JFS Perspectives

Monday, June 18, 2018

Thamer Abdullah: Making His Way in America

Witnessing a suicide bomber commit his final act of terror was the last straw for Thamer Abdullah. That his 12-year-old son also saw the horrific act made it that much worse. It was then that he decided to leave his native Iraq with his family and move to Syria in hopes of securing a better and safer life.

That was in 2006, before Syria became one of the most dangerous places in the world. Thamer brought his wife, sister, and three children to Syria to find refuge, but life there was no less violent. In 2010 he was taken hostage and tortured—a terrifying experience that still haunts him to this day. Thamer then applied for refugee status with the United Nations, a process that took four years. He and his family were finally approved for asylum in the United States and arrived in Denver in April 2014.

Thamer AbdullahAs part of his resettlement, Thamer was referred to Jewish Family Service’s Refugee Mental Health program to help him work through his traumatic past. His therapist recognized that Thamer had other needs beyond counseling and referred him to JFS’s Family Safety Net Services team to help him find employment and assist with food until he could once again support his family. Thamer met with JFS employment support case manager Heather Seiden, who went to work identifying his strengths, abilities, and interests. Heather immediately recognized Thamer’s friendly demeanor and kindheartedness. While he had a degree in mathematics and programming experience, he really wanted a job where he could help people. “He came to the right place,” says Heather. “Helping people is what JFS is all about.”

She knew that JFS was recruiting drivers for its Lunchbox Express summer lunch program. Thamer had recently worked as a driver at DIA and had an excellent track record. He loved the idea of interacting with children and meeting such an important community need. After an interview with the program coordinator, Thamer was hired. He has since become a popular driver with the program, beloved by the children, their families, and volunteers alike.

Lunchbox Express operates only during the summer, but Thamer needed year-round work. He did so well with Lunchbox Express that Heather again went to work to see what other opportunities JFS might have for him. The JFS Senior Solutions team was looking for an alternate driver for its Kosher Meals on Wheels program, delivering meals to homebound seniors every weekday. Thamer was an obvious choice and was given the job. “I enjoy my work and serving the people with food every day,” says Thamer. “I love Jewish Family Service!”

Thamer is happy in his new home and has adjusted well to life in America. He is very grateful for all the support he’s received from JFS and wants to give back to the agency that has supported him. A practicing Muslim, he has always felt welcome at JFS. “From the first day, all the people I met at Jewish Family Service were so kind, respectful, and caring,” he says. “They treat everyone like family.”

Imagine what Thamer’s life would be like without this valuable support from JFS. Despite cuts in funding to support refugees, JFS has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who need these supports due to our current political climate. Ensure that JFS has the resources to continue to serve more people like Thamer so they too can experience the safety and security of life in the United States.

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META DESCRIPTION: See how Jewish Family Service of Colorado helped Thamer Abdullah work through his traumatic experiences as a refugee of Iraq and Syria.