July 30, 2020
Article by Emily Miller, World Relief Staff Member
Our feature this month is a story of perpetual giving. Read how a young woman has overcome obstacles during the pandemic and is now mobilizing support for others in need.
Brenda’s heart sank when she logged on to her bank’s mobile app. She had been working at a laundromat, diligently saving extra pennies, when the unthinkable happened: the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Illinois. Her work hours were cut in half, several of her friends contracted the virus, and Brenda’s comfortable housing arrangement suddenly became unstable after three of her housemates decided to move away.
I have been Brenda’s case manager since October 2019, starting after she was granted asylum in the United States. After her arrival and prior to the pandemic, twenty-year-old Brenda had made great strides toward stability while settling into life in the Chicago area. She had established care with clinicians, started working, and had connected with a local church.
However, once the pandemic hit, Brenda suddenly found herself struggling to maintain a living. With a housing situation that was slowly crumbling and a job that could now only pay her at most $50 per paycheck, she needed other options. Together we brainstormed. We found an opening for an apartment in West Chicago, but in order to move in she needed to provide a security deposit and a rent payment of $450.
Due to emergency rent-assistance-funding from World Relief and a generous financial gift from Renewal Church, Brenda was able to secure not only one, but two months of rent while she looked for a job. She was relieved. Even though the pandemic had caused so much hardship, she felt she now had a safety net that prevented her from becoming homeless. She was inspired by the general willingness of different organizations to help her, so she decided to pay it back, but in a creative way.
Brenda told me that she had found discussions on Facebook about a Nicaraguan man living in her country’s capital city. He was leaving comments on popular radio and TV social media posts that he’d work in exchange for rice, oil, soap, and milk for his daughter. Nicaragua had been ravaged by COVID-19, and with an already faltering public health system, basic supplies and medicine were running out. Brenda got in contact with this man and heard a bit more about his dire needs and his inability to find work amid the pandemic. She was horrified at the situation her countrymen were facing. She then took to her own social media platforms, where she runs a popular podcast and Instagram account, both of which are dedicated to supporting the voice and struggle of the Nicaraguan people.
“I recorded a video asking people to either share it or to donate food or money to my PayPal account and I’d take that money and send it straight to him,” she explained, “I posted the video on Saturday, not thinking it’d get a lot of attention, but I was wrong. By Monday, it had reached 10,000 views and it now has close to 30,000 views on Instagram.”
Donations started pouring in. As a blogger with a substantial following, she had successfully mobilized her own audience to action.
“We raised $450 and a little bit more in total. Almost the same amount that World Relief helped me with for my new apartment.”
In the area of Nicaragua where the money was sent, this amount was equal to almost a full month’s salary. Brenda and her online community were able to raise it in less than three days. Brenda used a portion of the money to purchase quality food, diapers, and a first aid kit, and she donated the rest to the man in cash.
“When I left Nicaragua, I never thought I would be able to do anything for my country again,” Brenda told me. “That’s why I decided to start my blog. So I could at least educate people on important topics and show people that investing the right amount of effort can change someone’s life. I want to dedicate the fruits of this initiative to you and everyone who supports the mission at World Relief.”
Brenda was so encouraged by the response to this campaign that she plans to launch another one to help a young girl in Nicaragua whose house recently burned down.
“My next goal is to get others to follow my lead and go and find a cause themselves,” she said. “I will lead people to become fundraisers for their own communities. Find a cause. Start a movement. Share it with your friends. Eventually, it will spread like wildfire.”
Emily Miller is a Family Case Manager based out of World Relief Chicagoland’s DuPage office. Emily works with immigrants and refugees to adjust to life in the United States and achieve self-sufficiency in their new communities.