Four New Years Resolutions Inspired by Asylum Seekers

Working with asylum seekers is an honor. Where else would I get to meet modern day heroes who risked their lives for justice? I volunteer regularly with First Friends, an organization that promotes “compassion and hope through volunteer visitation, resettlement assistance and advocacy. I meet with asylum seekers while they are held in detention and maintain a friendship with them after they are released.

Picture of former warehouse now a detention center in New Jersey
Elizabeth Detention Center

This past year I got to know six men who were granted asylum and are now rebuilding their lives in the U.S. I’m in awe of the resilience these asylum seekers show while held in detention. But I didn’t realize the profound affect their stories had on me until I created my 2018 new years resolutions.

Following their lead, rather than add to my To-Do List in 2018, their stories inspired me to do some pruning instead.

I’ve come up with four self-defeating phrases I resolve to delete from my vocabulary in 2018:

  1.  I Can’t
  2. I Couldn’t
  3. Not Enough
  4. Too Busy.

Here’s the first story of how an asylee named TJ taught me to eliminate “I Can’t” from my vocabulary.

The Power of a Can Do Attitude

Close up of TJ Hyde looking contemplative in WeWork Lobby

You’d think it is hard enough, just trying to survive in a new country. But TJ, doesn’t’ just survive—he thrives. Not only does he freelance at my company as a graphic artist, TJ has designed a new men’s wear line, which will debut in February 2018.

Sketch of 8 men in colorful designs by TJ Hyde

Listening to TJ’s day-to-day struggles to get medical care and find a place to live, it feels like there is a whole system put in place to take advantage of people with limited means. Tremendous tenacity is required to get the basics of life addressed.

I am inspired by his can do spirit. Whenever he wants to do something, he finds a way. He has navigated the New York garment industry to create his samples at dirt-cheap prices. He taught himself how to sew when one of his seamstresses didn’t come through. He’s made enough connections to host a fashion show of his designs in February. He’s launched a gofundme effort to help fund the show(feel free to donate).

TJ’s Tenacity

Does he get discouraged sometimes? Yes he does. I can always tell because he’s slow to respond to my texts and calls. And when I do get him on the phone, he speaks in a monotone drone. But then, after he finds the fortitude to plow through what is holding him back, his voice dances joyfully when we talk.

TJ Hyde sitting on couch laughing at WeWork

So in 2018, when there is something I want to do and start to doubt myself, I will think of TJ and turn my can’t into can.


This is the first in a series of 4 stories that shaped the Modern Church Lady’s New Years resolutions. Here’s the second story of how an asylee named Abu taught me to remove “I Couldn’t” from my vocabulary.

Samples of TJ’s Fashion

Fashion Foward Men's Suit

Standing male model in fashion forward suit designed by TJ Hyde
Seated Male model in fashion forward suit designed by TJ Hyde

The Making of a Faux Fur Bomber Jacket

Faux fur bomber jacket in progress on male model

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