A “First Buddy in the United States” Awaits Refugee Children Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport

PHOTO CAPTION - Terry Bliznik (far left) spends time and money to show kindness to refugee children staying at The Best Western O'Hare Hotel, IOM’s partner hotel in Chicago, Illinois, which is used to overnight refugees in transit to final destinations in other cities in the United States.

A “First Buddy in the United States” Awaits Refugee Children Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport

By: Niurka Piñeiro, IOM Senior Press Officer and Spokesperson for the Americas

The Best Western Hotel at O’Hare airport, just outside Chicago, has been hosting newly-arrived refugees from all corners of the globe for more than 20 years.

Terry Bliznick, the Head of Housekeeping, has worked at the hotel for 28 years, so she has seen thousands of men, women and children pass through the premises. 

“They are kind of nervous to come to the United States, leave their country and start a new life.  They are quiet.  I make sure the rooms are ready when they arrive.  I make sure they are settled in.  I make sure they have their breakfast and lunch ready.  I am here to help them,” recounts Ms. Bliznick.

But she has gone way above and beyond the scope of her work by taking on the mission of providing a toy to each refugee child; for most it is their first toy.

“I noticed that the children didn’t have anything.  We as Americans don’t realize that we throw many things away.  And so I go to places and collect toys, these are very good toys, nothing wrong with them.  The kids love them!  I go see friends who give me toys or donations; I visit the Salvation Army, flea markets, garage sales, etc.” explains Ms. Bliznick.

Many times Ms. Bliznick uses her own money to purchase the toys.

Maria Rowland, Director of Sales, Best Western at O’Hare chimes in: “This woman has a big heart.  These children are her children.   She always tries to do something special for the children, especially if they’re crying.”

Ms. Bliznick is very active in The Promise Program, created by the hotel's management company, Hostmark Hospitality Group, to protect the environment by encouraging and challenging each member of the organization to think and act “green”, pursuing earth-friendly solutions and engaging in meaningful community-building and outreach efforts.

A few months ago, Terry suggested that the Promise Program could collect and give toys to refugee children staying at the hotel.  She started by purchasing toys with funds she donated and collected from other Best Western employees, but when she saw the children’s delight, she decided to continue the initiative indefinitely.

“I get joy out of it, so I continued it.  This makes me feel good.  I like to do that for the children.  I can donate money to any organization, but it’s not the same thing as me giving it to them,” adds Ms. Bliznick

Chicago is one of five Ports of Entry used by IOM* for newly-arrived refugees resettling in the United States; others are Los Angeles, Miami New York and Newark. At each Port of Entry, IOM contracts a hotel to provide overnight accommodation to refugees who cannot make their connecting flights to their final destination. 

The Best Western O’Hare is the hotel used by IOM for refugees arriving in Chicago.

Ms. Rowland explains the process: “We get notice from IOM once a week as to the number of people arriving.  Normally they stay only one night.  We make sure we have rooms available for them.  We use our shuttle to pick them up at the airport and the next day we take them back to catch their flights.  We set up breakfast for them in a private meeting room so they can feel comfortable and not be nervous about seeing so many other people.  We always try to provide breads, juices, milk, eggs, and other things that they will enjoy eating.  We have someone always looking after them at breakfast to make sure they have everything they need.  IOM always lets us knows their food requirements, so we order special dinners for them; usually it includes rice, vegetables and chicken.”

Thousands of newly-arrived refugees spend their first night in their new country at the Best Western O’Hare.  And most families have children.

“You have to see their faces when they get the toys; they grab them and hug them.  They become children.  Children should be children.  If they don’t have toys, they just stand there like statues.  They’ve never had toys.  I tell them this is your first buddy in the United States.  Some of them are shy, so I ask an IOM staff member to give the child his/her toy; immediately the other children come running to get their toys.  I get satisfaction from seeing them,” adds Ms. Bliznick.”

“Today we are expecting 16 children.  And tomorrow morning after breakfast Terry will give them their toys,” says Ms. Rowland.

Hostmark has started collecting toys amongst the staff to send to Terry to distribute to the children. 

Since the program began in late February, more than 300 toys have been provided by this remarkable woman to refugee children.

*For more than 60 years, moving refugees to begin new lives with dignity and respect in a safe and orderly fashion has been and continues to be a fundamental purpose and priority of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

IOM was founded in 1951 to assist in the resettlement of Europeans displaced in the aftermath of World War II.  In the last decade alone, IOM has organized resettlement movements of 892,243 refugees from 186 locations around the world.

IOM works closely with governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), non-government organizations and other partners.  IOM resettlement services include: Case processing, Health Assessments, Pre-Departure Orientation, and Transport..

For more information on IOM resettlement assistance please visit: http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/what-we-do/resettlement-assistance.htm