Reaching Out To God's ChildrenThe little boy sat on the hood of the car intently looking up into the clear sky above. As Jim Dalton exited Resurrection Church he noticed the young man and asked him what he was doing. The boy answered, “I am waiting to see a bald eagle.” It was the 1970’s and the little boy was a refugee from Vietnam. The war had forced his family to flee for their lives and God had led them to Lansing, MI. God had also led them into Jim and Jean Dalton’s lives. Jim was so touched by the boy’s desire to see a bald eagle. With the permission of the child’s mother, Jim picked him up from school the next day, took him to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal and then to Fenner Nature Conservatory to see a bald eagle.
Jean Dalton recalls the story as she sits at her dining room table. Jim is no longer with her, but her memories of the experiences they both shared in befriending and helping refugee families are very clear. Jean remembers that the little boy who wanted to see an American Bald Eagle is now working in the medical field helping others.
Today Jean is still actively involved as a volunteer and helping refugees feel welcome in their new home. This lifelong mission began in the 1960’s when St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) first began resettling refugees who were fleeing Cuba. Jean, her husband Jim and their children regularly attended Resurrection Church near downtown Lansing. Since the immediate area accommodated more affordable housing it was an important housing site for Refugees. Many of the refugees attended Resurrection Church. Their needs did not go unnoticed. The pastor asked Jean and others if they could help the families.
“When the families came from Cuba they were forced to give everything to the [Cuban] government and they came with only two changes of clothing and twenty dollars,” Jean recalls. “My husband helped some of the gentlemen register for English as a second language classes at MSU…. We used to visit their families on Friday nights and take our boys to practice English with them; we all became good friends that way.”
The stories the Dalton family heard and the cultural exchanges were very beneficial for Jean’s children who were able to learn more about the world and see what a blessed life they were living.
In the 1970’s during the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Refugees began to be resettled and Resurrection Church sponsored some of the families. When refugees come to the USA they receive little in Federal financial assistance; barely enough for rent and bills. Then after a six month period they are required to be employed and to be financially self sufficient. Jean continued to help the families meet many of their basic needs; from practicing English to finding needed donated items including warm winter coats. Jean is in awe that, even with very limited resources, the refugees she met had such an unrelenting drive and desire to live a free and self sufficient life. Many of the children she first worked with are now doctors.
When Jean retired in 2002 from her job as a Librarian for Resurrection School she began volunteering in new ways. For a year she tutored and mentored a young boy living at St. Vincent Catholic Charities Children’s Home. From 2003 to current, Jean has been working with Resurrection’s volunteer group; a group of women dedicated to volunteering. They often come to STVCC to help with the organizing of donations for refugees and the local homeless. They have also helped with housing setups for refugees.
Jean still organizes volunteer efforts and donations at Resurrection for children, families and adults served by St. Vincent Catholic Charities. She has a calendar which she updates monthly with the days and times her colleagues would like to volunteer and she often relays the donation needs to other parishioners of Resurrection. Jean has a bench on her front porch where people are welcome to leave donations which she later transfers to plastic bins and transports to STVCC.
Jean is so grateful to all of those who donate and volunteer, to her friends of the Resurrection Volunteer Group and for the spiritual, intellectual and emotional gifts she received from the refugees she has met and befriended over the years, “There are so many great people and it is such a wonderful thing to get to know these people….they are amazing.”
Jean ‘s story is one moving example of so many who volunteer for those we serve at St. Vincent Catholic Charities.
“If you are a part of it, you are living that part of the scripture; welcome the stranger; shelter the homeless. In your own backyard, across the fence, or in Burundi, we are all God’s people,” Jean Dalton.
If you would like to learn more about STVCC services for Refugee Resettlement CLICK HERE.