MIRA, the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, was originally founded in 2009 as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society by newly-arrived Iraqi refugees, in response to the challenges they faced while adapting to their new lives in the United States. MIRA forges connections between Middle Eastern and American society, and facilitates the preservation and exchange of Middle Eastern culture. Our goal is to foster well-being and self-sufficiency for resettled refugees and immigrants from across the Middle East and beyond, and to use our multilingual and multicultural expertise to tailor our services to the unique needs of our clients— whom we serve regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or family size.Our staff and volunteers speak Arabic, Assyrian, Kurdish, and Farsi. Almost all arrived to the United States as refugees themselves. These linguistic, cultural, and experiential connections with our Middle Eastern clients distinguish MIRA; there is no comparable organization serving this population in the Chicago area. Over the past ten years since the founding, MIRA has expanded to offer services to refugees, immigrants, asylees, and Special Immigrant Visa holders from all over the world, but we are proud to say that this founding spirit has only grown stronger— MIRA continues to be community-driven, refugee-powered, and closely attuned to the needs and voices of the population we serve.
The Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance (MIRA) fosters the well-being and self-sufficiency of Middle Eastern refugees, immigrants, and asylees in Chicago. MIRA serves as a first point of contact for a diverse client population from around the world, offering culturally competent services for those from the Middle East and Islamic cultures. The immigrants and refugees we serve arrive in the United States facing numerous barriers to full integration into society. Our mandate is to provide them with the tools they need to build successful, stable, enriching lives in their new homes. The primary needs of the community relate to navigating American systems for safety net services, employment, and education; integrating into American society while maintaining distinct cultural and community support and traditions; and undertaking the legal processes necessary for continued life in the United States without undue financial burdens or hardships.
To address these needs, MIRA has provided the following services to over 500 clients and their families, through over 3000 case activities, in the last fiscal year (July 20 – June 21). MIRA receives support for these programs from the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement Ethnic Community Self-Help Program, the Federal/Illinois Refugee Social Services Program, the Illinois Immigrant Family Resource Program, the Illinois Immigrant Welcome Center Program, the Illinois New Americans Initiative, the Center for Arab American Philanthropy, and donations from general supporters.
MIRA helps Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants access the services they need, including public benefits, healthcare, and referrals to partner organizations or other agencies. In FY20-21 MIRA provided 410 Case Management Clients with 2672 Case Management Case Activities, primarily focused on accessing benefits and support during the COVID pandemic.
MIRA supports Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants on their pathway to economic stability through vocational education programs, such as Early Childhood Development Certification for Child Care Providers, and English Language Courses to enable clients to enroll in WIOA or other training programs. In FY20-21, MIRA provided 68 Vocational Empowerment Clients with 68 Vocational Empowerment Case Activities to assist them toward a new career.
MIRA provides the resources and structure for Middle Eastern refugees to support one another and welcome new arrivals with what they need to succeed through Mental Health First Aid training, Service Leadership Training, Health and Wellness Activities, Community Events, and Bridge-Building Activities with the wider Chicago community. Although COVID limited in-person activities, in FY20-21 101 MIRA Community Engagement Clients participated in 239 Engagement Activities.
The MIRA Immigration Legal Services Program assists with naturalization petitions and green card applications. There is no fee for the service, although application fees still apply. In FY20-21 MIRA assisted 278 clients with immigration legal services.
Ms. Youngberg joined MIRA in June 2014 to serve as Executive Director. With nearly twenty years’ experience in the non-profit field, she holds a master’s degree in Divinity from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to MIRA, Laura served at non-profit organizations, including Holy Family School, Health for Humanity, and Northwestern University.
Mr. Al Ani joined MIRA in May 2014 as Case Manager and Employment Specialist, and is now Program and Legal Clinic Manager. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Physics from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad in 2006. In Iraq, Othman was a social worker for Norwegian Refugee Council, where he helped internally-displaced Iraqis to advocate for their rights and supplied them with any necessities. He received partial accreditation to provide immigration legal assistance from the Department of Justice/Bureau of Immigration in 2016. At MIRA, Othman oversees all direct service staff, program development and evaluation
Ms. Alhindi joined MIRA in October 2018 as a Welcoming Center/Seniors Program Case Manager. She came to U.S. as an immigrant in 1999. She graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in May of 2014 with a Bachelor in Social Work. Then she enrolled as an Advanced Standing student at the Jane Addams College of Social Work Master’s program at UIC, graduating in May 2015 with Master degree in Social Work concentrating in Children and Family. She has worked as an intern at Metropolitan Family service and at Arab American Family Service. Ms. Alhindi works with clients to independently conduct assessments and provide help to immigrants and refugees from diverse backgrounds in their transition to the United States, including accessing benefits, applying for jobs, and other case management. She utilizes community resources and provides education to those in need as a Social Worker.
Ms. Korel began as Client Support Assistant at MIRA in November 2017 and was quickly promoted to Benefits Case Manager in February 2018. In her current role, she is responsible for assisting immigrants and refugees in accessing public benefits and services needed to ease their transition to life in the US.
Ms. Hanna joined MIRA in March 2017 and currently serves as Community Engagement Manager. She is skilled and trained in leadership and family counseling, with several years of experience in women’s empowerment. She has worked with many non-profit organizations with emphases on community service and development both in Iraq and Chicago. She has a great passion for helping others in the community.
Ninweh Ishaya joined MIRA as a Client Services Assistant in July 2018. She is a refugee from Kirkuk, Iraq and arrived in the U.S in 2016. Ninweh is currently a student at Oakton Community College. She is seeking a management degree in business. Ninweh received her Department of Justice accreditation to provide low cost legal services in 2020. Ninweh wants to support our Middle Eastern community as they overcome the challenges of life in Chicago.
Zina Qawami joined the MIRA staff in the spring of 2020 to serve as the Case Manager for the Senior Refugee Services Program, through a new grant from the State of Illinois/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Zina will provide personal case management and group activities for Refugee Seniors age 60 and up who have been in the US for less than 5 years.
Ms. Bowman joined MIRA as Case Manager in August 2020. Prior to working with MIRA, she supported clients in the Workforce Development and Case Management programs at the Indo-American Center for two years. After growing up in Alaska, Melissa received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Hawaii. Melissa discovered her passion for Middle Eastern culture and the Arabic language in 2013. She studied Arabic at multiple universities and language academies in the U.S. and Jordan and lived in Amman, Jordan from 2016-2018, where she was inspired to begin a career working with immigrants and refugees. She has a background in English as a Second Language, Workforce Development and Case Management, and is currently studying to become a professional Arabic language interpreter. She looks forward to supporting and empowering Chicago’s immigrant and refugee community.