For a rapidly deteriorating city, welcoming these refugees proved to be a great move.

Imagine what it would be like to leave your entire world behind.

You're 4 years old, and your world is turned upside down. You leave your friends, your school, and most of your family behind as you flee to a place you've never been, where people have different customs and speak a different language.

You start a new school, but you can't afford new clothes. Everything you and your family have has been donated. You live in a one-room apartment with your entire extended family, and you want nothing more than for things to be normal again.


This imaginary scenario wasn't imaginary for many refugees who fled the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, hoping to make America home.

Melina Delkic was 4 when her family was forced to flee Bosnia.

One of many hearts painted onto a bombed sidewalk in Bosnia. Image by Elia Scudiero/Flickr.

Now a student at Georgetown University, Melina shared her memories of that time and about her family's journey since then with The Washington Post.

Her family resettled in St. Louis, Missouri, where they crammed into a small apartment. Seven people. One bedroom. One bathroom. It wasn't easy, but they were grateful to their new country for opening its doors.

Only 4 years old, Melina dreamed of becoming an "archaeologist princess." She taped posters of Aaron Carter and Britney Spears on the walls. She really wanted a puppy. And a house with stairs. Simple dreams.

The transition wasn't easy, but Melina's family didn't give up on America, and they didn't give up on themselves.

They embraced the culture and the traditions, even celebrating Christmas for the first time. They made it home.

Melina's family was one of tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees that settled in St. Louis. The community welcomed them, and they thrived.


The St. Louis Gateway Arch. Image by Philip Leara/Flickr.

It turns out they needed them as much as the refugees needed a home. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.

The economy in St. Louis had stagnated due to population decline. Crime was bad. Those who could afford to leave were fleeing to the suburbs. City services were failing. Neighborhoods were deteriorating, quickly.

South City, an area hit hard by the economic downswing, suddenly found itself flooded with new residents. Abandoned buildings filled with families. A new neighborhood was born. The area quickly became known as "Little Bosnia."

The results were incredible. A stagnating economy was rejuvenated. An abandoned part of the city suddenly thrived.

A 2012 Saint Louis University paper says, regarding the influx of Bosnian refugees:

"They revitalized parts of South St. Louis City and South St. Louis County by moving into older neighborhoods, opening businesses and rehabbing housing. Bosnians opened many thriving small businesses including bakeries, butcher shops, coffee shops, construction and heating and cooling companies, insurance companies and a truck-driving institute, and continue to be a key source of high skilled production work."

Refugees resettling in St. Louis was a win-win. It did wonders for the economy and gave the many families who were forced to abandon their lives and livelihoods a chance to start over.

The Bevo Mill, a St. Louis landmark in Little Bosnia. Image by Philip Leara/Flickr.

It's 2016 and we're again faced with this challenge: accept refugees or close our borders?

A lot has happened to cause fear. There's an undercurrent of terror that feels like it's running through the entire world. America has been reminded that we are, in fact, vulnerable and there are extremists out there who hate us.

But how we respond to that is up to us. Do we bow in fear and leave little girls like Melina and her family to fend for themselves? Or do we open our hearts and minds and, together, thrive?

A parade in Little Bosnia. Image by Jarred Gastreich, used with permission.

What would St. Louis be like today if we had closed our borders in fear? Where would those families be?

Today, Melina is a Georgetown University student. America is her home. She told The Washington Post:

"My parents and I have a house now, in St. Louis, with hardwood floors and stairs and a little dog who's getting chubby. We have family dinners in a real dining room with real furniture that we chose because we liked it, not because someone was giving it away."

And her family is proud to call America home.

"We are American because we cheer for the Cardinals and make buffalo chicken dip on Super Bowl Sunday ... I will not stop believing in the kind of tolerance, warmth and love that brought my family to America... My America is one where we open our hearts wider than we ever thought possible, and we don't ask why. It's where we give the starry-eyed little refugee her education, her puppy and her stairs, too."

St. Louis is ready and willing to open its doors again. Undeterred by fear and extremism, they're asking to once again be a haven for the millions of Syrians feeling terror in their own country.

America is stronger than fear and hate and destruction.

America is strong enough to open its heart and mind. America is strong enough to open its borders, giving new and old American lives a chance to thrive.

Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Image by Trocaire/Flickr.


More
True
Ad Council - #EmbraceRefugees
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's