Woman raises thousands in a week for young asylum seekers' safe houses
Anisha Patel drew the most votes back in April when she was elected to serve on the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board. She brought her background as a parent, CEO of her own company and role as a fellow with the Think Tank on Global Education at Harvard to the table.
Now, it appears she can add one more achievement: fundraiser.
In as little as one week, Patel raised nearly $35,000 -- more than $10,000 past her goal -- for Viator House of Hospitality and Bethany House of Hospitality. Both are safe houses located in the Northwest suburbs for young immigrant men and women seeking asylum.
She worked with a network of women in the suburbs and between their contacts and social media, they drew the financial support of approximately 150 people, including Enes Kanter, center for the Portland Trailblazers who observed Ramadan during the NBA playoffs.
Patel says she relates to the residents at these homes. She, too, is an immigrant -- her home country is Malawi, Africa -- and a Muslim. Of the 23 young men at Viator House, 13 are Muslim, while at Bethany House, two of its 10 residents are observing Ramadan, a month of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer, which ends June 4.
"People focus on the fasting," Patel says of the public's perception, "but Ramadan is a time of giving, reflection and mindfulness, and hands-on service."
That's why Patel and her team organized a dinner last week, timed deliberately during Ramadan and starting at dusk, when Muslims break their fast and eat a full dinner.
With only one week to plan, Patel and her co-chairs capped their capacity to 50 adults and they quickly filled up, with supporters coming from Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows and South Barrington, to name a few.
Residents from both safe houses also attended, enabling them, Patel said, to break their fast with those in the community who support them.
The dinner drew a few elected officials as well as leaders from the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs, located in Rolling Meadows, and the Turkish American Society of Chicago in Mount Prospect.
The Rev. Corey Brost, a Viatorian priest who serves as co-director of Viator House, was on hand to thank Patel and her co-chairs as well the guests. He has been an outspoken advocate for promoting interfaith dialogue, relationships and reverence.
"What enthusiastic support we have found in area faith communities -- Christian, Muslim and Jewish," Brost said. "Anisha has been a great mobilizer of the Muslim community and the response local Muslims have shown reflects the deep-seated commitment in Islam to welcome immigrants and serve the needy."
Proceeds from the funds will be used for scholarships for each of its residents as well as emergency funds for their families living in danger back in their home countries, says Patel, who now serves as a board member of Viator House. She also hoped to recruit more volunteers and mentors.
"There is so much misunderstanding and negative stereotypes around different faith groups," Patel says. "We can only get over these stereotypes if we share stories and have a meal together.
"The only way you're going to get past hate," she adds, "is to nurture the community in loving spaces."
Patel calls the fundraising campaign, "Your Support Matters to Unaccompanied Youth Migrants." Find more information, here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/1079949078796008/1090328041091445/