Jewish Teen Creates Nonprofit to Help Refugee Families — Like Hers


When Galina and Igor Kirman left Ukraine as Jewish refugees in 1979, HIAS, the Jewish immigration agency, helped their families in their sojourns through Italy and eventually to the United States.

More than 30 years later, their daughter Ariel, 17, a junior at New York’s Trinity School, wants to pay that assistance forward to other refugees. She launched a nonprofit called Diaper Essentials for New Americans, or DENA, raising money and distributing supplies through refugee assistance agencies to help new mothers take care of their babies.

HIAS is one of seven nonprofits with whom she has already partnered.

“I grew up hearing stories from my refugee parents about how HIAS and others helped them on their journey from the USSR to America and to get resettled here,” said Ariel, who lives on the Upper West Side. “To be able to help a new generation of immigrants and refugees, and especially through the same groups that helped my own parents, has a special and personal meaning for me.”

HIAS and B’nai Jeshurun, where she and her brother have attended Hebrew school, send a list of immigrants and refugees to DENA and Ariel distributes diaper bag packages directly to them. IRIS (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) in New Haven, Conn. accepts deliveries from DENA and distributes the packages itself.

Danielle Spencer, an immigrant support case manager for HIAS, said in a statement, “It has been a pleasure partnering with Ariel and DENA to support new mothers. HIAS is inspired by the work being done to serve the needs of the immigrant community.”

Ariel came up with the idea for DENA last summer while interning at IRIS, where she continues to volunteer. After speaking with her boss she concluded that refugee moms were doing without supplies – diaper bags, baby wipes, changing pads, and more — that they couldn’t afford.

In just a few months her list of partners grew to include International Rescue Committee, Neighbors for Refugees, One World One Love and Ruth’s Refuge.

She’s not done: Ariel hopes to sign up a half dozen new partners in the coming months.

Ariel has also assembled a group of high school volunteers in order, she says, to make sure that 100% of funds raised go to purchase the DENA “starter diaper bag kits,” which include diapers, lotions and wipes. The volunteers help identify potential partners, raise funds, handle the website and spread the word about DENA.

To minimize marketing costs, Ariel is working with the Google for Nonprofits initiative and has obtained a $10,000 per month Google Ad allowance.

At the moment, DENA is focused on three states: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “I am hoping to grow it to other regions,” said Ariel. “At least one of our partner groups has offered to put us in touch with potential volunteers in the Washington DC region.”