THE BLOG
11/23/2015 01:02 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2016

Hoosiers extend hospitality to Syrian refugees despite Indiana's position

I'm a Hoosier. Sometimes that can be inconvenient to admit. This spring while running a half marathon in Virginia, a fellow runner asked me where I was from and it led to an uphill conversation about the Religious Freedom and Reformation Act.

Yes, man I just met, let's talk politics AND religion while running 13.1 miles!

Between the RFRA law (which legalized discrimination if done in the name of religion) and the latest announcement from Governor Mike Pence that Indiana would not accept any of the United State's 10,000 Syrian refugees, Hoosier hospitality, a quality Indiana folk pride themselves on, has been under attack.

When Indiana determined it would not accept refugees from Syria, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy stepped up and welcomed the family--a husband, wife, and five-year-old son--to his state. The family had waited three years in Jordan to be approved for resettlement in Indianapolis.

The news of this inhospitality of Indiana and the hospitality of Connecticut soon became an international story.

Dismayed by Pence's decision, Ball State University English Professor and longtime Hoosier, Dr. Rai Peterson, decided to show the family that not everyone in Indiana was okay with them being turned away. On Friday, while sipping her morning cup of coffee, Peterson created the Facebook event--Hoosiers Welcoming Syrians.

She invited a few of her friends to the event page and soon Hoosier knitting circles were planning to direct their efforts to outfitting the family, and a concerned Hoosier offered to fly the family to Indianapolis to catch a Colts or Pacers game. (Not sure anyone wants to see the Colts play right now, though.)

Peterson was prepared to drive a truck full of donations to Connecticut herself if she had to. She reached out to a former student of hers, J.R. Jamison, for help. J.R. and I co-founded The Facing Project, a nonprofit community storytelling project, and we were slated to work together Friday morning. When I walked into our office, I could tell he was up to something.

J.R. phoned Chris George whose organization, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services of Connecticut, serves as the case manager for the family and found them temporary housing in New Haven, Connecticut. George indicated to J.R. that additional resources would indeed be needed for the family, but sending a truck-full of love from Indiana may not be the best solution. A better option would be gift cards for household supplies and basic day-to-day needs.

J.R. told Jennifer Greene, who manages the co-working space we work from, and soon she was on board and created a Go Fund Me for the family.

"When J.R. told me what Rai had started and he was trying to manage," Green said, "I got immediate chills and instantly knew I needed to help. I want to ensure the family knows Hoosiers care deeply about them and hope they find peace upon American soil."

Within a day of the campaign launch, the page had received more than 50 donations raising over $1,500.

The goal for the campaign is $20,000 by November 30th. This amount will assist the family as they relocate to a more permanent home and prepare for a new life in America with their five-year-old son. Anything raised over the amount will go toward resettlement costs for other refugee families.

One family and $1,500 (or even $20,000) by no means makes a dent in the human tragedy and political quagmire playing out in Syria. But if there's ever going to be relief for the refugees or a solution to the crisis, it will likely begin with the compassion of individuals--a citizen, a president, a religious leader, maybe even an English professor from Indiana--and ripple out in concentric circles of compassion influencing others to think, feel, and act.

"I know there are people all over the country who are empathetic with this family," Peterson said, "whose first words from their new country were 'go away.' You don't have to be a Hoosier to want to set this right."

Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a Hoosier and sometimes I'm ashamed to be a human for that matter. But having a front row seat to this small act of hospitality, reminded me of a few things: that we are often more than just divisive Facebook posts; that the compassion and hospitality of one can inspire the compassion and hospitality of 50; and that every human life has a purpose.

One of the Go Fund Me contributors quoted Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut:

"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."

 If you are interested in donating to the campaign, visit Hoosiers Welcoming Syrians.