Traci (Maust ’97) Vermilion, Indianapolis, long envisioned that God would use her career to help others—to make her world a better place. Three years ago, frustrated that her 12-year career in sales wasn’t fulfilling that vision, she decided to change careers and began teaching English as a second language to high school youth. Little did she realize that God would use her new career to make a difference beyond the classroom.
Many of Traci’s students are refugees, forced to flee their home countries for safety. She has heard firsthand their horrible stories of having their homes burned, seeing loved ones killed, and the uncertainties of living in a refugee camp. As she learned to know her students, she became more aware how their limited understanding of English and American culture—and often poverty—make it difficult for them to fulfill their dreams of an easier life in the U.S. “They are still suffering in America (though in different ways), a land where most Americans have way too much, and it made me lose sleep,” she says.
Traci soon realized that it is also difficult to help her students learn when they have more immediate needs at home. She tells of female students who skip school each month because their families can’t afford feminine products or clean underwear—having no access to affordable laundry facilities. Traci says, “How can I be a Christian and ignore the needs in front of me, in my own backyard?”
So Traci and her husband, Chris, began responding by distributing supplies to families with specific needs: winter clothing, tableware, and furniture. Others became involved as they heard of their work and so the Vermilions formed the Indiana Refugee Network (IHN), which received nonprofit status in March 2016.
Expanding the network of volunteers has allowed IRN to provide more services to more families. In addition to providing, donating, and organizing supplies, volunteers also mentor refugee families and help them learn how to manage bills, forms, and other tasks that are difficult for people with limited English skills.
The mentoring and building of relationships is what provides Traci her greatest joy. She has developed friendships with several Muslim women from Syria, which has led to her helping them learn to drive and obtain their licenses. Her children, Emma (13) and Carter (10), too have formed friendships with her friends’ children. “It doesn’t matter the language or culture, they get right in there and play,” she says.
While the Vermilions’ work has gone from helping a few families to now more than 30, Traci dreams of being able to service hundreds. “The need is there. We just don’t have the resources to do it yet.”