Refugees ‘just need someone to walk alongside them’

Three summers ago, Sean Haley found himself delivering a couch to a refugee family on Syracuse’s North Side.

He was with a friend, Nicole Watts, and they talked about her vision of helping the city’s refugee population, which grows by several hundred each year.

Sean Haley and friend in Thailand, 2011.

Sean Haley and friend in Thailand, 2011.

Sean listened, and it clicked. He and Nicole quickly moved ahead and founded Hopeprint, a not-for-profit organization that helps newly arrived families with language, education, social services agencies and cultural assimilation.

“We’re all motivated by what brings us happiness and joy,” said Sean, 25. “What brings me joy is serving. Hopeprint provides all of that – it’s international but in our own back yard, it’s culturally diverse, urban and under-resourced.”

Hopeprint is preparing for another influx of refugees, including Bhutanese/Nepali, Burmese, Somalis and Iraqis, who will need things like dining room tables and chairs, pots and pans, couches and bedding materials in good shape. (Other needed items and how to donate here.)

Sean’s no stranger to different cultures and different lands. As a senior at Syracuse University in 2010, he went to El Salvador as a leader of a Young Life group. There, he worked with an Upstate Medical University physician at a clinic during the day, and helped build a school at night.

“Once you see poverty, it never leaves your head,” Sean said. “Once that door is open, there’s no closing it.”

In the summer of 2011, he went to Thailand with a Kansas City-based group that was fighting against human trafficking, especially of children.

It’s these experiences abroad, and the day-to-day challenges he sees among refugees in Syracuse, that have shaped his worldview.

Studying on the front porch at HopePrint.

Studying on the front porch at Hopeprint.

Working with refugees, Sean said, “is a constant reminder of how lucky we are. They provide such a different view. I asked a Somali why he was wearing flip-flops in six inches of snow, and he said he had to go to the doctor. Their mentality is ‘survival first.’ It’s so humbling.”

In addition to his work with Hopeprint, Sean is a medical student at Upstate Medical University, where he’s pursuing an MD degree as well as a Master of Public Health degree. Still, Hopeprint is a priority and he makes time for it.

“In a way, it makes medical school easier,” Sean said. “It helps you remember that there’s a serious world outside of (medical school), with serious problems out there.”

Hopeprint tries to tackle some of them. Among other services, it provides English language and college prep courses (some refugees have enrolled in Onondaga Community College), helps with socialization and navigating the health care and social service systems.

It’s a simple concept, really.

“There are people who need friends,” Sean said, “people who just need someone to walk alongside them.”

What is a hopeprint? It’s defined on the Hopeprint website:

We each have been given a unique fingerprint – wiring, personality, passions and all that makes us who we are. We have also been given a hopeprint – a way that only we can imprint hope in the world we have been placed in. We… middle-class Americans, resettled refugees of many nations and tribes, young and old, rich and poor… we have a hopeprint. Question is, what will you do with yours?


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in poverty, refugees and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Refugees ‘just need someone to walk alongside them’

  1. markbialczak says:

    Sean Haley and Nicole Watts shine a beacon of hope for new Central New Yorkers who need some early light on their path of acclimation. Kudos for sharing their story, Jim.


  2. Ed Griffin-Nolan says:

    Hopeprint is awesome!


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