Faces of Us

The story of Project Worthmore is the story of a community refusing, again and again, to turn its back on those in need.

Frank had just attempted to run his first 100 mile race when he entered a small apartment off of Colfax Avenue in Aurora, Colorado to volunteer to help refugees from Burma.

Just like running a marathon wasn’t enough, helping one family wasn’t enough. Soon, his volunteer work took over his life. The Anello household became ground zero for donation drives, a makeshift food pantry, a place of refuge and kindness and when needed — a foster home. Carolyn Anello, a dental hygienist, welcomed everyone with open arms.

They talked about their work with their friends and family, pulling everyone in. They talked through a translator with a family from Burma. The father told the Anellos how he felt worthless in America. He had a fourth grade education and wasn’t sure he could provide for his family. This is where the name Project Worthmore was born.

In 2011, Project Worthmore became an official 501c3 non-profit.

The Anello’s children grew up with the culture of Burma all around, and even joined Frank and Carolyn on a trip to the Thai-Burma border in 2012 to provide dental care to refugees in camps. When they came back they realized the great need for oral health care for resettled refugees, as well.

When Frank wants to run a race, he runs 100 miles. When Carolyn sees a need for dental care, she builds a clinic.

Their story is the story of Project Worthmore, a story of growth, community, standing up for each other, realizing the abundance we have and sharing it. The story of Project Worthmore is the story of thousands of faces, hundreds of places and languages coming together in community in their new home. It’s two widows sharing a laugh in English class, a man who regains his smile and dignity after getting a full set of dentures, an 87 year old man who walks two miles to say thank you for the food that was delivered when he was sick.

The story of Project Worthmore is the story of a community refusing, again and again, to turn its back on those in need.

Frank and Carolyn are intense. Frank just finished his first 100 mile race last year. The Worthmore clinic has over 3,500 patients.

We are so fortunate they got into serving refugees.

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Kai Ra, known by her community simply as “Auntie”, has been a part of the Project Worthmore family for over four years. Kai Ra wears the name Auntie proudly. Respected, compassionate, and caring, she has earned the title.

She grew up in Burma, surrounded by a large family, planting flowers and vegetables and playing sports. She remembers her childhood as being idyllic, except for her fear of the police. It was a persecution that led most of her family to flee, to scatter across the globe.

“I have 11 siblings, but none of them live here,” she says.

An English student at Project Worthmore, Auntie Kai Ra eventually became an employee — a babysitter for other English students so that they too can come to class and learn. “Babysitting is my favorite”, she says. “When I am with the babies I have the most fun.”

But like so many, this year has been challenging for Kai Ra. With the pandemic, all classes were moved online and there was no more babysitting. She misses being able to babysit, but she is thankful for her new role at the organization, Health Screener. Her new job ensures that Project Worthmore can follow strict health and safety guidelines, remain open, and continue to meet the ever-growing needs of the community and this crucial time.

She is proud of her new role at work, and also her new civic role. This year, Auntie became a voter.

“I voted for the first time in my life,” she beams.

Auntie is an optimist who enjoys the simple things — good friends and a good plate of Laphet Thoke (if you don’t know, we recommend you try this delicious tea leaf salad from Burma!) Looking forward, Auntie is excited to purchase a new bicycle.

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“I’m driving down the streets of Baghdad, my car just narrowly escaped a roadside bomb. There’s shrapnel in the back seat, the windshield is broken and there’s glass flying into my head and face. I look like I’ve just been in a dust storm.

It’s not how I usually look when I’m driving to an important meeting, but my future was resting on this and I couldn’t miss it…” While listening to Walid tell stories, it is difficult not to wonder if we would have that same resiliency.

Walid is open.

He is open when he talks about his home being bombed.

“When the soldier finally let me pass our front door was blown out, I couldn’t recognize what I saw inside, it didn’t look like a home. I knew we were going to have to live in this pile of rubble, we had to get our life together…”

He talks openly about his experiences, but he is also open in his listening.

In January of 2017, Walid and his family came to Colorado as refugees, by April he was working at Project Worthmore as a community navigator, helping people navigate the complex systems they found themselves in. Oftentimes, his clients have been in the country longer than he has, but as any good storyteller knows, everyone has their own story. So Walid listens.

“I try hard to empathize with families when going through difficult times and put myself in their shoes.. Project Worthmore plays a vital role in our clients life, we are the family members that they can rely on in difficult circumstances…”

His motivation is contagious, as is his compassion. He talks about helping others set and reach their goals, how to rebuild their lives.

Before coming to the US, he worked in the US Embassy in Iraq, helping to rebuild his country. This work put Walid and his family in danger and he had to make the difficult choice to leave — to rebuild for himself.

It was only natural that he found work helping others. Walid knows deeply how to rebuild.


In 2013, eight women from Burma rode the 15 bus down Colfax Avenue from Yosemite to Ivanhoe Street to study English. Every day, they rode past the seedy motels, car dealerships, and billboards. They so eagerly tried to read in the small converted office with no heat that served as their classroom.

When the regular teacher was unable to come, she asked her mentor, a seasoned teacher, to step in and help with the class. During a debrief, their substitute teacher mentioned to her friend how this was her dream job. “Soon after, I was offered this class,” Liz says, as if it was a gift.

For her, it was.

Elizabeth Holdeman, or Teacher Liz, is a pioneer. She grew up in  a multicultural family and lived part of her childhood overseas. She was a part of University of Colorado Denver’s pilot master’s program in English Acquisition and, along with her husband, was the first US citizen to be given a visa to teach in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam after the war. And she was the first paid employee at Project Worthmore.

The original eight women have gone on to become mothers, homeowners and even citizens. Over the the past year, Project Worthmore has served 150 students in the English classes that it conducts in partnership with Emily Griffith Technical College, 60 of them are in Liz’s classes.

The deep connection she has with her students stems from the respect and admiration she has for them. She thinks about her students constantly.  “Most of my students have had a very hard life – some with traumas beyond my comprehension. Most of my students understand that they sacrifice their life so that the lives of their children will be full of opportunity and wider horizons. But my hope for them is what I hope for all students: that they have a sense of well-being for a life well-lived.”

2020 was a year of challenges for all. One of Liz’s greatest challenges was shifting to an online model to keep our students safe. Liz watched her students’ children help their parents set up email accounts and learn the ropes of online learning, experiences that were new and frightening for many.

But Liz is an optimist who sees open doors everywhere. “Several of my students brought new babies into the world this summer. It used to be that I would not see a mother with a newborn for a year, but now with the Zoom, classroom participation from home has made English class easily accessible.”

This is what is so inspiring about the Project Worthmore community — as we look forward to returning to normal, we also look to expand what is possible. In this season on Thanksgiving, Liz’s words say it best: “I am very thankful to become a part of something that I could pour my heart and sense of service into.”



You feel like you’re human. It is a feeling we take for granted. It is the basic feeling before we can feel or be good or bad, happy or sad, we must feel human. Talking to Ala reminds us that so many people are stripped from this feeling, but talking to Ala also reminds us of the resiliency of people, the importance of dreams and of just how good humans can be. 

Ala Shamam describes herself in terms of relationships mother, wife, daughter, sister. 

Like any mother, she has dreams for her children. “I want my kids to be healthy. Go to school, pursue their dreams in life. I want them to be good community members, I want them to help when they can help and I want them to think of others.”  

The dreams she has for herself reveal a deep compassion. 

As a child in North Sudan, the dream was to be a doctor. Holding tight to that dream, Ala became a dentist. After one year of practicing her new career, Ala moved to the United States where her degree was no longer recognized. 

“It was hard, I wanted to go back to school but I couldn’t find anyone to guide me. And it’s depressing because you feel like you did a good job back home and you think, ‘I’m still fresh and I want to do this, but I don’t know where to start.’ So that was the hard part.” 

Ala works as an Extended Duties Dental Assistant at Worthmore Clinic and gets closer to her dreams each day.  

Talking about her work at the clinic, we realize again that for Ala, being human is being able to help others. For her, the best part of working in oral health care is “You feel like you’re human. Like you’re a part of this experience and you’re doing something good for other people. You feel like you use your knowledge to help others.”

For years she has been working full time, raising her children, and studying when she has a free moment. Ala is now just one exam away from receiving her IDS degree which will allow her to apply for her Doctorate of Dental Medicine. She bought a home with her husband just two weeks ago. She is helping people each day. 

She dreams of one day opening a clinic in North Sudan, “A dental clinic just for kids. A dentist, orthodontist, medical clinic all in the same place. They don’t have the care that they need, so when they grow up they keep ignoring their dental health. But the plan is to help. And the plan is to focus on the kids from an early age.” 

We learn so much from people like Ala. We learn that the best dreams are the ones that serve, the ones that help and bring us closer to our humanity. 



“The best thing about being a farmer is being able to work hard and produce something of benefit to others.” 

Hamadi has been married for 50 years. For the last 14 of them, he has taken the 15 bus daily from his home in Aurora to DeLaney Community Farm. A volunteer for over a decade, Hamadi officially became a staff member of Project Worthmore in 2018. He jokes that the farm was the first place he visited in America, and that he hasn’t left since. 

Along with his wife and six children, Hamadi came to the US  from Somalia, via Kenya. He and his family are eight of the over 60,000 refugees living in the metro area. 

When we ask if it was difficult for him when he arrived here in 2003, he smiles and adjusts his prosthetic leg. “It was easy.”

We know it wasn’t. 

Hamadi was in what is referred to as a protracted situation, a long period of uncertainty. For 15 years, he lived in a refugee camp in Kenya picking up phrases in English and Swahili. 

Now, having a conversation with Hamadi is a multilingual experience. A true polyglot, Hamadi can speak a whopping six languages. “English, Italian, Maay Maay, Somali, Swahili, and Arabic,” he’ll tell you proudly.  

Displaced from the country he was born and raised in, Hamadi claimed DeLaney as his own and serves as its steward and mentor to the other farmers. 

He is DeLaney’s most enduring and fiercest protector. 

“The best thing about being a farmer,” he says, “is being able to work hard and produce something of benefit to others.” 

Hamadi is a skilled farmer, he knows what it takes to grow produce in this climate. He understands the science of agriculture, but he still thanks Allah for the rain. 

Nothing about farming is ever certain. The one thing we do know, however, is that Hamadi will be back season after season, nurturing this space he calls home. 

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