Virtual College student virtually raises $250K worth of donations for Syrian refugees

By Sophia Rose Young

HAYS, Kan. — Scrolling through her Facebook feed, Stacy Cairns-Abdein, a Virtual College student at Fort Hays State University earning her Master of Professional Studies in social entrepreneurship, saw an opportunity to help a friend who simply asked the virtual world if anyone knew of an organization in Alabama collecting donations for Syrian refugees.

“No one did, so I decided that I would try to set up a small winter clothing drive,” said Cairns-Abdein.

Cairns-Abdein did a little research and found that Helping Hand, a non-profit in Atlanta, had a container shipping to the refugee camps in Jordan at the end of November.

“I contacted Helping Hand to work out the logistics of getting the donations from Birmingham to Atlanta,” said Cairns-Abdein. “I asked my local mosque if I could use their facilities as a drop-off center, set up a Facebook page and then printed off fliers.”

Cairns-Abdein’s small intention to help a Facebook friend donate turned into hours of physical labor.

“In only 10 days, we gathered enough winter clothing and supplies to fill over 200 large boxes and fill a U-Haul. The majority of donations were brand new, and the estimated total value was over $250,000,” said Cairns-Abdein. “We gathered an equal amount of clothing that is more appropriate for milder weather and we have those in storage to send to refugees that may relocate to the U.S.”

Items being saved for possible refugees who relocate to the U.S. include brand new business suits, household items, backpacks and children’s shoes.

Friends and strangers helped spread the word. Cairns-Abdein’s mother, sister and three daughters worked tirelessly for more than 30 hours sorting and packing.

“In addition, the Birmingham Interfaith Community were very supportive,” said Cairns-Abdein.

For the past few years, Dr. Keith Campbell, professor of sociology at FHSU, has taught several courses that Cairns-Abdein enrolled, but it was during her first M.P.S. course in the fall of 2015 with Campbell when Cairns-Abdein realized that “programs and projects to help others are just as important at the grass roots level as they are on a national or international level.”

“Dr. Campbell helped me refocus my attention to smaller, community-based projects with the realization that they can make just as much difference in the world. This realization actually helped me refocus my career aspirations and I am currently working to develop my own local social services organization in the Birmingham area,” said Cairns-Abdein.

It was Campbell and a global challenges course with Andree Brisson, instructor of interdisciplinary studies, which directly influenced Cairns-Abdein’s decision to pursue social entrepreneurship.

Cairns-Abdein received her bachelor’s in general studies with a concentration in human services from FHSU along with certificates in community development and cultural anthropology and globalization. Cairns-Abdein currently works as a freelance grant proposal writer and substitute elementary school teacher. She is actively looking for full-time work in the non-profit sector.

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