Sandy Wacker is family support coordinator for Lincoln/Lancaster Habitat for Humanity at 144 N. 19th St, Lincoln, NE 68503. She has worked in this position — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — since February 2010. She can be reached at (402) 477-9184, or at swacker @lincolnhabitat.org.
Q. How do you help refugees?
A. I work with families who are interested in learning more about Habitat and if they qualify to apply for a home through our program. I set up one-on-one pre-screening appointments with families who meet our financial and residence criteria and work with families who need help to clean up their credit scores, apply for residency or suggest changes they can make to qualify to apply for our program.
Q. What is the most common question you get from refugees? (And how do you answer it?)
A. I want to own my own home where my children have a yard to play in and we can grow as a family — can you help us with that? We can help some families with home ownership — our focus is on families who have housing needs in our community yet have enough income to pay back a no interest home loan.
Q. What is the most difficult part of your work?
A. Many more families apply than we have funds to build for. I get to know the families who apply on a personal level and would like to see many more as homeowners, but it is just not possible. Communication can also be difficult, especially when working long term with families who are accepted into our program. We ask that they provide someone to interpret for them at meetings and for required first-time homeowner classes.
Q. What does the wider community of Lincoln need to know about refugees?
A. That most have had a long, hard struggle to get to the U.S. and start over. Many of the families I meet with had good jobs in their homeland but their experience and education does not count in their new country so they must look for work where they can. They are learning to live in a culture that is different from what they knew — be patient and get to know them as individuals. You will learn as much from them as they will from you.
Q. What does the refugee community need to know about Lincoln?
A. When I ask a family what brought them to Lincoln or why they stay — I am told how nice the people are here. That it is a city that is comfortable to live in with little crime and a good place to raise children. I hope all people who come to Lincoln can reach this point. There are services and people to help you if you seek it.
Q. If you could offer refugees new to Lincoln only one piece of advice, what would it be?
A. Lean on others to get help when you need it but work hard towards your goals and help others you can, along the way.