Graduation is always an exciting time for families, a right of passage as our children advance from one level of schooling to another; or, a sign of transition as someone advances (commences) from school to opportunities and challenges in the real world.

Graduation is even more special for a group of new Americans who reside in the Rogers Park community.

Rogers Park resident Judith Gramer devotes nearly all of her free time, money and her entire over sized heart helping to be sure that a special group of youngsters avail themselves of opportunity in their new homeland.

"Mike. They are refugees. Not immigrants." she recently corrected me in a recent email exchange. Judith went on to explain:

"All of the youngsters are Burmese but came to us from refugee camps in Thailand. Their families were rigorously interviewed before being offered refugee status by the US. They came to Chicago just less than 5 years ago and each girl has acclimated to the environment, excelled at school, all with current GPA's between 3.5 and 4.0.

HsaWah is the first high school graduate (NHS) in the Burmese Refugee Program and has been accepted at Lake Forest College. Sanay is a 4.0, National Honor Society student at Josephinum working fervently toward a career in medicine. Chri has graduated 8th grade with the ESL honor from CMSA this June. All 3 are the recipients of various scholarships. (However we still must sponsor a portion of all their tuition)

As a side-note, I take the parents to every part-teacher-conference they can possibly attend. The parents stand by, not understanding what is being said a lot of the time, but they attend. They are proud of their children and are learning their obligation to come to the school conferences, events and celebrations. Afterward, I explain what they did not understand so each parent is an integral part of the education of their children. (By the way, I thought I had given up attendance at p-t-conferences a looong time ago! Not so, now I go to them times 10!!)

All 3 of the adolescent girls serve willingly as my tutors now for the younger children (2 boys-7th grade, 1 boy 2nd grade, 1 girl-3rd grade, 1 girl 1st grade, 1 girl-Pre K and 1 boy age 4 at home) and they also serve as translators for me.

The families work tremendously hard and their greatest desire was to be allowed to enter the US for the education of their children.

Summer activities for the 3 girls include tutoring and assisting as junior counselors at day camps in the area.

By the way, as a side note, the 2 of the 7th-grade boys are attending Family Matters camp. One goes part time since he has to attend summer school in the AM's, but one is there all day & just last week experienced the absolute best time of his life at the farm in Indiana with FM!!! I cannot say enough about Keri Lucas who has helped me so very, very much. She is wonderful.

She has found tutors for the 2 high school girls beginning in September, including an ACT tutor for Sanay, and is working on another one for the 2nd grade boy. Keri is so fantastic, there aren't enough words!

We work with nine families in the St Paul's Burmese Refugee Ministry and these are their kids. Should anyone ask, and I am not pushing here because I know this isn't a fund-raising article, but should anyone ever ask, financial donations are always appreciated and desperately needed to cover all the expenses associated with the kids' educations, and this is our priority. (St. Paul's by the Lake, Memo: Burmese Refugee Ministry, 7100 N. Ashland, tax deductible, of course.)"

Anyone wanting more information can contact Judith at "This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.."

Congratulations to Sanay, HsaWah and Chri on your amazing accomplishments.

And congratulations to you, Judith, for what you are doing. No one can really succeed in life without the assistance from others - time and time again, you have offered this invaluable assistance and you have really made a difference in the lives of many!