They've already collected more than 20,000 coats, loads of hygiene products, clothing and cash donations to help Iraqi Christians who've been displaced from their homes and communities by ISIS.
Now, a group of mostly Chaldean educators in metro Detroit is turning its attention to needs even closer to the members' hearts and professions: collecting supplies and raising money to boost literacy efforts for the children.
"Most have been without schooling for months," said teacher Melody Arabo of West Bloomfield, an instructional coach for Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and the reigning Michigan Teacher of the Year. Arabo is one of the founding members of Teachers Educating And Creating Hope (TEACH), created in September through the Chaldean Catholic Diocese.
It's part of heightened efforts in recent months by the diocese to provide aid to Iraqi Christians. Arabo has highlighted the work of the TEACH group at recent meetings of the State Board of Education, where she gets to provide input on education issues and deliver a monthly report as teacher of the year.
Arabo was named the state's top teacher in May. Now, the group is partnering with the Michigan Reading Association, which has selected the TEACH effort as its international project for the school year. Together, they want to collect paper, pencils, pens, crayons, markers, coloring books, puzzles, non-battery-operated toys and books -- preferably books in Arabic.
Metro Detroit is home to a sizable Chaldean population. Many involved in the TEACH group have ties to Iraq, either through distant family relations or immediate family. And they've watched with grave concern as events unfold in Iraq. ISIS, a militant Islamic group, has been advancing across Iraq, forcing minorities in the country to flee.
"There's such a loyalty in our community and everyone is so interconnected," Arabo said. "Everyone is really deeply impacted by what's going on there. It's a horrifying situation." Rafed Yaldo has seen the impact firsthand. Yaldo, a member of TEACH who operates a home health care business, recently returned from a nearly two-week visit to northern Iraq.
There, he saw families living in tents and caravans, and buildings holding hundreds of families living in extremely tight quarters. "A lot of them were driven out" of their homes because of their religious beliefs. "They were told either you convert, pay a heavy price, die or leave. Most picked up and left, leaving everything behind."
Many have ended up in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq. Yaldo is involved in other efforts through the Diocese to help Iraqi Christians, including projects to get medical supplies and equipment to the region. He got to see how their work is helping while he was there.
But he also got to see the unsettling conditions kids and their families are living in. "To see them homeless, to see them in the condition they're in was really heartbreaking," Yaldo said. "Kids are innocent. They don't know any better. A lot of them just want to go to school."
By Lori Higgins