Lenita Dunlap is Helping Dallas’ Refugee Children Move from Chaos to Calm
Lenita Dunlap saw a need in our community and took on the leadership position as the CEO of Heart House, a nonprofit that serves refugee and underprivileged children through after school and summer programming. Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Lenita felt called to do ministry and joined the Dallas Theological Seminary in 2007. That is where she met her husband – on his first day of school! She also spent many years working at The Center for Nonprofit Management, so when the CEO position at Heart House opened up, not only did she have the passion for the job, she also had the combination of education and experience.
Heart House is a nonprofit that serves about 130 kids annually through afterschool programming. 98% of the kids are non-native English speakers, and about 80% are refugees from countries like Burma (where the Rohingya crisis is ongoing), Nepal, and Eritrea. Heart House currently has 4 sites across the DFW metroplex, and in its Vickery Meadow site, Lenita educated us that the neighborhood is home to over 70 different ethnicities!
Lenita explains that refugee kids have unique needs. “They have dealt with the trauma of leaving their home countries. We do a disservice to the kids if we put them into school and situations and just expect them to assimilate. We need to create programs that value and celebrate their culture and who they are uniquely. We need to honor their history and their struggle.”
Heart House’s “H3” Program includes focus on:
- Head – the academics and cognitive learning developed through mentoring and homework help
- Heart – social-emotional learning and mindfulness practice through daily breathing exercises
- Hands – exposure to experiences outside the kids’ norm with things like film festivals and Dallas’ annual Lemonade Day. These programs let the kids be kids, as usually at home they have responsibilities like helping their parents pay the bills given they are the only English speakers in their home.
Lenita is also currently working on her PhD. Now that she has years of on-the-ground experience, she’s studying ways to drive policy and affect systemic changes.
Check out her OpEd piece “Refugee Children in America: Lost and In Need of Our Compassion”
Read more about our heroes that work on issues related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Quality Education.