Lake Norman & Mooresville

Group helps refugees settle in to new home

It all started with a crib, said Whitney Cassell.

About three years ago, when her son became too big for his crib, Cassell, 38, of Mooresville, wanted to donate it, but “I was attached to it emotionally,” she said.

She wanted to know who would receive it and contacted Ann Lademann, “a local neighbor who is executive director of Most Valuable Kids. She’s well connected, and I (wanted) to give it to someone who could really, really use it.”

Most Valuable Kids is a national organization that gives needy kids the chance to attend sports and entertainment events.

“She told me, ‘I have the perfect family. They are Burmese refugees living in Charlotte.’ I was taken aback because I was totally in the dark. I didn’t know there were refugee families in Charlotte. Once she told me about the family, I said I’d like to personally deliver it.”

She did so last year. Cassell then decided that she would like to work with another family throughout the year. “So I started helping another family and we became very close,” she said.

Another volunteer told Cassell, “when they are in refugee camps in Thailand, the Americans they know there are like angels. They’re caring, kind, loving. Then they get granted access into the country, and they are preyed upon by people, and there are not missionaries that come to visit them. They don’t see that anymore. It’s very sad.”

“They thought they were coming to a country full of people like the missionaries and they realize that’s just not the case. The number one thing that means the most to them is to actually see you face-to-face and know there are people in the community that really care about them.”

For the holiday season, Cassell said, she asked for the names of “six very needy families who are refugees from Myanmar (formally Burma). We asked to support the most needy families of this large population so we will definitely make a big difference in their lives.” She wanted to collect toys and food to make their holiday brighter.

When word got out about it, Anne Mautner, age 42, also of Mooresville, stepped in with the Little Helpers. Mautner said, The Little Helpers are a Mooresville group of volunteers who encourage and gather to let their children help with community work.

The children, who are as young as 5, help by bringing toys, monetary gifts and fresh fruits and vegetables. “Teaching children early to help out.”

The response from the Mooresville community was evident Dec. 13, when the Little Helper families gathered to carpool in six cars, one adorned with reindeer, to the refugee families in Charlotte bearing gifts and food.

“Our Little Helpers and their awesome parents donated carloads of gifts, toys and food to these families and spent time with them, which was perhaps the biggest gift of all,” Mautner said.

Nathan Schmidt, one of the volunteers who went along, said, “the family we met with has only been here for eight months. The dad only makes $7.57 an hour. They said, ‘thank you’ more times than I can count. I think we all have been blessed by this experience.”