- Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
Sami Ashour, 48, and his family lived in Syria until civil war broke out and they fled to a refugee camp in Jordan. Hawa Hassan, 30, and her children grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya after she fled war-torn Somalia as a child.
The two families were given refugee status by the United States last year and made their way to Austin.
Here they are learning about American culture and Texas culture — traditions such as attending Friday night high school football games, starting a meal with chips and queso, shortening some words and drawing out others, and traveling on roads with more than one name.
One Texas tradition is helping these two families and hundreds of families like them.
Whataburger has made a $25,000 donation to Statesman Season for Caring, which highlights the needs of 12 featured families and then helps many others through local nonprofit agencies. Since 2011, Whataburger has donated $203,000 to the Statesman’s charity program.
“Whataburger deeply appreciates what Season for Caring does for families in the Austin area. The Whataburger teams in Austin express their heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to contribute this gift,” said Chris Powell with Whataburger Regional Brand Development.
Whataburger has given to Season for Caring in different ways — sometimes without knowing it. One of last year’s recipients, also a refugee, now has a job at a local Whataburger, which helps support his family.
“At Whataburger, we believe in treating one another like family,” said Austinite Lynne Dobson, whose father started Whataburger in 1950 in Corpus Christi. “Austin has been home to our company for more than 50 years, and it’s an honor to support Season for Caring again. I am always amazed at the stories, the strength these families show and all that they endure.”
For Hassan, one of her biggest goals is to get more help for son Haji, 9, who has muscular dystrophy and can no longer walk. He needs a motorized wheelchair and physical therapy. His mother needs a wheelchair-accessible van as well as warm clothing for her children, bedding and a TV.
To find out more about the Hassan family or to donate something on the wish list, contact Caritas of Austin, 512-646-1277, caritasofaustin.org.
Ashour has been lucky to find a job driving for a hotel, but at home, they don’t have adequate transportation. Their car is not repairable. They would love a van or SUV that can fit the family of seven. They also would like job training for wife Ahlam Al Battal, who is interested in child care or cooking, as well as a washer and dryer, dressers, clothing, towels and bedding.
To find out more about the Ashour family or give an item on the wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, ext. 7, interfaithtexas.org.