For a rapidly deteriorating city, welcoming these refugees proved to be a great move.
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Ad Council - #EmbraceRefugees

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.


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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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