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Ithaca, NY 14850
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History of Refugee Sponsorship history

The first Vietnamese refugee family that came to Ithaca was sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church through the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.  They arrived in August 1975.  When a family is sponsored, a contact family with whom the refugees can interact on a personal basis is designated.  Holly and Joyce Hollingsworth were the contact family.  The family was Truong Pham (father), Dinh Pham (mother), Vo Pham (son), and Tram Pham (daughter). Truong Pham had worked in a bank in Vietnam.  He and his family were of ethnic Chinese background.  Than Guyed (Dinh’s brother) also came with the family.  Truong worked a total of12 hours a day at Citizen’s Savings Bank and Hi-Speed Checkweigher after coming to Ithaca.  Dinh worked at the Asiatic Garden restaurant.  Thanh also worked at Hi-Speed Checkweigher.  The family rapidly became accustomed to Ithaca and the United States with the help of the Hollingsworths and the Trinity Lutheran Church congregation.  Kathy Krenzin was their English tutor. As they came from the hot, humid tropics of Vietnam they were not too fond of Ithaca winters and soon moved to Texas.  Truong and Dinh now live in Houston, Texas.  Vo and Tram (married to a doctor) also live in Texas.  Thanh married while in Ithaca and now has a son.  He and his wife now live in Irvine, California where has his own business.  The family remains in contact with Holly Hollingsworth.

The second family that Trinity Lutheran Church sponsored through the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was that of Chau Binh Lac (35) and his wife Ung Si Kou (28) with their sons Chau Ba Trieu (3 years old) Chau Khanh Trieu (1 & 1/2), and Chau My Doanh (one month old).  They arrived in Ithaca November 11, 1977.  None of them spoke English.  H. David and Betty Thurston were the contact family for Lac and Kou.  Lac had been in the Vietnamese navy from 1965 to 1975 on a boat patrolling the rivers during the war.  Ko’s father was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army and was killed in the war.  The family was in a refugee camp in Thailand from March to November before they were able to come to the United States.  Kou said it was a very difficult time, especially as she gave birth to her daughter in the camp on October 14th.  They were housed for some time at 140 Linn Street through the Ithaca Housing Authority.  It was not easy to find employment for Lac, as he spoke no English.  Lac’s first job was shoveling snow for a construction company.  This was not an easy job for someone coming from a tropical country.  The family members were baptized by Pastor Donald A. Cario in Trinity Lutheran Church.  They became financially independent within six months of their resettlement in Ithaca.  Later, Kou’s mother, Fong Sau Slin arrived on February 3, 1980 to join the family.

Another Vietnamese family arrived in Ithaca in late 1980.  The Hintzes (Harold and Sandra) and the Natzkes (Roger and Karen) were the contact families for Trinity.  Van Ly, Le Yen Tu, and Hue Hue Luu came from California.  The three were born in Saigon and were happy to be in the United States.  Van Ly was first cousin to Chau Binh Lac who was helpful in their move.  After living in Ithaca for two years, the family longed for warmer weather.  They have settled in California.

The fourth family to be helped was never officially sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church.  When Vuong Quach, his wife, and their six children stepped off a plane they were coming directly from Malaysia wearing only shirts, slacks, and rubber sandals. The date was February12, 1979, and it was about 10 degrees below zero at the Tompkins County Airport.   They left Saigon on October 25 and traveled for two days on a river until they got into the freighter Hai Hong.  They spent 3 and 1/2 months on the Hai Hong.  The boat was refused entry to Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and finally Malaysia.  The conditions on the ship were squalid and appalling.  At first, they survived on 10 crackers a day per person as food.  When they arrived, the family consisted of the father (Vuong Quach - 44), mother (Tran Thi Nam Quach - 40), sons Menh Gia (17) and Tan Gia (15), daughters Le Gia (12) and Phan Gia (10), and sons Thanh Gia (8) and Buu Gia (4). Vuong Quach was of ethnic Chinese background, but his wife Tran Thi Nam Quach was Vietnamese.  HIAS (the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) had been given the name of the Quach family by the U. S. Government and the only contact the Quachs had in the United States was Chau Binh Lac.  Thus, HIAS contacted Chau Binh Lac to see if he could sponsor them.  At the time he spoke no English, was not a U. S. citizen, and had no viable employment, so it was indicated that he could not legally sponsor them.  However, HIAS decided to send them to Chau Binh Lac anyway.  In retrospect, the woman at HIAS who made that decision may have saved the family.  HIAS also provided adequate funding for the initial settling of the family.  In any case, they arrived in February as indicated above.  The Thurstons, with help from the Forkers and many other members of Trinity took on the job of helping the Quachs.  Again, no one in the family spoke English.  Twelve Chinese translators were obtained from the Ithaca community in order to facilitate communication with the family.  Housing was a serious problem, as we were informed by landlords that there was no legal way to house a family of eight in any available rental property in Ithaca.  Telephone calls to the Mayor of Ithaca and other officials finally allowed a temporary softening of the laws, so the family was initially housed at 321 N. Aurora Street.  The Quachs had lived in Cholon, Saigon, Vietnam where Vuong had a shop where they made door hinges, doorknobs, and bicycle parts.  Later Vuong worked for the Abdulky Brothers in Ithaca.

The human services agencies in Ithaca, the schools, and numerous individuals deserve high praise for providing them with a place to live, warm clothing, furniture, cooking and eating utensils, food, and tutors to help them all learn English.  Later Vuong’s brother (Vinh Khon Quach), his wife Heng Trantu, an Aunt, and their three children also arrived from a camp in Malaysia.  St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ithaca sponsored them.

The Quach family attended Trinity and became baptized and confirmed members of the church.

Since the arrival of the two Quach families many other relatives of the Quachs have arrived in Ithaca, some of who have received help from Trinity members. 

In 1996 our Church Council voted to sponsor two Armenian Baku Refugees from Russia at the request of the Refugee Resettlement Office in Ithaca, headed by Cecilia Linscott. They arrived on Monday, January 27, 1997.  Their names are Julietta Khayarova (46 years of age) and her son Vadim F. Khayarova who is 20 years old.  Julietta spent the last 7 plus years in a very crowded hotel in Moscow with other refugees waiting for resettlement.  Julietta is fluent in English, but her son was not.  She has taught English and also speaks French, Russian, and Ukrainian.  They have relatives here in Ithaca; namely a daughter, Stella Khayarova and her family, and a cousin Nellie Kurbanov and her family.  Trinity helped Nellie’s family some time ago after they had a fire, which destroyed many of their possessions.  Stella’s son was baptized at Trinity. 

Another phase of refugee work at Trinity Lutheran Church began when the remodeling and painting of Trinity Lutheran Church's house at 155 Honness Lane was finished in 1998. The house is a Short-Term Refugee Transitional House for church sponsored refugee families coming to Ithaca or surrounding communities.  By the end of 2004, Trinity Lutheran Church's house at 155 Honness Lane had hosted eight different refugee families.

The first refugee family to occupy Trinity Lutheran Church's house at 155 Honness Lane was the Alikalfic family from Bosnia. They arrived October 20th, 1998. The second family from Bosnia arrived February 22, 1999 The family of three consisted of the father, Faik Alibegovich, his wife Sefica, and their son Maid. Our third refugee family occupied the house on June 26, 1999. The family consisted of the father, Sasha Skenderija, his wife Zelkida Ajdinovic-Skenderija, and their 3-year-old daughter Mirna Skenderija. The Skenderija family were both originally from Bosnia but lived in the Czech Republic for several years.

The Nikulin family from Russia was the fourth family to use the house and arrived August 20, 1999. Pavel, Vera and their seven children expressed their appreciation and thanks for all the kindness and help they received from Trinity members and friends. Their youngest child was born while they live in our house. It was a joy to watch the progress they made in the six months they were in Ithaca. Ludmila was a pupil in Trinity's pre-school and two of the children were in our Children's Christmas Program. Several times the family worshipped with us. The Nikulins are a Christian family and now worship at a Russian language Pentecostal Church.

The fifth family was from Burma. The Burmese family consisted of the mother, Aye Than Mu and her two children Aye Hsay Tar Tun (a daughter 6 years old) and a son San Myint Tun (three years old). They arrived March 8, 2000 and left the house in April.  We understand that her husband was either killed or disappeared on the Thai/Burmese border in the fighting between Burmese rebels and the Burmese army controlled by a military dictatorship.

The sixth family is Russian, but come from Latvia. On May 30th the Bovt Family arrived in Ithaca after a long, tiring journey.  They had taken a train from Latvia to Moscow and then flew to New York City and then on to Ithaca. The Bovts are Russian, but lived in Latvia for many years. The family consists of the father (Aleksandr Petrovich Bovt) and mother (Lyudmila Stepan ova Bovt) and seven children (six girls and a boy). The girls of the family are Irina, Aleksandra, Dina, Yana, Tatyana, and Alina. The son is Pavel. Their sponsor is Adam Leshkevich of Groton, NY (the brother of Lyudmila S. Bovt). They will stay in Trinity Lutheran's Refugee house until they find more permanent housing.

The Nduwimanas were the seventh family to stay in the Trinity Refugee house. They spent several years in Egypt before coming to the USA. Acheni Richard Nduwimana is a native of Burundi, but his wife Mary Aoma Odadi is from the Luo society (tribe) in Kenya. They have no family in the United States. Acheni lost most of his family in the conflict in Burundi. Their English is quite good. Both are now employed and working in Ithaca. Acheni is also going to college at TC3. They left the Trinity Refugee house in December of 2001.

After the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001 no families were allowed by the government until 2004.

The eighth family to stay in the Trinity Refugee house arrived on September 26, 2003. The family of four is also being sponsored by our congregation.  This Armenian Baku Refugee family of Armenian descent consists of Allisa Yezhova (age 65), her son Yuriy Melkumyants (age 45), his wife Margarita Rtishcheva (age 44) and their son Mikhail Melkumyants (age 18).  They lived as refugees in Moscow for the last 12 years in substandard conditions. The family lived in Trinity’s house at 155 Honness Lane until they moved into an new apartment on April 3, 2004.

The ninth family to stay in the Trinity Refugee house arrived from Cuba on April 23rd, 2004.  Trinity will not sponsor the family; rather, Maria’s sister Josepha, who is living in Ithaca, will sponsor them.  The family consists of Maria Osario del Rio (mother) and three children.  The children are Jennifer (7 month old baby), son Pablo del Rio (3 years old), and daughter Dayana del Rio (12 years old). Hopefully, the father will join them in a few weeks. 

The tenth  family to stay in the Trinity Refugee house arrived from from Burma on Tuesday, August 17, 2004.  The family was sponsored by the Bethel Grove Church.  The family consists of the father (Win Aung - born March 1975), his wife Ma Sue (born June 1975) and their children (Pu Chai - a boy born June 2001) and a girl - Sa It - born June 1998). 

The eleventh family to stay in the Trinity Refugee house arrived from from Burma on December 1, 2004 after a long and difficult flight from Thailand. The family is being sponsored by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.  Carolyn Beyers is the contact person for the church. The family consists of the father (NWE Than), the mother (Aye Pyi), and their children - Thu Pai Htet - a boy 7 years old - and two girls - NewChan Ei Ei – 9 years old, and Nwk Aye Mya Mya – 5 years old. 

The twelth family to stay in the Trinity Refugee House were the Ullah family who occupied the Trinity Refugee House from September 26, 2005 until August 20, 2006.  Their home in New Orleans was flooded last year in the Katrina hurricane and thus they came as refugees to Ithaca so Dr. Abdul H. J. Ullah could work as a chemist at the USDA lab at Cornell. His wife (Monowara) and daughter (Rima) accompanied him.  His sons Riaz and Rashad were both in college, but visited the Ullahs occasionally.  We wish them well in their return to their refurbished home and life in New Orleans.

The thirteenth family to stay in the Trinity Refugee House were the fourth family we have had from Burma.  They arrived on September 14th 2006.  The sponsor is the Ist Presbyterian Church and Bethel Grove  The contact person is Mary Perry.  The father is Deten Paw (30 years old), mother Gaw Tha Paw (30), daughters : Weh Shree Paw (12) and El Ree Paw (3), and sons Thart Kwah Paw (9) and Terry Gawsee Paw (5).

Another Karen family from Burma (the fourteenth fmily) is coming to the Trinity Refugee House in 2007.

A book could be written about the refugee’s numerous harrowing experiences during their efforts to leave for the USA and their subsequent life and adjustment to the USA.  Shipwrecks, pirates, near starvation, and murder of family members, are only a few of the experiences some of these refugees suffered.  Today, almost all of them are doing well and are good citizens of the U. S. A.  Some of the refugee’s children have graduated from local colleges.

Almost all of the families needed help with learning English, getting their children into school, transportation, medical exams and doctor’s appointments, obtaining Social Security numbers, with the process of becoming U. S. citizens, housing, clothing, furniture, employment, food, and the list goes on.  One “needs” list gives some insights into the needs of one refugee family; ironing board, hangers, tea kettle, basic tools, fix bed, caulking, pens, pencils, writing paper, paint, paintbrushes, calendar, rugs, clock, folding rack for clothes, vacuum, high chair, toys for children, big pan, Chinese wok, pots, pans, lamp shades, rod for door, meat knife, umbrella, etc., etc.  The congregation of Trinity was extremely helpful in sharing and obtaining the needs of these families. 

The basement of the Trinity Refugee House is available for meetings and the activities of Trinity's youth. Bob Terry supervised the work to dig around the basement of the house to make it impermeable to water. Considerable effort (painting, shingles, landscaping, etc.) is still needed to finish the work on the house. Bob Terry, Walt Reimers, Walt Smith, and others have invested many hours of labor working on the house. Numerous items have been donated during the past year by members of Trinity to make the house and/or the refugee's future homes more livable. 

contributed by Betty and H. David Thurston, Linda and Bob Terry