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Mt. Lebanon neighbors organize to help immigrant children

Continuing news about the separation of immigrant children from their parents, and other children who arrive alone at the border seeking refuge in this county, is heartrending. No matter how one feels about immigration in general, we can only imagine the trauma these children are living through and feel for them.

For Anne Fredrickson, a retired teacher who lives in Mt. Lebanon, it was just too much. She had taught many immigrant children in the past. She decided she had to do something, so she gathered some neighbors and friends, and they met and discussed what they could do that would be meaningful.

“Before starting this group, I felt powerless to help in a significant way,” says Anne. “Now, after meeting the hardworking staff of JFCS and witnessing how many people care enough to involve themselves in our new group, I think we ALL feel more empowered to help and even change lives.”

At first they researched relevant organizations at the U.S. Southern Border. But when JFCS Immigration Legal Services Attorney Megan Walker and Director Jamie Englert were invited to speak at a group meeting, they found out that some of these children are right here in the Pittsburgh area. Pretty soon PGH 4 Immigrant Children (Pgh4ic) was born.

Having legal representation is the most influential factor in the outcome of these kids’ cases. Immigration courts do not guarantee legal representation like Criminal Court. Immigrant children without resources or English skills end up representing themselves and going to court alone. The statistics are stark: 85% of children who go to court without legal representation are deported; 73% of children with lawyers have been allowed to stay in the United States.

Pgh4ic zeroed in on their mission: to raise funds for legal representation for immigrant children. This effort not just great for the children. People often don’t grasp the nuts and bolts of this work and how much time and money it costs. Cases are all individual, and the procedures are demanding and take YEARS. Committing themselves to fundraising truly makes a huge difference in the number of cases JFCS can take on.

Pgh4ic has several fundraising ideas and more are on the way; they’ve already raised nearly $3,000! More than 50 people attend meetings, and their Facebook page has more than 300 followers. Anne herself designed a fawn wildlife greeting card and designated the proceeds from sales of the card to Pgh4ic. And they have created a yard sign you can plant in your yard to show your support. These items and more information are available on the groups Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2435571140060855/).

“I have to say, when I see one of our lawn signs while driving around Pittsburgh, I actually get goose bumps!” says Anne. “When someone buys a card, I feel gratitude.  I hope that we can continue this partnership with JFCS for the duration of this crisis.”

Anne credits several people who have helped the group make so much progress: Leslie Holmes, an original member; Mariellen Kerr, generator of fundraising ideas; Steve and Wendy Denenberg for so many connections, and for finding Megan and Jamie; and Jackie Gasdick, faithful donations collector and spreadsheet queen!

JFCS is awed and amazed at the amount this group has accomplished in such a short time. Besides the much-needed funds, PGH 4 Immigrant Children already has more than 50 members, and they are raising awareness directly with their friends and neighbors. This is how a community tackles a need and makes a difference. Bravo to these local heroes!