Refugees find welcoming support with local nonprofit organization, Welcome to America Project.

Escaping worn-torn countries in search of safety, housing and a future for their family, legal refugees resettled by the United Nations attempt to lay new roots in Phoenix with the help and support of the Welcome to America Project.

The United Nations defines a refugee as, “someone who has fled his or her country because he/she fears persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.”

Serving refugees from across the globe with a network of volunteers and local service agencies, Welcome to America Project assists in providing furniture, basic necessities, education and additional resources to ease the settling in process. Always going above and beyond, Executive Director, Megan O’Connor comments, “Of all the things Welcome to America Project does, introducing refugee families to members of the community is something I love most. To show them that they are welcome, that they are safe and that this is an opportunity for them to start a new a life with a community that supports them.”

With humble beginnings, local residents Phil and Carolyn Manning searched ways to honor Phil’s late brother, Terence Manning, who was lost during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. After seeing a photograph of a local political refugee family from Afghanistan in the local news on October 7, 2001, Carolyn Manning knew what had to be done. Realizing that the Mannings shared the common idea of wanting a safe future, they began collecting donations of household items and clothing for the Afghan Family, seeking to give meaning to Terrance’s passing.

Since then, the Welcome to America Project has assisted more than 1,200 refugee families in the Phoenix area through continuous community support.

“It has been an absolutely incredible experience getting to know refugee groups on a personal level along with meeting community members and volunteers who support Welcome to America Project,” O’Connor adds.

With a number of ways to support, community members can donate gently used furniture, home goods, clothing and toys, along with multiple volunteer options, such as assisting with home deliveries, packing donations, storage upkeep, move-ins and home visits to talk with refugee families about what they need, along with monetary donations and becoming a corporate sponsor.

With so many opportunities to volunteer, O’Connor mentions how every family she meets provides a great touching story she’ll never forget. Sharing a more recent experience, O’Connor recalls a widowed Somali mother who was recently resettled to Phoenix.

“Upon arriving, she was very excited but very nervous. Welcome to America Project suggested she get connected with local group, Somali American United Council of Arizona. That night, I personally received a phone call from her saying she was so grateful she was connected to that group because for the first time in decades, she reconnected with friends and family members she didn’t even know were living in Arizona.”

As volunteering helps others gain new perspectives on life, various cultures and new experiences, Welcome To America Project will play host to its annual even fundraiser, Prom 2012, Saturday, April 21. Open to all, the night will include dinner, dancing and costumes for Welcome to America Projects’ biggest fundraiser with 100 percent of the proceeds going to local refugee families. With a large turnout expected, O’Connor added that the annual event typically accounts for 20-25 percent of all of the organizations annual donations.

For more information on the Welcome To America Project and ways to help volunteers, visit

For more information on the Prom 2012 fundraising event and how to purchase your ticket, click here.