Michael Melinger

Photo of Debra Wiens, who used to be a history teacher at CHS, by Michael Melinger.

Profile: Debra Wiens

From the moment we walked into her classroom, CHS History teacher Debra Wiens was beaming. When we asked for an interview about the Syrian family she had taken under her wing, she had been exceptionally excited. This was a story Mrs. Wiens had been aching to tell: a story impacting Syrian refugee families and Mrs. Wiens herself.

The story began last spring, when Mrs. Wiens taught her Current Issues class about the ongoing Syrian War.

“I thought that we really needed to get involved with the Syrian community here,” Wiens said. “I was hearing some pretty disturbing things coming from a particular Syrian community in St. Louis, and I talked to my class about becoming involved. Pretty soon, I had a total of 38 students signed up to visit this community. We took a bus and several SUV’s loaded with stuff: clothing, food, sports equipment, everything.”

Wiens, with the help of Cyril Loum, opened up 14 homes in the Hodiamont community for students to eat with and talk to Syrian families with the help of translators.

“We all started talking about our family that we ate with as ‘my family,’” Wiens said. “Everyone wanted to go back.”

A little later, a Pulitzer Journalist gave a presentation in Wiens’ Current Issues class about a Toronto family that took a Syrian family under their wing.

“So I thought, ‘why don’t I take my family that had taken me and my students into their home and help them?’” Wiens said.

Mrs. Wiens reached out to the family, and the rest is history. Currently, Wiens is helping the Halcrad family, whose two girls are attending Clayton High School, and the youngest boy enrolled at Wydown Middle.

“When I got to know the family, Mr. and Mrs. Halcrad were very opening, so I tried to talk to them about what their jobs were before they came to America,” Wiens said. “Lo and behold, Clayton had a job opening, and they hired him, which meant their kids could come here. I knew this was a place you could get a good education, and now the girls are in love with it.”

Wiens has fostered these relationships with the Syrian families not only for herself, but for the community as a whole.

“Your community is only as strong as your weakest link,” Wiens said. “If we could all just strengthen our community, we would all be stronger. You are not impaired by helping someone, you only make life better for yourself by just the little bit that you do.”

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