Meet your neighbors: the refugee experience

Friends, neighbors, refugees. The South Hills is home to the largest community of refugees in the Pittsburgh region. Get to know your South Hills neighbors.

Finding community – and giving back to it: Lejla Sehic’s story

Despite being forced from their home in Bosnia when she was ten, Lejla Sehic’s parents worked hard to provide her with a safe and normal childhood.

When war broke out in Bosnia, they were fortunate enough to escape and find safety in Croatia. Two years later, they moved to Hungary and then on to Germany. They lived a happy and safe life there until 1997 when refugees were asked to go back to their home countries.

“When the war ended, we were asked to go home, but we didn’t have a home to go back to. The economy was bad, violence was still going on,” Lejla recalled.

Her parents applied to come to the United States, and when Lejla was nearly 16-years-old, they moved to Pittsburgh and resided in Prospect Park.

Upon moving into their new home, Lejla’s parents got right to work. While not in their trained fields, both her mom and dad found jobs right away.

“My dad was a CEO in Bosnia, and when we moved here, he took a job making photocopies every day. He never complained once. He was just thankful and grateful. Even though he didn’t have to, he wore a suit and tie to work every day,” Lejla said.

Lejla’s parents encouraged her to finish school, and she went on to receive her Master’s in Business. Similar to her parents’ work ethic, Lejla got a job at BNY Mellon at the age of 16 and worked all the way through her schooling.

While Lejla spoke English well, she noticed some other foreign-born teens and children in her community were struggling. She heard about SHIM’s Prospect Park Family Center in the community and decided to get involved to help.

“They had homework help and summer camp. Because I spoke English, I helped the younger kids do their homework and strengthen their English. It was a great sense of community,” Lejla said.

In return, SHIM helped Lejla out, as well. “It was a mutually beneficial thing. SHIM helped me out with college applications, policies, answering questions for paperwork, and more. It’s such an enormous amount of help - it’s basic needs and basic things,” Lejla explained.

After some time passed, Lejla’s father passed away, and she and her mom moved away from the Prospect Park community. Lejla continued working at BNY Mellon, got married and had two beautiful children. Even though she moved on, she always had SHIM in the back of her mind. About three years ago, Lejla was in a place where she and her family were settled and thriving, and she knew it was her time to do something bigger to give back. She signed up to be a mentor with SHIM’s Youth Mentoring Program.

“It has been so humbling to go back to Prospect Park – it grounded me. Looking at the girls I’m mentoring, I see myself. I know how they feel,” she said. “My goal is to inspire them even if they feel some days are rough. I want them to see that success is possible.”

Not only is Lejla inspiring the teens, but they have shown her a new perspective and she’s grown, as well. “They have so much energy and laughter and passion for their cultures. It’s helped me to learn from other people’s experiences and grow from that. It’s so rewarding,” she added.

In the last three years, Lejla has gotten even more involved with SHIM’s work. Last year, she became a member of SHIM’s Board of Directors, and she and her family often attend fundraising events and volunteer activities.

“I wanted to give back to my community and to an organization that I knew added tremendous value to the refugee community in Pittsburgh. SHIM does so much wonderful work for our entire community. It’s neighbors helping neighbors, and I’m proud to be part of the work,” Lejla said.

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