It started last year, in 2021, when Jahan Oza was listening to the Big Life Kids Podcast. Jahan heard about refugees and asked his mom what that meant. His mother, Neetal, explained to 5-year-old Jahan that refugees were people from often war-stricken countries who cannot live there anymore.
After searching online later that day to learn more, Jahan wondered what happened to the refugee children during this time. He was ‘torn apart’ by the heartbreaking stories he read about.
During his research, Jahan also found a list of items often needed by refugee families with children on a Colorado organization’s website. He started gathering his own pajamas, toothpaste, toys, and school supplies in a box and told his mother that he wanted to help. At the time, the Afghan refugee crisis was underway, and Neetal shared that she initially had “no idea on how and where to start.”
Finding Out Where To Help
She decided to reach out to her husband’s employer, Ascension St. Vincent’s, to see if she and Jahan could do something with the company to benefit refugee children. She was directed to LSS President & CEO Bill Brim, who connected her with Laura Cook, LSS’s Refugee Resettlement Director and Consolidated Refugee Services Contact Manager. Neetal explained to Laura what her son wanted to do, and the LSS refugee staff enthusiastically jumped on board with his project.
To better understand the LSS mission, Neetal reached out to one of her friends who volunteered with LSS. She interacted with about 10 refugee families to better understand their needs, and helped some of the newly arrived Afghan families set up their apartments. Volunteering was eye-opening for Neetal.
“I became aware of how raw all this was and how [Afghan refugee families] came with pretty much nothing,” she said.
Neetal and her husband also donated and delivered furniture to help some of the families furnish their new homes.
Laura gave Neetal a list of 17 Afghan refugee families at LSS and explained that LSS provides the basic living necessities, but that they need things like school supplies, arts and crafts, and toys. With this information, Neetal was able to help Jahan with the project he envisioned. In December of 2021, the mother-and-son team put together boxes with those supplies, each including a Winn-Dixie grocery gift card.
Doing It All Again
A year later in 2022, Jahan wanted to put together care packages for children again – this time for Ukrainian children seeking refuge in Jacksonville.
For his birthday, Jahan told his mother that he did not want to travel, or have a party or cake. He insisted his only wish was to gather his friends and families together for a beach day, and that instead of bringing gifts, he wanted his guests to buy t-shirts he designed and cookies he made to raise money to help the Ukrainian children.
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Laura provided the Ozas’ with a list of needs for 46 Ukrainian families. Neetal got straight to work. As she had with the Afghan project, she stopped by Daily Dealz in Orange Park to explain what she was going to buy and how much. They were understanding and even offered her discounts to show their appreciation for her hard work in philanthropy and her continued support of their business.
Jahan and Neetal provided the Ukrainian children with backpacks, school supplies, and toys. Each box was lovingly wrapped with messages of hope on the brown-colored wrapping by Jahan and his friends. Some said “Welcome to America” and “You are loved,” and others even had messages of support written in Ukrainian.
But, this isn’t the first or even second time Jahan has given back to his community. At just 3 years old, Jahan donated most of his toys to JaxTHRIVE, a student-led nonprofit resource for refugee students who need tutoring, life skills, mentoring, and friendship.
“I like knowing that other kids can be happy,” Jahan said. When asked why he loved helping children specifically, Jahan said that it is because he is a kid and he “want[s] other children to have the things he has.”
At age 7, Jahan has already positively impacted his community. His mother proudly states: “[Jahan] can give back by putting a smile on others’ faces.” Jahan has since inspired his friends to go to their parents and learn how they can give back, just like he did. Even Jahan’s 2-year-old brother gathered his toys to give away to other children.
A Giving Spirit Starts At Any Age
Laura loves how “Neetal cultivates compassion in her children.” She is amazed by how innovative Jahan is in fundraising and gathering supplies.
A giving spirit runs in the Oza family. As a child, Neetal grew up in a family where birthday and holiday celebrations were about giving back and “doing something for someone else.” It is clear where Jahan got his love of giving back from. He is a great example for others and proof that anyone at any age can make a difference.
“Sometimes you want to help, but you don’t know how to help,” Neetal said. She expressed gratitude “for Lutheran [Social Services] to give [them] the opportunity to come and do this.” Neetal hopes to keep encouraging Jahan and his passion to help others.
January 11th, 2023 UPDATE:
Jahan is being honored at the 2023 International ‘We Serve’ Foundation Youth Volunteer Awards. To read more about this, click here.
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This article was written by Kelli Urbanek; to contact the author, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.