We chat with Miry Whitehill, founder of Miry's List, a wonderful nonprofit organization that's changing the world, one family at a time. Miry started Miry's List in July 2016 when a friend introduced her to a family of new-arrival Syrian refugees resettling in Los Angeles with kids the same age as her own.
Miry's List is a four-year-old, nonprofit organization that I founded. We're based in Los Angeles and we are working with families who are resettling as refugees in the United States. We are currently helping families in more than 60 cities nationally, helping them start their new lives in America.
Miry's List began in 2016 when a series of unforeseen events led me to meeting a family that had just moved to my city of Los Angeles as refugees from Syria. A friend of mine decided to introduce us because my youngest baby, who was five months old at the time, was about the same age as their youngest.
They needed supplies for their apartment, from baby items to everyday essentials. That led me to meeting them in their home. I looked around and saw that their apartment was not set up to be functional or safe. A family of five was living in a sparsely furnished apartment, and I could see that basic necessities were missing. I didn't realize it at the time, but they would become the first Miry's List family.
That day, we walked around the apartment and made a list of the things to make their home functional. We went drawer by drawer, room by room, and I wrote down 42 things. I went home and posted the list to Facebook. What came next was a beautiful communal act of kindness and within two weeks, my neighbors and friends had donated everything on the list and even more.
Every time I went to drop off donations, I learned more about what life is like for people who come here as refugees through the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. What needs are or are not met, what gaps we might be able to fill, and acts of kindness from their communities coming together. That first family meeting sparked the idea that grew into a full-fledged nonprofit organization. So far we’ve helped more than 400 families from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq.
Miry's List is a small but mighty organization. We are nine paid employees, six full-time and three part-time. Most of the team works directly with the families. And, most have graduated from our program. Miry's List also has a fantastic board of directors and hundreds of volunteers.
The hardest part of running a nonprofit is that we are working with a vulnerable population with urgent needs. Those needs have not been met by the system. We want to be able to help every single family. Most of the families Miry’s List works with have children under the age of 5, and most of our families have more than three school age children. There is absolutely a ripple effect at this critical time for them. Those kids are watching what goes on, and for better or for worse, they will remember what it was like to come to this country.
A lot of folks ask me if refugees have continued to come through COVID-19. The answer is yes. Last March, we had twelve families who came to the US right as quarantine started and they didn’t have beds. Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is coming to a new country. They don't speak the language. They are with their partner, and they have several little kids. On top of that, the community has shut down, and school is held virtually from inside your one-bedroom apartment.
You do not need to be a refugee to understand what that might feel like. We play a very critical role at the point of arrival. A warm welcome is something that can be transformative for these families who may have been through traumatic migration experiences. On top of all that, with society very much shut down over the past year, essentials that might not have been immediate needs even a year ago, things that you might be able to go out and purchase before, are very much urgent needs now. Covid-19 has been a big transition to how we look at partnerships, and we’ve built a list of Covid emergency partners with companies that have really shown up for us. We're more motivated than ever. We are busier than ever. We have enrolled 209 families since COVID.
The primary way we raise money is friend to friend, family to family word-of-mouth referrals. Since the very beginning, we have relied mostly on donations from individual people. Also, we are supported by a small number of foundations and companies. We have a fee-for-service program, New Arrival Supper Club, focusing on connecting people to their resettling neighbors through shared food experiences. The Supper Club has offered thousands of people in Los Angeles opportunities to get to know and learn from their resettling neighbors over the universal language of food.
In March 2020 we had to cancel all of our in-person events and we were very worried about how we could possibly recreate those deep connections between people and their resettling neighbors in a virtual experience. In June 2020, around World Refugee Day, we had our first online ceremony of World Refugee Day Awards. And to our fortunate surprise, we raised 3x more than we had raised at the same (in-person) event the year before. We connected the dots between virtual and in-person by offering our supper club meals as a picnic-to-go experience for our neighbors in Los Angeles.
We also have a very active social media presence, and a dedicated list of social ambassadors helping us get the word out. People passionate about helping resettling refugee families hear about Miry’s List from their friends or family members. There’s an intimacy in our culture of philanthropy at Miry’s List. It’s inspiring.
We are a nearly 100 percent digital brand. We put out a regular stream of content on social media and our newsletter. We produce an annual report every year. It is a magazine about what Miry's List has accomplished. I use it on a regular basis as the follow-up after I’ve introduced people to Miry's List over the phone or via videoconference. People can read in-depth about the way we see the world, the way we provide services to our families, and what we need to keep growing and serving more families.
In addition to our annual report, we put out quarterly impact snapshots called Welcome, Neighbor with all of our key performance indicators of how our families and our organization are doing.
In previous years, since 2017, we printed our annual report as a beautiful hardcopy magazine. It cost a lot of money, but because we put so much hard work into the content, it was really a no-brainer for us to spend those dollars.
Then COVID-19 hit, and we needed to put donations toward emergency response to the families we serve versus creating a printed publication. Plus, we knew it didn’t make sense to deliver things in person in a COVID-19 world.
Issuu was the obvious choice. It is an amazing platform for us because it is really easy to consume the content of the report, as if the publication is something you're physically holding in your hands. If you're going to put your heart and soul into a document like that, you want to make sure it's going to be read. For it to be read, it not only has to be beautiful, but also it has to be easy to access.
This is the first year that we have put out our annual report exclusively on Issuu. In addition to the great functionality and the intuitive interface, we now have so much more data about who is reading our magazine and how. It’s helping me determine what we should focus on in our 2020 annual report, and beyond.
The full-screen experience is important, it’s like you’re literally holding the magazine in front of you. It makes it so easy for somebody to sit and spend time reading our annual report. We also use Issuu Stories so we can customize and share parts of our reports via social channels like Instagram and Facebook. That gives people the chance to read specific parts of the magazine without necessarily having to read all 50 pages at once. It gives us extra mileage for all of the work that we've put into our document.
Multiple people have told me that it made them cry—happy tears. The theme of the 2019 report, and really anything we put out, is that we are doing this together. We have helped so many families, but the need is greater, and we are going to help more families. The feedback has been so positive, and people continue sharing the document. It’s living and breathing and growing with us.
With Issuu, we get to know how many people have read it, and how long they have spent reading it. That is such key information that you can’t get from a physical hardcopy magazine.
I would love to share that Miry's List is expecting to help 300 more families in 2021. The reality is that families continue coming here and the resources available for refugees provided by the federal government are dwindling. There has never been a more important time for there to be a community-based, warm welcome for refugees coming here. Please consider participating in the campaign at give.miryslist.org.
Happy reading, and thank you for having me.
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