March 21, 2020

This nonprofit brings together refugee families and volunteer mentors, and creates a sense of connection

Say hi to Hello Neighbor, one of the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

Families matched by Hello Neighbor form strong friendships. This power of connection is why the nonprofit is one of 15 finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards.


Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

Establishing connections when you join a new community is important, but it’s especially important for refugees. Pittsburgh nonprofit Hello Neighbor works to build and foster those connections between recently resettled refugee families and volunteers who serve as both a friend and a guide, helping them adjust to their new lives.

Founded by Sloane Davidson, the nonprofit offers connections between mentees and mentors, as well as help finding jobs and housing, and even assistance signing children up for school.

Davidson first had the idea for the organization when she became friends with a Syrian family in her neighborhood. As they shared meals and got to know each other, the family began asking questions to better understand American culture.

“One of the things that really kept coming to my mind is, if you spend an hour with someone from a different culture than you or more than one hour, you get to become friends with them. Your views can radically change how you view their life and the culture and who they are,” Davidson told NBC News in 2018.

As she built the organization, Davidson made an effort to include refugees in the design process—meeting with refugee families from different countries to learn what they needed.

“It was really important to me that I was building it with the refugees. … And not just delivering a program to them,” she said.

In 2017, Hello Neighbor brought together its first cohort of 25 matches. The refugee families were originally from seven different countries, while the American families came from neighborhoods across Pittsburgh. Since then, the nonprofit has been able to bring 3,000 people together. These connections are why the nonprofit is one of 15 finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards.

Two of those people are Tulasa Rai and her mentor Kathleen Madonna Emmerling. The nonprofit has brought their families together, and a friendship has blossomed.

“It has been very hard to adjust to a new place, and I have made some friends from my country that are here, but Kathleen is my first American friend,” Rai told NBC News. “I love that our families spend time together and our children are friends too.”

You can follow Hello Neighbor on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project
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