Several years ago, a friend visited Julie Silander’s house, bringing with her a six-year-old boy whose family had just arrived in the United States after fleeing Somalia. It was her first experience with Charlotte’s refugees, but it certainly wouldn’t be her last.
The Silander family first served our city’s refugee population through the Refugee Support Services of the Carolinas and now they serve with Project 658.
Project 658 is the Charlotte-based ministry of Sports Outreach Institute. It is aimed at community transformation through the powerful work of Jesus and is committed to serving families in greatest need in our city and around the world in ways that are practical, sustainable and burden-lifting. The ministry provides sports programs for children of all ages, meal services, public health assistance, refugee education, vocational training and more.
“Andy Crouch said, ‘You can judge the health of a society by the degree to which its most vulnerable are flourishing.’ It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group than the refugee population,” Julie says. “Our entire family has been involved in the ministry for the last several years. We are different as a result.”
In the years serving with Project 658, the Silanders have served at the Clothing Closet project, a “store” where refugees can purchase clothes with points. They also participate in family festival events and her husband has often played Santa during the Christmas event.
“For the past few years, a highlight – perhaps the highlight – of the Christmas season for us has been spending a Saturday celebrating Christmas with the folks from Project 658 and our refugee friends… I love the beautiful faces representing the farthest corners of the map. The content children who are generous with their smiles and hugs. The adults who delight at the rare opportunity for their children to be photographed with Santa.”
Julie has seen firsthand the tangible difference this ministry is making in our community.
“Real change is happening because of Project 658. I’ve never seen hope spring to life in such a real way.”