Hello Neighbor Network Spotlight: Kathie O’Callaghan

Meet Kathie O’Callaghan: Hello Neighbor Network Partner and Founder of Hearts & Homes for Refugees

May 5, 2020

A longtime volunteer for several local organizations in Pelham, New York, Kathie O’Callaghan used her experience and expertise to create Hearts & Homes for Refugees in 2015. Soon after founding the organization, Hearts & Homes welcomed the county’s first Syrian family to the community. The organization supported the family of six as they established their new lives in Pelham, lending them a hand with babysitting, connecting them to youth services, enrolling them in ESL courses, and helping furnish their home.

After welcoming that first family, Hearts & Homes has continued to help refugee and asylee families with post-resettlement support as they navigate school and medical systems, learn English, get to appointments, and integrate into their new community. The organization now has around 300 volunteers. Kathie has also initiated a county-wide coalition to further expand post-resettlement support for refugees throughout Westchester County.

Q&A

Your name:
Kathie O’Callaghan

Organization name:
Hearts & Homes for Refugees

Location of organization:
Westchester County, NY

What communities does your organization serve?
We have a presence throughout Westchester County where refugee families have resettled here as well as in our surrounding areas in CT and NYC. We work with those communities where there is a thirst for more knowledge and for more refugee arrivals. We have welcomed and assisted refugees and asylees from Syria, Iraq, The Gambia, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela.

What are you most excited for in 2020?
Doing more better! Looking at 2020, we are incredibly excited and energized to have three years behind us so that we can embrace Year Four with:

  • Confidence in our more clearly defined role and ability to shape and strengthen the welcoming movement in Westchester County.
  • Knowledge about our communities and building momentum for grassroots mobilization.
  • Experience and best practices to better serve our new neighbors.
  • Creative approach to new community sponsor partnerships.
  • Visibility and credibility as a convener of grassroots community building support.
  • Scalable models of community sponsorship, networking, education and advocacy programs.

We are especially excited to welcome a new SIV family and helping them in their resettlement and reunification with family! We are looking to build on and improve on our Helping Hands program and offering more robust ESOL opportunities. We are continuing to convene and inform our communities about ways to advocate for and soften the landing of arriving refugees and giving our new neighbors a leg up to help them thrive.

How has your organization benefited from the Hello Neighbor Network?
It has been validating and empowering!

We all voluntarily stepped out of our lives in the last several years and into this space with no real clear path or direction and not much more to offer than our hearts and belief that we could make our communities better if we were welcoming refugees and making their lives a little easier. Connecting and sharing with this community of committed, creative, courageous and compassionate leaders in welcoming has been validating for me personally. It has made our work better, more informed and energized with shared and proven ideas.

  • national
  • network
  • partnership

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