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HVA Students, Willow Brook Pathfinders Help International Refugees

Story by Tyler Milam; Photos by Glen Milam
Published 1/24/13

A young tribal leader and refugee from the Congo holds a pair of shoes donated by Adventists in the Hagerstown, Md., area.

In early December, the Willow Brook Pathfinder Club from Boonsboro, Md., which includes 12 students from nearby Highland View Academy (HVA), became aware of a unique need of their sibling club at the Westvale church in Syracuse, N.Y. The New York troop needed assistance helping refugee families who immigrated to Syracuse last summer from the Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Burundi. The refugees, many of who are Seventh-day Adventists, had been subjected to religious and tribal persecution and therefore qualified for political asylum in the United States. Although the government provided them a place to stay, the newcomers still needed help with food and clothing.

Language barriers made it difficult for the refugees to communicate with their new American neighbors, so they started flooding the local Adventist churches, including Westvale, and many of the children voiced their desire to enroll in the local Adventist school despite their parents’ inability to pay for their attendance. However, Parkview Junior Academy agreed to sponsor the education of more than 30 children and to provide them with two free, warm meals a day.

About 20 of these same children asked to join Westvale’s Pathfinder club. Once again the local Adventist community agreed to sponsor the children. As winter arrived, however, a new problem became evident that the local Adventist community could no longer afford to address: these children did not have winter clothing. Many had only shower shoes or sandals to shod their feet, and many of the families took turns using a single blanket or winter coat.

It was at this point that the Willow Brook Pathfinders heard of their plight and felt moved to help. The Pathfinders started calling local churches and schools to donate clothing, bedding and small furniture to the cause. Over the next few weeks, their club bus filled with donations. Finally on January 6, four HVA students, Ethan Fishell, Zach Westfahl, Faith Wootton and Tyler Milam;  Willow Brook Pathfinder directors, Glen and Darlene Milam; and two staff members, Ray Hickman and Tom Wootton; made their way to Syracuse with more than 100 pairs of shoes and well over 2,000 items of clothing and bedding.

Upon their arrival, the Willow Brook team members joined the Westvale club in unloading the bus and then sorting its precious cargo. “As we finished sorting the clothing, they gave us a tour of the school and showed all of the things they are doing to accommodate the new students,” says Wootton. He adds, “Because of the significant increase in students, they have classes meeting in the lobby. They are also learning how to grow gardens in the winter so that they can provide enough food for all of the students. They are also making plans for an addition to be built as soon as the funds can be raised.”

The Willow Brook club plans to continue fundraising so they can purchase new waterproof snow boots for the children.

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