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Walsh University Adjunct Professor Helps Refugees in Poland

More than 12 million people have fled their homes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February.  Poland has become an epicenter of crisis relief, absorbing millions of refugees, most of whom are women, children and elderly, while also acting as a transit point for those who will continue on to other locations.  MODLIŃSKA 6D EXPO POMOC, a convention center in the country’s capital Warsaw, serves as a temporary dwelling for thousands of people on any given day.  Walsh alumnus Justin Alan Hayes, an Adjunct Professor in the DeVille School of Business, author, podcaster and founder of Voices for Voices and the House of You®, started following the center on Facebook and was compelled to help.

In June, he traveled to Poland to distribute much needed supplies, including personal hygiene kits, children’s books and money to help with medical supplies.

“It was a once a once in a lifetime opportunity that aligned with the mission of Walsh University and my own organization,” Hayes said. I hope to set an example to help the mental well-being of others and inspire my own students to make a positive impact.”

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Hayes arranged for the large packages to be delivered to his hotel ahead of his visit. 

“It took a lot of planning and coordinating with the center, the hotel and UPS,” Hayes said.  “I was worried the packages would be held up in customs, damaged or lost.  The first thing I did when I arrived at my hotel was ask to see the packages.”

Hayes hired a tour guide who served as his translator.  Looking back, he explains it was absolutely necessary since most of the volunteers and refugees at the center spoke Polish, Ukrainian and Russian.

“I don’t know what I would have done without her. Not only did she translate for me but she knew the area very well,” Hayes said.  “I told her I was hoping to hand out the donations so that I could ensure they went to people who needed them. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but she helped me do more than I ever thought I could on this trip!”

Hayes delivered the contents of the boxes in person.  Though he was not able to personally hand them out, he did give some books to children he met while touring the facility. When he offered to make a monetary donation for medical supplies, he was told that the center could not accept his money.  His translator, who was speaking with the volunteers on his behalf, learned that there were residents nearby who were housing displaced women and children.  Hayes, along with his translator went to visit them.

“These are women and children who left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a duffle bag,” said Hayes.  “I asked how I could help, and they said they needed groceries.  I took them to a produce stand and the local market to get food to last a couple of weeks.”

While visiting, he learned that a lot of refugees staying in private homes with Warsaw residents are facing additional struggles. As they look for housing to resettle, even temporarily, the demand for apartments has spiked, pushing up already record-high rental prices, fueled by inflation and high energy bills.

“Experiencing this humanitarian crisis firsthand is something I’ll never forget,” he said.  “I feel fortunate that I was able to provide a sense of hope.”