ROCK ISLAND, Illinois – It’s the United Nations at this United Church of Christ in Rock Island.
The refugees from seven different countries gather throughout the week in the Church of Peace basement to get lessons from staff members and some very special volunteers.
One of them is Pat Ryan who got a surprise from Lisa Vianene of the Family Literacy Program.
“Pat Ryan, on behalf of Ascentra Credit Union and WQAD, I would like to Pay It Forward.”
Pat Ryan had no idea he was getting $300 for all the work he does for others.
“I love these people,” says Pat.
“We’re just a happy family.”
They are old and young and speak eight different dialects but these refugees share one same goal: to acclimate to their new home in America.
Not easy if you can’t yet speak the language well and you don’t yet know the culture.
That’s where Pat’s work is priceless.
“We have people come from everywhere, they call me,” says Pat.
“It’s just a big Charlotte’s Web. We’re all, we’re all happy. You don’t even realize how awesome it is.”
“I call him Santa Claus,” says Lisa Vianene.
“It’s like he makes miracles happen every day and it never quits. It’s seven days a week we can call him and he will help us.”
And among those helped is Mu Lei, who left a Burmese refugee camp six years ago in war-torn Myanmar and found a home in the Quad Cities.
“He’s like my real father, you know?”
Mu is working toward the citizenship her husband now has. She says she has no father, but Pat Ryan has filled that void. Mu says she was so touched when Pat introduced her to his family.
“‘This is my daughter’, he said. He is wonderful in my life.”
“Where can you acquire a 100 person family immediately?” asks Pat. “I mean, that’s just the way it is.”
And Pat’s volunteering of time is returned with hugs of appreciation from people who may not be able to communicate with our language but know the international language of appreciation and love.
“It’s like a scratch off lottery winner every time you do it,” says Pat. “That’s exactly how I feel.”
And in true “Pay It Forward” fashion, Pat’s volunteering has instilled the same in the families he adopted.
Mu Lei says Pat’s sharing makes her want to share as well.
“I want to help a lot of people in a lot of cultures”, says Mu.
Pat says he’ll use the $300 for fuel for his truck so he can help even more people move into good homes and offer any other help he can.
If you know of someone who deserves to pay it forward, just make your nomination by clicking here.