KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We have all heard the saying "Be the change," or "Let it begin with me."
The nonprofit group Agape Pamoja, is working to do just that for refugees settling in the Kansas City area, by making their houses feel like home.
Agape Pamoja is all about love and community, the two words that make up the name of the organization.
"Agape" is the Greek word for love and "pamoja" is Swahili for community or doing things together.
Volunteer coordinator for the group, and Kansas City realtor Brent Gieseke, says it goes beyond homes, which are an entry point for so much more.
"In the end, it's about community, it's about our lives," Gieske said.
More specifically, it's about the lives of 30 refugee families who are living in what are called "blessing homes" through the nonprofit group.
Gieseke is one of five realtors in the country receiving the "Good Neighbor Award" from the National Association of Realtors.
In addition to mentoring students through the program, every Saturday he helps lead volunteers to work on the homes.
Sometimes the homes are vacant, sometimes they're occupied while folks stop by to fix things.
They're a blessing in part because the rent is half what market cost would typically be. The rest of that blessing comes from the sense of family being built in the community.
"What our mission is with Agape Pamoja is to help settle families in Kansas City for a way of life that is acceptable," Gieseke said. "I mean otherwise the conditions they come into in Kansas City, sometimes, are not acceptable in the inner city."
Gieseke's work with Agape Pamoja turned into a passion project after connecting with his new neighbors.
"The African culture is a lot more about community than the American culture, is so when you deal with a culture that is about community it's amazing to see how you help one person, you help a family and you see that grow," Gieseke, who saw first-hand how people were willing to help said.
Many of whom at one point needed help themselves, like Bombe Eca.
"It's the way that we help people because I love helping and helping is like one of the most important things that refugees need in their lives," Eca said.
Like Eca, Mariana Furaha came to Kansas City several years ago as a Congolese refugee, hoping for a better future.
"It was emotional knowing all the memories you created in Africa you weren't going to create them anymore or you were going to create them with new people," Furaha said.
That leap of faith landed Furaha with a group of faithful helpers teaching her about more than how to fix homes.
"It changed the way I see the world," Furaha said. "They [Agape Pamoja], make a person feel like they are needed in this world. In Africa, sometimes you feel like you are alone, you feel like there's nobody in this world that loves you and I feel like Agape Pamoja, they make people feel like they are needed in this world."
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