How We Started – (The founder’s story)

My first job, after graduating from TCU, was at an organization that provided mental health care for both refugees and asylum seekers, called the Center for Survivors of Torture. And after that, I worked for the Refugee Services of Texas. Through my work, I heard the heart-wrenching stories of both refugees and asylum seekers. And I learned that both groups are similar in that they are both people who have fled from persecution because of their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Both groups are people who cannot return for fear of their lives.

But I also very quickly saw the gaping differences between refugees and asylum seekers here.

Refugees on one hand, coming from Congo, Burma, Iraq, Afganistan, Somoli, would flee in massive groups to a neighboring country, where the United Nations had set up a refugee camp. There they would wait for several years. Then, the United Nations would pay for their travel to the U.S. where they would arrive already having permanent refugee status, and would already be eligible for their work permit. They would be met at airport by caseworker and brought to their furnished apartment, and given 6-8 months of resettlement benefits including: food stamps, financial assistance, case management, medicaid, and more, all funded by the government. In other words, there is a well-developed system in place to help refugees land on their feet.

Asylum seekers on the other hand, were usually persecuted individually, and 75% of asylum seekers were personally beaten, raped, or tortured in their country. They are from Ethiopia, Congo, Egypt, China, Pakistan, Central America, Burundi, and elsewhere from all around the word. These were people who (for example) were journalists or political activists, speaking out about the corruption in their current governments, or people who were Christian pastors in countries where radical Islamists reign. These were people who were in such immediate danger that they had to flee for their lives, often alone in secret, and find a way to get out of the country, however they could, for example, using a visitor visa, student visa. They arrive at the airport alone, and some have a contact, but others arrive not knowing where to go or what to do next. Then, they must find a way to file paperwork asking for asylum, beginning the legal process in which they must prove that they were truly fleeing for their lives. These are not illegal immigrants looking for financial gain. They would have been killed if they would have stayed. And now they are going through the legal processes yet asylum seekers in DFW often wait for 2 years or more before they receive their work permit, and during this waiting period they are not eligible for any government services.
How are they supposed to survive? This is why some of these educated, hard-working, courageous victims of injustice, who came here for safety, end up here on our streets.

I was shocked when I learned these harsh realities through my work, but where I learned the most, was through inviting these people into my home.

So, allow me to share a personal story. In the summer of 2009, I became friends with two asylum seeker women who were the same age as me, from Rwanda, who were on the brink of homelessness.

So I went to my husband and said “These girls have no place to go, and we have a spare bedroom! We should invite them to stay with us!” Well at that time, we were 22-years-old my husband and I had been married only 6 weeks, and our parents thought we were crazy. Nevertheless, he agreed, and they moved in. Since then, over 7 years ago, we have had 16 people live with us, and a new mother and child moving in next week.

What did we see or learn, that made us want to keep opening our home to these people?
We saw humanity, both strong and beautiful and yet desperately hurt and broken. I’ve saw their hopes and desires are not so different from mine. They are looking love, for meaning, for freedom, and for security, just like you and me.

Well, as we began to help more, word spread through word of mouth, “If you are seeking asylum, go to Ashley and she will help you.”

Fast forward 3 years, from our first asylum seekers, and our little house and our lives were bursting at the seams with asylum seekers who needed help. We saw that this problem had become bigger than our spare bedroom. So, we did a little research and discovered that while there were many organizations started in other cities to house asylum seekers as they waited for their work permits, in all of Dallas and Fort Worth there was no organization already doing this. Not one.

So, I talked to my pastors and said, “I want to start a ministry to house and help people seeking asylum.” And they said “Great! Go for it, and we will offer oversight and support.”
So, in 2012, I quit my job at the resettlement agency and launched DASH Network.

So, that’s our roots. That’s how we were founded.

 -Ashley Freeman
DASH Founder and Chairman of the Board