Chaldean refugees get aid in Macomb County

By Molly Tippen
For The Macomb Daily
Salam Yousif, a caseworker at the Chaldean Community Foundation, assists a young man at the foundation’s Sterling Heights office. (Macomb Daily photo by Molly Tippen)

In an office tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on 15 Mile Road, new residents are crowded into a waiting room planning their next steps.

At the Chaldean Community Foundation, which opened its Sterling Heights office in 2012, clients who have fled the chaos of war are working toward making a better life in Southeast Michigan; each hopes that what they find in the United States will be the ability to lead a good, prosperous life.

But getting to that point is a daunting task. Not only do most Chaldean refugees not speak or read English; they often face challenges finding employment, adequate shelter, access to services and other necessities because of the language barrier, and the fact they are taking in a completely new culture.

The CCF, which was created by the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce as its nonprofit philanthropic arm in 2006, aims to address the needs of a growing refugee population after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The foundation began serving clients at its Southfield office on Northwestern Highway, but in 2011 decided to add a Macomb County office after securing grant funding for its new Refugee Acculturation and Stabilization Training program, or RAST.

“The reason we opened up in Macomb is to be close to the people we serve,” said Sharon Hannawa, a program manager at the foundation. “We found out that a lot of the people we help live in Macomb County, and when we secured funding for new programs, we thought it would be best to have an office that is close to those we serve.”

Since opening its 15 Mile Road office, the foundation has boosted its government funding by $1 million, and hired five additional team members.

On the first full day of operation, 15 Chaldean refugees stepped through the door. Today, 30 to 40 people file in each day to seek assistance and support during what is a turbulent and difficult experience — living in a foreign country.