Posted on Sun, Dec. 20, 2009
Teen helps Iraqi kids in U.S.
This holiday season, Sky Choi will once again be more concerned with what he is giving, rather than getting. The Pembroke Pines teen is spending a second holiday season making sure Iraqi youngsters who have resettled in the United States have a reason to smile.
“We help kids feel welcome by sending packages and cards,” said Sky, whose given name is Sebastian Hanul Choi (his father is Korean, and his middle name means “Sky” in that language). At 13, he is already a sophomore at Florida International University.
In 2008, Sky founded The List Kids, a nonprofit group that sends packages to Iraqi children across the United States. When he began, Sky had just 14 kids on his list. Now, he and a small group of volunteers send packages to more than 100 kids every month. With the holidays approaching, Sky wants to make sure the packages are extra special. Many of the Iraqi kids are spending their first holiday season in the United States, and their families are struggling just to keep up with the necessities.
“The kids are going through a lot of emotional stress,” Sky said. “They are going into a new culture and not knowing why they had to move. I thought it would be nice to help them.”
His efforts grew out of The List Project, a U.S.-based, nonprofit group that helps resettle Iraqis who either worked for the United States as translators, or in the rebuilding process, whose lives are being threatened as result.
The List Project, which began in 2007, partnered with three law firms that are providing pro bono legal services to the Iraqis.
Sky’s mother, Dana Choi, works for one of the firms, Holland & Knight, and represents more than 50 Iraqi clients. One of her clients has a son Sky’s age. As result of the client’s construction work, the son was kidnapped and beaten. Sky was moved by what he heard.
“He came to me the next day and asked me what he could to help,” Choi said. The result was The List Kids, which is now a year-round effort. Each month, the group ships large manila envelopes packed with toys, gift cards, clothing, books and more, depending on the youngster’s age.
The group has received some donations, including a large collection of reading material from Penguin Books.
But to keep the project going, The List Kids is in serious need of donations.
Choi said donations fell off quite a bit in the past year. Sky chips in money he earns working, and her family fills the gap.
“Some months we may chip in $1,500, other months it is not as much,” she said.
Each package also gets a hand-written, personalized note from Sky or twin cousins Christian and Cayla Reis, 12, who help out.
“We try to encourage them to just try and have fun,” Cayla said.
“The books can help them learn English faster,” Christian said. “We also give them comic books in their own language.”
Sky is looking for other kids who can help create cards and letters, collect or donate gift cards, used gaming systems, or donate $5 for a List Kids “Think Big” reminder bracelet.
Even though he is carrying a full load of 18 credits this semester, Sky isn’t slowing down.
“One father told me his daughters put all the cards she gets from us on her wall.”