Wessel Fund Supports Organization Serving Immigrants and Refugees

A grant from the Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services is particularly personal for the family as they remember their mother's journey to the United States from Germany in 1939.

Irmgard Wessel. Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal

New Haven, CT (November 24, 2015) The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven is proud to announce a grant from the Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) to assist that organization in its work to help refugees and other displaced people establish new lives, regain hope, and contribute to the vitality of Connecticut's communities.

The Wessel Fund's Unsung Heroes Award is given to an organization that is making life better for people in New Haven. The letter below to the Executive Director of IRIS explains the personal connection for the family as they remember their mother's journey to the United States from Germany in 1939.

"Dear Mr. George,

Seventy five years ago, a German Jewish teenager, who had been sent to safety in England in 1939 on the Kindertransport, arrived in New York where she was reunited with her parents. After a brief stay in New York, the three of them travelled across the U.S. by bus to Scattergood, Iowa, where the American Friends Service Committee had turned a school into a hostel for European refugees.

As the Nazi terror spread through Europe, the members of a Disciples of Christ Church in Eureka, Ill, decided to go beyond reading newspaper headlines and prayer. A delegation from the church drove to Scattergood, interviewed the teenage girl's parents and offered them a new home in Eureka. And so the family moved into a fully furnished apartment and was welcomed into a community that had rarely known Jews, let along German-born Jews. The father got a job auditing municipal books in small Illinois towns. The mother got a job in the Eureka College kitchen. And the teenager got a free college education there.

That teenager was our mother, Irmgard Rosenzweig Wessel, who died last year at the age of 88. We grew up hearing stories from our grandmother and our mother about the end of their peaceful, pleasant life in Germany and the beginning of a new and prosperous life in the U.S. Irm Wessel moved to New Haven in the 1950s, practiced clinical social work for four decades and, with our father, pediatrician Morris Wessel, raised four children in New Haven. When she visited the Eureka church several years ago, she reminded the good people of the Eureka Christian Church of the generosity of their parents and grandparents and she made a forceful plea for immigration reform. She never forgot the fear and desperation of being a refugee and a new immigrant, and was a lifelong advocate for those who came to America after she did.

When Morris retired from the practice of pediatrics in 1993, his former patients established a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven that has since become their Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund. The Fund recognizes an organization that is making life better for people in New Haven with its Unsung Heroes Award. Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services is not exactly "unsung," but it is doing for a new generation of immigrants what others did for Irm Wessel 75 years ago. So the Wessel Family is pleased to celebrate your work with the 2015 Unsung Heroes Award. You will be receiving a check for $3,000 from the Community Foundation shortly.

We all admire your efforts and are exceedingly proud that our home town is opening its arms to Syrian refugees when some other communities have barred the door.

Thanks for all you are doing."

The letter was penned by Irm's children: David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington; Bruce Wessel, a partner in Irell & Manella in Los Angeles; Paul Wessel executive director of the Green Parking Council in New Haven; and Lois Wessel, a nurse practitioner in Takoma Park, Md., and an instructor at Georgetown University's Department of Nursing.

Anyone interested in establishing a fund to support future opportunities and respond to the community's most pressing needs is encouraged to contact Sharon Cappetta, Director of Development at The Community Foundation or call 203-777-7071 for more information.

Thanks to the generosity of three generations of donors, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven awarded over $22 million in grants and distributions in 2014 from an endowment of more than $460 million and composed of hundreds of individually named funds. In addition to its grantmaking, The Community Foundation helps build a stronger community by taking measures to improve student achievement, create healthy families in New Haven, promote local philanthropy through www.giveGreater.org® and encourage better understanding of the region. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven's 20 town service area includes: Ansonia, Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, Derby, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton, Wallingford, West Haven, Woodbridge. For more information about The Community Foundation, visit www.cfgnh.org, find us on Facebook at www.facebook.org/cfgnh or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cfgnh.