Iraqi refugee Waleed Abdulla, 13, doesn't know much about the game of baseball.
"I've seen the Braves on TV a couple times," he said. "But I never really knew anything about it (baseball) before I came here."
Two years ago, Abdulla was still living in his native Iraq—a country with a less-than-passing interest in America's pastime—but has since relocated to Clakston, Ga., and made the trip to Turner Field on Tuesday night along with roughly 40 other members of the 'Friends of Refugees' program.
"I'm so excited to be here," Abdulla said. "I got a couple of players' autographs and it's so cool to see everything in person."
Founded in 1995, 'Friends of Refugees' is a non-profit organization that is designed to assimilate refugee families into American culture by providing educational and cultural opportunities for kids.
"We have six programs that we offer to kids in the area including an after school program, a summer program and even an internet cafe," Executive Director Scott Kelley said. "Right now what we have is a summer program that provides these kids with constructive activities during the summer months."
The 'Friends of Refugees' summer program hosts kids from more than 20 different nationalities and is run by volunteers like Justin McGee, 22, a summer intern who is not only in charge of keeping a group of middle school students entertained, but educating them as well.
"We have what's called academic time," McGee explained. "Where we'll teach the kids some general subjects just to keep their minds on school."
An education major at the University of Dallas, McGee actually came up with the idea to bring his group of kids to a Braves game after organizing an impromptu game of stick ball.
"As we began to play, I quickly realized that the refugee children have never really been exposed to baseball," McGee said in an e-mail to the Braves Public Relations department. "The batters stood directly on home plate, unaware of the need to stand off the plate. Pitchers tossed the ball from the third base line, not realizing that the mound has a distinct purpose."
Given their unfamiliarity with the game of baseball, some might ask what's to gain from bringing the kids to a Braves game?
According to McGee, it's a way for the kids to immerse themselves in American culture.
"This is a very American thing," he said. "And we want them to experience that, but we also don't want them to lose the connection with their own culture."
As a non-profit organization, the 'Friends of Refugees' relied on the cooperation from the Braves organization and, more importantly, the generosity of the Braves 400 Fan Club in order to make the night a possibility.
Formed in 1965—a year before the Braves ever played a game in the city of Atlanta—the Braves 400 Fan Club is another non-profit organization that aims to spread the popularity of baseball by donating 500 tickets each season for occasions such as this.
"We just want underprivileged kids to follow baseball," Director of the Braves 400 Fan Club Tom Millin said. "Baseball is a universal sport and it's important for these kids to see that. Sharing the experience of baseball is why we donate the tickets in the first place."
Without ticket donations such as those from the Braves 400 Fan Club, kids like Waleed Abdulla may never have the opportunity to see a Major League game in person or get the chance to see their face up on the 106-foot video scoreboard at Turner Field—yet another first for Abdulla as he waved to the crowd of 30,621 before the start of the fifth inning on Tuesday night.
For more information on 'Friends of Refugees' visit www.friendsofrefugees.com and to learn how to donate to the Braves 400 Fan Club, visit www.braves400.org.
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