How the Holtz Family & the Girl Scouts Reached Out to Refugees

Big Hearts in Action with Doing Good Together™

Big Hearts in Action

You’ve grown used to hearing about my family’s experiences with big-hearted projects. You’ve read about our attempts at mindfulness, my battle against distracted parenting, and our annual Valentine’s Parties.

To bring you a more expansive view of kindness in action, I’m going to connect you from time to time with the good stories of others. We’ll be featuring creative families in our Membership Circle, our partners in the non-profit service world, and experts in the field of compassion.

As long as I can remember my parents always volunteered. It’s part of who I am.
— Sara Holtz, member of the Big-Hearted Families Pilot Program

This month, let me introduce Sara, mother of three from northern Virginia. Sara and her kids are outdoor enthusiasts, soccer fans, and community service leaders. 

Sara herself grew up in a big-hearted family, and she continues to pursue this passion for generosity with her own children.

Sara and her family have lead community service projects with friends in their neighborhood, Volunteer Fairfax, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and their school’s STAMP (Science Technology Art Music Philanthropy) committee.

They’ve tackled everything from removing invasive species to participating in Wreaths Across America. They’ve even hosted annual Valentine’s parties in their neighborhood, creating cards of love to send to patients at their local hospital and to organizations like Foster Care to Success.

Celebrated since 1926, World Thinking Day is a day of international friendship, speaking out on issues that affect girls and young women, and fundraising for 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world.
— The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS)

In honor of World Thinking Day on February 22, Sara and her Girl Scout Troop decided to focus on refugees.

While most 3rd graders have probably heard the word refugee, Sara knew they would need help understanding exactly what it meant. Together, they watched this excellent video explaining the concept.

Remarkably, this video – and the greater understanding it offered – lead three girls within the troop to share their story of a parent or grandparent who was a refugee.


Sara and her children selected books about refugees from their local library to share at their scout meeting. We’ve added her complete list to our new collection of Picture Books about Immigrants and Refugees.

They made a special effort to connect the refugee experience to their own lives.

As a seasoned volunteer, Sara knows how motivating personal stories are at the start of a service project.

She invited one scout mother to tell her personal story of failed attempts to escape Vietnam by boat, and the invitation she received from the US government to resettle in the USA. Here is how Sara describes preparing her troop for this special speaker:

Before she shared her experience, we introduced the idea that people have different skin colors, hair types, clothing styles, accents when they speak English, and body types, so we can’t make any judgments or assumptions until we know their story. We warned them that the story might be sad and helped them think about how they will manage their feelings. They responded that they would hold each other’s hands, hug each other, and use tissues.

Their guest and fellow scout mother shared with the girls how grateful she and her family are to Americans and resettlement agencies for their generosity in providing housing, clothing, and other necessities when they first arrived.

Sara helped the scouts reflect on this poignant refugee story.

When your friend’s mother is a refugee and tells you her harrowing story, it really hits home. Instead of having a vague idea about people from another country that had to leave under difficult conditions, it becomes very close and personal. It compels you to take action and advocate for others to do likewise.

Sara’s scout group also learned that young women who happen to be refugees are also meeting as Girl Scout Troops all over the world, often doing the same activities that Sara's troop does. For instance, the Collateral Repair Project in Jordan runs a Girl Scout troop for refugees from Syria and Iraq as well as young women from Jordan.

After their special meeting about the refugee experience, Sara contacted two local resettlement agencies – Lutheran Social Services National Capital Area and Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington – to ask about their needs and what our young women can do to help.

The agencies sent a list of items they put in kits to give new arrivals and suggested they make welcome cards to put in those kits.

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Sara and her group of scouts made 60+ welcome cards and collected items for welcome kits.

Then, at their local World Thinking Day event a few days later, they hosted a table where more Girl Scouts joined in the effort, creating over a hundred welcome cards to send to sister scouts all over the world and signed a banner to send to sister scouts from Syria and Iraq who are refugees now living in Jordan.

Inspired by their work, some teachers at their school empowered their classrooms to create welcome cards and collect items for welcome kits.

Local dental offices even joined in the effort, donating toothbrushes, paste, and floss for welcome kits.

It is remarkable to see how their efforts and passion for this project rippled through their community.

Sara recommends this project to anyone looking to support refugees coming to America.

Is your family or club interested in reaching out to refugees?

Here are some tools to get started.

1. Reach out to Lutheran Social Services, Church World Services, or a local refugee resettlement agency and ask about their most pressing needs.

2. Create hygiene kits through Church World Service, along with cards of hope and encouragement. Find project details and reflection tips here.

3. Join us at our annual event!  On April 20th in Minneapolis we'll be writing welcome notes to new Americans served by the International Institute of Minnesota.

4. Read together with this extensive book list, created with the help of Sara Holtz and her big-hearted Girl Scouts.

How have you reached out to refugees in your community or around the world? We'd love to hear your story!

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