. Three churches, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Christ the King Church and Saint Ann's Episcopal Church, came together to host the community dinner to help raise awareness and support efforts to resettle a second family of Syrian refugees in Lyme. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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