Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, Founder and Director of the Syrian Community Network (SCN), Chicago, is the recipient of a 2022 Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and a $10,000 grant.
At ten years old, Suzanne immigrated to the United States from Syria. As the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011, Suzanne knew she wanted to do something to help her community and her people, so she began contemplating how she could support them. When the State Department announced in 2013 that they would be resettling Syrian refugees in the United States, she began planning, organizing, and strategizing to welcome new friends and neighbors. In 2014, Suzanne called upon her community to meet in her home, and that is when the Syrian Community Network was born.
SCN was founded to ease the transition of newly arrived refugees as they acclimate to life in the United States. SCN is a welcoming community for new arrivals to combat the misinformation, politicization, racism, and xenophobia that directly impacted refugee resettlement for Syrian refugees.
Since its inception, SCN has grown to offer three core programs: case management, education, and immigration legal services.
SCN will use the Nation of Neighbors grant to fund its Education Case Management (ECM) program, which bridges the gap between families and schools. “SCN staff work predominantly with mothers in this program,” said Suzanne. “In Syrian culture, mothers are typically the main adult responsible for their children’s well-being.”
“Imagine leaving everything you know behind and having to navigate motherhood with a language barrier in an entirely new culture,” said Royal Neighbors of America Director of Philanthropy Amy Jones. “60% of Syrian Community Network newcomers are women and girls utilizing services that enable them to begin the new, safe life they’d hoped for when they left home. Syrian Community Network is fostering a sense of belonging that can truly transform the futures of refugees and their families.”
“I love the ECM program because it empowers parents to learn about the American education system and understand the needs of their kids in order to effectively advocate for them,” added Suzanne. “When mothers feel welcomed and heard by their children’s teachers, they feel much more at ease in volunteering for their classrooms or connecting through other mechanisms.”