Fatuma Abdullahi, Annie Johnson, and Maryan Osman

Even though they’re only teenagers, Fatuma Abdullahi and her sister, Maryan Osman, have undertaken a long, complicated journey to get to where they are today.

When they were very young, the girls lost their parents during the civil war in Somalia, the country in which they were born. They were taken in by their grandmother until she was resettled in Australia. Fatuma and Maryan were to follow her there, but in the interim, Australia closed its borders to Somali refugees. The were shuffled between family members in Kenya until they were eventually left on their own. 

Then, in 2014, Fatuma and Maryan were resettled in the United States through Catholic Community Services of Utah. There they found a stable, loving home with a young couple, Annie and Randall Johnson, near Salt Lake City. They also live with their little brother, Roscoe, and their dog, Maddox.

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Fatuma and Maryan recently sat down with Annie to talk about what it’s been like — for all of them — to become a family.

Originally aired April 7, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Randall Johnson, Maryan Osman, Fatuma Abdullahi, Roscoe Johnson, and Annie Johnson at their home in Murray, UT. 

Toni Henson and Camaran Henson

As a kid, Camaran Henson would stay up late listening to his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, tell stories about his experiences as police officer in Newark, New Jersey. 

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Leonard worked undercover for “The Bandit Squad” — a group of detectives who investigated armed robberies in the 1970s — and Camaran was convinced that his grandfather was a real-life superhero. Camaran’s mom, Toni, knows the feeling because she grew up hearing these tales as well.

Leonard died in 2013, but Toni and Camaran came to StoryCorps to pass his stories on — since long conversations are something of a family tradition.

Originally aired March 10, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Camaran Henson with his grandfather, Leonard Simmons, ca. 1994. Courtesy of Toni Henson.

Philip and Andy

In 2014, we heard a conversation between Paul Braun, a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard, and the interpreter he served with in Iraq, who goes by the name Philip — a moniker bestowed on him by American soldiers because he favored Philip Morris cigarettes.

In Iraq, former interpreters’ lives are in constant danger because of their association with American soldiers. So Braun helped sponsor Philip’s immigration to the U.S., and at the time of their interview, they were living together in Minneapolis.

But Philip had to leave his wife and four children behind in Iraq. He spent three years attempting to obtain visas for them so they could join him in Minnesota, even putting his life at risk by traveling back to Iraq in 2014.

Finally, in October 2016, the visas came through, and now Philip’s family — including his nephew, Andy, who was also an interpreter — are adjusting to life in the U.S. Two months after his family’s arrival, Philip came back to StoryCorps to give Andy some advice on adjusting to his new home.

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You can learn more about Philip’s story in the 2015 documentary The Interpreter.

Originally broadcast February 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Philip with his wife, Ghania, the day she arrived in Minneapolis. Photo by Sameer Saadi.

Judy Charest and Harold Hogue

On December 24, 1956, Marguerite Hunt drove with her 3-month-old daughter, Judy, to the Shelby Street Bridge (now called the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge) in Nashville, Tennessee, got out of her car, and with her baby in her arms, jumped 90 feet into the cold waters of the Cumberland River.

charest3Harold Hogue, an engineer with the Nashville Bridge Company was at work in a nearby building and happened to see the incident unfold through an office window. Immediately, he and his colleague, Jack Knox, ran to the river and saw Marguerite in the water holding onto a piece of rebar pleading for someone to save her baby. Jack jumped into the water and grabbed Judy, swam back to shore, handed her to Harold, and headed back into the river in an attempt to now save Marguerite. Harold rushed Judy to the first aid station in the Nashville Bridge Company building and left the infant in the care of a nurse; with help from others, including Harold, Marguerite was saved as well.

When Judy Charest was 21 years old, Marguerite was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was also the first time Judy learned of the Christmas Eve incident on the bridge. Jack passed away in 2005, and Marguerite died in 2015. Recently, Harold told his grandson about the rescue and he was able to track down Judy allowing them to meet again almost 60 years after Harold helped save her life.

At StoryCorps, Judy and Harold discuss both of their meetings.

Originally aired December 23, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Rescuers pull Marguerite Hunt onto the shore of the Cumberland River. Harold Hogue is in the foreground in a white shirt, dark pants, and wearing a watch. Originally published Christmas Eve 1956, photo courtesy of Mike Hudgins/The Nashville Retrospect.

Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega

Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.

francisco-1978-1Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.

He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.

At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.

Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.

Fred Davie and Robert Sanchez

Robert Sanchez (right) is a social worker who helps people coming out of prison find work and get the support they need. He has a unique understanding of his clients’ struggles because in 2001, Robert was released from New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility after serving 15 years for a nonviolent drug offense.

Robert has also recorded StoryCorps interviews with those who have helped him over the years, and in March 2010, his conversation with Felix Aponte was broadcast on NPR. More recently, he sat down with Fred Davie (left), a long-time mentor and friend to thank him for the spiritual support he has provided.

A Presbyterian minister who heads the Union Theological Seminary, Fred met Robert in 1998 when he was visiting Sing Sing and Robert was working towards his master’s degree in theology. They struck up a conversation and made an instant connection, and after Robert’s release, Fred helped him navigate the difficult process of finding work, interpersonal relationships, and fatherhood.

They have both remained outspoken about the importance of providing guidance and support to individuals following their incarceration, and together they developed the Ready4Work reentry program which provides mentoring and job counseling to former prisoners to help with their transition and avoid returning to prison.

At StoryCorps Robert and Fred remember their first meeting, and discuss how their relationship has grown since.

Originally aired December 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda and Serena Castañeda

Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda grew up in Salinas, California, in the late 1960s. Her mother, Beatriz Béltran, was an immigrant from Mexico, and her father, Manuel, worked both as a foreman at a food packing plant and as an overseer of migrant farm workers.

castaneda2Their family of seven lived in a small trailer, but by working multiple jobs, Manuel was able to save enough money to buy a plot of land on which he built a house. Alicia vividly recalls sitting on a 1950s metal stool in their living room, watching her father paint some of the walls goldenrod, and others Pepto-Bismol pink.

Manuel died when Alicia was 13, leaving their mother to raise the children alone.

Beatriz began working for the Salinas City Elementary School District as a bilingual liaison for Spanish-speaking families and the administration, and later became a coordinator for migrant worker families. Through her job, she saw the poverty many migrant families lived in.

Alicia was not as familiar with the lives of migrant farmworkers until she came home one day to find that her bed was missing—she was furious. With all of her older siblings away at college, Alicia had finally gotten her own room, and she loved her bed, which had a pink cover and lace dust ruffle. When she confronted her mother, Beatriz explained that she had given the bed to a family that had recently arrived in California from Mexico, and Alicia remembers telling her mother that she did not understanding why that was her problem. Without explanation, Beatriz told her to fill shopping bags with canned food from their pantry.

Together they drove to a house where Alicia’s bed now was, a one-room shack with a dirt floor like the ones occupied by so many other migrant worker families. There they met a woman who was laying on Alicia’s bed with her newborn baby surrounded by her four other children.

At StoryCorps, Alicia told her own daughter, Serena, 13, how meaningful that experience was for her.

Originally aired November 18, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo of Beatriz Beltrán courtesy of Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda.

Lou Olivera and Joe Serna

In 2013, Green Beret Sergeant Joe Serna retired from the Army after more than 18 years of service that included three tours of duty in Afghanistan and numerous awards including two Purple Hearts. Returning to North Carolina to be with his wife and children, he found adjusting to civilian life difficult.

oliveraextraIn 2014, following a DWI arrest, Joe’s case was assigned to the Cumberland County Veterans Treatment Court. After a probation violation, District Court Judge Lou Olivera (above left), an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War, sentenced Joe to a night in jail.

Joe was with three other soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 when their armored truck flipped over and landed in a river. It quickly filled with water and Joe was the only survivor. Knowing Joe’s history and how difficult it would be for him to spend an evening confined, Judge Olivera decided to spend the night with Joe in his jail cell.

At StoryCorps, they reflect upon the night they spent together, the difficult memories that being sentenced brought back, and the relationship they have formed since.

Originally aired October 14, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo courtesy of Joe Serna.

William Chambers and Ceceley Chambers

William Chambers’ mother, Ceceley, is an interfaith chaplain who has provided spiritual support to seniors and hospice patients suffering from memory loss and dementia. Her work involves talking with people about their faith, listening to their stories, and praying with them — sometimes up to ten times a day.

Last year William, 9, went to work with his mother while she was visiting with residents of the Boston-area Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. photoCeceley knew that many of the residents liked having children around, and they were thrilled to have William there.

At first William was afraid to go to the center, but his experience there left him pleasantly surprised. Among the residents he spent time with was a woman with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease who carried a baby doll with her that she treated like a real child. This didn’t faze William who told his mother, “I think people are free to think whatever they want to think.”

Since his initial visit, William has returned to work with his mother several more times. While Ceceley finds it difficult to say goodbye to the residents at the end of the day, they have taught her the “importance of being present, and the beauty of just little small moments.” William says that his time going to work with his mother has changed how he sees things as well: “They made me think, you should enjoy life as much as you can cause it doesn’t happen forever.”

They came to StoryCorps to discuss the affect Ceceley’s work has had on them both.

[Of the many residents Ceceley has counseled, she felt particularly connected to one man who would sing her love songs and tell her dirty jokes. Listen below to hear one of the love songs.]

Originally aired September 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo of William and Ceceley courtesy of Ceceley Chambers.

Carlos Walton and Jim Saint Germain

Jim Saint Germain’s family moved to New York City from Haiti in 2000. They left with the hope of having a better life than the one they left behind, but for 10-year-old Jim, the adjustment was difficult.

His family moved into a small Brooklyn apartment where the quarters were so tight that Jim was forced to sleep in a closet, and at one point, 15 people were living in the home at once. SaintGermainExtra1By the time he was in eighth grade, Jim’s behavior had worsened and he was struggling in school. He was frequently in fights and his teachers began singling him out as a troublemaker.

Around that time, Carlos Walton, then the dean of Jim’s middle school, stepped in.

Carlos was known as an educator with the rare ability to connect with harder-to-reach kids. He had grown up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood and used straight talk, a firm handshake, and big hugs to reach students.

Carlos saw himself in Jim and when Jim got kicked out of his apartment, Carlos took him into his own home to help give him time to figure things out. And while their relationship has had its moments, Jim is currently studying for his master’s degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and this past weekend he served as a groomsman at Carlos’ wedding.

Jim (above right) and Carlos (above left) came to StoryCorps to remember some of the pivotal moments in their relationship.

Originally aired July 22, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Jim and Carlos together on the night before Carlos’ wedding. Photo courtesy of Jim Saint Germain.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.