A Girl’s Best Friend: Blair Brettschneider, Chicago, Illinois
Being the new girl in town is tough. Blair Brettschneider (above, far right) learned this when she moved to Chicago to work at a refugee resettlement agency. But it’s not as hard as being the new girl in America. Five years ago, she was tutoring Domi, 18, who had lived in a Tanzanian refugee camp before coming to the United States. (Read the moving story of the Navy crew that went off course to save 50 drowning refugees.) Domi wanted to be a nurse, but she was struggling in school and with family demands. Brettschneider went to her home to meet with her. And she realized that there must be many other displaced, disoriented teen girls among the thousands of refugees relocated in Illinois every year. “I just hadn’t seen them,” Brettschneider says.
She hosted weekly meet-ups for Domi and nine other refugee girls; they’d practice English, play games, and talk. For Domi, the group was life-changing: She graduated from high school and enrolled in nursing school.
The meet-ups blossomed into GirlForward, which pairs refugees ranging in age from 12 to 21 with American mentors and hosts a summer camp to prepare teens for their first year of high school in the United States. Brettschneider, 26, takes girls on regular field trips, and “every year, we go ice-skating,” she says. “They’re afraid of falling, and they have to learn to be brave and trust that nobody will let them get hurt.” Taking that first step can be tricky—but the girls know that Brettschneider always has their back. Here are more acts of love and courage from America’s heroes.
The Flower Bearer: Larsen Jay, Knoxville, Tennessee
Seven years ago, Larsen Jay nearly died when his ladder collapsed during a do-it-yourself project. He broke his left arm, right elbow, wrists, nose, and femur and fractured his skull. His first days in the trauma center were bleak. But after loved ones filled Jay’s room with bouquets, his mood lifted. “I’d never been given flowers before, and it was a big emotional shift for me,” he says. His wife wheeled him through the halls, and he was dismayed to see other patients’ “lifeless, flowerless” rooms. Jay took the cards off his blooms and went door-to-door, delivering the flowers. “I wanted to give people the same boost I had,” he says.