Syrian refugee family will start new year with new car

Sami Khalil Ashour and his family were gathered in the parking lot of their new apartment. The children — Hadi, 13, Fadi, 11, Hala, 8, Jana, 3, and Halil, 1 — were riding new bikes donated by Waste Connections on Thursday.

And then a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan with a big bow on the windshield drove up. As the van doors opened, out popped Interfaith Action of Central Texas Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers, Apple Leasing salesman Buddy Wall and AeLK Foundation’s Anne Elizabeth Wynn and her daughter Larkin Wynn.

While the kids got new wheels on Thursday, so, too, did their parents. A new van was the biggest item on the Syrian refugees’ wish list.

“We’re very lucky,” Ashour said.

“I was very surprised,” Ashour’s wife, Ahlam Fouad Al Battal, said.

The family is one of the featured families in the Statesman Season for Caring program, which highlights the stories of 12 families and then helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit organizations. The Ashours were nominated by Interfaith Action, which has been helping them rebuild their life in Austin after the Syrian civil war caused them to flee first to Jordan and then to the United States.

AeLK Foundation donated the money for the van to Interfaith Action, and Apple Leasing found the van and sold it to Interfaith Action for the Ashours at cost.

“People coming from other places to make a new life for themselves is the literal definition of America,” said Anne Elizabeth Wynn. “We are joyful to find a way to honor that.”

“As a family, we’re very heartbroken to see the turn in the tone and spirit and leadership in America,” Wynn said.

Her family, she said, “had actively wanted to seek a Muslim refugee family we could be of service to. We’re joyful to provide the car and be of help.”

The Ashour children and their parents explored the car and learned its features. Hadi offered to start driving it. He’ll have to wait at least another three years.

“It’s got everything,” Wall said. He’d spent the last few days looking at about 25 different vehicles to find the right one for the family. “I went by and looked at it. It’s perfect.”

The van has only 13,000 miles and has an extended warranty to 75,000 miles. Interfaith Action will purchase insurance for the family.

The gift of the car might not be the end of the relationship between the Ashours and the Wynns.

While Ashour has a job at a Barton Creek Resort, Al Battal would like to one day work as a chef or in child care after improving her English. To try to help Al Battal, Wynn is going to look into a connection that she has to a cooking school.

Other Season for Caring featured families are in need of a gently used car or car repairs:

• Jazmyne Johnson , 24, has to use a ride service to get her 4-year-old twin daughters and 3-year-old son to their HeadStart classes in Hutto. It can cost up to $24 a ride. Opportunities for Williamson and Burnet Counties, 512-763-1400,

• Mayra Negron Romero , 45, and her two adult daughters need car repairs as well as a gently used car. The family lost their father in a car accident last December. In January, daughter Samanta, 25, was diagnosed with cancer. Foundation Communities, 512-610-7391,

• Bertha Foster, 43, is paralyzed after a series of strokes. Her 16-year-old son Donovan Clay would like to learn how to drive and needs a gently used car. Meal on Wheels Central Texas, 512-476-6325, Ext. 159,

• Hawa Hassan, 30, needs a minivan with a wheelchair lift to transport her three children, including Haji Mada, 9, who has muscular dystrophy. Caritas of Austin, 512-646-1277,

• Rogaciano Ríos Marcial , 46, a widowed father of four, needs car repairs to his truck. Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, 512-444-7199,

In addition, Marcelo Gracia, Margarita Matias and Trisha Sherwood all need wheelchair lifts for their existing vans or trucks. Hospice Austin, 512-342-4726,; CareBox Program, 512-296-2180,; and Any Baby Can, 512-454-3743,

For the Ashour family, most of their needs have been met. They do need driver’s education for Al Battal.

To find out more about the Ashour family or give an item on their wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, Ext. 7,

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