The Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation was created in 1978 and granted non-for-profit status to help resettle the influx of Assyrian refugees into the U.S. following the Iraqi-Kurdistan Civil War. The U.S. government financed the AUAF resettlement programs throughout this large refugee immigration. Three years later, when this wave of refugees subsided, the U.S. government saw no more need to finance AUAF.
Seeing the need to continue their work in the Assyrian community, a handful of people decided to get together and permanently establish AUAF as an organization. In 1983, Helen Schwarten bought the building which was AUAF’s home for 30 years. AUAF moved into a beautiful new headquarters in December, 2013 in Lincolnwood, which now has suitable space for its many programs. Helen Schwarten, the sister of the late Senator John Nimrod, was a very helpful, wealthy woman, who—after becoming a board member— became a mentor for the AUAF.
AUAF’s original purpose was helping refugees. However, the foundation has grown to offer numerous programs to the surrounding community. AUAF has sponsored a job placement program to help people find work and has aided immigrants with their paperwork to gain legal status. Since 1992, AUAF qualified for the Community Care Program (CCP). This is a program for people 60 years or older who need living assistance. Working with the Department on Aging, AUAF employs caregivers to go to clients’ homes and see to their needs. The program started with a very small client base but has expanded to serve more than 2,000 eligible seniors. The CCP functions as the primary means of funding for much of the AUAF. This has allowed AUAF to take on new projects.
Among AUAF’s many cultural programs is the Ashurbanipal Library. Created in 1989, this library was started by a handful of university students with only a few hundred books. After the students left, AUAF expanded its collection to nearly 7,000 books that line the shelves of the library today. In the new building with dedicated library space, AUAF can now display its collection properly, expand it, and provide resources for those who wish to explore our culture.
In 2014, AUAF expanded its cultural programs to include Music and Art classes for Assyrian youth. Another program is the production of documentaries on the various groups of Assyrians in the Middle East, telling their stories, their struggles, and their overcoming.
AUAF, has produced many documentaries about Assyrians in different parts of the world: Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, and Russia.
AUAF also serves Assyrians beyond the Chicago area. For several years, one of AUAF’s Board members, Juliana Jawaro, has been a vital tool in AUAF’s outreach to Assyrian refugees in the Middle East, primarily in Syria and Lebanon. Through AUAF’s support, she helps distribute food and clothing to Assyrian refugees, as well as school assistance to children of refugee families, who have fled Iraq and, more recently, Syria into Beirut and other areas in and around Lebanon.
The Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation has come a long way from where it began. It has expanded its programs, growing from a refugee aid service for Assyrians, to a provider of numerous community services to all. The organization has grown, but its mission remains the same: to offer services to the community and to educate people on the rich Assyrian culture.