Inspiring visitors to make a positive difference in the world is integral to the Skirball mission. In this “Building a Better World” section of the website, read about just some of the ways Skirball educators partner with families, schoolchildren, teachers, and community organizations to take concrete action to promote a more just society.

Welcoming the Stranger

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Every day in Noah’s Ark, we tell an immigration story: animals and people leave their homes to take a journey through a storm and finally arrive in a new land filled with possibilities for a better future. As the head of Noah’s Ark, I often think about the parallel of that ancient flood story to the immigration stories we hear about today.

Our mission states that the Skirball is a place of meeting guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger. Since missions are meant to be practiced, last September, in honor of National Welcoming Week, I connected with a small organization called the San Fernando Valley "No Estas Solo" Welcome Center for Refugee Children. Like the Skirball, No Estas Solo is a place of welcome. Located just nine miles away, they open their doors to unaccompanied children from Central America who have come to the San Fernando Valley seeking refuge. No Estas Solo offers hope and healing in the form of legal assistance, emotional support, tutoring, and other resources to help meet the basic needs of these children. 

With such a closely aligning mission, No Estas Solo seemed like a great partner for our Build a Better World program, in which we encourage visitors to take action beyond their own needs in order to make the world a better place—from helping animals and the environment to helping people, like the chirdren at No Estas Solo. My hope was to create a hands-on project that Skirball family visitors could make to celebrate and encourage No Estas Solo’s children.

So I introduced myself to the staff at No Estas Solo and asked if they would accept a welcome banner made for their kids by our young Skirball visitors. Ninette Ayala, one of the coordinators, accepted our offer with the kind of surprised gratitude that made me realize how meaningful this new partnership would become.

For a week in September, kids and families visiting Noah’s Ark helped create a multilingual welcome sign with their painted handprints carefully pressed on it.

With Noah’s Ark educators Belize Wilheim (left) and Lori Nierzwick (far right), our little visitors extended their hands to make handprints of welcome for children who have just arrived in this country. The stories of those refugee children—who left their home at great peril, imagining the possibilities of a better life—powerfully echo the story of Noah’s Ark.

When the banner was finished, Ninette Ayala (right) and I brought the sign to the No Estas Solo recreation room, where it welcomes our newest young immigrant friends.

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Noah’s Ark visitors have also taken on additional projects for the No Estas Solo kids, including lovingly hand-finishing soft comfort blankets (left, held by educator Jackie Rivera) and making cards of welcome and friendship (right, held by young Noah’s Ark visitors).

And the No Estas Solo kids took a field trip to Noah’s Ark! Noah’s Ark educator La Tanya Henderson (far right) led a music jam for them.

We were also excited to be able to bring an artist-led screen-printing workshop, inspired by our recent exhibition Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in LA, in which kids were empowered to create t-shirts and bags with their own artwork. Noah’s Ark educator Dillon Nelson (far left) helped artist Dewey Tafoya (left) run a screen-printing class in the No Estas Solo recreation room.

When young visitors to Noah’s Ark made the welcome banner last year, they practiced working together, taking action beyond their own needs, and embracing the stranger. The immigration story of the kids at No Estas Solo—who have journeyed through a storm to come to a new land—is an old story that must continue to be told. I’m very proud that we have been given the opportunity to be one of the tellers of this story. And I’m proud to be partners with our friends at No Estas Solo. We are not strangers to each other anymore.

If you’d like to find out how your class can become a Build A Better World school, e-mail education@skirball.org.

—Nina Silver, Head of Noah’s Ark