On November 2nd, Center Theatre Group and The Music Center welcomed Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a Syrian refugee girl, on the Jerry Moss Plaza, on her journey that has spanned more than 35 cities with over one thousand artists and arts organizations.
Little Amal’s message of peace and hope for refugees resonated with various organizations, which inspired them to participate in the event. Among them was Miry Whitehill, the Founder and Executive Director of Miry’s List.
For the last seven years, the organization has famously worked on supporting families in the United States who are in need of practical and emotional support through an online platform. Their website allows people to directly support new families all across the country with requested items that ease their move and major life events.
Whitehill hadn’t always worked in the nonprofit industry. Before founding Miry’s List, she was a marketing executive who specialized in digital advertising. She had every intention of returning to work after her maternity leave, but she met a resettling family in her community that needed support and shifted her focus to community outreach and aid.
The family Whitehill had met were unable to purchase a mattress for their baby’s crib, which resulted in the family being unable to rest peacefully. Whitehill had a spare mattress in her garage and was able to help the family overcome this challenge. “That began this process of talking with them and listening to them and understanding more about the challenges that they faced and more about the opportunity that me and my friends and my neighbors had in jumping into help,” she reflected.
As a parent to two kids of her own, Whitehill was in awe of the strength these parents had despite the challenges they faced every day while resettling in a new country. “These families who have overcome the odds have faced so much danger,” she said. “The way that they prioritize the needs of their children...[I was] witnessing heroic parenting. Every single time.”
After getting to know that initial family, Whitehill began to uncover the reality resettling families face when arriving in the United States. “The system for resettling refugees, that's a 90-day system. That's the timeline under which these families get support.” she shared. “Anybody who has ever moved to a new place understands that it takes longer than 90 days even under ‘perfect circumstances.’ For folks who are fleeing violence and persecution, there is nothing perfect about this circumstance.”
For Whitehill, connecting with families on a personal level showed her how their needs are not met by the government agencies that are responsible for supporting them during their resettlement. This was the inspiration for Miry’s List, which became a tool that anyone could support to help fill in those gaps. “We are a platform that's online, where you can help out directly,” said Whitehill. “You can send a pair of sneakers to a six-year-old who's starting second grade...[or] you can volunteer and be a tutor and work with someone on developing their conversational English skills.”
The programs that Miry’s List offers were created as a direct response to conversations the organization has had with new arrival families in their homes. “When families first arrived, we noticed they were [experiencing] severe exhaustion, both physical and mental,” Whitehill reflected. “So, we gave it a name...’survive’. This is the first chapter. What can we do during ‘survive’, to help a family? We need to find a way that they can rest.”
The next step in the process is to “hive,” which is meant to support the new arrivals families by embracing them as members of the community. For Whitehill, this is the bulk of the program, which consists of meeting new individuals and creating space for community. “We’re surrounding the family, we’re listening to them and offering them support,” she commented.
The program aims to lead all participants to the “thriving” phase, where new arrival families have a support system that they can lean into while feeling like they are members of the community. But to get to that point, the organization relies on all steps of the program to build that reality. “Every single one of those touch points, that human connection, it helps to build that sense of belonging,” Whitehill notes.
Looking towards the future, Whitehill hopes that more artistic opportunities like Amal’s Wish will inspire people to learn more about the realities that new arrival families face and create change. Whitehill feels that are is incredibly valuable to these communities, as it is a way to process difficult conversations. “When art is expressed in a way to serve a specific purpose, like [Amal’s Wish] [shining a] light on the courageous kids and families that have made these worldwide journeys towards safety, we can take that curiosity and generate impact.” she shared. Throughout the evening, Miry’s List spread the word about their work and collected a variety of donations to help support current requests.
The organization is also always looking for volunteers, in addition to donations. “I want to encourage anybody that is reading this or interested in the organization and the work that we do with the families [to] please get involved,” she said.
Whitehill finds that Miry’s List is also a great channel to further education within our own homes and communities about new arrivals and refugees. Whitehill argues that newly arriving families are the future of our communities. [New arrivals] have come through some of the most difficult situations that someone can face...They are new American families,” she shared. “Within five years, those people who are over the age of 18 will be voting in our elections. Our attitude should be the exact same attitude that we would have if anybody [else] moved in next door. We should be showing up with a basket of muffins.”