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Lighthouse Charities

by Ainslee Archibald, Senior Editor

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In 2016, more than 3000 refugees came to Nevada, according to the State Refugee Office of Nevada. Lighthouse Charities is a local organization founded in 2014 by Cindy Trussel that helps refugees and at-risk families become self-sufficient.

Families come to their offices every day to get clothes and household items. They also have English classes. The charity is the only local nonprofit with job skills training to help refugees.

Within their job skills training, they have the Nafasi Boutique.

“(In Swahili,) Nafasi means opportunity. There were many refugee women that were coming here that had never been educated… they’re completely unemployable. Nafasi is a program to help them become self-sufficient. The women learn different skills like crocheting, sewing, paper beads, and woodworking,” Trussel explained.

The crafts they make are sold in the Nafasi Boutique, allowing the women to make a living.

Trussel met one family that they’ve helped through the Nafasi program while bringing food to other families in the neighborhood.

“Their oldest son came running up to me. His name was Eli. He told me that their family was needing a lot of help. I went over to their home and found them pretty much destitute. They didn’t have much furniture, they didn’t have any blankets to stay warm, and they had no food in the house,” Trussel says. They had been begging for food, unable to find employment.

“So we were able to get [Eli] employed within three or four days… as a janitor. He worked there for about three weeks and lost his job because he didn’t even know how to use a squirt bottle,” she says. However, they were able to employ another of the family, Suzanna, through the Nafasi program so she could support her family instead.

“[Suzanna] was deaf and mute. She had never been to school, never even knew how to write her own name,” Trussel says. She makes about 500 dollars a month rolling paper beads for jewelry sold in the boutique. Coupled with social security, the family is able to support themselves.

Trussel co-hosted the first annual Refugee Recognition Ceremony in May. They partnered with CCSD to celebrate talented refugee students.

“Many of these kids that are coming here have never been to school. Ever,” she explained. Even if they had, it would have usually been very rudimentary.

“When they come here, they not only have to catch up with their peers, but they have to learn the language… They’ve never had books to read, or the internet; things that we take for granted. We want to recognize those kids that are up and coming. Some of them are graduating. Not a lot; maybe one in five actually graduate high school, but that doesn’t mean they’re not learning. It’s because they couldn’t get caught up in time,” Trussel says.

They started a scholarship program at the ceremony to help kids who graduate go on to college.

“We recognized 300 students for their achievements. They also express their stories and talk about their dreams… They have many dreams, just like all of us do. It was a really amazing and inspiring ceremony to not only share those dreams but to give them more opportunities to continue in their education and be recognized,” Trussel says.

One specific student at the ceremony graduated with honors.

“She had lived in a refugee camp her entire life. She was born in a refugee camp. By the time she had reached 18, most of her life had been spent in a refugee camp… Her achievements were very inspiring for others to hear,” she said.

Even with the successes, a nonprofit faces plenty of challenges.

“Financial is our biggest struggle. None of us get paid and we’re all volunteers. We don’t have people that come in and help us fundraise. We have to go out and find others to donate to keep the lights on here,” she explained. They also always need volunteer help.

“There’s such a huge workload, every single day.”
They do not operate in a vacuum, either. They have had naysayers that have issues with the things they do.

“Most of the time, all they need to do is meet a family. That has changed the minds and hearts of many, many hundreds of volunteers that have come in here… Once they meet a family, everything changes for them,” Trussel says.

She stresses the innocence of the refugees that are resettled in Vegas. “They’re families. They’re moms… Even families, whole families, that have struggled and been through horrific things before they even come here,” she says.

She describes the story of Manol, a 20-year-old woman from Syria who lost her child in a bombing.

“She had to run out of her home and leave her baby behind, even though he had passed. But there was nothing she could do. Many of the families who have come here are innocent, innocent victims. They are just struggling when they come and they just need a place to feel safe and have the opportunity to raise their families,” Trussel says.

Trussel herself immigrated to the United States in 1980 from Australia.

“It was very difficult for me and my family when I first came here. We had been through struggles too. We were sleeping on floors until my dad was able to find a job. I spoke English, but I know how much harder it is for someone who comes here who is of a totally different culture… who doesn’t speak the language and how much harder it must be for them… There’s very little opportunity for them,” she says.

Being an entirely volunteer-run organization means that help is always needed. “We take volunteer help every single day… There are other women here that can help guide a volunteer through whatever they want to do, whether it be clothing a family or helping get a food box ready,” Trussel explains.

It isn’t easy running the charity, either. “It’s actually really tough… I do all of this as a volunteer myself. It’s hard to get up every morning and come back and do it all over again. But I’ve been doing it almost four years now because I’ve seen such amazing rewards,” she says.

She describes another one of the refugees she’s helped.

“We had taught her how to crochet and make some of the beaded ornaments… She’s watching people buy them. She came here without family, she’s pregnant, and she’s a new mom. She’s 20 years old, pregnant with her second child, and we’ve kind of adopted her. I feel like she’s my daughter. We become so close to them and so inspired by what they’ve been through… My heart goes out to them.”

Lighthouse Charities was founded on the idea of helping those who have nothing to make their own way.

“When you see the lighthouse, it brings you comfort. I thought that that’s exactly what I wanted to do for the families that were coming here… to give them comfort, give them hope, and give them a direction.”

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