The ballroom at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel was bustling with activity the evening of October 13th. More than 250 supporters and partners joined the 9th Annual Rebuilding Lives Dinner raising critical funds for the IRC’s local programs. Thanks to the generosity of the Seattle community, the fundraising goal for the event was exceeded - an inspiring showing of support in a year that’s presented innumerable challenges for refugee and immigrant communities.
Thank you to our sponsors who helped make this year’s event a success: AirBnB, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, Banner Bank, Pacific Weather, Renaissance Seattle Hotel, Seattle Event Works, St. Joseph Parish, St. Joseph School, Starbucks, and Virginia Mason.
The emcee for the evening, Tatevik Aprikyan, opened the event by sharing some of her own story. Her family fled Armenia during the collapse of the Soviet Union when she was just five years old. While not a refugee herself, Ms. Aprikyan sees many of her family’s experiences in the stories of refugee families arriving in the Seattle area today. Now a reporter for Q13 Fox, Ms. Aprikyan recalls giving her own “news reports” in front of the family’s camcorder – one of her parents’ first purchases after arriving in Seattle years ago.
“Refugees Welcome” was the informal theme of the evening. We heard moving examples of community members and organizations who have gone above and beyond to support refugee families and survivors of human trafficking in Washington. Government officials, representatives from partner agencies, business leaders, and long-time IRC volunteers & donors were among the night’s many honored guests.
Three awards were given throughout the night. The Humanitarian Leadership Award was presented to Starbucks in recognition of their local and global leadership on refugee issues and their commitment to advancing the conversation on these issues in the corporate sphere.
Seattle Foundation was given the inaugural Philanthropy Award in honor of their efforts to spearhead fundraising for critical needs in Seattle. Through initiatives like “GiveBIG” Seattle Foundation acts as a catalyst driving donor funding and awareness for programs serving refugee and immigrant communities.
Finally, the Courage Award celebrates those who do the right thing on behalf of refugees and survivors of human trafficking, even when that “right thing” may be unorthodox or unpopular. Two community members were bestowed this award: Detective Megan Bruneau of the Seattle Police Dept. and Special Agent Jennifer Williams of the Dept. of Homeland Security. Detective Bruneau and Special Agent Williams are long-time partners of the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network and are innovating law enforcement approaches to working with survivors of trafficking.
In addition to honoring our 2017 awardees, the IRC was privileged to welcome another advocate for refugees to the stage. Mariela Shaker is a world-renowned violinist and herself a refugee from Syria. Ms. Shaker performed two beautiful, emotional pieces: a folk song from her native Syria and “Theme from Schindler’s List” composed by John Williams.
Our keynote speaker for the evening was Ali Saadawi, who was resettled by the IRC in Seattle in January 2017. In an effort to help calm nerves in front of such a large audience, IRC in Seattle Executive Director Nicky Smith mentioned that Ali may be anxious, having only begun learning English when he arrived in the U.S. seven months prior. With a big smile on his face, Ali contradicted Nicky by shaking his head: "I'm not nervous." His voice was steady as he proceeded to share his family’s remarkable journey.
Just days before the first travel ban was enacted in January, Ali and his family raced in an ambulance from SeaTac Airport to a team of waiting doctors. Fleeing the threat of death at the hands of extremists and battling time to save the life of his gravely ill seven-year-old son, Ali had spent the last two and a half years pleading for a chance to leave Iraq, to exchange home for safety. Now, with the support of the Seattle community, Ali and his family have begun the process of rebuilding their lives.
After describing their at-times harrowing journey, Ali shared that his family had recently been given the greatest donation of all: a kidney transplant that saved the life of his young son. Ali gave a tearful thank-you to the community members and organizations – many of whom were there in the Renaissance ballroom – who have helped his family rebuild, including Seattle Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph Parish and School, and the IRC. Ali positively glowed on stage as he offered heart-felt gratitude to the Seattle community – his new home.