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Colorado woman helps open hearts, minds and doors for refugee families

Many of us have heard the saying, “It takes a village.” And while it often does, there’s generally someone who takes the lead, brings people together and gets the ball rolling. Susan Bailey is one of those people. With the first announcement that Airbnb would provide free temporary housing for refugees and immigrants, Susan stepped up to host Zak.  Since, then she’s hosted six refugee/refugee families from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and the Republic of Congo—sharing meals together, learning about each other’s cultures and also learning what it means to be part of a broader, global community.

When Airbnb first made their announcement Susan and her family didn’t hesitate to open up their property, because to them, it was the right thing to do. They immediately opened their doors and their hearts too. “Our part in the process, providing short-term housing while long-term housing is solidified for a refugee or refugee family, is actually quite easy,” Susan said. “Above all, with so much uncertainty in their lives, we want to provide these new arrivals with a safe haven of comfort and warmth.”'

Airbnb host Susan Bailey. Photo: Photo: Airbnb

Over the past several months, Susan and her family deeply connected with the individuals and families they hosted—developing an amazing bond and level of trust and friendship that has continued to evolve. Many of Susan’s friends and neighbors have become involved too, helping widen the circle of community support for these new arrivals. “We’ve hosted brunches and parties to introduce our new friends to our old friends,” explained Susan. “What’s so wonderful is that our old friends and neighbors have become a wonderful source of long-term housing, donations to help each family get started here (including cars, furniture, household goods and clothing), job opportunities, computers and more! Most importantly, our friends and neighbors offer unconditional love and encouragement, and stand in solidarity for the success of each family.”

In regular communication with the IRC office in Denver, Susan and her family are notified when there’s a refugee or refugee family that needs short-term housing. If she is able to accommodate the family, she welcomes them. Arrangements are quickly made for a member of the refugee community to deliver a complete meal (with familiar food from their home country) that is served when the new family arrives in Colorado—no matter what time! If the person donating the meal has a connection with the arriving family, he or she will generally act as co-host. Recently, a family of six (parents and four children) who traveled from Kabul to Denver via Dubai, Frankfurt and Chicago, sat down to dinner at Susan’s home at 1:00 a.m.!

A few days later, another dinner for this same family took place, this time with several other guests from Iraq, who arrived in Colorado as refugees just six months ago. Another guest at the dinner was Susan’s neighbor, and local realtor Steve. He helps provide long term housing for new arrivals, and was also providing a used car for this newly-arrived family. Rounding out the dinner table was one of Susan’s friends and her high-school-aged daughter, who brought dessert! It was a celebration of sorts, because after only a few days, Susan helped the family enroll all four of their children in Lakewood public schools—enabling them to start just one day after school officially started. And just one month later, Susan joined the family’s daughters, cheering them on at their first high school cross country meet.

“Through all of this, I’ve learned so much,” said Susan. “Our lives have changed because we have developed a greater understanding of other cultures, value systems and customs. This understanding has allowed us to build intimate relationships and friendships with people we otherwise would have never known,” she explained. “We get to watch as a beautiful transformation occurs, from fear of the unknown, to perseverance to confidence and ultimately - success. All of the refugees we hosted are working, their children are thriving in school, their command of English continues to progress and they are integrating into the local community. It really does take a village, and I for one, am fortunate to be a part of this amazing journey.”