Originally started at Priory, the St. Louis Teens Aid Refugees Today organization has come to SLUH.

START Inc is a non-profit charity organization founded by two teens at St. Louis Priory School—Adam Saleh and Luke Braby—to assist refugees living in the St. Louis area. The parent organization is Welcome Neighbor STL, which mainly assists refugee families with financial aid, moving in, and other hurdles that come with living in a new country. 

While Welcome Neighbor STL mainly focuses on the adult side of immigrant families, START focuses on helping the kids of these families. The SLUH START club, inspired by Priory’s START club, was incepted this past fall. 

Members of the START Club helping the Alrefai family move in to their new home. Photo: courtesy of Mrs. Madeleine Gruzca.

“They (the founders at Priory) reached out to us and asked us if we wanted to start something at SLUH . . .  It's just like any other club,  we got Miss Anzalone as our moderator and myself (Alex Grucza), Jude (Fucetola), and Jack (Werremeyer) sent out an email blast to anyone that wants to be a part of this,” said START Service Coordinator Alex Grucza . “We organized something for the activities fair, Jack Werremeyer made a presentation about the club, and we got a good amount of students from that. From SLUH, we have about seven to ten students, ranging from freshman all the way to seniors.”

START club helps with tutoring, fundraising, and other opportunities of service to refugees. Members of the club tutor children ranging from grade school through high school. 

Junior Noah Leesberg Laith, whom he has tutored this year school year. Photo: courtesy of Mrs. Madeleine Gruzca.

“Laith is the kid I tutored. I gave Laith my phone number so whenever he needs help, he can call me. So sometimes he won’t call me for two weeks, sometimes he will call me every day, sometimes he will call me at 9 P.M. on a Friday night, so there really is no telling, but I’m here whenever he needs my help,” said START Member Noah Leeseberg. “School has always been harder for me, so I was like ‘man I wish I had someone that I could look up to who can help me.’ I hope I can be a role model for this kid so he can grow up and do good things.”

START club members mainly focus on tutoring refugee children—especially since kids can struggle in a new country with English as the main language, which may put them at a learning disadvantage than their peers. On top of a possible language barrier, moving to a new country and school can be a hard adjustment, and many schools the students attend are virtual, which can further challenge learning.

“It’s been hard for refugee children to get acclimated to this whole online thing because most of them have come from countries where they are fleeing some kind of war, and sometimes dangers, so they don't really have experience with all the technology. Like this whole idea of like ‘oh we are just going to zoom into class’ makes no sense to them,” said Grucza. “And so, what myself, Jude Fucetola, and Jack Werremeyer were trying to do here, trying to extend START to SLUH. And we had created this online tutoring program where we can gather students from all over schools like all schools around St. Louis like Priory, SLUH, St. Joe, really anyone. And you take in a refugee child, and you can just really help them with whatever they need, virtually, because of Covid.”

The START club has recently teamed up with Priory in helping a refugee family from war-torn Syria move from Peverly, Missouri, to their new home in St. Ann. A few club members consisting of Werremeyer, Leeseberg, and Grucza met with three others from Priory in unloading a twenty-foot tall U-Haul truck provided by funds from START Inc. 

“They started out in an apartment complex that looks like a prison. It was fairly poorly run. There was just dirt for a lawn and I'm pretty sure there was one incident where all the kids were found playing with  insulin,” said Werremeyer, the START Treasurer. “It's very nice to see them come so far.”

As many refugees learn in a new country, members of the START club have gained a  new outlook from their interactions. 

“I get to learn about a new perspective,” said Leeseberg. “I only know of my perspective—you know I’m a privileged white kid in St. Louis—but I'm learning about a kid who grew up in Syria. He had to walk across the border. His parents, him and his family, went through a lot of stuff. I got to learn about what it takes to be successful in this country as an immigrant. It's been a great learning experience for me.”

“It makes you think much more seriously about how these people are being affected by all these terrorist organizations and they have to leave where they consider home, which to me if I had to do that, it would be really tough,” said Werremeyer. “I found it pretty interesting how diligent they are with fasting and how seriously they take it. I was tutoring this young girl Sidra, and it was hard for her to go through this school just because she was fasting during the day, she was really giving so much effort. And also it's kind of nice how they really care about their family. And like always, family comes first. They tried so hard to talk to their cousins who are in Syria, which is really hard work.” 

START club hopes to continue its work with more members and more assistance to refugees in Saint Louis. 

“I think, personally, this club is a great idea; it’s something that definitely is needed in this country, it’s definitely something that needs to be more widespread—not just localized like a group of teenagers— because of the influx of refugees, people need help. It's the idea that kids our age are getting into service with helping the community around them,” said Grucza. “We are obviously always looking for volunteers, we are always looking for people wanting to help our cause. So if there is anyone at SLUH that wants to join, email either myself, Jack Werremeyer, or Jude Fucetola, and we can set you up because there is always a need for students.”

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