Generous Hearts of Yahoo! Employees in Omaha Welcome Refugees

Just as Berkshire Hathaway stockholders and fans of Warren Buffett descended upon Omaha, NE for the annual meeting, Yahoo! employees, and their generous hearts, provided inspiration by welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable…refugees…our newest neighbors from a faraway land! I am extremely honored to have been a witness to the kindness and giving spirit of the Yahoo! employees in Omaha!

At nearly midnight on April 29, 2010, 14 Yahoo! employees, friends and family members braved the cold gusty wind and rain to travel to the Omaha airport and provide an enthusiastic greeting to the Saw Joy family of five of Burma (by way of a refugee camp in Thailand). The family’s ethnic background is Karen. The adults fled their native land Burma in January of 1987 to the safety of a refugee camp in Thailand.  Father Saw Joy is 41 years old and mother Ta Ler Poe is 32. The ages of their three daughters are 15, 10 and 2. All three children were born in the refugee camp.

As the family arrived exhausted from the long trip…the sleepy-eyes of the three children brightened as Yahoo! employees greeted them with “Hello Kitty” and doggy stuffed toys, pinwheels, balloons and US flags! A group of Karen (Burmese) Community of Omaha was also there to welcome them. I wondered what was going through their minds as they gathered their four small bags of belongings….all they have in the world…not much for a family of five. They intently followed Rocky, the Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) staff member who interpreted for them. Then, the family joined the Yahoo! group and LFS staff as they escorted, via a car caravan, the family to their new home where the family was served their first hot meal. It was heart-warming to witness the delight of the children as they saw and touched their beds and abundance of toys….a far cry from the tents of the refugee camp they have known.

I know they must have been exhausted from the long trip, but the family patiently listened as Lutheran Family Services of NE staff, in their own native language, oriented the family to their new surroundings including showing them how to turn on the water facet, turn on the lights and stove, lock the doors, use the shower, etc.   They expressed gratitude…I could see it in their eyes. It was a beautiful ending for all of us….but it is the only beginning of the journey for this family. The language is a huge barrier for them. They must find employment, learn to ride the bus, learn to pay bills, and enroll the children in school. For those of us who are so blessed to “live just another day in paradise”…. it was truly eye opening for me to realize how we take for granted.

How did this outpouring of generosity begin? About a month ago, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, a non-profit which resettles refugees in Nebraska, received a phone call from a Yahoo! employee. Being new to the Omaha area, Yahoo! employees wanted to give back to the community. After researching Omaha community needs…..they decided they wanted to help those most vulnerable…refugee families. Refugee families need friends and mentors who can provide support and guidance enabling them to navigate a new and complex US culture. After meeting the LFS staff and some refugees, they were motivated to action! They decided they wanted to sponsor a refugee family…and in fact, a family was arriving in a few days! They decided to take on the challenge…not a small feat! They collected many household items furniture and cash donations from Yahoo! employees. In preparation for their arrival, Yahoo! employees and some family members of employees joined LFS staff to prepare the new home for the refugee family. The Yahoo! employees delivered donated toys, home furnishings, furniture, kitchen supplies, bedding, beds, mattresses, rugs, clothing, and many essential items which families need. They stocked the refrigerator and cupboards with food. They also set up the furniture in the apartment, stocked the closets with clothing, and unloaded a truckload of items including wall hangings to make the new home cheerful for the family. Yahoo! employees plan to assist the family with support for a period of time following the families’ arrival. They have expressed an interest in assisting more families.

I want to thank the Yahoo! employees for providing inspiration and hope. They have touched and changed the life of a family…..and inspired me to want to do more for those who need a helping hand. Thank you for making me pause and think differently….about how I need to give back too…and “remember” that my great grandparents arrived here in the US with nothing…not able to speak the language either. Thank you Yahoo!….we at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska look forward to working “hand in hand” with you to provide human care to those who are vulnerable and in need.

-Ruth Henneman, VP of Development, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

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