True Blue

Going Forth: Seeing Human to Human

An alumna in Houston has mustered the “Minivan Brigade” to provide relief for refugee families.

A refugee family with three young children smiles and cuddles on the couch.
Photo courtesy Refugee Services of Texas

With a beautiful Syrian feast spread out on a blanket before her, Rebecca Paul McAllister (BS ’10) wanted nothing more than to eat. Two refugee mothers had labored over the meal to thank McAllister for coordinating living arrangements and basic comforts for their families. But with her tired 1-year-old crying in her lap, McAllister found eating all but impossible.

“In my distress,” she says, “both women laughed and smiled. In broken English, one mother explained, ‘We have many children, and we understand the number-one rule of all children is mother does not get to eat her food.’”

Despite cultural differences, “Raising children was . . . a beautiful task we’ve shared,” McCallister says.

More than 13 million Syrians were forcibly displaced due to a civil war that began in 2011, and many looked to the United States for asylum. Inspired by Elder Patrick Kearon’s April 2016 general conference talk, “Refuge from the Storm,” McCallister sought to get involved in Houston, one of the largest receiving areas for refugees in the country. But with five small children, she felt limited in her volunteer options. She found an opportunity with the resettlement agency Refugee Services of Texas. She helped create a welcome team, which collected basic necessities and arranged apartments for incoming refugees.

After a move and three years away from Texas, McAllister returned to Houston in 2021 and felt prompted to gather friends and community members to form a new welcome team. In August she hosted a kickoff Zoom call, and the very same day, Kabul fell to the Taliban in Afghanistan, creating a new wave of refugees.

“ For every day that we’ve been at this, somebody’s life has been changed.”

—Rebecca McAllister

The welcome team, numbering 150 and calling themselves the “Minivan Brigade,” has now set up 65 apartments for more than 350 individuals. A move day is a major mobilization, says Tiffany Paulsen Allen (BM ’10): “A group of moms . . . load couches, tables, mattresses, pots and pans, blankets, wall art, lamps, and toys into their vehicles. Then they drive an hour away to the new arrivals’ apartments. Within a few hours the furniture is assembled, beds are made, kitchen and fridge are stocked, and art has been hung on the walls to welcome the newly arrived family.”

A woman and two kids help move a dresser up some apartment stairs.
The “Minivan Brigade”—a welcome team of more than 150 women, men, and children—has furnished 65 apartments for more than 350 refugees who have arrived in the Houston area since last August. Photo courtesy Tiffany Paulsen Allen.
Photo courtesy Tiffany Paulsen Allen

McAllister sees miracles everywhere: “For every day that we’ve been at this, somebody’s life has been changed and given hope of being able to start again. It’s amazing.”

The Minivan Brigade is now also helping enroll refugee kids in school and providing mothers with sewing machines to support their families.

It’s about relationships. “We love to stay in contact with the families. We invite them over for holidays, take them out to dinner, or just out for some fun so that they can continue to feel our love and support,” says McAllister. “My role is seeing human to human. . . . I get to see them purely, [as] a child of God in need.”


SERVICE STORIES: In Going Forth Y Magazine shares stories of alumni making the world a better place by serving in their communities, congregations, and homes. Let us know when you see an alum going about doing good. Send your nominations (and any photos) to alumninews@byu.edu.

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