The members of United Community Family Services, pictured, hosted a recognition of World Refugee Day to raise awareness of issues around those fleeing violence and hardship.

The members of United Community Family Services, pictured, hosted a recognition of World Refugee Day to raise awareness of issues around those fleeing violence and hardship.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

Troy nonprofit celebrates World Refugee Day

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published June 27, 2023


TROY — A local organization took to Brinston Park in Troy to observe World Refugee Day June 20, an internationally celebrated day to recognize refugees and their plight.

The organization is United Community Family Services, which was formed 62 years ago as the Chaldean Ladies of Charity.

“June 20 is World Refugee Day, which is an international day that the United Nations has set forth,” said Kristin Olmedo, the group’s president and CEO. “We have a picnic, we have games, we have music, and we have everything for good, wholesome family fun. We do it every year. We have record attendance this year, and we want everyone to recognize this part of our community and to welcome them. The investment immigrants are putting into our community and the investment we are putting into them will only help the state grow.”

United Community Family Services is based in Troy and was founded by several female immigrants from Iraq who settled in Troy and wanted to help others who were coming to the United States to escape hardship or find a better life.

“We are based in Troy, located at 2033 Austin Drive, and we help more than 10,000 individuals each year who are new to the United States,” Olmedo explained. “We offer services for refugees and new immigrants to the United States. We have a basic needs center where we offer furniture, clothing, household items and a food pantry. In addition, we offer immigration services where we help them gain citizenship, and have an elderly refugee program, a maternal health program, and a cooking program. … We service most of the metro Detroit area.”

Nawal Ayoub, an immigrant and client of United Community Family Services, was among those who attended the event, and she said that it cannot be overstated how much the group has helped her and so many others in the community.

“I love them,” she said. “Before this, I came to them to help get my citizenship. They can help with a lot. I came to them with my mail, because I didn’t know what to do with it. It was something new for us. We went to this organization, and they helped us.”

Ayoub came to the United States after experiencing great fear and loss in her home.

“I came from Iraq in 2016, in August,” she said. “Here there is peace. Back home, there was always war. We are Christian, and I am sure you hear what things are like for us. They killed my brother. His job was an interpreter for the American Army, and they killed him. The terrorists stole our cars. There was never peace. … When you sleep here, you can feel at peace, because you are safe here.”

Olmedo said that the need of families coming in from other countries, especially those who had come under a refugee status, have increased greatly in recent years.

“The situations in Afghanistan and Ukraine have definitely affected who we are seeing come into the community and ask for help in the last year,” she explained. “The economy has affected things as well. I have been with the organization for two years. When I began, we were serving about 200 families a month at our food pantry, and now we are serving 500. We are seeing such a greater need in the community.”

Ayoub said the need for families like hers is very real and that the difficulties for those new to a country, for everything from gaining citizenship to adjusting to new standards, can be very difficult.

“I have three kids who are still (in Iraq). I had to work just to bring my mother over, and she is 92 years old,” she said. “The rules can be very strict. It can take 10 or 12 years to come here. I speak to lawyers, but they always say, ‘Well, you know the rules.’ I would love to just have my kids visit here. I can’t travel easily on a plane because I get vertigo. … My mother would love to visit her son’s grave, but I fear she may not live to do that.”

She said the kindness and help of organizations such as United Community Family Services can make all the difference to someone in her situation.

“I am happy today,” Ayoub remarked. “My husband and mother are here. I am here with my friends. I know most of them through this organization, so it does so much for all of us.”

Olmedo said there are lots of ways people can help.

“Those who want to contribute can check out our website,, and we have a ton of volunteer opportunities where they can sign up right on our website,” she said. “We offer a food pantry twice a month, and we are always looking for volunteers to help with things like packing boxes. We would love to have as much help as possible.”

She also wants anyone in the community to know that if they are new to the country that they can reach out for aid.

“For anyone who needs help, not just refugees, but immigrants or anyone else, they can also check out our programs and resources on our website,” said Olmedo. “They can call and talk to a case manager to see what programs they qualify for. We want to make sure we look at the entire family. A family might come in and say that they just need food, but we might talk with them and see they aren’t a citizen yet and we can help them start that process or enter them into an (English as a second language) class and aid them with the paperwork. A lot of families might have been in a refugee camp, so their children missed school for a year. We can help find ways for them to get caught up through tutoring or other resources.”

Ayoub said that the kindness of Olmedo and her fellow members of United Community Family Services has been so welcoming, and she hopes others can find help the way she did.

“It is very necessary to have organizations like this, especially for the refugees,” said Ayoub. “They help all of them. Now I am a citizen, so I joked ‘Well, now we are done,’ but they said I am always welcome and can always ask for help. They work hard for us.”