RIVERDALE, Md.-- You wouldn't know it from the outside, but the Parkview Gardens apartment complex in Riverdale is home to hundreds of refugees, and has been part of one property manager's mission of helping refugees here in Prince George's county for nearly 30 years.
“It’s a new culture, new life, new everything.”, said Ammar Abuwaldah who arrived here with his family from Iraq in 2009 to escape the violence that has been a longstanding problem in his country for many years.
Hosh Rai escaped ethnic cleansing in Bhutan and spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before arriving in the U.S.
And, Assunta Karake came here from Rwanda, after losing her entire family to genocide.
The one thing that they all have in common, besides their refugee status, is working and living at Parkview Gardens.
“They desperately need a place to live and they desperately want to help their families. They want to be able to provide for their families just like you and I.”, said Property Manager David Mendick, who has proudly displayed signs welcoming refugees to the complex, which he said he put up after President Trump announced his ban on Muslims entering the country.
He explained that over the years he has rented hundreds of apartments to thousands of refugees and has even gone a step further by employing many of them, as well.
“He gave us the first step to start our life here.”, said Abuwaldah.
Before leaving Iraq, Abuwaldah was a professional working in HR management.
He had earned his degree in the 1980s and had been taking care of his family, but when he arrived in Maryland, he had to start from over. Now, eight years later, Abuwaldah holds the same position as Mendick as a property manager.
“Now we are here and happy and safe and the life is beautiful.”, said Abuwaldah.
According to Mendick, about a third of his overall staff, across nine properties, are or were refugees.
Many, he said, have since become US citizens.
Autumn Orme works for Lutheran Social Services, a local refugee resettlement agency that helps refugees become self-sufficient.
She said that working with landlords like Mendick is key to their success.
“Without partners like him and him, himself, we could not do the work we do. There would be no way for us to find homes for refugees without his open heart and his open doors.”, explained Orme.
Mendick has said that with anti-refugee sentiments on the rise, it’s more important than ever to stand-up to what he calls, ignorance.
“Refugees, first of all, are human beings like you, like me, like everyone else, so why don’t we give them the chance to live their lives properly.”, said Abuwaldah.