Season for Caring client Qusay Hussein graduates from ACC

In 2006, Qusay Hussein was left for dead after a suicide attack in his native Mosul, Iraq. The explosion blew off his face and left him blind.

In 2018, Hussein donned the robes of a recipient of an Austin Community College associate’s degree and spoke at the graduation ceremony last week about his journey.

Qusay Hussein at his ACC graduation ceremony where he spoke about his past and future. Contributed

“Each one of us has something to learn and something to teach,” he told the cheering crowd. “This country has given me the opportunity of hope for a new life.”

Hussein, 29, also received the ACC presidential student achievement award and was accepted the University of Texas for the fall semester. He plans become a psychologist.

In the intervening years, Hussein received medical care from the U.S. military in Iraq, from Doctors without Borders at a refugee camp in Jordan. But he did not receive trauma counseling early on.

In Austin, he was assisted regularly by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, an interfaith action group that works with refugees, among other causes. All along, Hussein said he wanted to counsel others who have gone through traumatic stress, especially the loss of sight.

ORIGINAL: Blinded by a bomb, Iraqi refugee seeks to counsel others.

In 2013, Hussein was the focus of the Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign that each year highlights the needs of about a dozen Central Texas families and helps hundreds of others through reader donations. Since 1999, American-Statesman readers have given more than $11.6 million in cash and in-kind donations, including a record-setting 2017 year, in which more than $1 million was raised for local nonprofit organizations.

When the Statesman first featured him, Hussein spoke almost no English. Among other things, he needed a good deal more facial reconstruction.

Qusay Hussein has had more than 50 surgeries on his face after a car bomb in Iraq blinded him when he was 17. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2013

In 2014, Huessin received training from the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center and Foundation Communities. In 2016, Hussein earned his GED from ACC. He also received intense help that year from Austin surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Cone, who reworked his face and nasal passage. Season for Caring donations have helped him be able to receive his education.

Soon, Hussein will return to Iraq for the first time in more than five years to visit his family.

“We are truly in this together,” Hussein told the graduation assembly. “Help people every day. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Do it today.”

Mattresses for Season for Caring stolen from Factory Mattress truck

Wednesday night between 8 and 10 p.m. at least two people broke into a semi-truck Factory Mattress uses to store its donations for Statesman Season for Caring and other charities during the holidays.

The lock was broken on the truck parked at Factory Mattresses’ warehouse at 4209 S. Industrial Drive. Security footage shows at least two people making multiple trips to load up a pickup truck. Nine mattresses and seven box springs designated for Season for Caring and other charities were taken. Factory Mattress estimates about $3,900 worth of product was taken.

For the last seven years,  Factory Mattress has made sure all of the featured families in the Statesman Season for Caring program have new beds.

This year, Factory Mattress donated 35 beds worth $28,000. It was the biggest donation in both dollar amount and number of beds Factory Mattress has given for Season for Caring. Since 2010, Factory Mattress has donated more than $118,000 to the campaign.

Sheila King and her niece Katelyn Splude share a quiet moment on the family property outside of Dripping Springs. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sheila King and her niece Katelyn Splude share a quiet moment on the family property outside of Dripping Springs.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Season for Caring highlights the needs of 12 families and helps hundreds of other families throughout the year through local nonprofit agencies. Monetary donations and donations of goods and services can be made through Jan. 31, but now through Dec. 27, there is a matching grant for monetary donations up to $100,000 from the Sheth family. 

Some of the beds stolen were designated for the King family in Dripping Springs, who have lost three family members this year to suicide and cancer, and the Noheli family, who are refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and needed beds for 11 family members. Beds for two other families sponsored by churches were also in the trailer.

On Thursday morning, when Factory Mattress discovered the semi-truck had been broken into and the beds stolen, Factory Mattress began pulling from its stock inside the warehouse to replace the donated beds.

“This is the time of year when there are so many people that are really in need and other people prey on that,” said Mark Nelson, chief operating officer of Factory Mattress. “It’s just sad, but we got it figured out”

Nelson said there was no way they wouldn’t fulfill the orders for Season for Caring families and the churches’ families.

“As you read the stories in the paper, you get a better understanding of what a lot of these people have been through … ” Nelson said. “Then their attitude is … they are still smiling.”

Factory Mattress has filed a police report. It has security video of the theft and has asked its warehouse neighbors for their videos.

This is the second time donations for Season for Caring have been stolen from a parking lot. In January, a trailer that was filled with items for the family nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas was stolen from that agency’s parking lot. Season for Caring now encourages agencies to not use movable trailers to store donations and to deliver donations as quickly as possible.

More than $150,000 donated to Season for Caring this year

Season for Caring, the Statesman’s holiday charity program, has raised $153,225.71 in its first 11 days. That includes a $25,000 donation from Whataburger and $7,245 raised by the Statesman online auction, which closed on Saturday.

This was the first year the Statesman held an auction. People could bid on everything from a fur coat to a night at the W Hotel — more than $13,000 worth of items, all donated by Statesman advertisers.

Since 1999, the program has raised $9.9 million for local nonprofit agencies. In fact, we are about $100,000 away from hitting the $10 million mark.  You can give to Season for Caring by going to the website, statesman.com/seasonforcaring.

Season for Caring highlights the needs of local families, who are all nominated by local nonprofit agencies. The money raised helps the selected families first, but then the selected agencies are able to help hundreds of other clients throughout the year with basic needs.

We also seen many, many amazing in-kind gifts of goods and services this year. Factory Mattress is donating 35 beds worth $23,000 to Season for Caring families. Last week, we saw Maricela Garcia receive her bed. Tomorrow, we’ll see Ashley McGill get her bed. McGill currently sleeps in a recliner. A car accident makes it impossible for her to sleep in a horizontal position. Factory Mattress went above and beyond and worked with her agency, Wonders & Worries, to get McGill and adjustable bed.

We also got to see Deloris Fields meet with Dr. Kent Macaulay of the Capital Area Dental Foundation. He will be able to give this mom with breast cancer the ability to eat comfortably again after he repairs the damage left by treatment. Capital Area Dental Foundation is taking care of 11 Season for Caring recipients this year. 

We’ve also seen Sheila King pick out new furniture at Austin’s Couch Potatoes. This weekend her home will be cleared out to make way for the new bedroom, living room and dining room furniture — about $6,000 worth. Waste Connections has donated a dumpster and Mobile Mini Storage has donated a storage unit.

More good news is on the way for all of the families, but if you can help by fulfilling an item on a family’s wish list or by making a monetary donation it will go a long way, more than you will ever know.

Read the stories of the families and learn more about their agencies:

Deloris Fields is a 26-year-old, single mother. She was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, but now the cancer has metastasized to her bones. She and 11-month-old son Connor live in Taylor. Nominated by: Breast Cancer Resource Center, 512-817-9775, bcrc.org.

Issa Noheli’s family members no longer fear for their lives after living in refugee camps in Africa for 17 years. When one camp was attacked, Noheli lost his leg and is now on crutches. Nominated by: Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org

Sheila King and her family had three losses in two months: 15 year-old son, Austen, committed suicide; Sheila King’s husband Harrell and her mother Janie Chandler, both died from cancer. Nominated by: CareBox Program, 512-296-2180, careboxprogram.org

Delilah Olais, 3, kisses her brother Noah, who is now 4 months. Parents Luis Olais, 21, and Keila Vasquez, 19, worry that both their kids may have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which Luis Olais has. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Delilah Olais, 3, kisses her brother Noah, who is now 4 months. Parents Luis Olais, 21, and Keila Vasquez, 19, worry that both their kids may have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which Luis Olais has.
JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Keila Vasquez and Luis Olais face his rare genetic disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which their 3-year-old daughter also has. They are waiting to find out about their infant son. Nominated by: SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone) Austin: Strong Start Program, 512-590-3114, safeaustin.org.

Maricela Garcia raises her severely disabled son Raymond, 9, alone on a part-time salary. She needs certification for a better job and Raymond needs therapy. Nominated by: Foundation Communities, 512-610-7391, foundcom.org

Jacob Rodriguez-Lopez is now a widower after after his wife died of cervical cancer. He’s also a single father to 4-year-old Emely, who has heart defects and Down syndrome and has a tube in her stomach to eat. Nominated by: Hospice Austin, 512-342-4726; hospiceaustin.org

Rosalba Martínez-López’s family . This single mother and grandmother died on Dec. 2 from cervical cancer. Her children, who range in age from 21 to 13, need help with many things, including help paying for her funeral.  Nominated by: Care Communities, 512-459-5883, carecommunities.org

Terry Markland is disabled and was once homeless. The senior seeks mobility, access and a new pair of knees. Nominated by: Family Eldercare, 512-450-0844, familyeldercare.org.

The Fazal Ahmad family -- Mukhtar Abdul Jabbar, 19, left, Feroza Abdul Jabbar, 12, Palwasha Abdul Jabbar, 17, Uliya Fazal Ahmad, 48, Nazi Abdul Jabbar, 15, and Nisar Abdul Jabbar, 16 -- arrived from Afghanistan last summer. They are enjoying a meal at their apartment in Austin. Rodolfo Gonzalez/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The Fazal Ahmad family — Mukhtar Abdul Jabbar, 19, left, Feroza Abdul Jabbar, 12, Palwasha Abdul Jabbar, 17, Uliya Fazal Ahmad, 48, Nazi Abdul Jabbar, 15, and Nisar Abdul Jabbar, 16 —
arrived from Afghanistan last summer. They are enjoying a meal at their apartment in Austin.
Rodolfo Gonzalez/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ashley McGill was thrown into homelessness after medical bills following a car accident. Though they are temporarily housed, she cannot make ends meet with debilitating head and neck pain. Nominated by: Wonders & Worries, 512-329-5757, wondersandworries.org

Francisco Zuñiga-Echeverria, who is deaf, grew up in foster care after the death of his parents. After being homeless, he found LifeWorks and just needs a little help to be self-sufficient. Nominated by: LifeWorks, 512-735-2473; lifeworksaustin.org

Liliana De La Paz and Juan Martínez Domínguez have two children with rare genetic disease that affects their muscles, making them unable to walk. Nominated by: Any Baby Can, 512-454-3743, anybabycan.org

Uliya Fazal Ahmad was abused after protecting her 14-year-old daughter from marriage and fled Afghanistan with her five children. Nominated by: Caritas of Austin, 512-646-1277, caritasofaustin.org

Meet the Season for Caring partner agency: Hospice Austin

Jacob Rodriguez-Lopez plays with his daughter Emely Rodriguez-Aviles.  Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Jacob Rodriguez-Lopez plays with his daughter Emely Rodriguez-Aviles.
Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Each year, Season for Caring partners with local nonprofit agencies and invites them to nominated up to three families. Hospice Austin has been integral to Season for Caring for many years.

Hospice Austin was established more than 30 years ago by a group of doctors and concerned citizens for the sole purpose of serving families. Since then, it has provided end-of-life care to any person who needs it, regardless of the complexity of the illness, cost of care or a patient’s ability to pay. It remains a nonprofit hospice.

This year, Hospice Austin nominated Jacob Rodriguez-Lopez. He lost his wife to cervical cancer in August and is raising 4-year-old Emely. She has Down syndrome. Read more about this family here .

Their wish list:

A lawyer for a will; an insurance agent to help him select life insurance; help with rent and utilities; educational toys, such as wooden puzzles or blocks with the alphabet; children’s books; English tutoring to help Jacob improve his English and obtain his high school equivalency degree; a laptop to help him take language and GED classes and practice writing in English; 5 toddler girls clothes, including dresses and play dresses (especially princess); girls dresser and bedside table; girly curtains for Emely’s room; professional-grade painting supplies and tools, including sprayers, brushes, rollers and poles; a work truck; special car seat for children with Down syndrome; high chair and a stroller large enough for Emely; gas cards to visit family in McAllen; gift cards to H-E-B, Wal-Mart and Target; carpet cleaning; money for a contractor’s license; secure employment; a gift card to Amazon for an urn for Adriana’s ashes.

To find out more about Hospice Austin or to give an item on the family’s wish list, contact the agency at4107 Spicewood Springs Road. 512-342-4726, hospiceaustin.org

To give a monetary donation, go to the donation page at statesman.com/seasonforcaring.