When a Community Unites, Hope Is Instilled

By Rebekah Jacobson, Community Engagement Coordinator, Karen Organization of Minneosta

Last year when I began my AmeriCorps VISTA year at the Karen Organization of Minnesota I was thrown into the fire. My supervisor assigned me with the daunting task of planning our organization’s largest fundraiser – the Annual Gala. And I only had two months to do it.

Thankfully, and surprisingly, the event turned out to be very successful. A few months later, I committed to a second year of AmeriCorps VISTA at the same site because I felt a deep connection to the community we serve – Karen and other refugees from Burma in Minnesota. Upon this decision, I knew I would have a chance to plan the Annual Gala once more.

The end of July rolled around with the completion of my first year at KOM, and I had already lit the spark for the next Annual Gala. This year I wouldn’t be thrown into the fire. I knew what to expect and I had already generated new ideas for the event.

During the first 3 months of my second year of VISTA, I spent a few hours every day planning for the big day. My email inbox began filling up with registration emails and my office started becoming cluttered with silent auction donations.

Finally, the day came for the harvest of all of my hard work. On October 27, my co-workers and I loaded our cars with boxes and drove to Hamline University for our 6th Annual Gala. Dressed to the nines, we set up the dining room and lobby.

At 6 p.m., the sold-out event blossomed. Nearly 300 guests lingered in the lobby socializing with old and new friends as they browsed the silent auction and Karen weaving sales. In the background, a camera snapped funny photos of guests who posed with props.

Dinner began at 7 p.m. with a welcome from our co-executive directors. The program started shortly afterwards, featuring a speech from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and a keynote address from two Karen students enrolled in our Career Pathways Program.

At the end of the event, guests gave farewell handshakes and hugs to each other. A community of individuals, both Karen and American, from all different sectors – nonprofits, schools, clinics, churches and community volunteers – had been united through one cause: to support all refugees from Burma in Minnesota.

The Annual Gala gave me hope that even though our society is often divided by different beliefs and values, there is still good in the world. This especially rings true with the heightened aftermath of the election and the outbreak of attacks at Standing Rock.

Though my heart is burdened right now, I will remember moments like my organization’s Annual Gala to instill hope in me during seasons of uncertainty and fear. Lastly, I will continue to stand with the refugees and immigrants in our community. I will listen to their stories and fight for freedom on their behalf.

“[Refugees] are heroes who make an adventure on our behalf, showing by their struggle how precious beyond words freedom is, and if we knew their stories, we could not keep back the tears.” – Garrison Keillor