Eagle Rock’s Miry’s List welcomes refugee families to LA and beyond

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Miry Whitehill and Jennifer Jackson at Junior High, a nonprofit community arts space in Glendale, CA. March 27, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

Miry’s List, a nonprofit based in Eagle Rock, aims to bring comfort and safety to newly arrived refugee families by providing them with community support and supplies while they settle into the U.S. Founder and executive director Miry Whitehill said she began working with refugees in 2016, after a friend introduced her to a Syrian family who came to the U.S. three weeks prior.

“She thought to introduce the two of us because they had a baby who was just about the same age as my youngest at the time,” Whitehill said. “In their home, I could just look around and see that the space was not set up to be functional for their family.”

Miry’s List uses its funding to provide each family with immediate needs such as mattresses and bedding, groceries, dishes and car seats through its Rapid Response program, according to Whitehill. After that, Miry’s List works with the family to create an online Target wishlist of items that would make them feel more supported in their resettlement, and donors buy items directly for the families through the website, Whitehill said. According to Miry’s List’s website, these items can include clothes, cookware and children’s toys.

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Miry Whitehill at Junior High, a nonprofit community arts space in Glendale, CA. March 27, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

“We’ve created this infrastructure in this way because we wanted to have as much community involvement as possible, so that families can see their home coming together through the participation of friendly and helpful neighbors who care for them,” Whitehill said.

In Miry’s List’s 12-week Serving American Newcomers at Home (SANAH) program, tutors teach newly arrived refugees about American culture and practices, from holidays to navigating doctor’s appointments, according to program director Alison Mestl.

Wahidullah Asghary is the enrollment program coordinator for the SANAH program. Asghary said he and his family left Afghanistan as refugees over a year and a half ago. After participating in Miry’s List’s program, he began volunteering and eventually working for the organization, Asghary said. According to Asghary, Miry’s List was a major support system for him and his family, providing them with items such as soap, mattresses, rugs, laptops and iPhones.

“When I found out about Miry’s list, they came to my door; they just asked me, ‘What [are] your needs?’ and ‘What else do you need?’” Asghary said. “It’s not easy once you leave your country. You leave your home, you leave your family and friends, you leave every belonging you have down in Afghanistan.”

According to Asghary, before coming to the U.S., he taught English to children in Afghanistan. Asghary said he had difficulty finding employment when he first arrived because employers told him he needed experience working in the U.S. He said working at Miry’s List helped him learn and gain valuable experience, and he may soon consider pursuing higher education.

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Junior High, a nonprofit community arts space in Glendale, CA. March 27, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

“Right now, since I am working full time, I may be thinking later on about how I can start some college degree programs,” Asghary said. “Miry’s List has shown us a lot of things about it.”

Whitehill said Miry’s List works with families for 12 months, serving as a community-based organization rather than a charity.

“The challenge for us is that, first of all, we’re working with a population of people who have sacrificed so much, and we are trying to show up for them in their time of need,” Whitehill said. “Also, we want to do this in a way that doesn’t implement some sort of power dynamic.”

According to Whitehill, Miry’s List asks families their preferences — such as if they would rather have a firm or a soft mattress — to allow the families to feel comfortable and to participate in the creation of their home. Miry’s List does not give used items to families, according to Whitehill.

“Think about it as if a new family was gonna move in next door: would you bring them your old clothes as a welcome gift? Probably not, that would be highly inappropriate,” Whitehill said. “And so that’s how we see our role: how would we want to be welcomed if we were new in a community?”

According to Whitehill, the U.S. State Department licenses nine resettlement agencies in the United States to provide resources to newly arrived refugees. Whitehill said these agencies often do not fulfill all of each families’ needs, and Miry’s List is able to respond more quickly. According to Whitehill, once the family’s application is approved, it usually takes up to 48 hours for Miry’s List to reach out to the family for an emergency needs assessment.

“Just this week, we met a family: mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, a 2-year-old. They have been here since August 29, 2021, they live in Sacramento in an empty apartment, and the mom is pregnant. They’re all sleeping on the floor,” Whitehill said. “We discovered that they needed beds for everyone in the family. We were able to act on that within two hours, and their supplies have already started coming.”

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Miry Whitehill and Jennifer Jackson at Junior High, a nonprofit community arts space in Glendale, CA. March 27, 2022. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

Mestl said she appreciates that Miry’s List builds community and creates personal connections.

“I love it because I’m working with kind-hearted people — both the tutors and the volunteer side, and then the new arrival student side, where everybody is just eager to make those human connections,” Mestl said. “And I think that that’s really what Miry’s List is so great [about]. It’s just about connecting one human with another human.”

According to Whitehill, Miry’s List’s application reopens on the first day of every month, and families can apply through their website.

“This is truly about going back to the basics,” Whitehill said. “We know how to welcome someone. We know how to show up at someone’s house with a bowl of spaghetti. So let’s do that, let’s do that for these families.”

Asghary said a number of Ukrainian families have already made contact with Miry’s List’s program following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Refugees are refugees, immigrants are immigrants. We just want to work with all of them,” Asghary said. “Our doors are always open, and we welcome them any time.”

This article was updated at 10:00 p.m. April 7 to reflect that Miry’s List has been in contact with a number of Ukrainian families. A previous version of this story said that a number of families had already enrolled in the program.