The Embracing Different Cultures Nomination was created to recognize individuals who help others feel welcome in their new community regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, economic or social background.
For our first Embracing Different Cultures Nomination, we have selected the founder of Welcome Neighbor STL, Jessica Bueler. Welcome Neighbor STL is an organization in St. Louis focused on helping incoming refugees starting a new life in the U.S. and brings people of all faiths together with food.
I grew up in St. Louis and was a high school exchange student in Japan in 1985 through a nonprofit organization called Youth For Understanding (YFU). The experience changed my life and I lived in Japan for eight years after graduating from college. My wife is Japanese. We met at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. We moved to St. Louis in 1999 and have four natural children aged 20, 17, 16 and 15. We began hosting YFU students in 2005 and we now have nineteen wonderful sons from Japan, Thailand, Korea, China, Jordan, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Finland, Brazil, France and Spain. Our Spanish son, Tomas, arrived in St. Louis on 1 September and is a Senior at Parkway Central. Our YFU kids may live with us for just a year but they remain members of our family forever.
I have volunteered for YFU since 2008 and I am now the head of the YFU St. Louis Community. Youth For Understanding was founded by a woman who lived through both world wars and wanted to help prevent a third. She believed that giving young people the opporunity to live in another country would increase their understanding and respect for other cultures. The first YFU students were German and Austrian youths chosen by the US Army in 1951 to live with families in Michigan. Many of the host fathers had fought the Germans in the war, but by the end of the year they came to see these youths as their own kids.
Hosting is one of the most important actions a family can take to further the cause of peace. Our natural children not only have brothers from many cultures, but they also have a greater sense of humanity towards others. YFU not only affects host families and their students but also the surrounding community. Last Spring in the midst of some very challenging circumstances caused by the Covid 19 pandemic I received this wonderful message from a local high school student.
“Mr Rutherford, I just want to thank you for being such a huge part of YFU and not only giving students from around the world a life changing experience but also the fact that your work impacts kids like me who become friends with these students. I’ve made multiple friends in YFU every year of high school, and I’ll always remember them. I am very thankful for the experiences I got to be a part of because of your organization. “
On behalf of our local YFU St. Louis Community, I’m honored to be recognized with the Embracing Different Cultures Nomination. We plan to use the funds donated by the Hacking Immigration Law to give our local YFU students a traditional Thanksgiving meal. To find out more about Youth For Understanding please visit www.yfuusa.org.
Message from our winner, Jessica Bueler:
“Welcome Neighbor STL is thankful for the recognition from Hacking Immigration Law of the efforts of our more than 1,500 volunteers that spend their time helping refugee and immigrant families adjust to their new lives in St. Louis.
With this donation awarded from Hacking Immigration Law for the Embracing Different Cultures Award, we are excited to be able to allocate the funds to host a free community dinner in May during Ramadan.
Welcome Neighbor STL will invite people from all faiths to come together to take part in learning more about this tradition and break the fast at sunset with the evening meal of Iftar.
When we take the time to meet people who are different from ourselves, we can’t help but become friends and we begin to break down the barriers that divide us. We hope you will join us.”