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A Local Parish Helps Teach Refugees

One woman makes it her mission to educate an overlooked segment of society.

A limited amount of refugees can come to America each year. But here in Glen Ellyn there is a community of refugees from places around the globe. Usually these places are so culturally different from the United States, that acclimating can be difficult, and adding schoolwork makes it that much harder. That's why one woman from St. Petronille's Parish made it her mission to help this overlooked or sometimes forgotten segment of society. 

Marilyn Duszynski started a tutoring program (OWL) to open the world through literacy to help refugee children right here in Glen Ellyn.

“Our main thrust is helping them learn to read, write, and speak English. We go beyond that, though. Our mission is to help these families acclimate and succeed in American society. We give them a way to learn these things in a place where they’re not different, a place where they all fit in with each other,” said Duszynski.

Duszynski explained that, unfortunately, 95 percent of the parents in these families are illiterate, even in their own languages, making it difficult to help their children with school work. That's where the OWL program comes in. The program helps refugee children of all ages with homework, five days per week after school, in addition to summer school.

“The way the schools are currently set up, refugees in America are set up for failure,” Duszynski explained, “It’s frustrating.”

With the odds stacked against them, Duszynski and her volunteers try to give all the encouragement and support these refugees need.

“[We] push them, angled at how to reach goals. We’ve got sixth graders reading Jane Eyre and other classics, they’re studying Victorian England and they raise some interesting questions about these things," said Duszynski. “These kids are so anxious and excited to learn, some of them would stay until 12 a.m. if we let them,” she added. 

But the program is more than just teaching kids from a textbook. In addition to the homework and the basics of an American education, the group helps the children acclimate socially in American society.

“We visit their homes sometimes, as well. We don’t simply work with the children, we also visit them at home, at least once per month. We can’t ignore the entire family,” she said.

Moving half way around the world can be difficult for children and trying to "fit in" can be even more daunting, so Duszynski helps usher an entire family into understanding their new world. For these families everything is new from discovering what a Band-Aid is, to preparing for winter with the right clothing.

“Most all of the families are widowed mothers with young children. They come from many countries, most of which are war-torn, genocide infested countries. These families have very special circumstances, we help them with getting shoes and things that they need,” she expanded. “These children come to us having no clue that anywhere besides where they live even exists. They’re beyond astounded at how large the world is,” she added.

To find out more information about the group, or to volunteer, click here.  Or e-mail Marilyn Duszynski at owlsmd2011@gmail.com. Current volunteers include students from both Glen Ellyn high schools, in addition to Benet Academy, moms, and eighth graders from . 

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