Back to School

It’s a crazy and unpredictable time for students and parents as they navigate back to school. Give a refugee family the gift of feeling confident and equipped for the school year ahead.

Stand With Refugee Students


At the start of quarantine, when schools first began shutting down and transitioning to remote learning, many families were left wondering how to navigate being both parent and teacher to their children. It’s been an incredibly challenging time for any parent or child—but for those navigating these uncertain times in a country where they are still learning the language, culture, and systems, there are a plethora of other challenges to consider.

Hello Neighbor currently serves 98 families—98% of which have children under the age of 18 in the home. Parents and students are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing policies for back to school and trying to make the right decisions for their childrens’ safety and education. Meanwhile, our staff and mentors are working around the clock to give them the support they need to feel confident going into this school year.

Remote Learning for Refugees

When surveyed, 60% of our families indicated that they do not feel equipped with the resources they need to navigate their child’s remote learning experience. This means a lack or absence of devices in the home, limited internet access, and other barriers. In addition to limited resources, parents are faced with the challenge of supervising and assisting their child with school work when in reality many of our parents do not speak english or never finished school themselves.

4 Ways To Help

The most important thing we can for our families right now is provide them with the tools and resources they need to feel prepared for the challenging time ahead, and for that we need your help. Below you will find four ways to stand with your refugee neighbors as they navigate back to school:

  1. DONATE FUNDS: We are collecting donations to fund some of the resources students need, such as Google Chromebooks, graphing calculators, backpacks and more. You can donate using the form on the right hand side on the screen.
  2. SHOP OUR WISHLISTS: Purchase back to school items off of our Amazon Wishlist and Walmart Registry.
  3. DONATE ITEMS: We will be accepting donations at our office (6587 Hamilton Ave, #1E, Pittsburgh, PA 15206) every Wednesday from 9am-5pm until August 19th! See the full list of school supplies we’re collecting.
  4. HOST A DRIVE: Gather your organization, congregation, school, or friend group to host a drive for items on our back to school list. If you’re interested in hosting a drive, please reach out to Calli White, our Direct Services Coordinator, at calli@helloneighbor.io for details. Donations will be accepted at our office until August 19th.

The obstacles our families have before them can be overwhelming, but we know with our supportive community anything is possible. Together we’ve accomplished so much, and we are not slowing down.


Stories of Students

As parents and students gear up for back to school, we wanted to share a few stories from our families about their journey and the hurdles they’ve overcome in the fight for education.

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Sam’s Story

At the start of quarantine, when students were first sent home and asked to continue their education online, Sam and his parents found themselves in a difficult position.

With no computer and only one iPhone among the family, Sam had no means of connecting to his class online. His mother, Niang began receiving an overwhelming number of emails from the school with instructions on how to navigate her son’s education from home. Niang, who is not a proficient english speaker, turned to her mentor Barbara to help sift through all the information.

“Niang forwarded me the emails she was receiving and I called the school to speak with Sam’s teachers,” Barbara explained. “They were very helpful and eager to get Sam connected, but there were still a lot of unknowns and it became apparent that Sam would not be receiving a Chromebook any time soon.”

Determined to not let her son fall behind, Niang applied to the Refugee Assistance Fund with the help of Barbara in order to receive emergency cash assistance to meet her childrens’ educational needs. Through the Refugee Assistance Fund, Hello Neighbor was able to distribute two rounds of $250 checks to the family. With these funds, Niang and Barbara purchased a Google Chromebook for Sam to continue his schoolwork, and a LeapFrog learning device for his 4-year-old sister Elizabeth to practice her alphabet, numbers and shapes.

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After receiving his Google Chromebook, Barbara helped Sam and Niang get connected with his class online. The day he logged on his class applauded him.

Sam was able to get caught up with all his assignments and finish his 6th grade year alongside his classmates and teachers. Yet with the school year ahead, Sam worries about starting 7th grade online from home.

“I will be starting a new grade with new work and new challenges to overcome,” Sam explained. “I wish I could ask questions in person to my teachers and see my classmates, but this is good for now to do online.”

There is a lot of uncertainty ahead, but Sam, his parents and Barbara are ready to take on those challenges together.

“Life is complicated in these uncertain times and there are so many layers. We’re doing the best we can but it’s not simple. We’ll keep navigating through it together,” says Barbara.


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Shahir’s Story

Ahmed and his wife Najila arrived in Pittsburgh on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in 2018 from their home country of Afghanistan. They have two children, Shahir (5) and Hawa (3). In 2019 they joined Hello Neighbor and were matched with their mentors Angela and Mike and their daughters Lila and Nora.

The families began having meals together, taking walks and trips to the park and enjoying their new found friendship. Angela, a former teacher, offered to help get Shahir enrolled in first grade.

“Oftentimes Ahmed and Najila would ask me to listen to voicemails or read letters from the school to know what information was important and they needed to respond to,” explained Angela. “That is a lot of information for any parents to sort through, especially when it is coming to you in a language that you do not speak.”

Together the families enrolled Shahir in first grade—they even took the traditional first day of school picture! Ahmed and his family moved halfway through the year and transferred school districts, which came with additional obstacles and paperwork, but they worked through these challenges together. Angela and Ahmed’s kids now attend the same school and love to meet up on the playground to show each other wiggly teeth and play.

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After seeing how many barriers this family had to overcome in a “typical” school year, Angela worries about the year ahead and the added challenges that remote learning presents to refugee and immigrant families.

“Access to the internet and technology will be a big issue for these families, not to mention the lack of tech support available to non-english speakers,” said Angela. “It’s hard enough for me as a teacher who has used these systems before. I can’t imagine navigating all of this when english isn’t your first language.”

Angela also noted that many refugees and low income families rely on free or reduced meals provided by the school, which will likely no longer be an option for remote students.

“Teachers and supervisors have so much on their plate and I don’t think English Language Learners are front of mind,” Angela explained. “I’m worried that things will be missed and kids will fall behind or just won’t go back to school. There are so many hurdles for them to overcome and without support they will fall flat.”

Our mentors play an essential role in helping mentee families sort through important materials and get connected to the resources and information they need to help their children succeed. In addition to this crucial role, the best way our community can support students like Shahir and other refugee children is by donating to help them get the materials they need to feel confident and equipped for the coming school year.


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Maha’s Story

Clare and Ken first met their Syrian mentee family Bassel, Maisaa and their four children in 2018 through the Hello Neighbor mentorship program. In their first meeting, they all went around the room and introduced themselves with the help of an interpreter. The daughter Maha, who introduced herself as 10 years old, later whispered to Clare “I’m actually 12, but don’t tell anyone.”

Back in Syria when Maha was born, the hospital did not initially provide a birth certificate. When they finally did, it was years later and showed Maha to be two years younger than she actually was. Before Maisaa and Bassel could acquire the money and paperwork to get an updated birth certificate, the family was granted refugee status and were resettled in the United States.

As Bassel and Maisaa worked to rebuild a life in Pittsburgh and enroll their children in school, they realized that Maha would be placed in the wrong grade. Afraid of what repercussions they might face if anyone learned there was an error in Maha’s documentation, they kept quiet. Maha would spend the next two years in the wrong grade before the family decided her education was too important and something needed to be done.

Through the help of a Hello Neighbor interpreter, Bassel and Maisaa spoke with the school guidance counselor to understand what could be done. Their mentors Ken and Clare provided a notarized letter and walked with them through the process. Together the families were able to get Maha on track to enter her proper grade—this year she will be starting an accelerated program, with the hopes of moving up to her appropriate grade next year.

“I am very very happy. I’m really thankful for my teachers, Hello Neighbor and Clare and Ken who helped me,” Maha explained. “It will be tough to take two grades in one next year to catch up, but I will try my hardest and believe I can do it.”

Our families are determined to give their children a better life and a good education—but there are many obstacles they need to overcome in order to do so. This is just one example of a roadblock our families may face in coming to the U.S. as a refugee, and with the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, these challenges are only heightened.

“There are so many hurdles that any student or parent can have to overcome during the school year,” Clare explained. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be not to be able to help your child with their homework because you don’t speak the language—and now in the case of covid and remote learning there are many refugee parents unfamiliar with the technology. It’s amazing to think about what these students and parents have to overcome to succeed in school.”


Right now the best gift you can give refugee children and their parents are the tools and resources to help them feel equipped for the challenges ahead. When you donate to Hello Neighbor you allow us to supply families with the resources they need and build programs to better support students and their parents in this challenging time.


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