As Anza D’Antonio read about people in Syria being subjected to daily bombings, ISIS brutality, and chlorine gas attacks, she wanted to do something to help. So she and her husband, Jason, and their three children opened their Brookfield, Wisc., home to Mohamad and Nesrin Alissa and their four children, a refugee family who had fled war-torn Syria.

“For us, focusing on making a difference with one family made the most sense; we have a home large enough to accommodate two families on a temporary basis, and the infrastructure in place that co-living required,” D’Antonio said.

After the Alissa family settled into their home, Anza learned that families hosting refugee families is very uncommon. The director of Catholic Charities USA, the nonprofit organization that helped the Alissa family relocate to the U.S., said that in his seven years of this work, the D’Antonio family was the only one to actually open its home. “With 11 people under one roof, life is suddenly very different,” said D’Antonio. “After the collective seven children are in bed, we sit and study English flashcards for hours.”

After living with the D’Antonio family for three months, the Alissa family secured a three-bedroom apartment four miles from the D’Antonio’s home. Adjusting to life in a new country presents daily challenges. “The obstacles refugees face are many, and employment, language, and transportation felt like a Gordian Knot,” said D’Antonio.

Members of Brookfield Christian Reformed Church, which the D’Antonios attend, taught the family English on a rotating basis and drove Mohamad to local ESL classes. They also helped the Alissa family purchase a van and provided numerous household items after they moved into their new apartment.

Even with the hurdles they face, Mohamad is grateful for the new life for his family in the U.S. “He is thankful for his new country. He doesn’t take life in our leafy suburb for granted and has expressed repeated gratitude for the charity shown by my family, friends, and fellow parishioners,” said D’Antonio.

D’Antonio is assistant general counsel at A.O. Smith Corporation in Milwaukee.

About the Author

Amy Toornstra is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classes Columbia and Pacific Northwest.