Press Release: GREAT DECISIONS, Coming to America: A Refugee’s Story

Media Contact:
Paul Nugent, Executive Director
Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council

Will Kneerim (IRIS) & Mohammed Hamou (Old Lyme resident & Syrian refugee) present “Coming to America: A Refugee Story”

Brought to you by the new SECWAC-Essex Meadows Community Partnership, as part of the Great Decisions Program “Refugees and Global Migrations” on September 26

$20 for the General Public; free for SECWAC members, students, educators, and Essex Meadows residents

Waterford, CT (August 21, 2019) – The Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) announced today that Will Kneerim and Mohammed Hamou are to speak on “Coming to America: A Refugee’s Story” at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday September 26th at Hamilton Hall, Essex Meadows, Essex, CT.

This presentation is a part of the new SECWAC-Essex Meadows Community Partnership; specifically, the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions” Program.

As hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty try to find sanctuary in more stable nations across the world, global migration has become a hot political issue.  Despite the heated rhetoric, global migration is nothing new; previous migration waves have helped shaped the world we live in. Is migration something that should be thwarted or simply better managed?

Following a brief overview of the subject, we will hear from Will Kneerim, Director of Education, Employment, and English Language Programs for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven. Kneerin, who became interested in refugee issues during a career in global business, will talk about IRIS’s work to support refugees and immigrants as they settle into new communities across Connecticut. He will also describe how IRIS’s resettlement efforts have changed in recent years in response to shifting global crises and changing federal policies. We will also hear from Mohamed Hamou, a middle school student from Old Lyme whose family was resettled in Connecticut after fleeing their home in Aleppo, Syria.

The meeting, part of a new Community Partnership between SECWAC and Essex Meadows, is free for SECWAC members (and their guests) and Essex Meadows residents. For non-members, tickets ($20) may be purchased at the door; ticket cost can subsequently be applied towards a SECWAC membership.  Membership September 2019 through June 2020 is $85 per person; $25 for young professionals under 35; free for area college and high school students; a corporate rate of $1,000 is also available, with unlimited access for employees.

Reporters are welcome to attend as guests of the SECWAC Board. Interested reporters should contact Paul Nugent at or 860-388-9241.


Before pursuing a transition to the nonprofit sector, Will Kneerim enjoyed a long career in global logistics, living and working in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and on both coasts of North America. Since joining IRIS, he is proud to have helped settle 2,000 diverse refugees and asylees in Connecticut. He has represented IRIS in media reports appearing in the Washington Post, New York Times, and NPR, among others. Will, who has been a presenter, panelist, and moderator at universities and conferences across the United States,  describes his work at IRIS as his “most rewarding professional experience, partly because I’m inspired by our global mission, but mostly because of the diversity and character of the people we serve.”

Mohamed Hamou was resettled in Connecticut in 2016 with his parents and two older siblings. Three Old Lyme churches served as community partners for the Hamou family’s resettlement, joining forces with IRIS in the effort. Now an 8th Grader at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School, Mohamed is an avid soccer player and a gifted public speaker. In 2018, two years after arriving in the U.S. and first starting to speak English, he delivered a TEDx talk, Coming to America: A Refugee Story, which has been viewed more than 1,200 times. He has also been a featured speaker at events focusing on issues related to immigration and refugee resettlement. Mohamed’s proud parents, Hani and Yaldiz Hamou, are also proud Essex Meadows employees. 


Founded in 1988, Essex Meadows is a lifecare retirement community committed to helping residents continue to enjoy an active lifestyle and embrace lifelong learning. Through Great Decisions and other ongoing programming such as their popular Arts & Exploration Lecture Series, Essex Meadows provides residents, and often the broader community, opportunities to engage in probing, thought-provoking discussions about issues of local and global importance. Learn more at


SECWAC is a regional, nonprofit, membership organization affiliated with the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA). The organization dates back to 1999, and has continued to arrange 8-10 Speaker Series meetings annually, between September and June. The meetings range in foreign affairs topics, and are hosted at venues along the I-95 corridor, welcoming members and guests from Stonington to Old Saybrook, and beyond.

SECWAC’s mission is “to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs through study, debate, and educational programming.” It provides a forum for nonpartisan, non-advocacy dialogue between members and speakers, who can be U.S. policy makers, educators, authors, and other experts on foreign relations. Learn more at


CALENDAR LISTING: Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC)-Essex Meadows Community Partnership presents “Coming to America:  A Refugee’s Story” with Will Kneerim & Mohammed Hamou on Thursday, September 26, 2019, 3:00 p.m. at Hamilton Hall, Essex Meadows, 30 Bokum Rd, Essex, CT 06426. Free for members of SECWAC and Essex Meadows residents. Annual membership of SECWAC  is $85; $25 for young professionals under 35, and free for area students; a new Corporate membership is available for $1,000, with unlimited attendance for employees at SECWAC meetings.

More information at


Mission Statement

The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.