Hope Fund helps impoverished families through media awareness

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A loyal husband and father leaves for work on the bus at 8 a.m. He won’t return to his wife and four children until 9 p.m., after a full day’s work at the Salvation Army, a company that pays him in food stamps.

Even with working 30 hours a week, he can’t make ends meet to pay his rent, utilities and the basics. His wife tends to their children, all elementary school-aged and younger, and the family’s language barrier prevents the father from securing a better paying job. 

Ahmat Ibrahim, his wife, Hadje Mahamat, and their children came to America Sept. 1 as refugees from the Central African Republic. Now, their assistance is running out.

“These are good-hearted, genuine, warm, endearing people,” said Ramon Walle, a UNF journalism junior. “Given the opportunity, they would do what it takes to play their part in society.”

Walle met the family through the Hope Fund, a collaborative effort between UNF, the Florida Times-Union and Hands on Jacksonville to provide basic necessities for families by sharing their story through media outlets.

The interview through a translator reminded Walle of blessed he is just to have our basic needs met, he said.

For a lot of refugees, their lives from birth are so hard and even after they come to the U.S., they face a whole new set of difficulties. Ibrahim puts in more hours than those who work full-time jobs and still doesn’t have enough to survive and pay his bills, Walle said.

While listening to the family’s story inside their apartment, Walle remembered a promise he had made during a prayer earlier that month. After purchasing a new Fuji Boulevard bicycle, he told God he would give it away if he was shown to whom to give it, he said.

He followed his spirit and asked Ibrahim if he could use a bike. 

Walle returned an hour later after making a special trip to purchase a bike lock and presented his offerings to the family. 

The children all crowded around the black and red hybrid bike with excitement. Ibrahim thanked him, but Walle said he could tell from his facial expressions that he was much more grateful than words could express.

Walle still wanted to help more, and he wished he could give the little boy a bike, too.

Walle plans to write their story for an article in the Times-Union, where the paper presents readers with the opportunity to donate to the Hope Fund, which in turn distributes the proceeds to nearly 40 agencies near Jacksonville who help families during hard times.

UNF communications professor Dr. Paula Horvath-Neimeyer came up with the idea from a similar program she started when she reported for the Gainesville Sun. Since the Hope Fund’s origination in 1994, it has raised an estimated $2 million.

The students learn a lot about their community and themselves through this experience, Neimeyer said. Generally, they come from middle- to upper-class homes, and perhaps families who have such serious needs have never confronted them.

“Over and above, [the students] learn that the power of the press can be used to create immense good,” Neimeyer said.

If you would like to learn more or make a donation, visit hopefund.org and check out our Twitter for further updates.