Junior Reporter Gavin Alexander Sits Down with Program Co-Founder Elsa Collins Following a Backpack Drive
By GAVIN ALEXANDER | Junior Reporter
Over a month ago, I watched “Living Undocumented” on Netflix. What I saw made me very sad. There are some very important people in my life that live here in fear of being sent back to a country that has never been their home.
For my bar mitzvah project, I knew I wanted to do something to help kids impacted by the immigration crisis. As part of my research, I came across This is About Humanity.
They were the perfect organization to partner with for my backpack drive. The mission at This is About Humanity is to provide humanitarian support to families on both sides of the border.
I sat down with Elsa Collins, co-founder of This is About Humanity, to learn more about the work she is doing and what we can do to help.
What made you start This is About Humanity?
I grew up in Tijuana and grew up going to school on both sides of the border. This crisis felt very personal to me. Together with my sister Yolanda S. Walther-Meade and Zoe Winkler Reinis we started to ask for donations once we started seeing what was happening in the news.
This is About Humanity started as a donation drive. After seeing how much people cared and wanted to be involved, the organization grew.
What is your goal with respect to This is About Humanity?
Our goal is to educate people and increase awareness about the situation to help make people feel more comfortable talking it.
What type of work does This is About Humanity do?
This is About Humanity is dedicated to raising awareness about separated and reunified families and children at the border. Through our This is About Humanity fiscal sponsorship fund at the International Community Foundation, we help support those individuals with essentials and necessities of living; with access to legal services, mental wellness checkups; as well as fund projects at shelters.
So far we have helped repaint shelters, purchase and construct playgrounds, fund the construction of bathrooms and rooms, and made capital improvements to shelters in addition to purchasing immediate critical goods like groceries and clothing.
What are the shelters like that you visit?
We visit shelters on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side, many of the shelters are for unaccompanied minors who have either come alone or have been separated from their parents. They are in the shelter waiting to be reunited with a family member or a sponsor. The kids range in age from 7-17. There are more boys than girls, and these kids don’t have much.
In Mexico, the shelters are typically very full. In the shelters where you have families, an entire family will have to share a single, two-person tent.
Who runs the facilities?
It depends. In Mexico, the shelters are run through churches or Good Samaritans. In the U.S., there are other organizations that run the shelters.
How do you find the shelters you work with?
My sister splits her time between San Diego and Tijuana. She travels to Tijuana to find some of the shelters for us to work with. In Los Angeles we have relationships with different organizations and many of them have contacted us to do something with them.
Have you met any veterans impacted by this crisis?
Yes, we met some veterans who have been deported to Mexico at one of the shelters in Tijuana. Many of them are speechless and can’t even talk about what is happening to them. One of the veterans said, “It is unfortunate to be willing to die for the country and not be allowed to live there.”
Are there any stories that really stick out in your mind?
We threw a prom at a shelter for unaccompanied minors a few weeks ago. We got the girls dresses and the boys suits. We decorated the space and had a DJ.
We wanted to bring these kids a fun evening. There was one girl who was sobbing. When I went to speak with her to find out about her tears, she said she was crying because her 18th birthday was the following day. She was terrified that if she could not find a sponsor, she would be transferred to an adult facility. On a day that should have been full of joy, she was facing a scary reality.
How can kids my age help?
Kids can help by educating themselves about the issues at hand. It is important to develop empathy. Be willing to ask questions and become informed. As you get older think about who you vote for.
How can people in the Palisades help?
You can go to The Little Market at Palisades Village and buy a This is About Humanity tote bag or candle. The funds will go to the This is About Humanity Fund at the International Community Foundation.
If you want to learn more about This is About Humanity, visit thisisabouthumanity.com.